Canadian History/New France

Jacques Cartier


Jaques Cartier departed on his first voyage in 1534. He was in search of a passage to East Asia around North America. After twenty days at sea, he arrived on the coast of Newfoundland. There, he entered the Straight of Belle Island, explored the Bay of St. Lawrence, crossed to the Magdalene Islands and circled Prince Edward Island. In the Chaleur Bay, he met fifty Micmac and returned to their village to celebrate and trade. Disappointed that the bay was not the route to China as Cartier had hoped, he continued onwards. Along the coast of Quebec, Cartier surprised a fishing party of two hundred Hurons headed by Chief Dannaconna. The Hurons welcomed Cartier and he returned to their village. At that point, Cartier decided to sail back to France and bring Donnaconna’s two sons with him: Domagaia and Taignagny.

The following year, Cartier set forth once more, spurred by rumors of a large river further west. Perhaps this was the route to Asia that evaded him the year before. Cartier sailed to the Huron Village of Stadacona in present day Quebec. Dadaconna greeted him affably, but refused him passage further west. Three Huron medicine men disguised themselves as devils and warned him to travel no further. Cartier laughed and continued heedlessly. Soon, he reached Hochilaga: another Huron village. Extensive festivities followed. A few days later, Cartier decided the St. Lawrence was not the route to China and returned to Stadaconna for the winter.

Over the winter, Cartier’s men became very ill from scurvy. Out of one hundred and ten men, less than ten were strong enough to look for food. Afraid that the natives might attack them if they discovered that the French were ill, Cartier ordered his men to make a lot of noise as they traveled through the forest. This, he wagered, would make it sound as if the number of hunters were greater. If not for Domagaia, Cartier and his men would probably have perished. Domaigaia, after eating the bark and needles of a white cedar, became healthy once more. He shared this news with Cartier and a week later all of the men were cured.

Knowing that the French liked tales of riches, the Hurons told storied of a land called Saguenay wealthy in gold and treasures further north. These stories were not true but the French were easily fooled. Cartier headed back to France and kidnapped Dannaconna and his sons so that they could tell these stories to King Francois I.

Cartier hoped to launch another voyage, this time to find Saguanaya, but was impeded by France’s war with Spain. He was unable to depart until 1541. This time, Cartier was forced to serve under Jean-Francois de la Rocque, sieur de Roberval. The French visited Stadacona and built a fort at the mouth of Saguenay. The men collected what they thought were diamonds and gold, but were in reality quartz and iron pyrite. Cartier wintered at the fort (Charlesbourg-Royal). Over the winter, thirty five men were killed by Hurons angry that the French were setting up fort on their land.

The following spring, Cartier met Roberval in Newfoundland. Roberval attempted to convince Cartier to help him continue exploring. Instead, Cartier snuck back to France. There, Cartier remained. He lived in St. Malo and his nearby estate until his death in 1557 at age 66. The areas Cartier discovered would remain largely untouched by Europeans until the next century.