Expanding in All Directions

Samuel de Champlain: Explorer

Samuel de Champlain (c. 1570 - 1635)

Samuel de Champlain was an excellent cartographer and a bold and curious traveller, very able in forming alliances with the Native peoples in Canada. Born the son of a navy captain around 1570 in Brouage, on the coast of France, Champlain started sailing at a very young age. He was in Henry IV's army and, later, travelled to the West Indies with the Spanish forces. Shortly after returning to France, Champlain encountered Aymar de Chaste, who held a trade monopoly in New France and who he had met before at court. De Chaste invited Champlain to see and describe the St. Lawrence River, about which the latter had learned from Cartier's accounts. Champlain must also have had a commission from the King to accept De Chaste's invitation.

The religious wars having ended in 1598, the French nation regained its interest in exploration. Other European nations were bringing back not only cod and whale oil from their explorations, but also furs, acquired from the Native peoples in the valley of the St. Lawrence. French companies agreed to finance voyages to New France and establish colonies there, endeavours previously sponsored by the French King. In return, the King granted such companies a monopoly over colonial trade.

On March 15, 1603, Champlain boarded the Bonne Renommée at Honfleur for the first of his 21 voyages between France and New France. At Tadoussac -- a meeting point for fur trading -- he had his initial contact with the Native peoples of Canada and saw their annual celebration. Continuing on, Champlain was drawn by the breadth and mystery of the Saguenay, and ventured into it. After a few kilometres, he realized he could not go further with his boats. When he asked what there was upstream, he was told that there were rapids, falls and a salt-water sea in the north. Champlain deduced that this must be "quelque gouffre de ceste mer qui desgorge par la partie du Nort dans les terres" ["some gulf of this sea which empties northward through these lands"] seven years before the European discovery of Hudson Bay. Going up the St. Lawrence River, the Native people showed him the mouth of the Richelieu River, the "Iroquois route".

At the Saint-Louis (Lachine) rapids  --  which Champlain braved in a canoe  --  the Native people described the river network of the Great Lakes and the falls at Niagara. Champlain asked pointed questions, listened carefully, and easily grasped the drawings that his guides traced, frequently in the sand and on birch bark. One of these maps he later reproduced on paper. A western sea did not seem far to him, but he put off plans to look for it, when, on the trip back, a merchant he met at Gaspé directed him towards Acadia.

From 1604 to 1607, Champlain accompanied Lieutenant General of Acadia Pierre du Gua de Monts to look for potential sites for a colony and also for possible mines. Champlain visited and mapped the Bay of Fundy, the Annapolis Valley and the Atlantic coast south of the St. Lawrence, from the Saint John River to Cape Cod. Their first winter, on Sainte-Croix Island, was very hard and many died from scurvy. The next summer they moved to Port-Royal  --  which proved to be not much warmer  --  and eventually left from there in search of a more clement location down the coast, but the death of several French at the hands of the Native people at Port Fortuné put an end to the project. In the end, Port Royal was deemed a fairly good spot, especially when Champlain founded the Order of Good Cheer to raise the health and morale of those who wintered there with sports, entertainment and good food. In 1607, as the trade monopoly came to an end, trade shifted from the Acadian colony in favour of the St. Lawrence valley.

In July 1608, Champlain, who had become lieutenant to de Monts, built the first permanent and continuous habitation, at Quebec. From then on, it was the place for trade and administration of the colony, as well as the departure point for Algonquin, Huron and Montagnais war expeditions against the Iroquois, expeditions in which Champlain took part. This military and political alliance had been forged in 1602 between the French and the Montagnais, and Champlain was obliged to take part. The alliance allowed Champlain to discover the source of the Richelieu River, the lake that bears his name. (At the same time, south of Lake Champlain, Henry Hudson was ascending the Hudson River and establishing Dutch contact with the region.)

In 1610, Champlain tried to get above the Lachine rapids to explore and to build trade alliances, but he could not get guides or canoes. Nevertheless, he managed to send Étienne Brûlé on the St. Lawrence River with the Huron and Nicolas du Vignau with the Algonquin on the Ottawa River. In exchange, Savignon, the son of the Algonquin chief Iroquet, went to France. The following year, Vignau returned, dressed as an Algonquin, and Savigon told of the strange art of quarrelling among the French  --  they argue loudly but they don't fight! Brûlé would prove exceptional in his adaptation to Native ways of life, perhaps the original "coureur de bois." In 1613, Champlain tried to explore inland, without guides, to follow up on Vignau's story of a route to Hudson Bay. The small French party reached Allumettes Island, on the Ottawa River, where the chiefs accused Vignau of having lied to Champlain about the trip he claimed to have made beyond that point. The Algonquin refused to provide Champlain with the guides and canoes that he required to carry on, claiming also that the Nipissing people would kill him.

In 1615, the war against the Iroquois provided Champlain with the opportunity to continue his explorations. Accompanying Huron warriors, he passed Allumettes Island, and travelled the Mattawa River, Lake Nipissing and the French River before he reached Lake Huron. From there, the warriors brought him south, crossing Lake Ontario, to an Iroquois village somewhere in present-day New York State. The premature assault failed, and the reinforcements that had been promised by the Andaste did not arrive. Champlain was wounded. The Huron, having had enough, went home, and took the French with them.

In the country of the Huron:

"Durant le temps de l'hyver qui dura quatre mois, j'eu assez de loisir pour considerer leur pays, moeurs, coustumes, & façon de vivre & la forme de leurs assemblées, & autres choses que je desirerois volontiers décrire. Mais auparavant il est necessaire de parler de la situation du pays, & contrées, tant pour ce qui regarde les nations, que pour les distances d'iceux. Quand à l'estenduë, tirant de l'Orient à l'Occident, elle contient prés de quatre cent cinquante lieuës de long, & quelque quatre-vingt ou cent lieuës par endroicts de largeur du Midy au Septentrion, soubs la hauteur de quarante & un degré de latitude, jusques à quarante huit & quarante-neuf thoises."

(Champlain 1632, 72, 73)

Although Champlain wanted to return to Quebec after these experiences, no-one was willing to take him there, and he had to winter among the Huron. Making the best of his situation, Champlain took notes, made observations and drew. In this way he gave us an exceptional description of the mores and customs of the Huron as well as the first European sketches of Native peoples living inland in Canada.

This was Champlain's last voyage of exploration. The "father of New France" was busy with his new colony from the time of his return until his death in Quebec on Christmas Day, 1635. As an explorer, Champlain charted a road to the interior of the continent that was used by explorers travelling west for two centuries.

Samuel de Champlain : Colonizer

Samuel de Champlain (c. 1570 - 1635)

On July 3, 1608, Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec, which was the first permanent and continuous settlement in Canada, although colonies at both Port Royal and Tadoussac had been established earlier. Leaving his ships at Tadoussac, Champlain, second to Lieutenant General of Acadia Pierre du Gua de Monts, brought the first inhabitants to Quebec. The first "Habitation" he built consisted of three living quarters protected by a palisade and a ditch. Close by, Champlain prepared a garden and grew wheat. All this was promising. Nevertheless, the winter took a heavy toll and only a portion of the 25 men survived.

