Content Home » Canadian History

Canadian Content

Birth Of Canada

Page: 1/8

Canada and the United States have many major geographic features in common. They share the Rocky Mountains, the Interior Plains, four of the Great Lakes, the Appalachian Highlands, and many rivers. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the stories of the exploration and settlement of both of these nations are closely interwoven.

The complete history of neither Canada nor the United States can be studied without reference to the history of the other. Each is today an independent nation. Each, however, achieved its independence by a completely different path--Canada by gradual constitutional change spread over many years, the United States by a single great War of Independence.

With permission from

Discovery of Canada

The earliest discovery of the New World was made by Norse seafarers known as Vikings. The vague accounts of their exploits are drawn from their sagas, epic stories in prose or verse handed down by word of mouth through many generations. In AD 985 Norse seamen sailing from Iceland to Greenland were blown far westward off their course and sighted the coast of what must have been Labrador. The report of forested areas on the strange new coast encouraged further explorations by Norse colonists from Greenland, whose settlements lacked lumber.

In AD 1000 Leif Ericson became the first European to land in North America . According to the sagas, this was the first of many Norse voyages to the eastern shores of the continent. A colony was established in what the Vikings described as Vinland, identified in 1963 as being on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland. Recent investigations have cast doubt on the once-popular theory that the Vikings also penetrated Hudson Bay and reached the upper Great Lakes region by overland routes. Discoveries of "Norse" relics in that area have been exposed by scholars as hoaxes. The Greenland colony died out during the 14th and 15th centuries, and the Norse adventures in Canada must have come to an end well before that time.

Rediscovery and Exploration

In 1497 an Italian named John Cabot sailed west from Bristol, England, intent on finding a new trade route to the Orient for his patron, King Henry VII of England (see Cabot). This voyage led to the rediscovery of the eastern shores of Canada. Cabot was as confident as Columbus had been that a new seaway was now open to Asia. On a second voyage, the following year, Cabot explored the coast of North America, touching at various points--none too clearly charted--from Baffin Island to Maryland. The Cabot voyages gave England a claim by right of discovery to an indefinite area of eastern North America. Its later claims to Newfoundland, Cape Breton Island, and neighboring regions were at least partly based on Cabot's exploits.

Of more immediate significance were the explorer's reports of immensely rich fishing waters. The Roman Catholic countries of Western Europe furnished a market that made the ocean voyage worthwhile, even if it were made to gather the harvest of the sea instead of the spices and jewels of the Orient. Almost every year after 1497 an international mixture of fishing vessels could be seen on the offshore fisheries southeast of Newfoundland and east of Nova Scotia. Occasionally such ships even cruised into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. At times their crews encountered Indians along the shores who were willing to part with valuable furs in exchange for articles of little worth such as beads and other trinkets.

When it was realized that only the wilds of an unexplored new world had been discovered, there was a spirit of disillusionment in Europe. Gradually, however, this feeling was replaced by a fresh interest in North America, for Spanish and Portuguese adventurers were reported to be bringing home rich cargoes of gold and silver from the Caribbean. In 1524 King Francis I of France sent a Florentine navigator, Giovanni da Verrazano, on a voyage of reconnaissance overseas. Verrazano explored the eastern coastline of North America from North Carolina to Newfoundland, giving France too some claim to the continent by right of discovery.

Cartier's Explorations

Ten years later Francis I followed up the work of Verrazano by dispatching an expedition under Jacques Cartier . On his voyage of 1534 Cartier sailed a route that was for the most part already well known. This was an official exploring expedition, however, and its immediate result was a thorough report for the French king about the lands he had seen and the people he had met. He visited and named most of the important coasts on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and observed near Anticosti Island that he might be in the mouth of a great river.

The first known penetration of the interior through the St. Lawrence River gateway took place the following year, when Cartier returned as leader of a new expedition. Pressing upstream in three small vessels, he reached the Indian village of Stadacona, near the present site of the city of Quebec. A little more than 150 miles farther upstream he reached the end of navigation at a large island in the river. Here he found another Indian village, called Hochelaga, on the site of the present city of Montreal. From the height behind it, to which he gave the name Mont Real, he could see the foaming Lachine Rapids blocking the way to the upper waters of the St. Lawrence. At Stadacona, Cartier and his followers passed a bitter winter. Many of his party died from cold and scurvy before he could set sail for France the following spring.

End of the First Colonizing Effort

In 1541 Cartier led his third, and probably his last, expedition to the St. Lawrence. A new headquarters was established at Cap-Rouge, a few miles upstream from Stadacona. This time Cartier was to be followed by Jean Francois de la Rocque, sieur de Roberval, with a party of colonists. After a wait which lasted through the following winter, Cartier set sail for home, only to meet Roberval's party "in three tall ships" in the harbor of what is now St. John's, Newf.

Disregarding the orders of Roberval, who was his senior officer, to accompany the colonizing party back to Quebec, Cartier sailed for France under cover of darkness. The Roberval expedition proceeded upstream, and a tragically unsuccessful effort was made to found a permanent colony on the site where Cartier had wintered the previous season. By the following year some 60 of the colonists had died. Roberval decided to abandon the whole colonizing project, and France itself turned its back on the Canadian experiment for almost 60 years.

Next Page (2/8) Next Page

Latest Topics in Canadian Forums