“Stories of my first visit to Coffee Tree”


I noticed a sign a while back htat you wanted stories of the first time people came to The Tree. So here’s mine …


Do I remember my first visit to the Coffee Tree? Of course I remember. How could I ever forget?

As always, we were hauling a load of trade goods to Grand Portage for some bourgeois in Montreal. It was on the spring trip of 1748, the 11th of May, a Samedi, I think. We had left the portage at Quinte that morning, with a fine east breeze behind us, under just a few clouds, and not very hot. It was an almost perfect day for a voyageur. We only had to stop once to re-gum the canoe, and in just 13 pipes we had made it to the Magasin Royale at Fort Douville on the Toronto Portage.

We laid up, lit a fire, had some salt pork, sang some songs and most of the crew rolled in for the night. But it was still early, and I could not sleep. I talked to one of the fort traders, and he suggested I go visit the Mississaugas settlement up on the hill, saying I would find a nice surprise there. So up I went.

There were a few longhouses, and there, just on the west end of the village, was a very European looking building, all square and trim, with a sign on it, in English of all things, that said Coffee Tree. And coming from this place was the most delicious aroma. I went in, and there was a yellowhair behind the counter. A yellowhair woman! So unexpected in this time and place. She was turning some kind of round pot over a fire, with the smoke swirling from it both bitter and acrid, but mouth watering.

I introduced myself, and somehow, between my Three-rivers French and her English, I got the story. She had fallen in love with a magic bean. It is like no other bean; it grows on trees like a cherry, has to be dried and then cooked, and then made into a drink. And this drink makes you feel very good. She showed me. She took some of these beans, which looked totally burnt and ruined to me, and crushed them and poured water through them, and that water – I have no words for that water. That hot, black, evil-looking water smelled so good. And the taste – if a priest had seen me he would have known I was sinning and demanded a confession on the spot. But, as you know, we have no time for priests when we are on the river.

She said these magic beans used to grow just in Africa, but Gabriel de Clieu has started growing them in Martinique and somehow she was getting them from there, and from other places whose names I have never heard the like. And, as all river people, she was proud to talk of fair trade. This strange yellowhair woman had come to bring true civilization to the uninformed people of these lands, and I, for one, was very grateful.

It was early in the season, and I didn’t have much to trade. But for a sash and a buckle, a pin and a smile, I left with a small bag of these beans. I would be a better man if I could tell you I shared this magic with the rest of my crew. But I cannot. I can tell you I was the most alert and awake, and the most robust singer, almost all the way to Grand Portage that year. On the way home, I walked that hill again. And the next year, and the next, I always made sure to have enough to make me the talk of all the voyageurs.

Now, of course, the secret is well out. Thank you Sue for all these great years, and may the next 275 be as great as the first!

Michel leSouris


Michel may go by the pseudonym Loren Hicks.

You might also like to know that in 1748 Fort Douville was where what we call the Old Mill is today … I noticed a sign a while back htat you wanted stories of the first time people came to The Tree. So here’s mine …   LH



Author: Susan Bate

Share This Post On