The founding of Quebec:
"Je fis continuer nostre logement, qui estoit de trois corps de logis à deux estages. [...] Le magazin six & trois de large, avec une belle cave de six pieds de haut. Tout autour de nos logemens je fis faire une galerie par dehors au second estage, qui estoit fort commode, avec des fossés de 15 pieds de large et six de profond. [...]"

(Champlain 1613, 184)

In spite of everything, the colony persisted because of the fur trade, which attracted clerks and craftsmen. Champlain also brought in Récollet priests in 1615. But Quebec only consisted of men and it was only in 1617 that the first European woman landed in Quebec. She was Marie Rollet, wife of Louis Hébert, a former apothecary from Paris, who settled on the heights of the cape. In 1627, there were 80 people in Quebec (including five women and six little girls), half of this number still living in the Habitation. This was a very small population compared to Virginia, which, founded one year earlier, had a population of 2 000. Apart from the rigours of the climate, there was something else that explained this situation: although the fur trading companies had committed themselves to facilitating the bringing over of families, they did so unenthusiastically, and Champlain had trouble promoting his colonization project. In 1627, Cardinal Richelieu, Regent of France, took matters in hand and founded the Compagnie des Cent-Associés (Company of One Hundred Associates) to sponsor colonization. The first ships that the Company sent, with 400 immigrants on board, fell into the hands of the Kirke brothers in 1628. The following year, without the military forces required to defend it, or enough food for its inhabitants, Champlain capitulated the colony. Quebec was taken over by the English in 1629 and would remain so until 1632.

When he returned to Quebec in 1633, Champlain brought 200 people with him, primarily workmen. French colonization, slowed by four years of English presence, picked up again the following year due to exceptional recruiters  --  the surgeon Robert Giffard de Moncel and the Juchereau brothers  --  who continued Champlain's work in France. The new arrivals settled on the Beaupré shore and the island of Orleans on long bands of land perpendicular to the St. Lawrence River. For two and a half centuries, the place that Champlain chose to set his first colony would be the primary port of entry to Canada's interior. The cultural landscape of French implantation in North America initiated by Champlain can still be seen, not only along the St. Lawrence River, but in places as far away as the Red River in Manitoba. From the nucleus founded in Quebec, the country gradually grew.

Black Robes

Because of the colour of their cassocks, Native peoples referred to the Catholic missionaries who came to evangelize them as "Black Robes". These brave, bold and educated men travelled in far-away places  --  frequently without any of their countrymen  --  with the objective not of exploration but of evangelization. Reports of their voyages, useful in the promotion of missions, were also used to solicit donations, by describing the "new" peoples to be evangelized, and to inform colony administrators of events that occurred in the "Upper Country." In addition, knowledge of the Canadian geography gained by missionaries  --  as well as the information gathered by them from Native peoples  --  was frequently used by other explorers. Three religious communities participated in these explorations: the Recollets, the Jesuits and the Sulpicians.

The Recollets were the first missionaries to arrive, brought to Canada in 1615 by Champlain. The best known of these, Gabriel Sagard, made only one return voyage into the Upper Country, in 1623-1624. His account, Le Grand Voyage du pays des Hurons […], became an indispensable work about the Huron people. Sagard's voyage did not contribute to the expansion of New France, but the information that he gathered from the Native peoples on far-away areas helped other voyagers. Among other things, he wrote the first phrasebook of the Huron language.

Voyage through the forest:

"On a aussi quelquefois bien de la peine à se faire passage avec la tête et les mains parmi les bois touffus, où il s'y en rencontre grand nombre de pourris et tombés les uns sur les autres, qu'il faut enjamber, puis des rochers, des pierres et d'autres incommodités qui augmentent le travail du chemin, outre le nombre infini de moustiques qui nous faisaient incessamment une très cruelle guerre; et n'eût été le soin que je portais à me conserver les yeux par le moyen d'une étamine que j'avais sur la face, ces méchants animaux m'auraient rendu aveugle beaucoup de fois; et ainsi en était-il arrivé à d'autres qui en perdirent la vue pour plusieurs jours, tant leur piqûre est venimeuse à l'endroit de ceux qui n'ont encore pris l'air du pays."

(Sagard 1669, 44-45)

"Sometimes also one has great difficulty in making a passage with head and hands through dense woods, in which also a great number of trees that have rotted and fallen on one another are met with, and these one must step over. Then there are rocks and stones and other obstacles which add to the toil of the trail, besides the innumerable mosquitoes which incessantly waged most cruel and vexatious war upon us; if it had not been for my care in protecting my eyes by means of a piece of thin stuff which I had covering my face, these fierce creatures would have blinded me many times, as I had been warned. It had happened so to others, who lost the use of their eyes for several days, so poisonous is their stinging and biting to those who have not yet become acclimatized. [translation]

(Sagard 1939, 63)

In 1679-1680, Louis Hennepin, another Recollet, travelled as far as present-day Peoria, Illinois with the explorer Cavelier de La Salle, went up the Mississippi as far as present-day Minneapolis and returned to Montreal via Skunk Bay. His Description de la Louisiane [...] came out in 1683 and, though it contained many untruths, caused a sensation in Europe.

The first Jesuits arrived in New France in 1625. Among them was Jean de Brébeuf, who travelled up to the Huron people the following year. The narrative of his first voyage made him one of the primary chroniclers of the four great families (the Bear, Cord, Rock and Deer) of the Huron nation. From 1632 to 1673, the Society of Jesus published the Jesuit Relations, works that brought together the reports of the missionaries' work in Canada. The Relations attempted to bring readers into the socio-cultural and material world of the Native peoples: their beliefs, lifestyles, conflicts, language, and perceptions of Europeans. The tales abound with information on the natural wealth of the country, the climate, the fauna and flora. They also report on events, including certain voyages of exploration conducted by merchants and people hired to work in the fur trade. For 50 years, it was primarily the Jesuit missionaries who furthered knowledge about the Canadian territory, and especially about the areas around the Great Lakes and between the St. Lawrence River and Hudson Bay. Among Relations important to the exploration of Canada, that of 1660 is notable, as it told of the network of river routes north to Hudson Bay between the Saguenay and Albany rivers. The Relations of 1672 should also be mentioned -- it tells of the exploration of the Mississippi by Jolliet and Marquette. The gigantic Lake Superior was named by the Jesuits, as was Sault (rapids) Ste. Marie, through which Lake Superior flows to Lake Huron. These narratives, as well as many maps, demonstrate the important contribution of missionaries to the exploration of Canada. Among Jesuits who made such contributions were Charles Albanel, Claude Allouez, Claude Dablon and Jacques Marquette.

