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Jacques Cartier

Portrait of Jacques Cartier by Théophile Hamel, ca. 1844. No contemporary portraits of Cartier are known.
Born December 31, 1491
St. Malo , Brittany
Died September 1, 1557 (aged 65)
St. Malo, France
Occupation French navigator and explorer
Known for First European to travel inland in North America. Claimed Canada for France.

Jacques Cartier (December 31, 1491 – September 1, 1557) was a French explorer of Breton origin who claimed what is now Canada for France.[1][2][3][4] He was the first European to describe and map[5] the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the shores of the Saint Lawrence River, which he named "The Country of Canadas", after the Iroquois names for the two big settlements he saw at Stadacona (Quebec City) and at Hochelaga (Montreal Island).



Jacques Cartier was born in 1491[6] in Saint-Malo, the port on the extreme north-east coast of Brittany. Cartier, who was a respectable mariner, improved his social status in 1520 by marrying Mary Catherine des Granches, member of a leading family. His good name in Saint-Malo is recognized by its frequent appearance on baptismal registers as godfather or witness.[7]


First voyage, 1534

In 1534, the year the Duchy of Brittany was formally united with France in the Edict of Union, Cartier was introduced to King Francis I by Jean le Veneur, bishop of Saint-Malo and abbot of Mont-Saint-Michel, at the Manoir de Brion. The king had previously invited (although not formally commissioned) the Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano to explore the eastern coast of North America on behalf of France in 1524. Cartier is believed to have accompanied da Verrazzano on this expedition, which explored the coast from South Carolina to Nova Scotia, and islands such as Newfoundland; on another voyage they went to Brazil. Le Veneur cited these voyages to Newfoundland and Brazil as proof of Cartier's ability to "lead ships to the discovery of new lands in the New World".[8]

Route of Cartier's first voyage.

In 1534, Cartier set sail under a commission from the king, hoping to discover a western passage to the wealthy markets of Asia. In the words of the commission, he was to "discover certain islands and lands where it is said that a great quantity of gold and other precious things are to be found". It took him twenty days to sail across the ocean. Starting on May 10 of that year, he explored parts of Newfoundland, the areas now the Canadian Atlantic provinces and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. During one stop at Îles aux Oiseaux (Islands of the Birds, now the Rochers-aux-Oiseaux federal bird sanctuary, northeast of Brion Island in the Magdalen Islands), his crew slaughtered around 1000 birds, most of them great auks (now extinct). Cartier's first two encounters with aboriginal peoples in Canada on the north side of Chaleur Bay, most likely the Mi'kmaq, were brief; some trading occurred. His third encounter took place on the shores of Gaspé Bay with a party of St. Lawrence Iroquoians, where on July 24, he planted a 10 meter cross bearing the words "Long Live the King of France" and took possession of the territory in the name of the king. The change in mood was a clear indication that the Iroquoians understood Cartier's actions. Here he kidnapped the two sons of their captain.[9] Cartier wrote that they later told him this region where they were captured (Gaspé) was called by them Honguedo. The natives' captain at last agreed that they could be taken, under the condition that they return with European goods to trade.[10] Cartier returned to France in September 1534, sure that he had reached an Asian coast.

Second voyage, 1535–1536

Jacques Cartier set sail for a second voyage on May 19 of the following year with three ships, 110 men, and the two natives. Reaching the St. Lawrence, he sailed up-river for the first time, and reached the Iroquoian capital of Stadacona, where Chief Donnacona ruled.

Jacques Cartier left his main ships in a harbour close to Stadacona, and used his smallest ship to continue up-river and visit Hochelaga (now Montreal) where he arrived October 2, 1535. Hochelaga was far more impressive than the small and squalid village of Stadacona, and more than 1,000 Iroquoians came to the river edge to greet the Frenchmen. The site of their arrival has been confidently identified as the beginning of the Sainte-Marie Sault - where the bridge named after him now stands. The expedition could proceed no further, as the river was blocked by rapids. So certain was Cartier that the river was the Northwest Passage and that the rapids were all that was preventing him from sailing to China, that the rapids and the town that eventually grew up near them came to be named after the French word for China, La Chine: the Lachine Rapids and the town of Lachine, Quebec.

