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The editor with the suthor's canoe, 1954 (13 kB JPEG)

The editor with
the author's canoe,
Dwight, Lake of Bays,
Ontario, Canada,
summer of 1954

Gordon W. Allen photo

Gifts that last:
The editor and his son Jacob,
setting out in the
same canoe,
Charles River,
Waltham, Massachusetts,
May, 1997

Unnohn B. I. Stander photo

The editor and his son in the same canoe, May 1997 (20 KB JPEG)

Alexander M. Stewart, the author of René Menard, 1605-1661, was my mother's father. He taught me how to paddle a canoe, and I remember him in other ways as well. As I write this introduction, my mother's inscribed copy of the first, privately published edition of René Menard from 1934 rests on the desk in front of me.

Each tall, narrow page of the book holds a single column of newspaper copy, printed with Depression-era thrift from the original type set for the Catholic Courier newspaper of Rochester, New York. Yet despite the frugality, René Menard is an elegant-looking little book. The off-white paper, printed in dark brown ink, is thick and of high quality, and has not begun to darken or become brittle with age. Each page is decorated with a delicate filigree.

René Menard does not entirely follow the academic conventions for a historical biography. To some degree, the unconventionality is probably explained by the reuse of newspaper copy, and by the obstacles which my grandfather's penmanship placed in his own way and his typesetter's. I also sense my grandfather's enthusiasm in telling a good story. Neither academic conventions -- nor anything else -- could get in the way of that.

My grandfather learned his storyteller's craft well in Baptist divinity school. A minister seeks to educate, but must also hold the congregation's attention.

Though careful about what it represents as historical fact, the book frequently and openly departs into flights of poetry, speculation and imagination. Many citations of reference sources are strewn through the text rather than neatly arranged at the bottom of the page or at the end of the chapter.

Academic historians may find much fault with this book, but if you are looking for compelling reading, you may delight in it, because my grandfather lived and breathed the adventure he describes. René Menard is largely a chronicle of canoe voyages, some of which my grandfather retraced for himself. You could look far before you would find a more vivid portrayal of travels in the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes region when the lakes and rivers were the only highways -- as they still were in the Muskoka District, Ontario lake country when my grandfather undertook his own voyages.

This little book creates a very large perspective, succinctly and tellingly bringing together elements of history, economics and geography spanning several centuries. The descriptions of Indian villages in the book are derived in part from my grandfather's own archeological work.

On the bookshelves of Alderside, the Muskoka cottage to which my grandfather returned from his canoe trips, many of the oldest books are Victorian devotional readings -- the title Christian Saints and Martyrs comes to mind.

Alderside, Dwight, Ontario, Canada

Clickable thumbnail image of Alderside (10 KB JPEG)

There is more -- and less -- to my grandfather's faith than the stereotyped piety such books convey. Like his own grandfather, his father and three of his brothers, my grandfather was an ordained Baptist minister; yet his scholarly passion was the study of French Catholic missionaries and the Indians to whom they ministered. He married Helen Wile, who was Jewish, in an ecumenical service in 1912. Their marriage caused consternation in both of their families, and it lasted until he died 50 years later.

A. M. Stewart in 1901

A.M. Stewart as a young man (3.8 KB JPEG)


Helen Wile in 1903 (7 kB JPEG)

Helen Wile in 1903

I often wonder how it could have been possible for my grandfather to hold steadfastly to the faith in which he was brought up and educated, when making room in his life for two additional, considerably different sets of beliefs.

I don't think that he entirely succeeded in this, or intended to. Both his research and his marriage reflected his central value of acceptance of and interest in people with faiths other than his own. In René Menard, my grandfather makes repeated references to God, or the Great Spirit, to the Living Influence and to Conscience; he stands with the missionaries in promoting monotheism; but, tellingly, he never explicitly invokes Jesus Christ.

In part, this has to be out of deference to his wife and her family; but from what I know of my grandfather, both personally and through his writings, he found holiness less in the mystery of salvation through Christ than in "the Christian moral dynamic;" as he describes it in his Preface; in the courage of convictions of whatever faith; in friendship which does not know boundaries; in awe and love of the natural world, and in the quest for wisdom.

My grandfather's influence has continued in my family. My parents brought me to Unitarian Sunday school, where I grew up immersed in the pan-Judeo-Christian ethic which my grandfather had to forge for himself.

In this republication, I have retained most of my grandfather's somewhat unusual punctuation, which marks the wide-ranging but always connected excursions of his thought. I have incorporated the marginal notes and corrections which he handwrote in the copy of the book he gave to my mother, and in his personal copy in the St. John Fisher College library. I have corrected occasional typographical errors and, where appropriate, used the French accented characters which were not available to the original typesetter. Since French was Menard's language and continues to be the language of Québec, I have used the French spelling of place names in Québec.

Except for these few minor changes, I have not altered the original text. I honor my grandfather by giving readers a clear window into his thinking. If my grandfather's language, ideas or beliefs do not agree with you, please reflect on his human respect for all persons he describes, of whatever belief or race, and his dissatisfaction with inhumanity in any form, by anyone. These beliefs, at once timeless and ahead of their time, speak for themselves.

I extend my thanks to my friend Sheldon Brown, whose gift of automated transcription using Xerox Textbridge optical character recognition software made this republication possible.

Despite proofreading and spellchecking, I am sure that errors remain, especially in the spelling of French and Indian names. I welcome corrections from readers.

My grandfather told me that he had learned to paddle a canoe from Indians. I still steer a canoe with the unusual technique he taught me: rolling the wrists up at the end of the stroke and propping the paddle against the gunwale with a "thunk." This paddling technique is, as well as I can determine, more efficient than the conventional J stroke.

My grandfather willed me his Peterborough wood and canvas canoe. With my son Jacob Alexander Allen, I paddled 7 miles today in that same canoe. I remember my grandfather well, and now you can get to know him too.

John Stewart Allen, August 29, 1996

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Contents © 1934, Alexander M. Stewart;

new material © 1997 John S. Allen

Last revised 16 May 2003