For their part, the Company of Priests of St. Sulpice, called the Sulpicians, of Montreal Island, only made a single voyage of exploration into the Great Lakes region in 1669-1670. The voyage of François Dollier de Casson and René de Bréhant de Galinée lasted one year. They departed from Montreal with La Salle, who deserted them at the western end of Lake Ontario to return home. The two Sulpicians went to Lake Erie to winter. In the spring, they abandoned their objectives, took the Saint Clair River and Lake Huron and arrived at the Jesuit mission at Sault Ste. Marie before returning to Montreal by the Ottawa River. The detailed map of their exploration confirmed that there were links between the Great Lakes.

"Now, when we arrived at the place where we were to camp, the women, armed with axes, went here and there in the forests, cutting the framework of the hostelry where we were to lodge; meantime the men, having drawn the plan thereof, cleared away the snow with their snowshoes, or with shovels which they make and carry expressly for this purpose." [translation]

(Thwaites, 1899, 35-37)

"Estans donc arrivez au lieu où nous devions camper, les femmes armées de haches s'en alloient çà & là dans les grandes forests coupper du bois pour la charpente de l'hostellerie où nous voulions loger, ce pendant les hommes en ayans designé le plan, vuidoient la neige avec leurs raquilles, ou avec des pelles qu'ils font & portent exprez pour ce sujet: [...]"

(Society of Jesus 1635, 186)

Missionaries made known to Europeans civilizations completely different from their own. Over the years, as their particular interest in Native peoples required that they know well the people they were evangelizing, missionaries described in their writings the social, economic and political organization of Native peoples, and the territories that they inhabited. The "Black Robes" thus contributed in large measure to the exploration of North America.

Henry Hudson: Daring exploits

Henry Hudson (? - c. 1611)

We know neither Henry Hudson's birthdate nor his birthplace, but we do know that the navigator was already well travelled when he decided to pursue those explorations already undertaken by Martin Frobisher, John Davis, George Waymouth (1602) and John Knight (1606) to the bay that would later bear his name. First he tried to find the famous Northwest Passage to Asia between Greenland and the Spitzbergen Archipelago. Then, hired by the Netherlands, he explored the Hudson River to the rapids at present-day Albany. Hudson returned to the service of England when the founders of the East India and Northwest Passage companies, wealthy traders much interested in exploration, asked him to explore Davis Strait further.

In April 1610, Henry Hudson embarked on the Discovery with 21 crewmen, including the future pilot, Robert Bylot. Hudson was a determined man but lacked judgement in his choice of sailors. Shortly after leaving, and throughout the voyage, he was mired in conflicts between members of his crew. With constant concerns about how to calm his men, he reached Hudson Strait in June. His mandate was to explore the area west of Davis Strait. The reports by Davis and others, based on the tides and the ice at the mouth of Hudson Strait led him to believe that there was a passage there. After a zig-zag voyage through the ice floes of the strait, he entered the bay that bears his name today. This was a very important step in the explorations of North America as, even by the standards of the great navigators of the 19th century, this would have been a very dangerous and impressive passage.

Hudson then steered his ship south, skirting the eastern shore to James Bay, which he saw as an interminable labyrinth. That winter came early and the ice prevented any movement before the following spring. This being the first time that a European expedition had had to winter that far north, the men were not prepared and had neither the clothing nor the stores necessary to winter in the North. Moreover, Hudson waited too long to allow the carpenter to build, and their shelter was quite rudimentary as a result. Several of the men developed scurvy. Hope was rekindled when a Native man came to exchange some skins and furs for a spy-glass, a knife and several other small items that Hudson offered him. The man wanted more for his furs but Hudson refused, and finding this a poor exchange, the man left, saying that he would return. As he did not return, Hudson decided to search for the Native camp to procure food, but a forest fire was set, which Hudson thought was to prevent the English from approaching.

The winter was harsh and hunger constantly gnawed at the crew. On June 12, 1611, Hudson prepared to return to England. He warned his companions that there were few provisions available, and that he would have to ration what there was. On the evening of June 23rd, thinking that Hudson had hidden a reserve of food, part of the crew mutinied and threw the explorer, his young son and seven other members of the crew into a boat, abandoning them near Charlton Island.

Piloted by Bylot, the ship turned home, stopping on Digges Island along the way. Seeing some Inuit, several sailors went to meet them in an attempt to get food, but the Inuit were wary and attacked them. They killed four sailors and one more died on the way home. The rest of the crew managed to hunt geese and birds, and barely reached the southern coast of Ireland, where they got help to return to London. In spite of their crimes and misdeeds, the crew was acquitted. English traders were perhaps more interested in the areas they had seen than in Hudson's fate. In A Larger Discourse [...], Abacuk Pricket, one of the surviving sailors, cast blame on Henry Hudson's attitude and lack of judgement, rather than on the crew. The others gave similar testimony.

"But finding at length by Shole water that was embayed, he was much distracted therewith, and committed many errours especially, in resolving to winter in that desolate place, in such want of necessary provision. The third of November[put "November" in italics please], he moored his Barke in a small cove, where they had all undoubtedly perished, but that it pleased God to send them severall kinds of Fowle;…"

(Purchas 1617, 925)

(Fate of the mutineers)
"A few dayes after, their victuals being spent, the shippe came aground at Digges Island […] The next morning, Greene would needs goe on shore with some of his chiefe companions, and that unarmed, notwithstanding, some advised and intreated him the contrary. The Savages entertayned him with a cunning ambush, and at the first onset shot this mutinous Ringleader into the heart, (where first, those Monsters of treachery and bloudy cruelty, now payed with the like, had beene conceived) and Wilson his brother in evill, had the like bloudy inheritance, dying swearing, and cursing: Perse, Thomas, and Moter, dyed a few dayes after of their wounds. Every where can Divine Justice find Executioners."

(Purchas 1617, 925)

What happened to Hudson and his companions? The only indication we have comes from the narrative of Nicolas Vignau, whom Champlain sent to live among the Algonquin in 1610. He said that he went as far as the North Sea with the Algonquin, where he saw a shipwrecked English ship. The Native people of the area had apparently killed some men who wanted to take their food by force.

Hudson's voyage rekindled interest in searching for a passage to Asia through Hudson Bay, and led to Bylot's explorations with Thomas Button (1612-1613), William Gibbons (1615) and William Baffin (1616). After the voyages of Luke Foxe (1631) and Thomas James (1631-32), it was finally understood that there was no opening to Cathay through Hudson Bay. In 1619-1620, a Dane, Jens Munk, made another attempt to find a passage through Hudson Bay in the name of King Christian IV but, except for three men, his entire crew of 62 men died of dysentery and scurvy during the winter. Hudson Bay was inhospitable to European navigators until they learned how to prevent scurvy, but the attraction of the fur trade promoted by Radisson and Des Groseilliers in 1669 would bring them back to the same shores to sail and explore, primarily for the Hudson's Bay Company.

William Baffin in the far north

William Baffin (1584? - 1622)

According to 17th century author Samuel Purchas, William Baffin was "that learned-unlearned Mariner and Mathematician who, wanting art of words, so really employed himself to those industries, whereof here you see so evident fruits." Born in or near London, Baffin went to work, in 1612, for the Muscovy Company, whalers in the Spitzbergen Archipelago, near Greenland. There he made several important astronomical observations. In the same year, following Henry Hudson's voyage of 1610-1611, a new company was formed to explore the Arctic, calling itself The Company of Merchants of London, Discoverers of the North West Passage. After voyages by Thomas Button to Hudson's Bay and a voyage by William Gibbons on the shores of Labrador in 1615, the Company sent Baffin, as pilot, to follow in the footsteps of these explorers and try to find the famous Northwest Passage.

