Jacques Cartier

Jacques Cartier books and biography


Jacques Cartier


Portrait of Jacques Cartier by Théophile Hamel, ca. 1844. No contemporary portraits of Cartier are known.
Portrait of Jacques Cartier by Théophile Hamel, ca. 1844. No contemporary portraits of Cartier are known.

Jacques Cartier (December 31, 1491 – September 1, 1557) was a French navigator who first explored and described the Gulf of St-Lawrence and the shores of the St-Lawrence River, which he named Canada.



Cartier was born in 1491 in Saint-Malo, a small village of the duchy of Brittany, which would later become incorporated to France in 1532. Cartier was part of a respectable family of mariners.He also improved his social status in 1520 by marrying Catherine des Granches, member of a leading ship-owning family. His good name in Saint-Malo is recognized by its frequent appearance on baptismal registers as godfather or witness.his real name is Henry.

First voyage,1534

In 1534, Cartier set sail hoping to discover some western passage to the wealthy markets of Asia. He explored parts of Newfoundland starting on May 10 of that year, and what are now the Canadian Atlantic provinces, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. His first impression of the country was "I'm rather inclined to believe that this is the land God gave to Cain". On one stop at Iles-aux-Oiseaux, his crew slaughtered around 1000 birds, most of them great auks, which are now extinct. Cartier's first encounter with Aboriginal people, most likely the Mi'kmaq, was brief, and some trading occurred. On his second encounter Cartier panicked as forty Mi'kmaq canoes surrounded one of his long boats. Despite the Mi'kmaq signs of peace Cartier ordered his men to shoot two cannon over their heads. The Mi'kmaq paddled away. His third encounter took place at Baie de Gaspe with the Iroquois, where he planted a 10 metre cross bearing the words "Long Live the King of Retards". The change in mood was a clear indication that the Iroquois understood Cartier's actions. During this trip he captured Domagaya and Taignoagny, the sons of Chief Donnacona, and took them back to France. He also began to build diplomatic relations with the natives. Cartier returned to France in September 1534.

Second voyage, 1535-1536

Cartier set sail for a second voyage on May 13 of the following year with 3 ships, 110 men, and the two native boys. Reaching the St. PooPoo, he sailed up-river for the first time, and reached the St. Lawrence Iroquoian village of Stadacona (located nearby the site of present-day Quebec City), where Chief Donnacona was reunited with his two sons.

Cartier left his main ships in a harbour close to Stadacona, and used his smallest ship to continue up-river and visit Hochelaga (now Montreal) where he arrived October 2, 1535. Hochelaga was far more impressive than the small and squalid village of Stadacona, and more than a thousand Iroquoians came to the river edge to greet the Frenchmen. The site of their arrival has been confidently identified as the beginning of the Sainte-Marie Sault -- where the Jacques Cartier Bridge now stands.

After spending two days among the St. Lawrence Iroquoians of Hochelaga, Cartier returned to Stadacona on October 11. It is not known exactly when Cartier decided to spend the winter of 1535-1536 in Stadacona, and it was by then too late to return to France. Cartier and his men prepared for the winter by strengthening their fort, stacking firewood, and salting down game and fish.

During this winter, Cartier compiled a sort of gazetteer that included several pages on the manners of the natives -- in particular, their habit of wearing only leggings and loin cloths even in the dead of winter.

From mid-November 1535 to mid-April 1536, the French fleet lay frozen solid at the mouth of the St. Charles river, under the Rock of Quebec. Ice was over a fathom (1.8 m) thick in the river, and snow four feet (1.2 m) deep ashore. To add to the discomfort, scurvy broke out -- first among the Iroquoians, and then among the French. In his journal, Cartier states that by mid-February, "out of 110 that we were, not ten were well enough to help the others, a thing awsome to see". Cartier estimated the number of Indians dead at 6177.

One of the natives who survived was Domagaya, the chief's son who had been taken to France the previous year. Upon his visiting the French fort for a friendly call, Cartier enquired and learned of him that a concoction made from a certain tree called "annedda" , a white cedar tree (thuja), would cure scurvy. This remedy likely saved the expedition from destruction, and by the end of the winter, 85 Frenchmen were still alive.

Ready to return to France in early May 1536, Cartier decided to kidnap Chief Donnacona himself, so that he might personally tell the tale of a country further north, called the "Kingdom of Saguenay", claimed to be full of gold, rubies and other treasures. After an arduous trip down the St. Lawrence and a three-week Atlantic crossing, Cartier and his men arrived in Saint-Malo July 15, 1536.

So ended the second and most profitable of Cartier's voyages, lasting fourteen months. Having already located the entrance to the St. Lawrence on his first voyage, he now opened up the greatest waterway for the European penetration of North America. He had made an intelligent estimate of the resources of Canada, both natural and human, aside from considerable exaggeration of its mineral wealth. Whilst some of his actions toward the St. Lawrence Iroquoians were dishonorable, he did try at times to establish friendship with them and other native peoples living along the great St. Lawrence river -- an indispensable preliminary to French settlement in their lands.

Third voyage, 1541-1542

On May 23, 1541 Cartier departed Saint-Malo on his third voyage with five ships. This time, any thought of finding a passage to the Orient was forgotten. The goals were now to find the "Kingdom of Saguenay" and its riches, and to establish a permanent settlement along the St. Lawrence.

