Samuel de Champlain's First Voyage - 1603
The Path to Settlement

At the turn of the century, exploration had taken second place to fur trading with the Native People of the New World. France was financially strapped and even the new king, Henri IV, lived little better than a pauper. Protestant by birth, Henri had converted to Catholicism to help him rule the Catholic-dominated country. France was poor, but the Catholic Church was very rich.

King Henri then filled his government with Huguenots (French Protestants) and rewrote the tax laws and set up agricultural programs that helped France get back on track. However, he was convinced that trade income from New France was the answer to the country's financial problems.

Following the lead of the Dutch and Spanish, King Henri decided to create a company to oversee the colonization and fur trade of New France rather than to depend on private funding. To that end, he founded The Canada and Acadia Company in 1603 and granted to it a fur trade monopoly over all the land from present-day Philidelphia to Cape Breton Island.

Aymar de Clermont de Chaste was appointed Vice-Admiral of France who sent Samuel de Champlain, probably on commission from King Henri IV, on his first voyage to Canada. Champlain's instructions were to retrace Cartier's route from over a half-century earlier and to begin setting up trade relations with the Iroquoians and with any other Indian Nations he encountered.

Champlain was no novice to the sea. He had been born in the coastal town of Brouage in 1567, the son of a navy captain. He was later in King Henry IV's army and sailed to the West Indies with the Spanish forces. It was on his return to France that he met de Chaste.

In the first of his 21 voyages to the New World, Champlain sailed to Tadussac at the mouth of the Saguenay River on the northern shore of the St. Lawrence River. Tadussac was, at that time, the only inland trading post and was used by all the major European countries. It was at Tadoussac that Champlain had his first encounter with the Natives of New France and was fortunate enough to have arrived at a time when the Natives were holding their annual celebration. In his journals, Champlain refered to the natives as 'sauvages' ('savages') as they appeared uncivilized and barbarous, eating with their fingers and wiping their hands on their own bodies or on their dogs.

Champlain became intrigued by the Saguenay River and sailed into it as far as his large ships would allow. When they could travel no further, Champlain asked his Native guides what lay upstream and was told of rapids and falls and of a far-away salt-water sea (Hudson Bay).

Champlain returned to the St. Lawrence and continued sailing up the river. He searched for Stadacona, but the village was no-longer there. They passed the mouth of the Richelieu River which the guides called 'the Iroquois route' and warned Champlain of the dangers of the Iroquois, mortal and long-time enemies of the Natives north of the St. Lawrence. Nevertheless, Champlain sailed up the river as far as the Saint Pours Rapids. He was told of a lake further south (Lake Champlain) and of another river which emptied near the cost of Florida. Some historians believe the Natives may have been talking of the Mississippi, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Others believe that they were talking of the Hudson River, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean at New York.

Returning to the St. Lawrence, Champlain continued upstream, noting that the village of Hochelaga was also gone. Eventually, Champlain reached the rapids at Lachine and, after shooting the rapids in a canoe, gained the admiration of the Natives. Friendly relationships with the Iroquoians who met with him grew quickly. The kidnapping of Iroquoian Chief Donnacona by French explorer Jacques Cartier almost 70 years earlier (see 1536) had not been forgotten by the Natives, but they clearly understood the benefits of trade with the Europeans and were anxious to re-establish friendly relationships.

During his visit there, Champlain asked questions about the land beyond. He was told of a great nework of lakes and rivers and he learned of the existance of Niagara Falls. With the Natives sketching in the sand and on birch bark, Champlain learned the basic lay-out of the system. He was convinced that the Pacific Ocean and the route to Cathay was not far away, but he decided not to continue his search during this voyage. Instead, he decided to return to France with his news and departed on September 20.

In his journals, Champlain noted that Trois-Rivières would make an ideal spot for settlement. He also wrote that he had never seen a more beautiful country.

On his return to France, Champlain discovered that de Chaste had died and that his friend, Pierre du Gua de Monts, Lieutenant General of Acadia, was now in charge of the monopoly. The King named Champlain as de Chaste's successor as Vice-Admiral of France.

In 1604, Champlain would return to the New World to found the first permanent settlement in Canada.


* First Voyage 1603 - The Path to Settlement *
First Permanent Settlement in Canada
The Founding of Québec
The Battle of Ticonderoga
Champlain in Huronia
Fall of Québec