After spending two days among the people of Hochelaga, Cartier returned to Stadacona on October 11. It is not known exactly when he decided to spend the winter of 1535-1536 in Stadacona, and it was by then too late to return to France. Cartier and his men prepared for the winter by strengthening their fort, stacking firewood, and salting down game and fish.

During this winter, Cartier compiled a sort of gazetteer that included several pages on the manners of the natives—in particular, their habit of wearing only leggings and loincloths even in the dead of winter....[citation needed]

Route of Cartier's second voyage.

From mid-November 1535 to mid-April 1536, the French fleet lay frozen solid at the mouth of the St. Charles River, under the Rock of Quebec. Ice was over a fathom (1.8 m) thick on the river, with snow four feet (1.2 m) deep ashore. To add to the discomfort, scurvy broke out — first among the Iroquoians, and then among the French. In his journal, Cartier states that by mid-February, "out of 110 that we were, not ten were well enough to help the others, a pitiful thing to see". Cartier estimated the number of natives dead at 50.

One of the natives who survived was Dom Agaya, the chief's son who had been taken to France the previous year. During a friendly visit by Domagaya to the French fort, Cartier enquired and learned from him that a concoction made from a tree known as annedda (probably arbor vitae) would cure scurvy. This remedy likely saved the expedition from destruction, allowing 85 Frenchmen to survive the winter.

Ready to return to France in early May 1536, Cartier decided to take Chief Donnacona to France, so that he might personally tell the tale of a country further north, called the "Kingdom of Saguenay", said to be full of gold, rubies and other treasures. After an arduous trip down the St. Lawrence and a three-week Atlantic crossing, Cartier and his men arrived in Saint-Malo on July 15, 1536, concluding the second, 14 month voyage, which was to be Cartier's most profitable.

Third voyage, 1541–1542

On October 17, 1540, Francis I ordered the Breton navigator to return to Canada to lend weight to a colonization project of which he would be "captain general". However, January 15, 1541 saw Cartier supplanted by Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval, a Huguenot courtier and friend of the king named as the first lieutenant general of French Canada. Roberval was to lead the expedition, with Cartier as his chief navigator. While Roberval waited for artillery and supplies, he gave permission to Cartier to sail on ahead with his ships.

On May 23, 1541, Cartier departed Saint-Malo on his third voyage with five ships. This time, any thought of finding a passage to the Orient was forgotten. The goals were now to find the "Kingdom of Saguenay" and its riches, and to establish a permanent settlement along the St. Lawrence River.

Anchoring at Stadacona, Cartier again met the Iroquoians, but found their "show of joy" and their numbers worrisome, and decided not to build his settlement there. Sailing a few miles up-river to a spot he had previously observed, he decided to settle on the site of present-day Cap-Rouge, Quebec. The convicts and other colonists were landed, the cattle that had survived three months aboard ship were turned loose, earth was broken for a kitchen garden, and seeds of cabbage, turnip, and lettuce were planted. A fortified settlement was thus created and was named Charlesbourg-Royal. Another fort was also built on the cliff overlooking the settlement, for added protection.

The men also began collecting what they believed to be diamonds and gold, but which upon return to France were discovered to be merely quartz crystals and iron pyrites, respectively — which gave rise to a French expression: "faux comme les diamants du Canada" ("As false as Canadian diamonds"). Two of the ships were dispatched home with some of these minerals on September 2.

Having set tasks for everyone, Cartier left with the longboats for a reconnaissance in search of "Saguenay" on September 7. Having reached Hochelaga, he was prevented by bad weather and the numerous rapids from continuing up to the Ottawa River.

Returning to Charlesbourg-Royal, Cartier found the situation ominous. The Iroquoians no longer made friendly visits or peddled fish and game, but prowled about in a sinister manner. No records exist about the winter of 1541-1542 and the information must be gleaned from the few details provided by returning sailors. It seems the natives attacked and killed about 35 settlers before the Frenchmen could retreat behind their fortifications. Even though scurvy was cured through the native remedy (Thuja occidentalis infusion), the impression left is of a general misery, and of Cartier's growing conviction that he had insufficient manpower either to protect his base or to go in search of the Saguenay Kingdom.