During his voyage on the Discovery, commanded by Robert Bylot, Baffin deduced the first longitude calculated at sea by observing the occultation of a star by the moon. He made an intensive study of the south shore of Baffin Island in Hudson Strait and of the western end of Southampton Island, paying special attention to the tides. This search for the Northwest Passage ended when he entered the ice-choked Foxe Basin. Two centuries later, the explorer W. E. Parry would name Baffin Island "out of respect to the memory of that able and enterprising navigator." After this expedition, Baffin rightly concluded that there was no navigable passage leading northwest through Hudson's Strait. In a detailed journal of this expedition, Baffin drew a map of his travels, the only map of his still in existence.

The following year, still with Captain Bylot, Baffin followed in John Davis's tracks. He got to approximately 300 miles (about 480 kilometers) beyond Davis Strait to latitude 77º45'. This latitude was only crossed again 236 years later, the difficulty in reaching Davis Strait stemming from ice barriers that block the passage. When one does manage to skirt the barrier along the west coast of Greenland, however, one finds oneself, like Baffin, in northern waters, able to sail in the bay that now bears his name. Baffin's crew landed on islands that Baffin called "Women's Islands" in memory of some Inuit women "[whom the sailors treated with much kindness and courtesy,]" as Markham wrote in 1881. According to this author, Baffin was stopped by ice at 74º15' latitude. He explored the mouths of straits, including that of Lancaster Sound, which he could not see was the passage leading west due to the ice that blocked the entrance.

"The Master [Robert Bylot] was confident in this and other places, that the floud came from the West, which Baffin sayth, by the floting of the ice, hee observed on Land, to be contrary: only the Islands cause by their divers points, differing Sects and Eddie. On the two and twentieth of June, He observed the Longitude, having faire sight of the Sunne and Moone, and found himself by Astronomical account, 74 degrees, 5'. West from the Meridian of L O N D O N: which if some studious Mariners would practice in their remote Voyages, we should soone have a farre more perfect Geographie […]"

(Purchas 1617, 927)

Baffin wanted to find a Northwest Passage by coming from the west but he was not able to. Subsequently, his voyages led him to the Arabian Peninsula where he drew maps of Persia (Iran) and of the Red Sea, which brought him praise. On January 23, 1622, he was killed by a bullet in the Strait of Hormuz (between Iran and Oman) where he was measuring the length of the shooting range near a castle in which the English had laid siege to the Portuguese.

Baffin's arctic findings received so little recognition that, after they had been included on the maps of the day, they disappeared again until being confirmed by John Ross during his first expedition, two centuries later. Samuel Purchas, who chronicled English exploration, did not believe Baffin had reached that far north. Still, Baffin was highly regarded by contemporaries such as Foxe and James, both of whom perpetuated Baffin's findings on their own maps -- findings which were further improved later by Ross.

Radisson and Des Groseilliers: Caesars of the wilderness

Pierre-Esprit Radisson (1636 - 1710)
Médard Chouart Des Groseilliers (1618 - 1696?)

Bordering on the mythical, a myth entertained by Radisson himself, Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médard Chouart Des Groseilliers were peerless 17th century explorers and voyagers. Having neither the social standing nor the financial clout to be recognized, Radisson and Des Groseilliers attempted to get both by changing their national allegiance on more than one occasion. They were thought of by some as heroes, by others as traitors. Disobedient to authority but excellent traders and allies of Native peoples, they personified the image of "coureurs des bois".

Radisson arrived in New France with his parents in 1651. At 16, he was captured by Mohawk warriors during a hunting party in the Trois-Rivières area. An Iroquois woman, following custom towards young people, saved him from torture by taking him under her roof. He managed to escape, passed through New England, back to Europe, and returned to Trois-Rivières three years later. After his time with the Iroquois, Radisson was familiar with the language, the customs, the mores and the territory of the Five Nations as well as the route they took to New England.

Des Groseilliers arrived in Canada around 1641 and spent some time in Huronia before 1646, possibly as a soldier. Sometime after 1651, he married Marguerite Hayet, Radisson's half-sister. In 1654, with another Frenchman, he accompanied the Ottawa people to the west of Lake Huron. They returned in 1656, having seen other lakes as large as Lake Huron and other peoples from the west and the north. Des Groseilliers and his companion were accompanied on their return by 50 First Nations canoes, filled with furs that whetted the merchants' appetites.

In 1659, Des Groseilliers and Radisson set up a trading post at Chagouamigon, southwest of Lake Superior. From there, they explored the headwaters of the Mississippi. They also explored the Pigeon and Gooseberry rivers (the latter from groseillier, "gooseberry bush" in French).

Radisson and Des Groseilliers were part of a grand portage taken by the Assiniboine and the Kilistinono (Cree) who, arriving from the north with beautiful furs, explained that the former group had come from the western sea and the latter from the northern sea. Therefore, though Des Groseilliers and Radisson did not get to Hudson Bay on this voyage, they understood that they were not far from it, adding the information provided by the Cree to that of Native people who had come down the drainage basin from James Bay to Trois-Rivières in 1657-1658. Des Groseilliers and Radisson recognized the importance of reaching Hudson Bay -- New France could avoid both the Iroquois attacks in the south and competing with the Dutch for trade.

"Five dayes after we came to a place where there was a company of Christinos that weare in their Cottages. They weare transported for joy to see us come backe. They made much of us and called us men indeed, to performe our promisse to come and see them againe. [...]"

(Scull [1885], 193)

"We putt a great many rind about our fort, and broake all the boats that we could have, for the frost would have broaken them or wild men had stolen them away. That rind was tyed all in length to putt the fire in it, to frighten the more these people, for they could not approach it wthout being discovered. If they venture att ye going out we putt the fire to all the torches, shewing them how we would have defended ourselves. We weare Cesars, being nobody to contradict us."

(Scull [1885], 198)

Not only did Radisson and Des Groseilliers fail to convince the traders of New France to invest in an expedition to Hudson Bay, the new governor general also seized most of the furs the two explorers had returned with and he fined them. (Colbert had forbidden trading west of Montreal because men were needed in the colony. This restriction spawned illegal traders -- the coureurs de bois.) This when, according to some, Radisson and Des Groseilliers' furs saved the economy of New France.

The information provided by the explorers did spur governor d'Argenson to send the Jesuits Druillettes and Dablon to Hudson Bay via the Saguenay in 1661. The Native peoples, however, stopped them from passing the watershed with threats of roving Iroquois and forest fires. After several unsuccessful appeals to the French authorities and attempts to create a trading company, Radisson and Des Groseilliers left in secret, in 1662, and arrived in New England, where they started careers in the pay of the English.

