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How Canada got its name

Updated on May 5, 2013

Jacques Cartier and the Exploration of Canada

There was a long drawn out battle between the French and the English for control of Canada.

Technically the English got there first - since John Cabot did land on Newfoundland in 1497 and did claim the "new found land" for England.

The French did not claim Canada until Jacques Cartier ventured into the St Lawrence River looking for the Northwest passage in 1534.

The land was named Canada from the word Kanata - which as it turns out - is the Iroquois First Nations word for Village.


Image Source - Wikipedia Commons License

Canadian postage stamp of Jacques Cartier issued in 1934 on the 400th anniversary of Canada being claimed for France.

St Malo, Brittany, France

St Malo, Brittany, France - The City of Corsairs
St Malo, Brittany, France - The City of Corsairs

St Malo was once known as the City of Corsairs. It lies on the NW French coast, in the province of Brittany and overlooks the English channel from which it exacted taxes from all the shipping that passed through.

From the 15th through 18th centuries, St Malo was a major home port for corsairs, pirates and privateers based there. Their activities made St Malo a very wealthy town. Jacques Cartier was born in St Malo in 1491 CE.

In 1532, King Francois I made a pilgrimage to Mont St Michel (just an hours drive away from St Malo), and he stopped off at St Malo in his way back to Paris. By now it was already known that the New World was not the Spice Islands and not Asia. The King tasked Cartier with the job of finding a way through to Asia. In 1534 Cartier set off heading west at a higher latitude than Columbus, and eventually came to Newfoundland and the Gulf of St Lawrence.

Image Source - St Malo for Visitors

Cartiers First Voyage in 1534

Cartier - Discovered the Gulf of St Lawrence 1534 CE
Cartier - Discovered the Gulf of St Lawrence 1534 CE

Cartier discovered and explored the Gulf of St Lawrence in 1534. He discovered the mouth of the St Lawrence River but did not explore it. On the Gaspe coast (the south side of the St Lawrence River) he met some Iroquois natives. Cartier planted a large cross and claimed the land for France. He also kidnapped 2 sons of the local chief - which naturally angered the natives. The chief agreed to Cartier taking his sons back to France, provided Cartier brought back some European goods for trade on the next voyage.

Map Source - Cartier first voyage 1534

Books about Jacques Cartier and the Discovery of Canada

Cartiers Second Voyage in 1535-36

Jacques Cartier's discovery of the St Lawrence River
Jacques Cartier's discovery of the St Lawrence River

Cartier discovered and sailed up the St Lawrence River on his second voyage in 1535. He was desperate to find a way through to Asia. Instead he unloaded french settlers and criminals who tried to settle and farm the land. But the Indians were too hostile and the winters were too harsh. The St Lawrence river freezes solid in the winter and Cartier could not move while his ships were stuck in ice. The sailors began dying of scurvy until the chief's son (the one who had been kidnapped on the first voyage) indicated that there was a plant that might help. This plant proved to be the miracle cure that was needed (probably arbor vitae) and the remaining 85 men survived. The expedition returned to France in July 1536.

Image source - Jacques Cartier Blog

How Canada got its name

Jacques Cartier
Jacques Cartier

Cartiers Third Voyage in 1541-42

In 1540 Cartier was ordered to return to Canada as the chief navigator for a commander named Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval - a close friend of King Francois'. La Rocque was also named as the first lieutenant general of the new french colony in Canada.

Cartier left St Malo in May 1541 on his 3rd expedition to Canada. This time the mission was to find the Kingdon of Saguenay and find the gold, rubies and other treasures rumoured to be found there, and also to found a permanent settlement.

Upon arrival at Saguenay (modern day Quebec City) Cartier did not like the attitude of the local Iroquois so he sailed further up the St Lawrence river. He eventually settled on a location at the junction of St Lawrence and the Cap Rouge Rivers.

Cartier set the men to work building a fort for protection as well as making gardens (sowing cabbages, turnips and lettuces) and fishing. Some of the men also began picking up what they thought were gold nuggets and diamonds. These stones later turned out to be quartz crystals and iron pyrites (fools gold). In September, two ships were sent back to France with these "treasures" as proof that this new land was wealthy.

In the meantime, Cartier himself sailed further upriver to the site of what is now Montreal. He was unable to continue onwards up the Ottawa river due to rapids and bad weather so he returned to Cap Rouge. Upon his return to the settlement, he found a deteriorating situation. The Iroquois had killed some 35 settlers and the rest were hiding in the fort for protection.

Cartier abandoned the settlement and returned to France still believing that Canada was the land of gold, diamonds and rubies. La Rocque attempted to take over management of the settlement, but the settlers were forced to abandon the settlement in 1543 after more scurvy, another harsh winter and general misery forced them to leave.

Cartier was never sent out on any further voyages. He died in St Malo in 1557 - possibly during an epidemic.

No permanent settlement of Canada occurred until Port Royal was founded on the island of Nova Scotia in 1605 CE, That year is the official founding year of French settlement in Canada. But these French were the Acadians. Where the Indian natives are now considered (by the Canadian government) to be the First Nations, the Acadians now consider themselves to be the Second Nation.

Image Source - Wikipedia Commons License

Jacques Cartier. Portrait by Théophile Hamel (1817-1870). Painted approximately 1844.

There are no known paintings of Cartier that were created during his lifetime

So unless there were written descriptions, no one knows what Cartier looked like.

Canada Travel Guides and Tourism Books

Miquelon et St Pierre

Miquelon and St Pierre
Miquelon and St Pierre

There is a small group of islands just off the coast of Newfoundland that are all that is left of the once vast french empire in North America. This group is called Miquelon and St PIerre.

The people speak french, they use the euro, (although they do also accept American and Canadian currency), and they are NOT part of the European Schengen Visa agreement so everyone MUST use a passport to enter. Flights are only available from Canada. Ferry Boats sail from NewFoundland

The islands have been populated by Acadians since they were forced to flee Nova Scotia and the British Deportation of 1755. The islands have (more or less) always been part of France since their discovery by Cartier in 1536.

Wikitravel

Tourisme Saint Pierre et Miquelon en Anglais

Wikipedia

Where France Meets North America

Map of Miquelon et St Pierre

Flag of Miquelon et St Pierre

Frontenac Ameriques - En Francaise

Map of the Isles Saint-Pierre and Miquelon by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin 1764

Image Source - Cape Breton News - a visit to Miquelon et St Pierre

Your turn to discuss Canadian Exploration and Jacques Cartier

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    • aaxiaa lm profile image

      aaxiaa lm 3 years ago

      Very educational, thanks!

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 5 years ago

      So interesting how "new found land" became Newfoundland with such a rich history.

    • yourselfempowered profile image

      Odille Rault 5 years ago from Gloucester

      Beautiful lens, and interesting too! Blessed. :)

    • profile image

      fullofshoes 5 years ago

      nice lens. I didn't know any of this, shame on me!!

    • oxfordian profile image

      oxfordian 5 years ago

      Beautiful lens! You taught me something new (again)!!

    • SquidooPower profile image

      SquidooPower 5 years ago

      Very, very cool. I love explorers (take a peek at my lenses and you will see what I mean) and I lived in Vancouver for a while about 12 years ago so I absolutely love this lens.

    • GypsyPirate LM profile image

      GypsyPirate LM 6 years ago

      This was very much like a Social Studies lesson - but I always loved Social Studies! You kept me reading beginning to end.

    • jackieb99 profile image

      jackieb99 6 years ago

      It brought back memories from Social Studies classes in school!

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 6 years ago from Canada

      Love your maps they really make this article on Canada's early days look all the more exciting.