Hidden Treasures / 6
Local students show off their literary stuff in the 2017 McEntyre Writing Competition
Introduction by Wayne Larsen
In what has become an annual tradition in Westmount schools, the McEntyre Writing Competition always attracts a wide variety of thoughtful and creative entries, and the 2017 edition was no exception.
Endowed by the late Peter McEntyre, mayor of Westmount from 1969 to 1971, the competition encourages young writers to express themselves on a designated topic, each designed to get the creative juices flowing. It is coordinated each year by the Westmount Public Library.
In 2017, “Secret Places, Hidden Treasures” was the topic assigned to students in grades 1 through 11.
Westmount Magazine presents the full texts of the first-place entries in each grade category, as supplied by the Westmount Public Library.
Here we present the second of the two Grade 7 winners.
SEVENTH GRADE | FIRST PRIZE | Selwyn House School
Treasures of the New World
Jean was born in 1642, in a small village in France owned by a minor nobleman. Jean’s mother died the same day giving birth. They were poor, and sometimes only had one meal a day. However they were luckier and better off than most, as his father worked in the mines for the nobleman. Mining was hard and dangerous work. Jean followed his father underground and helped when he was only seven. He hated the dark, cramped and choking dust in the tunnels, and longed to work out in the sun, farming in the fields and hunting in the forest. In those days, sons always took on their father’s jobs. There was no choice, it was an inescapable fate. When Jean was ten, his father died when a tunnel collapsed. Few years later, the nobleman died and his son took over the family estate. The young aristocrat shut down the mines, and forced all the miners and their families off his land. Jean was now thirteen, homeless and without employment, alone in the world.
Jean wandered from town to town looking for work without luck, unwelcome in most places. He was lonely, missed his father, and longed to be a part of a community. In his travels he heard popular tales of unlimited treasures of the Caribbean, wild and adventurous tales of pirates and wealth from farming sugar cane and spices. He fantasized of discovering buried treasures, and belonging to a brotherhood of sailors or farmers in the New World. By good luck, Jean found himself in a port city where a plantation owner was recruiting farmhands on a Caribbean island. He agreed to an indentured contract of service for six years to pay for his passage.
It was a long and dangerous voyage, with the ship almost capsizing several times. Upon arrival, Jean was immediately put to work in the sugarcane fields. It was exhausting and blistering work, starting before sunrise and ending after sunset every day. The farmhands were never treated as part of the island community. They were shunned and unwelcomed by the general population. A couple of years passed and Jean was now disheartened and gaunt from exhaustion by the endless physical labour. The once friendly sun he enjoyed while working in the open fields was now beating on him mercilessly. He also began to realize the farmhands would all die as farmhands, working for the wealthy plantation owners who owned all the land on the island. His dream of owning his own little farm and being accepted by the island community was a hopeless delusion. He coped by dreaming of finding treasures, tales of gold-filled chests carried by the Spanish fleet.
One day a disastrous hurricane struck the island. The island community took shelter on higher grounds, leaving the farmhands to the storm’s mercy. Tidal waves swept over the lowland plantation fields, carrying Jean out into sea. He clung desperately onto bundles of sugarcane that kept him afloat. The waves carried him further out to sea, and once the storm passed he awoke to see no sight of land. He drifted aimlessly for several days, delirious and parched, before he was spotted and brought onboard by a passing ship. It was a French warship ordered to fight and plunder the enemy ships of France. Jean was now a member of a pirate crew.
One day on deck, Jean spotted a floating bottle in the waves. He pointed it out to the crew and they excitedly retrieved it. The captain uncorked and shook out an old faded map that appeared to be the site of a buried treasure. After some false trails, they finally discovered and recovered a large treasure chest of Spanish gold doubloons. They made a beeline to the nearest French port. Within a week, most of the gold was drunk and gambled away by the crew. Jean did not indulge excessively, so he kept most of his share of the loot intact. He wisely stashed it hidden away from the crew. He watched the pirates squander their gold away so quickly, and the tempers flared as the gold diminished. Fights broke out amongst the crew, some were robbed and their gold seized by the victors. The life of a pirate was about each man for himself, where the strongest ruled over the weak. It was no different than the life of the lowly born poor in France, or the farmhands in the Caribbean islands. Jean realized that he didn’t want to live this life, that having wealth was not necessarily a wealthy lifestyle.
One night Jean slipped away and paid for passage on a merchant ship headed north to a young colony, Ville-Marie in Nouvelle France. He hoped it would be a place where he would feel welcome, and where he could improve his life by his contribution to the town. He still had much of his gold and he could have used it to buy a large property to make himself important in the community. Instead he chose to buy a small piece of land which he worked to build into a modest farm by his own hands. With each passing year, his farm become prosperous and he expanded his land. He kept his bag of gold coins in a chest, as a reminder of the real value of wealth. Jean valued more his ability to choose how to make a living through the fruits of his labour alone.
The citizens of Ville-Marie welcomed Jean. He was a hard working, law-abiding citizen, who was eager to contribute to the growing community. Jean married and they had many children. He found peace and happiness in his family life, especially proud that his children had opportunities that he could not have even dreamed when he was young in the old country.
Image: statue of Louis Hébert, one of Nouvelle France’s first settlers by Jean Gagnon via Wikimedia Commons
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