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An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter II.—Early Exploration—To 1549


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 sea—1549.

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 Breton.

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.


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