As the historian Marcel Trudel wrote,

 « Ainsi, à cause de l'indifférence des autorités à l'égard d'un immense projet, les deux hommes que l'expérience des Grands Lacs et des nations amérindiennes rendait aptes à ouvrir l'accès d'un riche réservoir pelletier encore inoccupé par l'Européen, vont assurer à l'Angleterre, dans une région qu'elle avait délaissée, un triomphe décisif sur l'économie de la Nouvelle-France. » 

(Trudel 1983, II: 237)

"Thus, due to the indifference of the authorities towards a huge project, the two men, whose experience in the Great Lakes and with the Indian nations made them likely to gain access to a rich reservoir of pelts which had not yet been touched by Europeans, assure England, in a region it had abandoned, a decisive triumph over the economy of New France." [translation]

After a first voyage from England to Hudson's Bay in 1668, the two explorers persuaded a group of English merchants to invest. These merchants, on May 2, 1670, received the charter of the Hudson's Bay Company. After having experienced problems with the new company, Radisson and Des Groseilliers allowed themselves to be convinced by the Jesuit Father Albanel to return to Canada, in 1674, but the conditions offered to them by the French traders, the high dues on furs as well as the political quarrels between France and England regarding Hudson's Bay posts again exasperated the two explorers. In 1684, by which time Colbert had reversed his policy and legalized interior trade, Des Groseilliers went to Trois-Rivières, whereas Radisson returned to Hudson Bay, took the furs he had traded for the French and went to England to sell them. Radisson took a wife and stayed in that country, never having made a fortune and reviled by the Hudson's Bay Company and by the French Crown, both of which were wary of him. He died in 1710.

A long manuscript describing his experiences and his explorations that Radisson wrote in 1669 to attract English investors sometimes smacks of legend. Because of their difficulties with authorities and the greatness of their experiences, Radisson and Des Groseilliers were not only intrepid explorers of Lake Superior but also became the founders of the most ancient commercial company still in existence in Canada, the Hudson's Bay Company.

Jolliet and Marquette: Discovering the Mississippi

Louis Jolliet (1645 - 1700)
Jacques Marquette (1637 - 1675)

Louis Jolliet was a rather unlucky explorer  --  his journals and maps either disappeared in rivers or got burned up in fires. In spite of his bad luck, his explorations were important enough to have been recognized by other explorers of his time. His name is linked here  --  as in history  --  to that of Father Jacques Marquette, his travelling companion on the Mississippi.

Born in Quebec in 1645, Jolliet brilliantly completed his studies at the Quebec seminary in 1666. Jean Talon, the district administrator, attended the defense of his thesis in philosophy. The following year, having returned from a trip to France, he bought a large quantity of merchandise from the major trader Charles Aubert de La Chesnaye and went into the fur trade. In June 1671, he was at Sault Ste. Marie when Daumont de Saint-Lusson officially took possession of the West in the name of France. There were military officers, merchants, traders, missionaries and several Native people present.

Reports of the previous years' explorations encouraged the French to continue searching for a navigable route to Asia. In 1672, at the recommendation of Jean Talon, Governor Frontenac named Louis Jolliet as the best man to explore "la grande rivière qu'ils appellent Michissipi qu'on croit se décharger dans la mer de la Californie" ["the great river called the Michissipi which is believed to flow into the sea of California"]. Jolliet could not secure financial support, however, and formed a commercial company to cover the costs of exploration. The Jesuit Superior ordered one of his missionaries, Jacques Marquette, to accompany Jolliet.

Born in Laon, France in 1637 the son of the Seigneur de Tombelles, the Jesuit Jacques Marquette arrived in Canada in 1666. Two years later, he was assigned to the mission at Sault Ste. Marie. Jolliet found in Marquette an educated man who spoke five Indigenous languages and who knew the Native peoples of the Great Lakes.

In 1673, Jolliet, Marquette and five men left Green Bay. Native people guided them by way of Fox River to the village of the Mascouten, at the limit of lands known to Europeans. Pushing further, Jolliet and Marquette reached the Mississippi by the Wisconsin River. Native peoples and landscapes previously unknown to the two enchanted them as they travelled to the borders of present-day Arkansas and Louisiana. There, they learned from the Native people that the Mississippi flowed into the Gulf of Mexico and not into the western sea, as they had hoped.

The Arkansas people were hostile towards them and did not want to take them further. They also feared being caught by the Spanish if they continued to the Gulf of Mexico. Jolliet, worried about losing all the information gathered so far, decided to go back. On the way North, the travellers met a Kaskakia chief who had the kindness to facilitate their trip by showing them a shortcut through the Illinois River and a portage to Lake Michigan. Then, skirting the western shore of the lake, they rejoined the mission at Green Bay. As Marquette was ill, Jolliet left him there. Marquette died returning from his mission on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan in May 1675.

"Le Pere Jacques Marquette ayant promis aux Ilinois au premier voyage qu'il fit ches eux en 1673, qu'il y retourneroit l'année suivante po leur enseigner sa parole. Les grandes fatigues de son premier voyage luy avoient causé un flux de sang, et l'avoient tellement abbattu, qu'il estoit hors d'esperance d'entreprendre un 2nd voyage. Cependant son mal ayant diminué, et presque entierement cessé sur la fin de l'este de l'année suivante, il obtint permission de ses Superieurs de retourner aux Ilinois po y donner commencement a cette belle Mission.

[Dablon, [1860], 100]

"Father Jacques Marquette, having promised the Ilinois on his first voyage to them, in 1673, that he would return to them the following year, to teach them the mysteries of our religion, had much difficulty in keeping his word. The great hardships of his first voyage had Brought upon him a bloody flux, and had so weakened him that he was giving up the hope of undertaking a second. However, his sickness decreased; and, as it had almost entirely Abated by the close of the summer in the following year, He obtained the permission of his superiors to return to the Ilinois and there begin that fair mission.

[Thwaites, [1900], 59, 185]

Jolliet spent the winter at Sault Ste. Marie writing the journal of his voyage and drawing and copying maps. On the way back to the colony, his canoe capsized going down the Lachine Rapids near Montreal. An Illinois slave who had been given to Jolliet as well as two Frenchmen drowned. His box of documents disappeared forever and he himself was barely saved. Compounding this misfortune, the copies of these documents that he had left behind at Sault Ste. Marie were burned in a fire. The only account of this voyage that has come down to us is a narrative and map that Father Marquette sent Claude Dablon. The authorities were disappointed in finding that the Mississippi did not flow to Asia. The Minister of the Marine, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, refused to allow Jolliet to settle in Illinois, as his policy disallowing trade west of Montreal was still in effect.

Jolliet did not give up exploring. In 1675, he married Claire-Françoise Bissot -- the daughter of a trafficker on the north shore -- and undertook fur trading in that part of the country. Very quickly, he became one of the influential merchants of New France, consulted by the Governor and his peers when they needed to make important decisions.

