In the early 1500s the
French explorer Cartier tried to find a sea passage to the East Indies
through North America. Instead he discovered the Saint Lawrence River
and opened Canada to European settlement.
Jacques Cartier was born in Saint-Malo, France, on Dec. 31, 1491. Very
little is known of his early life. On the first of his voyages to North
America he set sail from Saint-Malo on April 20, 1534. On May 10 he
reached northern Newfoundland. He passed through the Strait of Belle
Isle and explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
On May 16, 1535, Cartier sailed again from France. This time he had
three vessels. He camped at a spot, far up the St. Lawrence, that the
Indians called Stadacona, near the present site of Quebec. He took his
smallest ship and two boats up the river to where it widens into Lake
St. Peter. There his ship went aground on shoals. Cartier then continued
his exploration in small boats and on foot. He reached the fortified
Indian village of Hochelaga on an island where the Ottawa and St.
Lawrence rivers meet. He gave the name Mont Real (Mount Royal) to the
highest hill on the island.
Cartier went up the river until stopped by the Lachine Rapids. He
wintered at Stadacona, where 25 of his 110 men died of scurvy. In the
spring, with 12 captured Indians, he returned to France.
In 1541 he took colonists in five ships to Cap Rouge, near Quebec. He
returned to France in 1542. The colony, under the sieur de Roberval, was
a failure, and for the time being France lost interest in Canada.
Cartier retired to Saint-Malo, where he served as an adviser on
navigation. He died on Sept. 1, 1557.
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