It was December 1491 when a boy was born in the seaport town of Saint-Malo, France. Little did his parents know he would one day become a famous captain who would explore the New World and establish the first French settlements in Canada. His name was Jacques Cartier.
From a young age, Cartier adored sailing and would often accompany his father – a sailor – on his voyages. Through this and his navigational studies, he soon became an experienced and eminent captain. He was eventually recommended to King Francois I as the captain of La Grande Herminie, and was sent on three voyages to the New World.
Cartier’s goal on his first expedition in 1534 was to find the Northwest Passage to Asia. After a relatively short journey of twenty days, they reached the shore of Canada. They explored the islands of Newfoundland, Magdalen and Prince Edward, as well as Quebec and the Gaspe Peninsula. During this time, Cartier and his crew encountered the Iroquois, with whom they traded native furs and European tools, marking the first trade between Europe and Canada. Another significant discovery Cartier made was of the Gulf of St. Lawrence River, which he accurately charted. On the way home, Cartier and his men kidnapped two natives, whom they taught to become interpreters.
One year later Cartier was sent on another journey to ‘Kanata’ the name which the natives had given their land, meaning ‘village.’ The trip was fifty long days of horrific storms and scurvy, which they spread to the Iroquoians once they reached shore, killing fifty locals. The French requested the Iroquoians cure them of the dreadful disease. The medicine, a brew made of the bark and needles of the white cedar tree, healed Cartier’s men as well as the natives. Little was discovered on this voyage, other than a remedy for scurvy. In 1536, when the Frenchmen were ready to return to their homeland, they forcibly kidnapped the Iroquoian Chief Donnacona, his two sons, and three other aboriginal people, outraging those left on shore.
It was not until 1541 when Cartier was assigned to his third – and final – mission. This time with five ships and 1500 men, who would settle in the New World in the modern cities of Quebec and Montreal. During their five years in France, all but one of the aboriginal people died of foreign illnesses. When the other aboriginals learned this, they were furious – so furious that they murdered thirty-five Frenchmen. This caused Cartier and his men to abandon the natives’ home of Stadacona and build a new settlement elsewhere, in Charlesbourg-Royal. Two years later, Charlesbourg-Royal was abandoned because of a series of attacks made by the Iroquoians.
After this unfortunate incident, Cartier abandoned his life as a sea captain and instead turned to a life of business, in which he became very successful. He died years later in his birthplace of Saint-Malo at the age of 66. Jacques Cartier had an immense influence on France as well as Canada, creating the first French settlement, which would later spread throughout what is now Quebec. (by Megan and Jasmine in grade eight)
- Cranny, Michael. Pathways: Civilizations Through Time. Toronto: Prentice Hall, 1947.
- Lackey, Jennifer. Jacques Cartier. St. Catherine’s: Crabtree Publishing, 2007.
- Trottier, Maxine. Canadian Explorers. Toronto: Scholastic Canada Ltd., 2005.
“…this beginning motion, this first time when a sail truly filled and the boat took life and knifed across the lake under perfect control, this was so beautiful it stopped my breath…” – Gary Paulsen
“Do just once what others say you can’t do, and you will never pay attention to their limitations again.” – James Cook