Jacques Cartier

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Jacques Cartier
Jacques Cartier 1851-1852.jpg
Portrait of Jacques Cartier by Théophile Hamel, ca. 1844. No contemporary portraits of Cartier are known.
Born31 December 1491
Died1 September 1557(1557-09-01) (aged 65)
Saint-Malo, Kingdom of France
OccupationFrench navigator and explorer
Known forFirst European to travel inland in North America. Claimed what is now known as Canada for the Kingdom of France.
Mary Catherine des Granches
(m. 1520)
Jacques Cartier Signature.svg

Jacques Cartier ( UK: /ˈkɑːrti/ KAR-tee-ay, also US: /ˌkɑːrtiˈ,kɑːrˈtj/ KAR-tee-AY, kar-TYAY, [1] [2] French:  [ʒak kaʁtje] , Quebec French:  [- kaʁt͡sje]; Breton : Jakez Karter; 31 December 1491 1 September 1557) was a French-Breton maritime explorer for France. Jacques Cartier was the first European to describe and map [3] the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the shores of the Saint Lawrence River, which he named "The Country of Canadas" after the Iroquoian names for the two big settlements he saw at Stadacona (Quebec City) and at Hochelaga (Montreal Island). [4] [5] [6] [7]


Early life

Jacques Cartier was born in 1491 [8] in Saint-Malo, the port on the 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. [9] His good name in Saint-Malo is recognized by its frequent appearance in baptismal registers as godfather or witness. [10]

First voyage, 1534

In 1534, two years after 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. [11] Le Veneur cited voyages to Newfoundland and Brazil as proof of Cartier's ability to "lead ships to the discovery of new lands in the New World". [12]

Route of Cartier's first voyage Cartier First Voyage Map 1.png
Route of Cartier's first voyage

On April 20, 1534, [13] Cartier set sail under a commission from the king, hoping to discover a western passage to the wealthy markets of Asia. [14] 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 Strait of Belle Isle and southern shore of the Labrador Peninsula, the Gaspé and North Shore coastlines on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and some parts of the coasts of the Gulf's main islands, including Prince Edward Island, Anticosti Island and the Magdalen Islands. 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 (extinct since 1852). 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 cross to claim the land for France. [15] The 10-metre cross bearing the words "Long Live the King of France" claimed possession of the territory in the King's name. The change in mood was a clear indication that the Iroquoians understood Cartier's actions. Here he kidnapped the two sons of their chief, Donnacona. [16] Cartier wrote that they later told him this region where they were captured (Gaspé) was called by them Honguedo. The natives' chief at last agreed that they could be taken, under the condition that they return with European goods to trade. [17]

Cartier returned to France in September 1534, sure that he had reached an Asian land.

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 his two Iroquoian captives. Reaching the St. Lawrence, he sailed upriver for the first time, and reached the Iroquoian capital of Stadacona, where Chief Donnacona ruled.[ citation needed ]

Route of Cartier's second voyage. Cartier Second Voyage Map 1.png
Route of Cartier's second voyage.

Cartier left his main ships in a harbour close to Stadacona, and used his smallest ship to continue on to Hochelaga (now Montreal), arriving on October 2, 1535. Hochelaga was far more impressive than the small and squalid village of Stadacona, and a crowd of over a thousand 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. [18]

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.

This Spanish chart of the Saint Lawrence River, from ca. 1541, contains a legend in front of the "isla de Orliens" that says: "Here many French died of hunger"; possibly alluding to Cartier's second settlement in 1535-1536. Carte espagnole fleuve Saint Laurent.jpg
This Spanish chart of the Saint Lawrence River, from ca. 1541, contains a legend in front of the "isla de Orliens" that says: "Here many French died of hunger"; possibly alluding to Cartier's second settlement in 1535–1536.

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 misery, scurvy broke out – first among the Iroquoians, and then among the French. Cartier estimated the number of dead Iroquoians at 50. On a visit by Domagaya to the French fort, Cartier inquired and learned from him that a concoction made from a tree known as annedda, probably Spruce beer, [20] or arbor vitae, would cure scurvy. This remedy likely saved the expedition from destruction, allowing 85 Frenchmen to survive the winter. 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". The Frenchmen used up the bark of an entire tree in a week on the cure, and the dramatic results prompted Cartier to proclaim it a Godsend, and a miracle. [18] [21] [22]

Ready to return to France in early May 1536, Cartier decided to kidnap Chief Donnacona and take him to France, [23] 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. [22]

Third voyage, 1541–1542

The Dauphin Map of Canada, c. 1543, showing Cartier's discoveries Dauphin Map of Canada - circa 1543 - Project Gutenberg etext 20110.jpg
The Dauphin Map of Canada, c. 1543, showing Cartier's discoveries

On October 17, 1540, Francis ordered the navigator Jacques Cartier 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. [24]

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. [25]

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 kilometres upriver 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 sent on their journey home with some of these minerals on September 2. [25]

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. [26]

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. He died at age 65 on September 1, 1557, during an epidemic, [27] possibly of typhus, [28] though many sources list his cause of death as unknown. Cartier is interred in Saint-Malo Cathedral.

