Jacques Cartier

Home » History Greatest People » Jacques Cartier

Jacques Cartier was born in 1491in Saint-Malo, the port on the north-west coast of Brittany.

Cartier, who was a respectable mariner, improved his social status in 1520 by marrying Mary Catherine des Granches, member of a leading family.

On April the 20th 1534, Cartier set sail under a commission from the king, hoping to discover a western passage to the wealthy markets of Asia.

In the words of the commission, he was to “discover certain islands and lands where it is said that a great quantity of gold and other precious things are to be found”.

It took him twenty days to sail across the ocean.

Starting on May 10 of that year, he explored parts of Newfoundland, the areas now the Canadian Atlantic provinces and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Jacques Cartier set sail for a second voyage on May 19 of the following year with three ships, 110 men, and his two Iroquoian captives.

Cartier left his main ships in a harbour close to Stadacona, and used his smallest ship to continue on to Hochelaga (now Montreal), arriving on October 2, 1535.

Hochelaga was far more impressive than the small and squalid village of Stadacona, and a crowd of over a thousand 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 bridge named after him now stands. The expedition could proceed no further, as the river was blocked by rapids.

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 River.

Anchoring at Stadacona, Cartier again met the Iroquoians, but found their “show of joy” and their numbers worrisome, and decided not to build his settlement there.

Sailing a few kilometres 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 cliff overlooking the settlement, for added protection.

Cartier appears to have voyaged to the Americas, particularly Brazil, prior to his three major North American voyages.

When King Francis I of France decided in 1534 to send an expedition to explore the northern lands in the hope of discovering gold, spices, and a passage to Asia, Cartier received the commission.

He sailed from Saint-Malo on April 20, 1534, with two ships and 61 men.

Reaching North America a few weeks later, Cartier traveled along the west coast of Newfoundland, discovered Prince Edward Island, and explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence as far as Anticosti Island.

Having seized two Indians at the Gaspé Peninsula, he sailed back to France. He died September 1, 1557, near Saint-Malo.