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Étienne Brûlé (c. 1592 – c. June 1633)[1] was a French explorer and coureur des bois in Canada in the 17th century. A rugged outdoorsman, he took to the lifestyle of the First Nations.


Early life

Brule was born c. 1592 in Champigny-sur-Marne, France.[1]

Life in New France

A plaque to commemorate Étienne Brûlé's discovery of the pathway to the Humbers in Etienne Brule Park of Toronto, Ontario.

Brûlé travelled to New France in 1608. He portaged at the Rideau Falls and was the first European to view the site of Canada's future capital. Brûlé was sent by Samuel de Champlain to live with the Hurons for the winter of 1610 to learn their language, and Champlain in turn accepted the company of a Huron youth named Savignon. When Brûlé returned to Montreal the following spring, he was a qualified interpreter. For the next twenty two years, he roamed from band to band, building a reputation as a ne'er-do-well and a lecher. Brûlé traveled with the Huron and their chief (Iroquet) to the shores of southern Georgian Bay. There he spent a year in their village, learning their language and customs. He became a scout for Champlain and explored much of what is now Quebec, Ontario, and Michigan.

He was probably the first European to see all the Great Lakes: Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, and one of the first Europeans to set foot in the future states of Pennsylvania and Michigan.[2] He travelled widely, going as far south as the Chesapeake Bay, and as far west as the site of Duluth, Minnesota. On the way back to Quebec, he was tortured by the Iroquois.

Champlain and the Jesuits often spoke out against Brûlé's adoption of Huron customs, as well as his association with the fur traders, who were beyond the control of the colonial government. Brûlé left Quebec to live with the natives in the 1620s and became the first European to travel up what would be named the St. Marys River and into Lake Superior. Brûlé was later confined in Québec for a year, where he taught the Jesuits the natives' language. He was then sent back to Europe and prohibited from coming back to New France. Brûlé then set out for England and in 1629 betrayed his country when he guided an English force led by the Kirke Brothers down the St. Lawrence to their successful capture of Quebec City (though the colony was returned to France in 1632). Champlain said of him: "Brûlé is licentious and otherwise depraved, thus setting a bad example to the savages, for which he should be severely punished."

Brûlé continued to live with the natives, acting as an interpreter in their dealings with the French traders. Though the circumstances of his death are unclear, it is most thought that he was captured by the Seneca Iroquois in battle and left for dead by his Huron group. He managed to escape death by torture, but when he returned home, the Hurons did not believe his story and suspected him of trading with the Senecas. Treated as an enemy, Brûlé was stabbed to death, his body was dismembered, and his remains were consumed by the villagers in 1633. He died at Toanche, on the Penetanguishene peninsula, Ontario, and was buried by the Hurons, who interred only those who met death by violence.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Bailey, Thomas Melville (1981). Dictionary of Hamilton Biography (Vol I, 1791-1875). W.L. Griffin Ltd. 
  2. ^ Brule, Etienne, 1592?-1632


  • Douglas, Gail (2003). Étienne Brûlé: The Mysterious Life and Times of An Early Canadian Legend, Canmore, Alberta: Altitude Publishing Canada, 141 p. (ISBN 1-55153-961-6)
  • Jurgens, Olga. "Brûlé, Étienne", in Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, University of Toronto and Université Laval, 2000
  • Baker, Daniel ed. Explorers and Discoverers of the World. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993
  • Cranston, James Herbert (1949). Etienne Brulé, Immortal Scoundrel, Toronto : The Ryerson Press, 144 p.
  • Butterfield, Consul Willshire (1898). History of Brulé's Discoveries and Explorations, 1610-1626, Cleveland: Helman-Taylor, 184 p. (online:, Library of Congress)
  • Woods, Shirley E., Jr. "Ottawa: The Capital of Canada" Doubleday, 1980., p 9.

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