No permanent European settlements were made in Canada before 1605, when Samuel Champlain founded Port Royal in present-day Victoria Beach just outside Annapolis Royal.


The Fleet of Cartier was commemorated on a 1908 Canadian postage stamp. Canada Cartier 1908 issue-20c.jpg
The Fleet of Cartier was commemorated on a 1908 Canadian postage stamp.

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. [29] 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 harbours 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 land mass separate from Europe/Asia.

Rediscovery of Cartier's first colony

Plaque on the statue of Jacques Cartier in front of the Gabrielle-Roy public library, in the Saint-Roch neighbourhood of Quebec City. Quebec, Jacques Cartier4.jpg
Plaque on the statue of Jacques Cartier in front of the Gabrielle-Roy public library, in the Saint-Roch neighbourhood of Quebec City.

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. [30] The colony was built at the confluence of the Rivière du Cap Rouge with 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. [31] This colony was the first known European settlement in modern-day Canada since the c. 1000 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. [30]


Jacques Cartier on a 1934 Canadian postage stamp Jacques Cartier 1934 issue-3c.jpg
Jacques Cartier on a 1934 Canadian postage stamp

Monuments, remembrances and other art

Jacques Cartier Monument in Saint-Malo JacquesCartier.jpg
Jacques Cartier Monument in Saint-Malo
Croix Jacques Cartier on Saint-Quentin Island CroixJacquesCartier1.jpg
Croix Jacques Cartier on Saint-Quentin Island

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 Strait of Belle Isle during the 1530s.

The fr:Banque Jacques-Cartier existed, and printed banknotes, between 1861 and 1899 in Lower Canada, then Quebec. It was folded into the fr:Banque provinciale du Canada, and later still the National Bank of Canada.

In 2005, Cartier's Bref récit et succincte narration de la navigation faite en MDXXXV et MDXXXVI was named one of the 100 most important books in Canadian history by the Literary Review of Canada . [49]

Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip reference Jacques Cartier in their 1992 song "Looking for a Place to Happen". The song deals with the subject of European encroachment in the New World and the eventual annexation of indigenous lands in North America. [50]

See also

Related Research Articles

Timeline of New France history (1534–1607)

This section of the timeline of New France history concerns the events between Jacques Cartier's first voyage and the foundation of the Quebec settlement by Samuel de Champlain.

16th century in Canada

The 16th century in Canada saw the first contacts, since the Norsemen 500 years earlier, between the indigenous peoples in Canada living near the Atlantic coast and European fishermen, whalers, traders, and explorers.

Canada (New France) French colony in North America from 1535 to 1763

The colony of Canada was a French colony within the larger territory of New France. It was claimed by France in 1535 during the second voyage of Jacques Cartier, when the land was claimed in the name of the French king, Francis I. Canada remained a French territory until 1763, when it became a British colony known as the Province of Quebec.

Stadacona Village

Stadacona was a 16th-century St. Lawrence Iroquoian village not far from where Quebec City was founded in 1608.

Donnacona 16th-century chief of the St. Lawrence Iroquois village of Stadacona (now Quebec City, Canada)

Chief Donnacona was the chief of the St. Lawrence Iroquois village of Stadacona, located at the present site of Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. French explorer Jacques Cartier, concluding his second voyage to what is now Canada, returned to France with Donnacona. Donnacona was treated well in France but he died there. Later Cartier would make a third voyage to the same area.

Hochelaga (village) Village in Quebec, Canada

Hochelaga was a St. Lawrence Iroquoian 16th century fortified village on or near Mount Royal in present-day Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Jacques Cartier arrived by boat on October 2, 1535; he visited the village on the following day. He was greeted well by the Iroquoians, and named the mountain he saw nearby Mount Royal. Several names in and around Montreal and the Hochelaga Archipelago can be traced back to him.

Agouhanna was the St. Lawrence Iroquoian term for chief or leader.


Fort Charlesbourg Royal (1541—1543) is a National Historic Site of Canada in the Cap-Rouge neighbourhood of Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. Established by Jacques Cartier in 1541, it was France's first attempt at a colony in North America, and was abandoned two years later. France would go on to have much better success in North America with New France.

Jean-François Roberval

Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval also named "l'élu de Poix" or sieur de Roberval son of an unknown mother and Bernard de La Rocque military and former seneschal of Carcassonne. He was a French officer, appointed viceroy of Canada by Francis I and led the first French colonial attempt in the Saint Laurent valley in the first half of the 16th century with the explorer Jacques Cartier

Laurentian language Extinct branch of the Iroquoian language family

Laurentian, or St. Lawrence Iroquoian, was an Iroquoian language spoken until the late 16th century along the shores of the Saint Lawrence River in present-day Quebec and Ontario, Canada. It is believed to have disappeared with the extinction of the St. Lawrence Iroquoians, likely as a result of warfare by the more powerful Mohawk from the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy to the south, in present-day New York state of the United States.

The St. Lawrence Iroquoians were an Indigenous people who existed from the 14th century to about 1580. They concentrated along the shores of the St. Lawrence River in present-day Quebec and Ontario, Canada, and in the American states of New York and northernmost Vermont. They spoke Laurentian languages, a branch of the Iroquoian family.

