Jacques Cartier's First Voyage - 1534
First Encounters

On April 20, 1534, Jacques Cartier set sail from St. Malo in Brittany with 2 ships and 61 men. He had been commissioned by King François of France to search for a passage to Cathay (the Orient), either around or through the New World. If no route could be found, then Cartier was to seek out riches, especially gold, as the Spanish had found in South America.

On May 10, Cartier arrived in Newfoundland and discovered a barren, uninviting land. "I am rather inclined to believe that this is the land God gave to Cain." Newfoundland offered few opportunities for settlement.

Cartier continued southwest and discovered the fertile land of Prince Edward Island which, he believed, was part of the mainland. On Îles aux Oiseaux (Islands of the Birds), he and his crew shot over 1,000 birds, including many Great Auks which eventually would be hunted to extinction.

Continuing on to the Strait of Belle Isle near Newfoundland, Cartier discovered and charted the Gulf of St. Lawrence for the first time which he thought was just another large bay. However, dense fog forced him to turn back.

On July 7, as Cartier was sailing past Baie de Chaleur, he encountered a fleet of 50 canoes filled with Micmac Natives. The Natives seemed excited to see them and their celebrations aboard the canoes helped to assure Cartier that they wished only to be friendly with the new-comers. With some reservation and hesitation, Cartier met with the leader of the group. Small items were exchanged in friendship which would be historically recorded as the first trading action between Europeans and the Natives of the New World. However, when the other canoes began to approach the ship with unknown intent, Cartier had 2 cannon shots fired to scare them away.

Iroquoian Chief Donnacona

After having been blocked by dense fog in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Cartier was forced to turn back eastward toward Cape Breton Island. As they passed the Baie de Gaspé, a group of Natives was sighted on shore and, by their demeanour and hand signs, Cartier felt there was little danger.

After rowing ashore, Cartier met Chief Donnacona of the St. Lawrence Iroquoians, a friendlier tribe of Iroquois than the warring Iroquois to the south. Gifts were exchanged and a friendly alliance was set up. It was quite obvious to Cartier that the Natives had had some previous dealings with Europeans. They were interested in trading and wanted knives and hatchets. However, the only thing they had to trade back was animal furs which, although accepted, were not of any great value in Europe.

Later, however, when Cartier erected a 10-metre (30-foot) wooden cross with a fleur-de-lys shield and plaque with 'Vive le Roi de France' ('Long live the King of France') engraved on it and knelt in prayer, Donnacona became upset and approached Cartier's ship in a canoe. Using signs, he indicated to the Frenchmen that all the land around belonged to him and his people. Cartier assured the chief that the cross was simply a 'marker' so they could find their way back to the chief and lured Donnacona and his 3 sons aboard the ship only to take 2 of the sons hostage. He told the chief that he intended to take the young men to France as proof of the New World, but promised that they would soon be returned. Donnacona had little choice but to let his sons go and returned to shore, wondering if he had seen his sons for the last time. Donnacona's sons, Dom Agaya and Taignoagny sailed eastward with Cartier, undoubtely wondering if they would ever see their home again.

'Canada' is Born

During the voyage back to France in 1534, Cartier learned from the 2 Native sons, Dom Agaya and Taignoagny, who he'd kidnapped from Iroquoian Chief Donnacona, that their father's village of Stadacona (present-day Quebec) was called a 'kanata'. Cartier wrote the name 'Kanata' on his charts and maps, perhaps to mark the land belonging to Chief Donnacona's tribe. This is the first recorded use of the name 'Canada', and the name by which the country would become known.

On September 5, Cartier arrived in France and presented Dom Agaya and Taignoagny and the gifts from Chief Donnacona to the King. Cartier was quickly granted a new commission to return to the New World the following year.

During their stay in France, Dom Agaya and Taignoagny learned enough French to become moderately conversant in the language. They told Cartier that, beyond their village of Stadacona, which lay upriver from the spot where they had first encountered each other, lay Hochelaga (present-day Montreal), another Iroquoian village. Cartier was excited to learn that what he had thought was just a large bay was actually the mouth of a large, inland river. He was convinced that he had found an inland route to the Pacific Ocean.


* First Voyage 1534 - First Encounters & Chief Donnacona *
Second Voyage 1535 - Stadacona & Hochelaga
Second Voyage 1535 - Winter & Scurvy
Third Voyage 1541 - Settlement of Charlesbourg-Royal
Third Voyage 1541 - Failure, Retirement & Suspension