John Cabot discovers
Labrador and Newfoundland—1497. Sebastian Cabot explores America from
the La Plata to Hudson's Bay, 1498-1517. Jacques Cartier discovers the
St. Lawrence—1534. Visits Stadacona and Hochelaga—Names Mont
Royal—Winters at Stada-cona—Sufferings from Scurvy—1535. Roberval,
Viceroy—1541. Cartier, his Lieutenant; Founds Charlesbourg—Roberval
winters at Cape Rouge —Mutiny and Scurvy—1542. The Robervals founder at
The discovery of
America was the beginning of a new era in the world. The western nations
of Europe were eager to take possession of the new-found continent. In
the year 1496, John Cabot, a Venetian merchant resident in Bristol,
received from Henry VIT., King of England, a commission for discovery in
the New World, on the condition that one-fifth of the profits of the
expedition should accrue to the crown. [Learn more
about Cabot here] In the following spring, with his
son Sebastian, he sailed from the port of Bristol in a singly vessel,
and on the twenty-fourth of June sighted the coast of Labrador, to which he gave the name of Prima Vista. He landed and planted in the
soil of the New World the banner of England. He was thus the first
discoverer of the continent of America, fourteen months before Columbus,
in his third voyage, beheld the mainland. Two days after he reached a
large island, probably Newfoundland, which, in honour of the day, he
called St. John's Island.
The following year
Sebastian Cabot, with two vessels, in the endeavour to reach the Indies
by a north-west passage, sailed as far north as Hudson's Straits. In a
subsequent voyage, 1517, he penetrated that bay to which, a hundred
years afterward, Hudson gave his name.
The rich fisheries of
the Banks of Newfoundland soon began to attract the hardy Breton and
Norman fishermen, the former of whom gave its present name to Cape
The real discoverer of
Canada, however, was Jacques Cartier, a native of St. Malo, in Brittany.
On the 20th of April, 1534, he sailed from that port with two small
vessels of about sixty tons. each. Sailing through the Straits of Belle
Isle, he passed the barren coast of Labrador, and on a resplendent day
in July entered the large bay to which, on account of the intense heat,
he gave the name Des Cha-leurs. Landing at the rocky headland of Gaspe,
he erected a large cross bearing the lily shield of France, and took
possession of the country in the name of his sovereign, Francis I.
Taking with him two of the natives, from whom he learned the existence
of a great river, leading so far into the interior that " no man had
ever traced it to its source," he sailed up the Gulf of St. Lawrence
till he could see the land on either side. The season being advanced he
resolved to return. The successful voyage favourably impressed the King,
and three vessels, better equipped than the first, were furnished for
the enterprise. The little squadron did not reach the .mouth of the St.
Lawrence till 1535. On the 10th of August, the festival of St. Lawrence,
Cartier entered a small bay, to which he gave the name of the saint,
since extended to the entire gulf and river. Passing the gloomy gorge of
the Saguenay, and sailing on beneath lofty bluffs jutting out into the
broad river, on the 7th of September he reached the Island of Orleans,
covered with wild grapes, hence named Isle of Bacchus. Here he received
a friendly visit from Donnacona, an Algonquin chief, with five hundred
of his followers. Cartier having resolved to winter in the country, the
little squadron dropped anchor at the mouth of the St. Charles, where
stood the Indian town of Stadacona, beneath the bold cliff now crowned
with the ramparts of Quebec.
Eager to explore the
noble river, he pressed on, and on the 2nd of October reached the Indian
town of Hochelaga, near a wood-crowned height, to which he gave the name
of Mont Royal, now Montreal. The town was a circular palisaded
enclosure, containing fifty large-sized, well-built houses, with about a
thousand inhabitants. After three days' friendly intercourse with the
inhabitants, who evidently regarded the French as superior beings, and
brought their sick to be healed by their touch, Cartier returned to
Stadacona, which he reached on the 11th of the month.
Having protected their
vessels by a stockaded enclosure, mounted with cannon, the French
prepared, as best they could, for the winter, which proved of unusual
severity. Soon scurvy of a malignant type appeared. By the month of
April twenty-six had died and were buried in the snow. On the 6th of May
Cartier set sail for St. Malo, carrying with him Donnacona and several
chiefs. The kidnapped Indians never again saw their native land, all of
them dying before another expedition returned.
The religious wars with
Charles V. now for four years absorbed the attention and exhausted the
treasury of Francis I. At length, in 1540, the Sieur de Roberval, a
wealthy noble of Picardy, obtained the appointment of Viceroy of New
France and Cartier, as his lieutenant, sailed with five ships the
following spring. The natives, at first friendly, became less so on
finding that Donnacona and his companions had not returned; Cartier
therefore built a fort, to which he gave the name of Charlesbourg, and
began to cultivate the soil. After a gloomy winter, having heard nothing
from Roberval, and the Indians proving unfriendly, he sailed for France.
At St. John's, Newfoundland, he met Roberval, with three ships and two
hundred colonists of both sexes. But disheartened by their disasters and
sufferings, Cartier and his company refused to return, and continued
their homeward voyage.
Roberval wintered at
Cape Rouge, but with the loss of over sixty men through cold and scurvy.
The Indians, too, were unfriendly; and the colonists, most of whom were
convicts, proved so insubordinate that the Governor had to hang some,
and to scourge or imprison others. In the fall of this year Cartier was
again sent to Canada to order Roberval's return. He wintered for the
third time in the country, and finally left it in May, 1544, conveying
with him the remains of the ill-fated colony, and his name henceforth
disappears from history. Thus ended in disastrous failure all the early
expeditions to New France.