As many of you will know Canada and parts of the United States have historical ties to France. Today, Canada recognises French as an official language along with English and the recognised native languages of Chipewyann, Cree, Gwitch’ in, Inuinnqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey and the Dogrib language. This post will explain the formation of New France which will detail Jacques Cartier’s exploration of the St Lawrence River and Samuel de Champlain’s charting of the St Lawrence. This in turn was a stepping stone to the area that is today known as Quebec in Canada. Although this post will focus on the foundations of New France that became Quebec, other places like Acadia, Louisiana and much of the interior of North America formed part of New France. By 1750, New France stretched from Quebec right down to the Bayous of Louisiana.
Cartier’s voyage occurred during the ‘Age of Discovery’ in the fifteenth century. Take the term as you will, it nevertheless was a time when a number of European nations started to explore other territories, notably in the Americas. The prominent nations at the time were; Spain, Portugal, Britain, the Netherlands and France. Cartier was born in St. Malo, the Duchy of Brittany. In 1534, by this time the Duchy of Brittany was amalgamated to the Kingdom of France. King Francis I commissioned Cartier to find a route to Asia so France can prosper from the wealthy Asian markets. However, Cartier had come across the area that is now known today as Newfoundland, the Gaspe Peninsula and other maritime lands near the opening of the St Lawrence River. Cartier and his men who sailed with him first made contact with a native population in the Chaleur Bay and some Iroquoian peoples around the Gaspe Peninsula. The Iroquoian peoples here should not be confused with the Iroquoians that were further south, in the area that is now New York. This contact was said to have not been hostile and some trading occurred, albeit the contact was not for very long. It was on the first voyage that Cartier took two Iroquoian captives with him to France and it was they who revealed the names of the land on that first voyage, ‘Honguedo’ and that the land allegedly featured areas of immense wealth.
In 1535 Cartier returned for his second voyage. However after travelling further up the St Lawrence River this time, Cartier and his men made contact with more Iroquoians living close to the river. The settlements were at Stadacona (now Quebec City) and Hochelaga (now Montreal). Cartier could not sail past Hochelaga as numerous rapids allowed him to go no further. Cartier much preferred the site of Hochelaga than Stadacona as he commented that Hochelaga seemed more appeasing. However, the area did not attract a lot of attention at this point for permanent settlement. Cartier returned to Stadacona before returning to France. However Cartier and his men were unable to due to adverse weather conditions. They had to remain in Stadacona for the winter. Again there was no track of hostility when Cartier and his men stayed during the winter of 1535-1536 before returning to France. Cartier and his men spent their time to strengthen their fleet, collect wood and combat a break out of scurvy. However when Cartier and his men were ready to leave in the spring of 1536 the Iroquoians became unhappy when Cartier decided to take a chief back to France.
Cartier returned for a third voyage, however this voyage was not as successful at least for him on a personal level. Cartier was replaced by a French Huguenot by the name of Jean Francois de la Roque de Roberval, who led that expedition. The goal of this voyage however changed considerably from the other two, whereby the goal was to find an alternative route to Asia. The purpose of this voyage was to find suitable land, full of the necessary resources to make a permanent settlement. Although Cartier did not lead the expedition, he did have permission by Jean Francois to sail before him as he wanted to wait for supplies to be ready for the voyage. Cartier decided to settle on an area further on from Stadacona. The area is a little west to Quebec City today and is now incorporated under the city. The area in question is Cap-Rouge. In addition to Cap-Rouge another area close to it was settled in and fortified to protect French interests. This area was called Charlesbourg-Royal. The land had proven to be successful as food crops like cabbage and root vegetables did grow and harvests were carried out. This proved that it was feasible to farm and grow food. By this time Cartier became interested in an Iroquoian legend from what he had been told during his second voyage. The legend in essence is about somewhere further north there was place full of gold and furs, named Saguenay. During the third voyage he wanted to go out and search for it. However, Cartier was prevented from doing so due to adverse weather conditions and he never came across it. Cartier was not the last person to go looking for it. Many men did try to find it but to no avail. It is unclear just how much truth there is to this legend, if it was misunderstood by Cartier and the French or that the specific Iroquoians who told the legend wanted the French to embrace it and travel further away from their lands. Nevertheless, what we do know is Iroquoian peoples relied in oral history as a way to pass down their stories and traditions for other generations. Before the coined term the ‘Age of Discovery’, Norsemen were the first known Europeans to land in North America. After all they established a settlement by the name of Vinland for a short time. Could it be that this was the origin of the legend? It may very well be, but one thing is for sure was that this was a legend that stuck with the French, particularly Cartier who wanted to set sail to find it. It soon became apparent that Cartier’s time on the North American continent would be short lived, failing to find the legend of Saguenay and failing to protect French fortifications from Iroquoians discontent prompted him to depart for St Malo, whereby he would spend the remainder of his life.
Although Cartier’s time on the North American continent was short lived, a man by the name of Samuel de Champlain was not. By the time Champlain crossed the Atlantic in 1603, trade was a more lucrative prospect. This idea in trade increased when Iroquoian tribes contracted European diseases and many of them left their riverside villages. This allowed a fur trade in the area to flourish. Champlain’s voyage in 1603 was to chart the St. Lawrence River even further as a way to help trade by King Henry IV of France. On a second voyage returning with Pierre Dugua Mons who led the expedition further north. Champlain was asked by Dugua to find a winter settlement. Port Royal, which is today situated in Nova Scotia was the site founded. This site became the start of a new colony, Acadia. This was a particularly potent point for New France as Champlain founded a settlement that was not on the St. Lawrence River. This was a good base for further exploration on the coast. In 1608 Champlain founded a new settlement, where the modern day Vieux-Quebec is. This site consolidated French claim to the area and was used as a base to help stimulate trading endeavours, regarding furs. It was from this point that Iroquoian contact was not relied upon. Many of the St Lawrence Iroquoians had died from European disease or through skirmishes. The Huron people were perceived by Champlain to be the primary suppliers, this proved effective for the French as they had gained an ally but not so much for other tribes known as the Five Nations that intensified discord between them. In addition to the founding of Quebec City, Champlain also settled on an island in the middle of the St Lawrence River. This area was to become Montreal and it was to be used for the same purpose as the previous settlement, for the furs trade further upstream. This settlement was called La Place Royale and later Ville Marie. This three tiered system appeared to work very well with fur traders as the extra site inland enabled them to acquire more territory for the trade to send back to France. By the mid-1600s as a result of the trading, this created a new identity, the Metis. This occurred as many European traders took native wives as a way to bridge the gap between the two distinct cultures. The wives would generally help with any cultural, language or lifestyle concerns. Eventually as the Metis children grew up they were able to interpret for fur traders and become traders themselves as a way to maximise production.
In spite of the fur trade, Ville Marie was unable to attract a considerable numbers of colonists. Most of them came to the area to start up Roman Catholic missions in the hope to convert the native population. Frequent raids occurred in the area from tribes, this offers one explanation as for why other would be colonists from France did not want to come. For those who were there, for many if the attacks persisted this was a sign to leave Ville Marie for Quebec upstream. By the turn of the century however, these raids stopped and this attracted more colonists to come to the area of Ville Marie. This happened because a missionary order under the name of the, Sulpician order convinced some of the native population to move away from Ville Marie to mission villages called Kahnewake and Kanesatake, which became reserves.
All in all this was the foundation for New France and other areas were established under French territory south of the continent. Although this vast area was lost by the French, the Francophone culture remains in the province of Quebec, Canada. Saint Pierre and Miquelon (near Newfoundland) is the only area that remains that was a part of New France, now a French overseas territory.