The Ballad of Juan Quadra

© David Watts

Victoria winter 1996

Two hundred years back a flotilla of ships landed on our Western shore

South America already mostly was theirs, coming here to search for more

The vessels flew the flag of Spain, which wanted the Captain to press their claim

But Seňor Juan Quadra had a different style, a gentler conquistadore.


 Juan Francisco de la Bodego y Quadra

Explorer and peacemaker, friend—

Brought together copper and fair skin

Old World and New, now as then.


He made friends of the Nootka and their leader Maquinna before Vancouver came

Didn’t use his advantage to blacken the Brits even when the Chief complained

Maquinna said of the British, “Don’t trust that crew”—“Why not?” Quadra asked, “You trust me, and I do”

And the Chief took his word as he trusted Juan Quadra, and trusted the British too.



Two parties opposed, the British and Spaniards, explored till their work was done

But the two captain friends held a party aboard before they sailed for home

As their sailors toasted jar on jar, they said “Let’s name something for the friends we are”

So they named the big island “Vancouver and Quadra” round which their ships had come.



Now time has erased the place where Juan Quadra cast anchor in Nootka bay

And the leaders in London wiped his name off the map from half a world away

The Island the two sailed all around now bears the name of Vancouver alone

But the friendship of Quadra lives on in the people of Canada to this day.



Now East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet

Till earth and sky stand presently at God’s great judgement seat

But there is neither East nor West, border nor breed nor birth:

When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth.