Samuel de Champlain
The Founding of Québec

In Spring of 1608, two ships set sail from France: the Lévier, under the command of Dupont-Gravé (François Gravé, Sieur du Pont, who was also in charge of the expedition), departed on April 5; the Don de Dieu, under the command of Samuel de Champlain, departed on April 13.

On June 3, Champlain arrived in Tadoussac (the only inland trading post and used by all the major European countries) on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River only to discover that Dupont-Gravé had immediately tried to impose the trade monopoly on the Basque and Spanish captains and had been answered with muskets and cannons. Dupont-Gravé was seriously wounded.

Champlain managed to negotiate a truce with the other traders and Dupont-Gravé agreed to share the trade with the Montagnais. The Montagnais were a nomadic people who hunted the lands from the St. Lawrence River to James Bay. By trading furs for flour and other essentials, their survival through the long winters was ensured. There was enough trade to keep all the countries happy.

Meanwhile, Champlain realized that, in order to gain an advantage in the fur trade, he must travel further inland and set up a post there. In July, Champlain set sail up the St. Lawrence River, reaching l'Île d'Orléans on July 8. The shore sparkled in the sunlight and Champlain named it Cap Diamant. At that point, the St. Lawrence was only 1 kilometre (1/2 mile) wide and the cliffs rose almost 100 metres (330 feet) above the river. A small battery of cannons could effectively close off any access to the interior.

This is where Champlain decided to create a new settlement, and he would name it Kebec (or Québec, hereafter spelled 'Quebec'), the Algonkin name for 'where the river narrows'.

Conspiracy to Murder Champlain

Champlain immediately began construction of his new colony. By Autumn, a number of homes had been built and preparations were being made for the Winter. Champlain was approached in secret and alerted that the colonly locksmith, Antoine Natel, along with 4 others, had been hired by the Spanish and Basque to murder Champlain after the construction of Quebec. Following Champlain's death, the ememy would land and easily take over the settlement.

Champlain summoned Natel who crumbled almost immediately and confessed the entire conspiracy. He named the other conspirators, including the leader, second locksmith Jean Duval. Champlain invited all the conspirators to wine and had them all arrested and imprisoned. He said that he would pardon them if they confessed, but after they had all written out and signed their statements, Champlain had them put in irons.

A trial was quickly arranged during which Natel was pardoned due to his cooperation and pledge of loyalty. Three of the conspirators were returned to France for imprisonment, although Champlain recommended that they be put to the gallows. Duval was sentenced to death.

Jean Duval was hanged and then beheaded. His head was impaled on a stake in a prominent part of the settlement in warning to the other colonists where their loyalties must lie. It was also a warning to the Spanish that Quebec would not be taken easily.

It was also a message to the Hurons and Montagnais (albeit a message of a different nature) who were already trading with the French in Tadoussac. It was clear that Champlain meant business where his enemies were concerned. He would be an important ally in their continuing fight against the Iroquois to the south.

With Winter approaching, Champlain sent his labourers back to France. Twenty-seven men would stay with him through the winter months, including his personal servant, Etienne Brûlé, to whom Champlain refered as 'my boy' (see 1609).

Champlain had previously spent 3 winters in New France and knew what to expect. The cold would not be a problem as he concentrated efforts in gathering fuel before the snowfall. Food became a concern, though, and scurvy swept through the new colony. Jacques Cartier had discovered the cure for scurvy (see 1535), but, sadly, had failed to record the method in his journals. Scurvy, known as 'distemper of the mind', was a lack of vitamin C, and the cure stood literally outside the door. The leaves of the white cedar tree, when boiled into a tea, made a bitter but effective cure.

When the relief ship arrived the following June, only 8 of the original 28 colonists remained alive.


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