Jacques Cartier (1491-1557), French navigator, discoverer of the Canadian river St Lawrence, was born at St Malo in Brittany. Of his early life nothing is known. On the suppression by Admiral Chabot of the trade to Brazil, an expedition consisting of two ships and sixty-one men was despatched from St Malo under Cartier on the 20th of April 1534, to look for a north-west passage to the East. Cartier reached Newfoundland on the 10th of May, and at once entered the strait of Belle Isle, then known to the fishermen as the bay of Castles. While the ships renewed their supply of wood and water in Belles Amours harbour on the north side of the strait, the long-boats discovered that the coast farther west was barren, rocky and uninviting.
In view of this Cartier set sail on Monday, the 15th of June, for the south side of the strait, by following which he was led down almost the whole west coast of Newfoundland. Off St George’s Bay a storm drove the ships out into the gulf, but on resuming his course Cartier fell in with the Bird Rocks. The island south of these he named Brion Island, after Chabot. Cartier mistook our Magdalen and Prince Edward Islands for the main shore on the south side of this inland sea. Following the coast of New Brunswick northward he was greatly disappointed to discover Chaleur Bay was not a strait.
During a ten days’ stay in Gaspe Harbour Cartier made friends with a tribe of Huron-Iroquois Indians from Quebec, two of whom he carried off with him. A mirage deceived him into thinking the passage up the river south of Anticosti was a bay, whereupon he proceeded to coast the southern, eastern and northern shores of Anticosti. On discovering the passage between this island and the Quebec shore a council was held, at which it was decided to postpone the exploration of this strait until the following year. Heading eastward along the Quebec shore, Cartier soon regained the Strait of Belle Isle and, entering the Atlantic on the 15th of August, reached St Malo in safety on the 5th of September.
Cartier set sail again from St Malo with three vessels on the 16th of May 1536, and passing through the strait of Belle Isle anchored on the 9th of August in Pillage Bay, opposite Anticosti. The next day he named this the bay of St Lawrence. In course of time the name spread to the gulf and finally to the river. Proceeding through the passage north of Anticosti, Cartier anchored on the 1st of September at the mouth of the Saguenay, which the two Indians who had passed the winter in France informed him was the name of a kingdom "rich and wealthy in precious stones." Again on reaching the island of Orleans, so named after the third son of Francis I., they told Cartier he was now in the kingdom of Canada, in reality the Huron-Iroquois word for village.
Leaving his two larger vessels in the St Charles, which there enters the St Lawrence, Cartier set off westward with the bark and the long-boats. The former grounded in Lake St Peter, but in the latter he reached, on the 2nd of October, the Huron-Iroquois village of Hochelaga on the site of the city of Montreal. Further progress was checked by the Lachine Rapid. From the top of Mount Royal, a name still in use, Cartier beheld the St Lawrence and the Ottawa stretching away to the west.
On his return to the St Charles, where during the winter twenty-five men died of scurvy, Cartier sought further information about the rich country called Saguenay, which he was informed could be reached more easily by way of the Ottawa. In order to give Francis I. authentic information of this northern Mexico, Cartier seized the chief and eleven of the headmen of the village and carried them off to France. This time he passed south of Anticosti and, entering the Atlantic through Cabot Strait, reached St Malo on the 16th of July 1537.
Francis I. was unable to do anything further until the spring of 1541, when Cartier set sail with five vessels and took up his quarters at Cap Rouge, 9 m. above Quebec. A soldier, the seigneur de Roberval, had been chosen to lead the men to the conquest of Saguenay; but when he did not arrive, Cartier made a fresh examination of the rapid of Lachine, preparatory to sending the men up the river Ottawa. Roberval at length set sail in April 1542, but on reaching St John’s, Newfoundland, met Cartier on his way back to France.
In the summer of 1543, Cartier was sent out to bring home Roberval, whose attempt to make his way up the Ottawa to this mythical Saguenay had proved futile. From 1544 until his death at St Malo, on the 1st of September 1557, Cartier appears to have done little else than give technical advice in nautical matters and act as Portuguese interpreter.
A critical edition of Cartier’s Brief Recit de la navigation faicte es isles de Canada (1545), from the MSS., has been published by the university of Toronto. The best English version is that by James Phinney Baxter, published at Portland, Maine, in 1906.
1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica Volume 5. 433-434.
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