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Discovery Nouvelle France Siege and war Lower Canada Tercentenary Early 1900s decorative thumbnail images

Discovery of Canada and Quebec

French explorer Jacques Cartier was the first European to discover and navigate the St Lawrence River; his were the first recorded footsteps in Canada.

Cartier and his crew spent the winter of 1535 at the site of present-day Quebec City, close to the Iroquois village of Stadacona. Cartier's navigation of the St Lawrence was a crucial discovery in the history of the New World, which opened up the North American interior to the first phase of French colonisation.

During his second voyage, Cartier also journeyed further upriver to Hochelaga (present-day Montreal). His expeditions were influenced by an evangelical mission and by the geographical assumptions of the time, above all the imperative to discover a sea passage across the northwest of the continent to the Far East ('Cathay' in Early Modern terms).

In the event, Cartier's efforts did not lead immediately to the settlement of this new territory; that would come early in the next century, under the command of Samuel de Champlain.

Cartier's pivotal discovery is evoked in some of the Library's early printed books and manuscript maps: the image of a bearded European explorer meeting some of the territory's native inhabitants is discernible at the centre of the Harleian map. This also shows what is thought to be the earliest use of the name 'Canada' on any surviving map.

A large chart of the world... highly ornamented, with figures, etc., with the names in French. Anon. Dieppe, c. 1542-1544? [The Dauphin or Haleian Map]
Ms. Add. 5413. 'A large chart of the world... highly ornamented, with figures, etc., with the names in French'. Anon. Dieppe, c. 1542-1544? [The 'Dauphin' or 'Harleian' Map]. © Copyright The British Library Board
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G.7082. Jacques Cartier. Brief recit et succincte narration, de la nauigation faicte es ysles de Canada, Hochelaga, et Saguenay, et autres... Paris, 1545
GG.7082. Jacques Cartier. Brief recit et succincte narration, de la nauigation faicte es ysles de Canada, Hochelaga, et Saguenay, et autres... Paris, 1545. © Copyright The British Library Board
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Introduction: Quebec 2008
Discovery of Canada and Quebec
La Nouvelle France 1608–1763
Siege of Quebec and Seven Years War 1756–63
Lower Canada
Tercentenary 1908
Early 1900s

 
 
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