There are some hypotheses concerning the origin of the name of Montreal. The best-known is that it is a variant of "Mount Royal".

Fort Ville-Marie 17th c. French fort

Fort Ville-Marie was a French fortress and settlement established in May 1642 by a company of French settlers, led by Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, on the Island of Montreal in the Saint Lawrence River at the confluence of the Ottawa River, in what is today the province of Quebec, Canada. Its name is French for "City of Mary", a reference to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site

Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site is a National Historic Site of Canada and so designated by the Historic Sites and Monuments board of Canada in 1958 under the recommendation of John Diefenbaker, the Prime Minister of Canada at the time. It is administered by Parks Canada and located at the confluence of Saint-Charles and Lairet rivers, in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, more precisely in La Cité-Limoilou borough. On the site you can find an interpretation centre and a 6,8 hectares inner-city park characterised by an uneven landscape and divided into two sectors "East" and "West" separated by the Lairet river. Several commemorative monuments and elements are also present.

Bref récit et succincte narration de la navigation faite en MDXXXV et MDXXXVI is a literary work published in 1545, which recounts Jacques Cartier’s second voyage to the St. Lawrence Valley region of North America and details his interactions with the local St. Lawrence Iroquoian peoples. The book was more than likely written by Cartier's secretary, Jehan Poullet.

Cross of Gaspé

The Cross of Gaspé is a monolithic granite cross installed in 1934 in the town of Gaspé, Quebec, commissioned by the Government of Canada to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of French explorers in Canada. The original Cross of Gaspé was erected on July 24, 1534 overlooking the bay of Gaspé, by the team of Jacques Cartier on his first trip exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Planting the cross symbolized the ownership of the territory on behalf of the King of France, Francis I. The original 30 feet (9.1 m) wooden cross was probably planted on the edge of the basin north of the York River.

Jacques-Cartier Lake

The lac Jacques-Cartier, main source of the Jacques-Cartier River, is a glacial lake located in the Laurentides Wildlife Reserve, about 90 km to the north of the city of Quebec, in the unorganized territory of Lac-Jacques-Cartier, in the La Côte-de-Beaupré Regional County Municipality, in the administrative region of Capitale-Nationale, in the province of Quebec, in Canada.

Rivière Jacques-Cartier Nord-Ouest

The Jacques-Cartier North-West River is a watercourse tributary of Jacques-Cartier River, located in the unorganized territory of Lac-Jacques-Cartier, in the La Côte-de-Beaupré Regional County Municipality, in the administrative region of Capitale-Nationale, in Quebec, Canada. The course of the river passes in particular in the Jacques-Cartier National Park. The main body of water is Petit lac Jacques-Cartier.

Petit lac Jacques-Cartier

The Petit lac Jacques-Cartier is a freshwater body that flows into the rivière Jacques-Cartier Sud, in the unorganized territory of Lac-Jacques-Cartier, in the La Côte-de-Beaupré Regional County Municipality, in the administrative region of Capitale-Nationale, in province from Quebec, in Canada.

Rivière Jacques-Cartier Sud

The Jacques-Cartier South River is a tributary of the rivière Jacques-Cartier Nord-Ouest, located in the unorganized territory of Lac-Jacques-Cartier, in the La Côte-de-Beaupré Regional County Municipality, in the administrative region of Capitale-Nationale, in Quebec, Canada. The course of the river passes in particular in the Jacques-Cartier National Park. The head water is Petit lac Jacques-Cartier.


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  3. His maps are lost but referenced 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.
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  8. No baptismal certificate has been found, but Cartier stated his age in at least three letters. See Marcel Trudel, Histoire de la Nouvelle-France, Fides, vol. 1, p. 68.
  9. Alan Axelrod. A Savage Empire: Trappers, Traders, Tribes, and the Wars That Made America. Macmillan, 2011; p. 30
  10. Biggar, H.P. (1930) A Collection of Documents relating to Jacques Cartier and the Sieur de Roberval, Ottawa, Public Archives of Canada. Over 20 baptisms cited.
  11. Gustave Lanctôt observed that Cartier was absent from Saint-Malo's registers at the time and that his first voyage in 1534 arrived at the very place in Newfoundland where Verrazzano's explorations had ended ten years prior; Lanctôt surmised that Cartier had accompanied Verrazzano on that voyage. This was dismissed as conjecture by Marcel Trudel, who noted that Cartier's Relations are devoid of any reference to such an experience. See Trudel, Histoire de la Nouvelle-France, vol. 1, 1966, p. 58-60.
  12. 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.
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  14. "A History of Vermont". Mocavo.com. 1903. p. 1.
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  16. Some accounts make this captain to be Donnacona himself, the ruler at Stadacona, e.g. the Canadian Encyclopedia Archived 29 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine , but this does not seem possible from Cartier's firsthand accounts. Other sources show that Donnacona let his sons go willingly, along with some corn. the World Book Online Encyclopedia  This tertiary source reuses information from other sources but does not name them.
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Further reading