Shortly after establishing Québec as France’s beachhead on the continent of North America, Samuel de Champlain became the first white guy to “discover” (as part of a canoe expedition with some friendly Indians) a big lake to the south, which he promptly named after himself. Within days of his claim, Champlain’s party encountered a hostile group of Iroquois, which gave the Frenchman an opportunity to wield his arquebus.
As everyone within a 200-mile radius probably knows by now, 2009 is the quadricentennial of the French explorer’s canoe trip on Lake Champlain, and cultural groups and museums across the state are staging a slew of summer events to celebrate. But who was the explorer before he hit our rocky shores?
Burlington City Arts would like to help history buffs and Francophiles find out — and raise some big bucks in the process. To that end, the nonprofit arts group is offering a 10-day Euro tour starting May 20 and dubbed the “Quadricentennial Voyage: In Search of Samuel de Champlain’s France.”
The journey begins in the port city of La Rochelle, with time for a snort of honest-to-God Cognac. From there it’s on to Brouage, Champlain’s birthplace; St. Malo, another port city he frequented; Mont St. Michel, one of the eight wonders of the world; and Paris and Versailles. The group will be guided by André Senécal, former head of the University of Vermont’s Canadian Studies Program; BCA board member Dana vanderHeyden; and Marc vanderHeyden, former president of St. Michael’s College.
While the lure of sea wind and Calvados is strong, the tour’s $3995 price tag is hefty. So far, eight travelers have signed up, and BCA needs a minimum of 10 reservations by February 15 to make the trip a go. If the maximum number of 22 slots is filled, the arts organization stands to make $8000 to $10,000, which it will put toward quadricentennial celebrations this summer.
Despite the tattered state of the economy, BCA Executive Director Doreen Kraft maintains that the “value-added” tour is “very affordable.” Thanks to the efforts of Dana vanderHeyden, who arranged it for BCA, the trip includes special deals on food and lodging and exclusive access to the Louvre’s special collections of rare maps and etchings from Champlain’s era. While the entourage is in Paris, vanderHeyden hopes to dedicate a plaque to Champlain — donated by the City of Burlington — on the street in Le Marais where he lived at the end of his life.
BCA’s first-time venture into tripping is certainly in the range, pricewise, of Vermont Public Radio’s similar fundraising ventures. VPR’s eight-day whirlwind tour of the gardens of England led by Charlie Nardozzi, also scheduled for May, costs $3379. It’s two days shorter than the Champlain tour, and it’s managed by an outside company.
It may be a roundabout way to make a donation, but hey, if you can swing it, why not take in a little culture along the way?