In 1679, Jolliet was sent to Hudson's Bay, which he reached via the Saguenay, a route known since 1672 thanks to the voyage of the Jesuit Charles Albanel. At Fort Rupert, he met the first governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, Charles Bayly, who, having heard of his discoveries, invited him to serve the English. Jolliet returned from this voyage convinced that, in Hudson's Bay, the English had the best possible beaver-fur trade going, and discreetly suggested that the King prevent the English from setting themselves up any further as this could be disastrous for New France. Jolliet also recognized that the Hudson's Bay Company's success could adversely affect his own business at Mistassini. The following year, Jolliet got the concession for Anticosti Island where he wanted to set up cod fishing and seal and whale hunting. As of 1680 or 1681, he spent the warm months with his family overseeing the fishing. In winter, he gave courses in hydrography at the Quebec Seminary.

In 1694, Jolliet undertook a voyage of exploration along the north shore of Labrador, where he went as far as 56º8' north latitude. Several explorers, including Davis, Waymouth, Knight and Bourdon, as well as many fishermen, had already been to this area but none of them had described it precisely or mapped it. Leaving the Mingan Islands in June, Jolliet mapped the coast all summer. His journal of the voyage includes a description of the coast of Labrador and its inhabitants as well as 16 draft maps. This is the oldest known description of the shore between Cape Charles and Zoar, giving it historical importance. Moreover, in 1694, it was the most complete and most precise written description of the Inuit.

Jolliet was one of the best ship's pilots in the country. Accordingly, in 1695, Governor Frontenac sent him to pilot the Charente, a ship that left late in the fall, believing Jolliet to be the only person capable of the task. Jolliet returned from this voyage but there is no trace of him for the three final years of his life. During his lifetime, Jolliet was internationally renowned. Everywhere in Europe, works have celebrated his discovery of the Mississippi but no one knows where or on what day he died in the summer of 1700.

Cavelier de La Salle

René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle (1643 - 1687)

Born in Rouen in 1643 the son of a rich wholesale haberdasher, René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle arrived in New France in 1667 after having left the Society of Jesus. He obtained a concession from the Sulpicians on which he established the Lachine post. This post, much later, would be the departure point for the "Upper Country". La Salle, who had come to America to make his fortune, was mostly interested in potentially profitable explorations. Intense and ambitious, but also curious and determined, he was hated by some but also convinced the highest authorities to support his projects.

On his first expedition in 1669, La Salle was accompanied by two Sulpicians, Dollier de Casson and Bréhant de Galinée, who hoped to establish a mission on the Ohio. La Salle abandoned the expedition along the way to go hunting with Native people, and later returned to Montreal with furs.

After Jolliet's discovery of the Mississippi, La Salle had a single aim -- to continue the exploration of this river. La Salle gained favour with Governor Frontenac, and around 1675 the latter granted him a Seignury at Fort Cataraqui, which he renamed "Frontenac".

Three years later, in France, La Salle obtained the King's permission to explore the western part of North America, between New France, Florida and Mexico. Preparing for this exploration, in 1679, he built the first Great Lakes ship, the Griffon, upstream from Niagara Falls. On board this ship, he sailed as far as Green Bay on Lake Michigan, and sent the ship back to Michillimakinac, filled with furs that he had acquired illegally. He then set up the various staging areas for his expedition. He built Fort St. Joseph (1679) on Lake Michigan and Fort Crevecœur (1680) in the village of Pimiteoui, near present-day Peoria. He then sent Accault and Auguel, accompanied by the Jesuit Father Hennepin to set up a post at the confluence of the Winsconsin and Mississippi rivers. Being advised of the loss of the Griffon (probably due to storm), he returned to Fort Frontenac to learn that Fort Niagara had burned down and that the supply ship coming from Montreal had sunk.

"[…] an Account of what was transacted at Fort Crevecoeur before M. la Salle's return to Fort Frotenac; […] one of their Warriors came before their Comrades, and visited us at our fort; we entertain'd him as well as we could, and ask'd him several questions touching the River Meschasipi, from whence he came and where he had been oftentimes, giving him to understand, that some other Savage had given us an Account of it. He took a piece of Charcoal, and drew a map of the Course of that river, which I found afterwards pretty exact…"

(Hennepin, 1699, 106-107)

Ever determined, La Salle left Fort St. Joseph in January 1682 with his lieutenant, Henri de Tonti, 23 Frenchmen and 18 Native people. He reached and descended the Mississippi. Three months later, on April 6, he saw the sea. He was close to present-day Venice, where, on April 9, 1682, dressed in gold-laced scarlet, to the sound of triumphal hymns and musket salvos, La Salle erected a cross and a column with His Majesty's coat of arms and buried a brass plaque engraved with inscriptions. In a sonorous voice he read a statement enumerating the territories that were thereby passing under French domination. In taking possession of Louisiana, New France extended from the St. Lawrence River to the Gulf of Mexico.

Having achieved this goal, the explorer ordered a return as of the following day. The expedition had little food and had to get some from the Native people, who had very little at that time of year. La Salle and his companions ate food like crocodile and corn, and La Salle was ill when he reached Michillimakinac. From there, he sent the results of his expedition to de la Barre, Frontenac's successor as governor and no friend of La Salle's. His information was poorly received, but La Salle was unaware of this and returned to the Illinois River to build Fort St. Louis, which he would complete in 1683.

"[...] aprés dix lieuës de chemin, nous commençâmes à nous appercevoir que l'eau étoit salée, la plage nous parut plus étenduë, & toute semée de coquilles [...] Nous allâmes plus avant, & aprés une heure de navigation, nous nous mîmes en un canot sur la mer, nous côtoïâmes le rivage, environ un grand quart de lieuë, pour mieux connoître les bords, & nous revinmes enfin prendre terre à l'embouchure de nôtre fleuve.

"Ce qui arriva le 7 Avril de l'année 1683. D'abord nôtre premier soin fut de rendre graces à Dieu, de nous avoir si heureusement conduits jusqu'au terme de nôtre voïage, aprés plus de huit cent lieuës de navigation & de course avec si peu de monde, si peu de munitions, & au travers de tant de Nations barbares, [...] "

(Tonti 1697, 190-191)

While in France to settle personal affairs, La Salle convinced the King to send him to the mouth of the Mississippi, by sea, to set up a French settlement. To this end, Louis XIV granted him a commission to command the entire territory south of Fort St. Louis, from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico. He left France in July 1684 with a convoy of four ships carrying at least three hundred and twenty people. These included one hundred soldiers, eight officers, eight merchants, some forty employees and valets, a number of women, several children and six missionaries, including the Sulpician Jean Cavelier, La Salle's brother. Henri Joutel, a burgher of Rouen and La Salle's right-hand man, made the trip for pleasure and out of curiosity.

Hudson's history was to be repeated. La Salle, authoritarian and not listening to advice, quickly got into conflict with the military commander of the Joly, Le Gallois de Beaujeu, and with almost the entire crew. The passengers suffered from torrid heat and did not have enough water because La Salle had refused to take any on at Madeira. The Saint-François, which was transporting the food and supplies, was captured by the Spanish. After a stop at Haiti, La Salle skirted the south shore of Cuba, then entered the Gulf of Mexico around the middle of December. Night and fog prevented his recognizing the Mississippi delta. Thinking himself further to the east, he went too far west. He mistook one of the rivers of Matagorda Bay (Texas) for a branch of the Mississippi and sent the ships the Belle and the Aimable into it. When the term of commander Beaujeu's mandate had expired, the Joly returned to Europe.