Cartier left for France in early June 1542, encountering Roberval and his ships along the Newfoundland coast, at about the time Roberval marooned Marguerite de La Rocque. Despite Roberval's insistence that he accompany him back to Saguenay, Cartier slipped off under the cover of darkness and continued on to France, still convinced his vessels contained a wealth of gold and diamonds. He arrived there in October, in what proved to be his last voyage. Meanwhile, Roberval took command at Charlesbourg-Royal, but it was abandoned in 1543 after disease, foul weather and hostile natives drove the would-be settlers to despair.

Later life

Cartier spent the rest of his life in Saint-Malo and his nearby estate, where he often was useful as an interpreter in Portuguese, and he died aged 65 or 66 on September 1, 1557 from an epidemic.[11] No permanent European settlements were made in Canada before 1608, when Samuel Champlain founded Quebec City. Cartier is interred in St. Vincent's Cathedral.


The Dauphin Map of Canada, circa 1543, showing Cartier's discoveries

Having already located the entrance to the St. Lawrence on his first voyage, he now opened up the greatest waterway for the European penetration of North America. He produced an intelligent estimate of the resources of Canada, both natural and human, albeit with a considerable exaggeration of its mineral wealth. While some of his actions toward the St. Lawrence Iroquoians were dishonourable, he did try at times to establish friendship with them and other native peoples living along the St. Lawrence River—an indispensable preliminary to French settlement in their lands.

Cartier was the first to document the name Canada to designate the territory on the shores of the St-Lawrence River. The name is derived from the Huron-Iroquois word "kanata", or village, which was incorrectly interpreted as the native term for the newly discovered land.[12] Cartier used the name to describe Stadacona, the surrounding land and the river itself. And Cartier named "Canadiens" the inhabitants (Iroquoians) he had seen there. Thereafter the name Canada was used to designate the small French colony on these shores, and the French colonists were called Canadiens, until the mid-nineteenth century, when the name started to be applied to the loyalist colonies on the Great Lakes and later to all of British North America. In this way Cartier is not strictly the European discoverer of Canada as this country is understood today, a vast federation stretching a mari usque ad mare (from sea to sea). Eastern parts had previously been visited by the Norse, as well as Basque, Galician and Breton fishermen, and perhaps the Corte-Real brothers and John Cabot (in addition of course to the Natives who first inhabited the territory). Cartier's particular contribution to the discovery of Canada is as the first European to penetrate the continent, and more precisely the interior eastern region along the St. Lawrence River. His explorations consolidated France's claim of the territory that would later be colonized as New France, and his third voyage produced the first documented European attempt at settling North America since that of Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón in 1526-27.

Cartier's professional abilities can be easily ascertained. Considering that Cartier made three voyages of exploration in dangerous and hitherto unknown waters without losing a ship, and that he entered and departed some 50 undiscovered harbors without serious mishap, he may be considered one of the most conscientious explorers of the period.

Cartier was also one of the first to formally acknowledge that the New World was a separate land mass from Europe/Asia.

Rediscovery of Cartier's first colony

On August 18, 2006, Quebec Premier Jean Charest announced that Canadian archaeologists had discovered the precise location of Cartier's lost first colony of Charlesbourg-Royal.[13] The colony was built where the Cap Rouge river runs into the St. Lawrence River and is based on the discovery of burnt wooden timber remains that have been dated to the mid-16th century, and a fragment of a decorative Istoriato plate manufactured in Faenza, Italy, between 1540 and 1550, that could only have belonged to a member of the French aristocracy in the colony. Most probably this was the Sieur de Roberval, who replaced Cartier as the leader of the settlement.[14] This colony was the first known European settlement in modern day Canada since the c.1000 AD L'Anse aux Meadows Viking village in northern Newfoundland. Its rediscovery has been hailed by archaeologists as the most important find in Canada since the L'Anse aux Meadows rediscovery.


  • Grande Hermine
    • Built: France 1534; given in 1535 to Cartier by the King of France; used in the 1535-1536 and 1541-1542 voyages; replica 1967 built for "Expo 67" in Montréal; abandoned in 2001 from Saint-Charles River (Québec City)
  • Petite Hermine
    • Built: France; used in the 1535-1536 voyage and abandoned in 1536 springtime by Cartier in Saint-Charles River because too many of his sailors died in Québec City during last wintertime
  • Émérillon
    • Built: France; used in the 1535-1536 and 1541-1542 voyages
  • Georges (1541–1542)
    • Built: France; used the 1541-1542 voyage
  • Saint-Brieux
    • Built: France; used the 1541-1542 voyage


Popular references

In 2005, Cartier's Bref récit et succincte narration de la navigation faite en MDXXXV et MDXXXVI was named the most important book in Canadian history by the Literary Review of Canada.

