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Travels of Jacques Cartier in Canada

This map is part of a series of 7 animated maps showing the history of European Colonies in North America.

In the 1530s, European explorers and fishermen began to visit the North American coast but few were interested in exploring the interior.

In April 1534, Jacques Cartier left Saint-Malo and sailed due West across the Atlantic Ocean. His commission from the King of France, François I, was to discover a northern sea route that would open up access to China and other islands and countries “rich in gold”. In mid-May, he reached the Strait of Belle-Isle which lies between Labrador and Newfoundland.

He continued along the west coast of Newfoundland and turned south-west towards Prince Edward Island.In July, Cartier made contact with the Micmac Indians in Chaleur Bay and a group of Iroquois in the Gaspé Bay.Taking on board two sons of the Iriquois chief, Donnacona, he sailed back along the coast of Anticosti Island before returning to Saint-Malo. He claimed these lands for the King of France by placing a series of crosses.

The objective for his second journey was the Saint Lawrence River and the Kingdom of Saguenay which, according to the Indians, was very rich. Taking three ships, he sailed beyond Anticosti and into the St Lawrence River as far as the Indian village of Stadacona, the site of today’s Quebec City. As the Saint Lawrence narrows after Stadacona, he decided to take the smallest of his three ships, the Emerillon, and transferred to smaller boats in order to travel up the river to the Indian village of Hochelaga, now Montreal.  

Finding rapids upriver from Hochelaga, he was forced to turn back.In mid-November, the ships were blocked by ice and a quarter of the ships’ crews died of cold and scurvy during the winter.

In May the following year, he prepared to make the voyage back to France, but one of his ships had to be abandoned because he had lost so many sailors.For this journey, the ships took a different route; his passage south of Newfoundland demonstrated that it was indeed an island.  

He arrived back in Saint-Malo on 16 July.Although he did not succeed in discovering a maritime route to China, Jacques Cartier had explored a long way into the North American continent and revealed the existence of immense territories never seen by Europeans before.

Cartier returned to Canada in 1541 with the intention of establishing a first settlement, Charlesbourg Royal, in the Saint Lawrence Valley. However, this attempt was unsuccessful and he made his last journey back to France during the summer of 1542.

The remaining settlers from Charlesbourg were repatriated the following year.