Who called Canada

The explorers of Canada


Giovanni Caboto - the first

Five years after Christopher Columbus went ashore in the "New World", his compatriot Giovanni Caboto, later called John Cabot, started his first expedition in 1497 to look further north for a shorter route from Europe to Asia.

Caboto probably came from Genoa, where he was born around 1450. He lived in Venice for a long time, from where in 1490 he had to flee completely indebted. First in Seville and Lisbon, and later in England, he tried to find a ship and a crew.

On May 2, 1497, he set sail with his ship "Matthew" and a crew of only 18 men - on behalf of some English merchants and under the protection of King Henry VII.

On June 24th, he encountered unknown land he believed to be China - presumably Newfoundland, or perhaps the northern tip of Nova Scotia. He entered it only briefly to take possession of it in the name of Henry VII.

He followed the coastline for 30 days without seeing a soul. Caboto was back in Bristol in August and proudly announced that he had discovered Asia.

A year later he left again. This time his expedition consisted of five ships with a crew of around 300 men. The goal of the trip was to advance as far as Japan.

Only one of the ships landed in an Irish port shortly afterwards after getting into distress. The other ships - and Caboto too - were never heard from again.

What remained was the news of huge fish stocks at the Newfoundland Bank, which soon afterwards attracted fishermen from France, England, Portugal and Spain to the new continent. Barter trade emerged - and furs in particular soon became a coveted commodity in Europe.

Jacques Cartier - the namesake

In 1524 the French also entered the race for the riches of the Far East. For the first time, exact official maps and documents were published.

Another Italian, this time in French service, Giovanni de Verrazano, explored the coast from Florida to Labrador and wrote on his card the words "Nova Gallia" - New France.

In 1534, the captain Jacques Cartier was commissioned by the French King Francis I to "sail to the lands of the Terres Neuves in order to discover those islands and countries on which there are large amounts of gold and other riches". He left his home town of St. Malo on April 20, 1534 with two ships and 61 men.

The crossing lasted only 20 days, then he landed on the Newfoundland coast. He found this land "which God gave Cain" to be stony and worthless - and set sail southwards. Past Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, he reached the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, where he went ashore.

He immediately traded with the Micmac Indians: knives and objects made of iron, even a red hat, for the coveted skins.

Cartier stated: "They showed a great and wonderful joy in having and receiving those items. [...] And they gave us everything they had in such a way that they eventually returned completely naked."

Cartier was able to persuade the tribal chief Donnacona to send two of his sons to France with him - there they learned his language and later served as guides in their homeland.

Cartier was back a year later, sailing up the broad river he named St. Lawrence. The name "Canada" appeared for the first time - the two chief sons kept talking about it, so that Cartier had to assume that it was the country from which they came.

In fact, in the language of their tribe, the term simply meant a village. When Cartier finally reached Hochelaga (today's Montreal) and climbed Mont Réal, his dream of crossing the St. Lawrence River to China came to an abrupt end. The rapids below blocked any further way west.

Cartier came to Canada a third time in 1541 - with over 1,500 men and women to settle there. But the harsh winter, disease and the threat from the Indians drove the survivors back to France after only a year.

Samuel de Champlain - the founder

The son of a ship's captain, Samuel de Champlain was born in Brouage on the Bay of Biscay in 1567. In the service of the Spanish king he took part in numerous important expeditions and visited almost all the important ports in America.

In 1601 he returned to France. In 1603 he was appointed geographer for the America expedition. The main interest of the French in Canada was meanwhile the fur trade.

When fur traders crossed the Atlantic in 1603 with a trade monopoly from King Henry IV, Champlain led the expedition. In Fundy Bay he founded the Port Royal settlement, later Annapolis.

But the desired success did not materialize, because Champlain did not discover a river that opened the way deep into the interior, as would have been necessary for a successful fur trade. Champlain therefore returned to France and promoted another settlement on the St. Lawrence River.

In 1608 he was able to implement his idea. He set up a trading and customs post as well as quarters at the narrowest point of the St. Lorenz, where the steep bank steps into the water. Québec was founded. After a long, hard winter, only nine of the 29 residents were still alive.

Champlain was not deterred by this. He waited for reinforcements, allied himself with the Indian people of the Hurons and drove up the St. Lawrence until he finally reached the lake which he gave his name - Lake Champlain.

The settlers came hesitantly, but they did - and by 1627 65 people had chosen French Canada as their new home. Champlain was appointed governor of New France.

Then the war between France and England spread to Québec. The Kirke Brothers, Scottish privateers, plundered the St. Lawrence Valley and incinerated the settlement in 1629. Champlain was captured by the English.

In the Treaty of St. Germain-en-Laye, France received the Canadian colony back in 1632 - and Champlain returned there, where he died three years later. The people of Québec still call him the "Father of Nouvelle-France".