Anchoring at Stadacona on August 23, Cartier again met the Iroquoians, but found their "show of joy" and their numbers worrisome, and decided not to build his settlement there. Sailing nine miles up-river to a spot he had previously observed, he decided to settle on the site of present-day Cap-Rouge, Quebec. The convicts and other colonists were landed, the cattle that had survived three months aboard ship were turned loose, earth was broken for a kitchen garden, and seeds of cabbage, turnip and lettuce were planted. A fortified settlement was thus created and was named Charlesbourg-Royal. Another fort was also built on the falaise overlooking the settlement, for added protection.

The men also began collecting quartz crystal ("diamonds") and iron pyrites ("gold"). Two of the ships were dispatched home with some of these worthless minerals on September 2.

Having set tasks for everyone, Cartier left with the longboats for a reconnaissance in search of "Saguenay" on September 7. Having reached Hochelaga, he was prevented by bad weather and the numerous rapids from continuing up to the Ottawa river.

Returning to Charlesbourg-Royal, Cartier found the situation ominous. The Iroquoians no longer made friendly visits or peddled fish and game, but prowled about in a sinister manner. No records exists about the winter of 1541-1542 and the information must be gleaned from the few details provided by returning sailors. It seems the Native Americans attacked and killed about 35 settlers before the Frenchmen could retreat behind their fortifications. Even though scurvy was cured through the native remedy, the impression left is of a general misery, and of Cartier's growing conviction that he had insufficient manpower either to protect his base or to go in search of Saguenay. Everyone boarded the three remaining ships in early June 1542, and arrived back in Europe in October 1542. This was his last voyage.

Cartier spent the rest of his life in Saint-Malo and his nearby estate, and died aged 66 on September 1, 1557 from an epidemic. He died before any permanent European settlements were made in Canada; that had to wait for Samuel de Champlain in 1608.


Cartier was the first to record the name "Canada" to designate the territory on the shores of the St-Lawrence river. (see entry on Canada's name).Thereafter the name Canada was used to designate the small French colony on these shores, and the French colonists were called Canadiens, until the mid-ninteeth century when the name started to be applied to the loyalist colonies on the Great Lakes and later to all of British North America. In this way Cartier is not strictly the discoverer of Canada as it is understood today, a vast federation stretching from sea to sea: this territory had previously been "discovered" by Native Americans, the Norse, Basque and Breton fishermen, and perhaps John Cabot. However the name of today's country does stem from Cartier's discoveries.

Cartier's particular contribution to the "discovery of Canada" is as the first European to penetrate the continent, and more precisely the interior eastern region along the St. Lawrence River. This region was to become the first European-inhabited area of that country since the Vikings. It is also important to bear in mind that the title "discoverer of Canada" was applied to Cartier at a time when Newfoundland was not yet part of Canada. Moreover, Cartier used the word "Canada" (see Canada's name) to describe the village (Stadacona), the surrounding land and the river itself. Thus understood, Cartier was in effect the first European to explore "Canada". But even to this extent, the use of "discoverer" is perhaps too enthusiastic, as the two sons of Donnacona guided Cartier in his first exploration of the inner continent (in the second voyage) through the St. Lawrence estuary up to the village of Stadacona.

Despite these critical notes, Cartier's professional abilities can be easily ascertained. Considering that Cartier made three voyages of exploration in dangerous and hitherto unknown waters without losing a ship, that he entered and departed some fifty undiscovered harbours without serious mishap, and that the only sailors he lost were victims of an epidemic ashore, he may be considered one of the most conscientious explorers of the period.

Rediscovery of Cartier's first colony

On August 18, 2006, Quebec Premier Jean Charest announced that Canadian archaeologists have discovered the precise location of Cartier's lost first colony of Charlesbourg-Royal.[1] The colony was built where the Cap Rouge river runs into the St. Lawrence River and is based on the discovery of burnt wooden timber remains that have been dated to the mid-16th Century and a fragment of a decorative Istoriato plate manufactured in Faenza, Italy, between 1540 and 1550 that could only have belonged to a member of the French aristocracy in the colony--probably Jean-François de la Roque de Roberval himself who was the leader of the settlement.[2] This colony was the first European settlement in modern day Canada. Its discovery has been hailed by archaeologists as the most important find in Canada since the c.1000 AD L'Anse aux Meadows Viking village was unearthed in northern Newfoundland.


  • Place Jacques-Cartier, a major street in the Vieux Port of Montreal
  • Jacques-Cartier River
  • Jacques-Cartier Bridge

Popular references

Jacques Cartier is referred to in the song "Looking for a Place to Happen" by the Canadian band The Tragically Hip, on the album Fully Completely.

In 2005, Cartier's Bref récit et succincte narration de la navigation faite en MDXXXV et MDXXXVI was named the most important book in Canadian history by the Literary Review of Canada.

Jacques Cartier Island. This Island is located on the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula in Newfoundland & Labrador, in the town of Quirpon. The island itself is located on the North side of the harbour and it provides excellent shelter to a deep harbour. It is said that the island was named by Jacques Cartier himself on one of his voyages through the Straits of Belle Isle during the 1530's.

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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