La Salle, unfortunately, was not on the Mississippi. While looking for it, the Aimable ran aground, giving its cargo up to the sea, and attracting pillagers. Taking advantage of proximity, the French stole the pillagers' canoes. A battle ensued, leaving two dead and two wounded. La Salle persevered and continued on his way on the Belle, which was also grounded in its turn. He then explored little rivers in the hope of finding the Mississippi, regardless of growing opposition from his crew. On March 19, 1687, after a series of misadventures, La Salle was assassinated by members of his expedition.

Guided by some Native people, La Salle's brother Jean Cavalier, Henri Joutel and several others finally reached the Mississippi and made their way north to Canada. Jean Cavelier insisted on keeping his brother's death quiet and led authorities to believe that the expedition had reached the mouth of the river. In 1713, Joutel published his Journal historique to claim the contrary and declared that this honour rather belonged to the Canadian Pierre Lemoyne d'Iberville.

Disagreeable as a character, La Salle was undervalued in his time as one of the great explorers. Still, he has the distinction of having pushed back the limits of New France to the Gulf of Mexico and of having set up a chain of posts tied to the St. Lawrence, most of which would serve the fur trade continually until after the Conquest of 1760.

Attempts at Settling the "New" Land

More than a century would pass between the time that Europeans began fishing the waters of riches and their first attempts to settle Canada. There are a few reasons for this delay. The fishery was made profitable by men who crossed the Atlantic seasonally -- arriving on the North American coast in the spring and returning to Europe in the fall. Settlement, as the historian Gillian Cell put it, was irrelevant to the fishery. The same was true of the fur trade in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which was attracting investors by the late 1500s. Europeans did not trap furs themselves, but acquired them from the Native inhabitants of Canada, in exchange for European goods. For those who invested in the fishery or the fur trade, it simply made more sense to operate seasonally, without incurring the enormous cost and risk of transporting settlers from Europe and then maintaining them year-round. As a result, no attempt was made to settle permanently north of the Carolinas before the 17th century.

Around 1600, something changed. Between 1603 and 1613, numerous attempts were made to establish permanent European outposts in North America: by the French in the Bay of Fundy region in 1603-04; by the English in Virginia in 1607; by the French again at Quebec in 1608; and by the English in Newfoundland several times, beginning in 1610. What triggered this seemingly abrupt interest in permanent settlement? The answer is complicated. As the 17th century began, a period of war drew to a close in Europe, one that had preoccupied several countries. The onset of peace brought new interest in overseas investment, including the notion that profits could be made through the development of colonies. The first colony in Newfoundland, for instance, was established in 1610 by the London & Bristol Company (commonly called the Newfoundland Company). The investors of this company expected the colony to generate wealth through the development of Newfoundland's mineral, forest, and agricultural resources as well as from its fishery.

Expectations such as these were nurtured by the optimistic predictions of those promoting overseas colonization. They insisted that the island had a climate as mild as that of London or Paris, soil suitable for European crops, and mineral potential in abundance. Unfortunately, the inaccuracy of these claims was not revealed until after the experience of those who settled there proved the promoters wrong. The climate was in fact quite harsh, the soil thin and acidic, and the mineral potential would have to wait a few centuries for the development of mining technologies.

This is not to say that settlement would not take root in Newfoundland. Archaeological evidence at Ferryland and at Cupid's Cove suggests that settlement did persist. Yet only the fishery in Newfoundland, like the fur trade in New France, would generate the sort of profits that pleased investors in Europe. Since settlement was really not essential to either the fishery or the fur trade, this meant that settlement in the new land progressed very slowly throughout the 17th century.

Scurvy: Scourge of the Voyagers

Mariners have always been confronted by risks and hazards -- disaster could come from uncharted reefs, fire on board, or shifts in the wind. In the 15th century, long-distance sea voyages introduced a new set of dangers. So long as seafaring had been limited to short-distance voyages, the quality of shipboard provisions mattered little, but once mariners undertook voyages that lasted months at a time, problems arose from poorly preserved food and from diets that lacked essential vitamins. As a result, thousands of seafarers died before these problems were solved.

Shipboard diet was invariably boring -- hardtack, salt meats, dried peas, dried fish, butter, cheese and fresh water or beer were typical staples -- but mariners generally received sufficient food to meet their daily caloric requirements. The problem was not the quantity of food but its quality. Shipboard provisions were preserved by being salted, pickled, dried or smoked, but even these methods could not prevent food from spoiling over time. This, combined with poor hygiene and sanitation, crowded shipboard conditions, and vermin, meant that sailors often fell victim to diseases like the "bloody fluxe" (dysentery), "ship fever" (typhus, spread by lice), and typhoid. No one understood the micro-organisms that caused these diseases, but sailors had no difficulty blaming meat that was putrefying, water that stank with algae, and biscuit infested with weevils. The quality of food was a common source of complaint among mariners through the ages.

One malady that killed sailors by the score was caused not by what was in the food but by what was not. Scurvy, caused by a lack of Vitamin C, was the great killer of mariners on long oceanic voyages. During his voyage to India in 1497-98, Vasco da Gama lost two-thirds of his men to scurvy. Two hundred and fifty years later, Commodore Anson lost over half of his nearly two thousand men during a four-year voyage. Mariners recognized that scurvy was somehow linked to their diet, but they did not understand how. Was it a lack of fresh meat? Fresh vegetables? Why did some foods help, while others did not?

As early as 1535, Jacques Cartier learned from Native people in Canada that a brew made from some evergreen bark and foliage would cure scurvy. By 1601, others had discovered that lemons were very effective against the disease. Still, it was not until James Lind conducted detailed tests in the late 1740s that the value of citrus fruit began to be scientifically recognized. Even then, decades passed before sailors could be convinced to change their diets -- James Cook himself thought sauerkraut was better than lemons for safeguarding the health of his men -- and the problem of scurvy persisted well into the 18th century.

Transportation: Canoe

Travel through the interior of Canada would have been impossible without the canoe, a watercraft perfectly suited to the rivers and lakes of North America. Native people in Canada had always used canoes, and it did not take long for European newcomers to recognize the value of these craft. As Champlain wrote: "In their canoes the Indians can go without restraint, and quickly, everywhere, in the small as well as the large rivers. So that by using canoes as the Indians do, it will be possible to see all there is."

In the woodlands of eastern and northern Canada, canoes were made of birch bark, strong, but light. One person could carry a small bark canoe around the many rapids and waterfalls that blocked the interior rivers.

