Jacques Cartier was a French explorer who is credited with having discovered Canada. Cartier was born in December 1491 in Saint Malo, a city on the northern coast of France. As a young man he studied navigation in Dieppe, Normandy. In 1534, King Francis I of France put him in command of two ships sailing to Labrador. He was supposed to discover a westward passage to Asia and colonize new territories. On April 20, 1534, Cartier set sail from Saint Malo, and 20 days later he reached the eastern coast of the island of Terranova. He then continued northward to the coasts of Labrador. He explored the area for days, but found no passage to Asia.
On July 14, 1534, Cartier entered the Bay of Gaspé, where his first encounter with the local Iroquois Indians took place. He established friendly relations with them. But ten days later, he took possession of the territory in the name of King Francis I of France. Back in his homeland, he persuaded the king to provide him with new means to conquer the region.
The king accepted. On May 19, 1535, Cartier embarked on his second voyage.
He sailed into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and reached the village of Stadacona, today’s Quebec City. The local villagers told Cartier of a kingdom were treasures abounded, called Saguenay. Cartier then made his way inland to search for the kingdom, but in vain. However, he discovered the village of Hochelaga, now Montreal. The cold winter temperatures forced him to suspend the exploration and return to France. On May 23, 1541, Cartier set sail for his third voyage. This time he was charged with colonizing the territory and locating the kingdom of Saguenay.
When he arrived in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, he established the first permanent French settlement in North America, where the city of Cap Rouge is located today.
In the meantime, he identified what he thought were gold and diamond mines nearby. After collecting the seemingly precious metal and stones, he deserted and returned to France with some of his men. But his treasure proved worthless. The gold was nothing but iron pyrite, and the diamonds were quartz crystals.
It is not known whether Cartier was prosecuted for his desertion. But the episode marked the end of his career as a navigator.
Jacques Cartier died in Saint-Malo on September 1, 1557.
His diary provides the first-ever descriptions of the coasts and populations of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.