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You Are Here – Giant astrolabe commemorates French explorer Samuel de Champlain’s arrival in Penetanguishene

May 2024

The historic southern Ontario town of Penetanguishene is a small, bilingual town with a history that goes back to the early days of New France and the French explorers who helped settle North America.

French translator Étienne Brûlé was the first European to set foot in the Penetanguishene area around 1610, where he encountered the Wyandot people, an Indigenous tribe who first settled the area around 800 AD, when the Wyandot people build a semi-permanent village in the area.

French explorer Samuel de Champlain followed, arriving in the Georgian Bay and Penetanguishene Bay area in 1615. The area became popular with fur traders and explorers, who frequently traded with the Wyandot People and later lumber harvesting and milling operations.

Significant settlement of the Penetanguishene area did not begin until two centuries later, after the British had conquered New France and established British settlements in what would become Upper Canada, now known as the Canadian province of Ontario.

John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, proposed construction of a Royal Navy naval base. It wasn’t for another 20 years that the Penetanguishene Naval Yard opened for the defence of the area during the War of 1812.

Originally, the Penetanguishene Naval Yard was only accessible by water, but in 1814, the Penetanguishene Road was built, providing a land route for British military supply depots stretching north from Kempenfelt Bay at current-day Barrie.

In 1867, an astrolabe was found in Cobden, Ontario, that dated back to the time of Champlain, and it was thought to have been lost by him as he travelled down the Ottawa River in 1613.

In 2015, the Town of Penetanguishene commemorated the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s arrival in the Georgian Bay and Penetanguishene Bay area with the installation of a giant astrolabe, built by Lafontaine Iron Werks. Titled “YOU ARE HERE” (CHAMPLAIN’S ASTROLABE), it’s a giant replica of the astrolabe found in 1867, now safely displayed at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec.

Sources: “You are Here” (Champlain’s Astrolabe) | Penetanguishene Heritage, The astrolabe legend – Route Champlain, Historic astrolabe on display in Midland believed to have been Champlain’s (simcoe.com), Heritage Locations | Penetanguishene Heritage, Penetanguishene – Wikipedia, Étienne Brûlé – Wikipedia, Penetanguishene Naval Yard – Wikipedia.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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