The Story of La Grande Hermine Dreams Lived Dreams Broken

If you’ve driven along the QEW between Toronto and Niagara Falls there’s a good chance you noticed the pirate ship in Jordan Harbour. The story of La Grande Hermine is about dreams. And it was someone’s dream that brought this ship to the Niagara Region of Lake Ontario.

In 1535 the great French Explorer, Jacques Cartier sailed across the Atlantic to Canada. He brought with him three ships, the largest of which was called La Grande Hermine.

Cartier’s exploration of the “new world” brought him up the St. Lawrence Seaway and he discovered the area which is now modern day Montreal, Quebec.

Cartier’s dream was to find China, which he believed to be just beyond the St. Lawrence Seaway. For this reason he named the region in Montreal, La Chine (China in french), a borough of Montreal that still carries the name Lachine.

Though he never did get to China, Cartier is credited for naming Canada, taken from the aboriginal name Kanata. Cartier is also credited with mapping the St. Lawrence Seaway and surrounding area.

The Grande Hermine in Jordan Harbour in Ontario is a replica of the original La Grande Hermine. The replica was built for Expo ‘67 in Montreal as a nod to Cartier’s historical significance in the area.

The replica languished unused in Quebec for many years until a businessman purchased it with dreams of bringing it to Ontario for use as a casino and floating restaurant.

He had it tugged to Ontario in 1997 and parked it in Jordan Harbour while awaiting approvals for its move to Niagara Falls. Due to lack of funds or other reasons that remain unclear, the ship was never moved and remained unused in Jordan Harbour.

A few years later in 2003 a group of teenagers, it is alleged, set the ship ablaze. Though there was some damage done, the ship and its masts survived. Those teens would be in their 30s today. I’d love to have a chat. What a story.

Though boarding the ship is frowned upon for safety reasons, when the harbour is frozen it is easy enough to walk to the ship. I did it once with my family years ago. Shhhh! It was great fun, especially with teenagers.

I stopped by recently and noticed two young people aboard. They too were exploring the vessel in the same spirit as Cartier.

A drive along the QEW means many tourists will stop to take a few pictures out of curiosity, and the pirate ship, as it is lovingly called by Niagarans, has become a tourist attraction.

It has served as a landmark to my children when they were young. Restless and bored on long car trips, the “pirate ship” signalled that we were in Niagara and close to home.

The tall masts which were visible from the highway were eye catching, but sadly they no longer exists. In 2021 they were deemed dangerous and were removed. The ship is not as visible now and once the summer trees flourish the relic will be forgotten, symbolizing a broken dream.

Though Jacques Cartier’s dreams of exploration were partially realized, the unknown businessman who owned the replica never realized his dream. Word has it that he passed away several years ago.

Though the Grande Hermine replica is now a dilapidated symbol of dreams unfulfilled, it has brought happiness and joy to many people. Myself and family included.

So keep dreaming, whatever your dream. It may not turn out exactly as you imagine it, but it will undoubtedly bring joy to someone somewhere.

Your dream is your purpose. Your purpose may not be for yourself. So keep dreaming.

If you’d like to watch a short video of La Grande Hermine, click here. You may notice something unusual. Hint: Check the sign and let me know if you notice anything.