Jacques Cartier Island, located on the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula in Newfoundland and Labrador in the town of Quirpon, is said to have been named by Jacques Cartier himself on one of his voyages through the Straits of Belle Isle during the 1530s.

The Tragically Hip reference Jacques Cartier in their song "Looking for a Place to Happen." The song deals with primitivism and colonialism in the context of European ideologies and mythic exploration narratives in line with Cartier's journey's to the "New World."


  1. ^ Trudel, Marcel. "Cartier, Jacques". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2009-11-09. 
  2. ^ "Jacques Cartier". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2009-11-09. 
  3. ^ "Exploration — Jacques Cartier". The Historica Dominion Institute. Retrieved 2009-11-09. 
  4. ^ "Jacques Cartier". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2009-11-09. 
  5. ^ His maps are lost but referred to in a letter by his nephew Jacques Noël, dated 1587 and printed by Richard Hakluyt with the Relation of Cartier's third voyage, in The Principall Navigations [...], London, G. Bishop, 1600.
  6. ^ No baptismal certificate has been found, but Cartier stated his age on at least three letters. See Marcel Trudel, Histoire de la Nouvelle-France, vol. 1, p. 68.
  7. ^ Biggar, H.P. A Collection of Documents relating to Jacques Cartier and the Sieur de Roberval, Ottawa, Public Archives of Canada, 1930. Over 20 baptisms cited.
  8. ^ Baron de La Chapelle, « Jean Le Veneur et le Canada », Nova Francia, vol. 6, 1931, pp. 341-343, quoting a genealogical work made in 1723 for the Le Veneur family. After his final trip, he said he would never search again.
  9. ^ Some accounts make this captain to be Donnacona himself, the ruler at Stadacona, eg. the Canadian Encyclopedia, but this does not seem possible from Cartier's firsthand accounts.
  10. ^ Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
  11. ^ "Parks Canada — Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site of Canada — Natural Wonders & Cultural Treasures — Jacques Cartier, Explorer and Navigator". 2009-07-15. Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  12. ^ McMullen, J.M. 1855. The History of Canada: From Its First Discovery to the Present Time. C. W., J. M'Mullen (no copyright in the United States), p. 7. No ISBN.
  13. ^ "". 2006-08-22. Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  14. ^ "". 2006-08-19. Retrieved 2010-03-13. 


  • - (1993). Ramsay Cook. ed. The Voyages of Jacques Cartier. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0802050158. 
  • Trudel, Marcel (1966). "Cartier, Jacques". Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol. 1. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.. pp. 154–172.  online
  • Trudel, Marcel (1973). The Beginnings of New France, 1524–1663. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.  ASIN B000RQPTDK

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

JACQUES CARTIER (1491-1557), French navigator, discoverer of the Canadian river St Lawrence, was born at St Malo in Brittany. Of his early life nothing is known. On the suppression by Admiral Chabot of the trade to Brazil, an expedition consisting of two ships and sixty-one men was despatched from St Malo under Cartier on the 20th of April 1534, to look for a north-west passage to the East. Cartier reached Newfoundland on the 10th of May, and at once entered the strait of Belle Isle, then known to the fishermen as the bay of Castles. While the ships renewed their supply of wood and water in Belles Amours harbour on the north side of the strait, the long-boats discovered that the coast farther west was barren, rocky and uninviting. In view of this Cartier set sail on Monday, the 15th of June, for the south side of the strait, by following which he was led down almost the whole west coast of Newfoundland. Off St George's Bay a storm drove the ships out into the gulf, but on resuming his course Cartier fell in with the Bird Rocks. The island south of these he named Brion Island, after Chabot. Cartier mistook our Magdalen and Prince Edward Islands for the main shore on the south side of this inland sea. Following the coast of New Brunswick northward he was greatly disappointed to discover Chaleur Bay was not a strait. During a ten days' stay in Gaspe Harbour Cartier made friends with a tribe of Huron-Iroquois Indians from Quebec, two of whom he carried off with him. A mirage deceived him into thinking the passage up the river south of Anticosti was a bay, whereupon he proceeded to coast the southern, eastern and northern shores of Anticosti. On discovering the passage between this island and the Quebec shore a council was held, at which it was decided to postpone the exploration of this strait until the following year. Heading eastward along the Quebec shore, Cartier soon regained the Strait of Belle Isle and, entering the Atlantic on the 15th of August, reached St Malo in safety on the 5th of September.

