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Jacques Cartier

Cartier, Jacques (zhäk kärtyāˈ) [key], 1491–1557, French navigator, first explorer of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and discoverer of the St. Lawrence River. He made three voyages to the region, the first two (1534, 1535–36) directly at the command of King Francis I and the third (1541–42) under the sieur de Roberval in a colonization scheme that failed. On the first voyage he entered by the Strait of Belle Isle, skirted its barren north coast for a distance and then coasted along the west shore of Newfoundland to Cape Anguille. From there he discovered the Magdalen Islands and Prince Edward Island and, sailing to the coast of New Brunswick, explored Chaleur Bay, continued around the Gaspé Peninsula, and landed at Gaspé to take possession for France. Continuing to Anticosti Island, he then returned to France. Hitherto the region had been considered cold and forbidding, interesting only because of the Labrador and Newfoundland fisheries, but Cartier's reports of a warmer, more fertile region in New Brunswick and on the Gaspé and of an inlet of unknown extent stimulated the king to dispatch him on a second expedition. On this voyage he ascended the St. Lawrence to the site of modern Quebec and, leaving some of his men to prepare winter quarters, continued to the native village of Hochelaga, on the site of the present-day city of Montreal, and there climbed Mt. Royal to survey the fertile valley and see the Lachine Rapids and Ottawa River. On his return he explored Cabot Strait, ascertaining Newfoundland to be an island. His Brief Récit et succincte narration (1545), a description of this voyage, was his only account to be published in France during his life. On his third trip he penetrated again to the Lachine Rapids and wintered in the same region, but gained little new geographical information. Roberval did not appear until Cartier was on his way home, and Cartier refused to join him. Although Cartier's discoveries were of major geographical importance and the claims of the French to the St. Lawrence valley were based on them, he failed in his primary object, the discovery of the Northwest Passage and natural resources. The region remained virtually untouched until the early 17th cent. The best edition of the voyages is H. P. Biggar, The Voyages of Jacques Cartier (1924).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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See more Encyclopedia articles on: Canadian History: Biographies


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