Builders peeled the bark from the birch trees in long sheets that were then sewn together and attached to a cedar frame. Tree roots were used as thread and the seams between the bark sheets were sealed with spruce or pine resin. One drawback to the bark canoe was its fragility; it didn't take much of a bump against a sharp rock to burst a hole in the side or bottom. Luckily, it was also easily mended. Paddlers always carried with them a bundle of fresh bark and some resin to patch the holes.

Canoes came in different shapes and sizes. The bark canoes made by Native people for getting around in the woods were quite small and could be carried on the shoulders of a single paddler. Fur traders and explorers required larger canoes for carrying quantities of furs and other cargo. The largest were called canots du maître. These giants were up to twelve metres long, carried 2 200 kilograms of cargo and required a crew of six to twelve voyageurs to paddle them. They were used to ply the routes between Montreal and the head of Lake Superior. In the wooded fur country beyond the Great Lakes, the canot du maître was too big to wrestle around the portages, so traders used the smaller canot du nord. It was seven metres long, and carried only half the cargo and crew of the larger vessel.

When they were on the move, it was customary for a canoe brigade to rouse itself well before dawn and put in four hours of paddling before pausing for breakfast. The average workday lasted 16 to 18 hours. A bark canoe could be paddled across the water at close to ten kilometres per hour. It was exhausting work, but preferable to the portages, where the cargo, carefully packed in 40-kilogram loads, had to be unloaded and carried on the backs of the voyageurs, along with the canoe. Sometimes these portages were 15 kilometres long, going across swamps and over steep hillsides, and a voyageur would have to tramp back and forth several times.

Bark was not the only material used by Native peoples in Canada to build their canoes. On the Pacific Coast, the people carved canoes from cedar logs. The Ktunaxa (Tu NA ha), or Kutenai, people of the British Columbia interior made blunt-nosed canoes that they used to gather wild rice and the Inuit constructed their boats from animal skins, but the bark canoe was the most common form of transportation for European explorers and fur traders.


In 1603, Samuel de Champlain arrived at the mouth of the Saguenay River with the trader Aymar de Chaste. His orders were to "...see the country and what the colonizers might accomplish there" and to "give the King [Henri IV] a faithful report thereon." (Biggar 1929, 315) France had decided to establish a colony in Canada. In his first summer Champlain resolved on the following ways in which Canada could be explored:

  • establishment of a permanent base
  • creation of friendly relations with Native people
  • collecting of maps and verbal geographic information from Native people
  • hiring of Native people as guides
  • learning from Native people how to paddle a canoe and live off the land.

Between 1603 and 1616 Champlain explored and mapped eastern Canada from the St. Lawrence Valley through Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario, and along the Atlantic coast to Cape Cod. By the end of his life (1635) he had produced five small-scale maps and twenty-three detailed plans of harbours and settlements such as those at Tadoussac. Among the small-scale maps, that of 1612 contains the first rendering of Lake Ontario and Niagara Falls, both based on Native mapping.

While Champlain was busy on the Atlantic Coast, the English renewed their efforts to find a northwest passage. Interest focussed on the 'furious over fall' (currents) emanating from a strait first noticed by John Davis and marked on Wright's (1599) map. In 1610, Henry Hudson managed to penetrate this ice-choked strait to a huge bay, both of which were later named after him. The charts brought back by the survivors of this expedition were engraved and published in 1612 by Gerritsz. Hudson's successors Button (1612-13) and Bylot with Baffin (1615) contributed to Briggs's (1625) chart, the first modern outline of Hudson Bay. Finally, the voyages of Luke Foxe (1631) and Thomas James (1631-32) laid to rest, for a while, the notion of finding a practical northwest passage. Their maps also included the northern findings of Baffin (1616). With Thornton's 1685 chart of the Bay, the Hudson's Bay Company finally improved on the earlier versions.

After Champlain's death in the 1670s, the major explorers and mapmakers were the Jesuits. In order to promote religious missions, French explorers other than the Jesuits -- and those who worked for them -- were barred from the interior west of Montreal after 1632. The aim of this was to let Jesuits operate without secular interference and to keep Frenchmen near the St. Lawrence where they could farm and protect the colony. The ban was gradually modified but was not entirely lifted until 1681. By the end of the 1640s the Jesuits had mapped the Huron country, and furnished the information incorporated by the maps of Sanson, Bressani and Du Creux. The beautiful Bressani map contains the only accurate 17th century pictures of Huron and Iroquois life and the earliest picture of the martyrdom of Fathers Brébeuf and Lalemant (1649). Further Jesuit mapping led to the first map of Lake Superior (1672) by Fathers Allouez and Dablon, the first map of the Missippi (1673) by Father Marquette and good maps of the Iroquois country (1688) by Father Raffeix.

In 1681, the French government officially opened the Canadian interior to fur traders through a licensing system. The information brought back by men such as Jolliet, Peré, La Salle and others was compiled into maps by Canada's first official cartographer, Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin, and sent to the Ministry of the Marine in France, where professional cartographers at the court had access to them. The maps by the royal geographers Coronelli (1688-89) and Delisle (1700 and 1703) best sum up the 17th century mapping of Canada.

Surveying during the 17th century was confined mainly to the St. Lawrence Valley. Cadastral maps showing property boundaries commenced with the first survey of the original seigneuries in 1641 by Bourdon. The St. Lawrence River was charted for shipping by Louis Jolliet and Franquelin in 1685, but much more expertly by Jean Deshayes in 1685-86. This chart was put into print in 1702 by de Fer and became the standard chart of the river until the British surveys after 1760.

Significant maps of the period

[Allouez, Claude and Claude Dablon]

Lac Superieur... . [1672].

Bourdon, Jean

"Carte depuis Kebec jusques au Cap Tourmente." 1641.

[Bressani, Gioseppe]

Novae Franciae Accurata Delineatio. 1657.

[Briggs, Henry]

The North Part of America ... [1625].

Champlain, Samuel de

"Descrpsion des costs... ." 1607.

Port de Tadoucac. 1608.

Carte geographique de la Nouvelle France... . 1612.

Carte geographique de la Nouelle Franse... . [1612] and 1613.

[Le Canada.] 1616.

Carte de la Nouuelle France, augmentée ... . 1632.

Coronelli, Vincenzo

Partie Occidentale du Canada... . 1688.

Partie Orientale du Canada... . 1689.

Delisle, Guillaume

L'Amerique Setentrionale... . 1700.

Care Du Canada... . 1703.

Deshayes, Jean and Nicolas de Fer

Carte Marine De L'Embouchure De La Riviere... . 1702.

[Du Creux, François]

Tabula Novae Franciae. 1616.

Chorographia Regionis Huronum... . 1660.

Foxe, Luke

[The Canadian Arctic.] 1635.

[Gerritsz, Hessel]

Tabula Navtica... . [1612]

James, Thomas

The Platt of Sailing For The Discoverye... . 1633.

[Marquette, Jacques]

["Marquette Map."] [1673].

[Raffeix, Pierre]

"Le Lac Ontario... ." 1688.

Sanson, Nicolas

Amerique Septentrionale... . 1650.

 Le Canada, ou Nouvelle France... . 1656.

Thornton, John

A Chart of ye Northpart of America... . [1685].

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