After Christopher Columbus’s discovery in 1492, numerous explorers were sent over by the large European countries (France, England, Portugal, and Spain) to continue the explorations to find a route to Asia. Sent by France, Jacques Cartier reached the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1534. He was one of the first European explorers to travel to North America.  During his first voyage, he planted a cross in Gaspé, declaring that the land now belonged to the king of France.

Cartier built the cross without consulting or negotiating the Indigenous Peoples who had been living on the territory for many years before Europeans arrived. Chief Donnacona of the St. Lawrence Iroquois village of Stadacona (near present day Québec city), questioned Cartier about the cross during his visit. Cartier took Donnacona’s sons, Domagaya and Taignoagy, with him when he returned to France.

The discovery of Canada

The following year, Jacques Cartier returned to the site of his first expedition and travelled even further. This time he discovered the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and entered into the lands of Canada. He met the St. Lawrence Iroquois in the village of Stadacona. He then continued his journey up the St. Lawrence River, which he called the “chemin du Canada” (highway to Canada) and arrived at Hochelaga. He also discovered the Saguenay, Saint-Maurice and Richelieu Rivers. In total, Cartier made three trips to Turtle Island, or North America. 

Canada, a route to Asia?

Cartier first thought the St. Lawrence River would lead to Asia. During his explorations, he realized that Canada was an extremely vast territory and that France could take advantage of its many resources.

Author: Alexandre Lanoix

Translation and adaptation by LEARN/RÉCIT

See also… Traces of the past

Disease strikes Cartier’s crew