Cartier set sail again from St Malo with three vessels on the 16th of May 1536, and passing through the strait of Belle Isle anchored on the 9th of August in Pillage Bay, opposite Anticosti. The next day he named this the bay of St Lawrence. In course of time the name spread to the gulf and finally to the river. Proceeding through the passage north of Anticosti, Cartier anchored on the 1st of September at the mouth of the Saguenay, which the two Indians who had passed the winter in France informed him was the name of a kingdom "rich and wealthy in precious stones." Again on reaching the island of Orleans, so named after the third son of Francis I., they told Cartier he was now in the kingdom of Canada, in reality the Huron-Iroquois word for village. Leaving his two larger vessels in the St Charles, which there enters the St Lawrence, Cartier set off westward with the bark and the long-boats. The former grounded in Lake St Peter, but in the latter he reached, on the 2nd of October, the Huron-Iroquois village of Hochelaga on the site of the city of Montreal. Further progress was checked by the Lachine Rapid. From the top of Mount Royal, a name still in use, Cartier beheld the St Lawrence and the Ottawa stretching away to the west. On his return to the St Charles, where during the winter twenty-five men died of scurvy, Cartier sought further information about the rich country called Saguenay, which he was informed could be reached more easily by way of the Ottawa. In order to give Francis I. authentic information of this northern Mexico, Cartier seized the chief and eleven of the headmen of the village and carried them off to France. This time he passed south of Anticosti and, entering the Atlantic through Cabot Strait, reached St Malo on the 16th of July 1537.

Francis I. was unable to do anything further until the spring of 1541, when Cartier set sail with five vessels and took up his quarters at Cap Rouge, 9 m. above Quebec. A soldier, the seigneur de Roberval, had been chosen to lead the men to the conquest of Saguenay; but when he did not arrive, Cartier made a fresh examination of the rapid of Lachine, preparatory to sending the men up the river Ottawa. Roberval at length set sail in April 1542, but on reaching St John's, Newfoundland, met Cartier on his way back to France. In the summer of 1543, Cartier was sent out to bring home Roberval, whose attempt to make his way up the Ottawa to this mythical Saguenay had proved futile. From 1544 until his death at St Malo, on the 1st of September 1557, Cartier appears to have done little else than give technical advice in nautical matters and act as Portuguese interpreter.

A critical edition of Cartier's Brief Recit de la navigation faicte es isles de Canada (1545), from the MSS., has been published by the university of Toronto. The best English version is that b y James Phinney Baxter, published at Portland, Maine, in 1906. (H. P. B.)

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Simple English

[[File:|200px|right|frame]] Jacques Cartier was a French trader and explorer. He was born on December 31, 1491 in Saint-Malo, a small town in Brittany (which was later part of France), and lived until September 1,1557). He sailed three times to Canada looking for gold.

He was the first European man to see Prince Edward Island, the St. Lawrence River, and also Hochelaga (today called Montreal), where the Wendats (also called Huron and Wyandot, an Iroquoian people) and other First Nations (or American Indian) tribes lived.

European countries raced to take the land and riches from the New World. Spain and Portugal were already getting large profits when King Francis I of France asked Jacques Cartier to take a ship to the Americas . Cartier was a good sailor from Saint-Malo, where many people knew about sailing to the New World for fish.

Cartier sailed to what is now Canada in 1534. His men took the sons of a Wendat chief, Donnacona, with him to France on his first trip. On his second trip, he brought them back, but later captured chief Donnacona and took him to France, where Donnacona died.

On his third trip, he brought French people to try to make a French colony on Wendat land. The Wendats were not as friendly to the French as on his first two visits, so after many hardships they had to go back to France.

Because Cartier first led the French to visit Canada, the French later said they had a right to control Eastern Canada.


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