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David Kirke takes Québec

For the week of Monday July 18, 2005

On July 19, 1629, David Kirke, a merchant adventurer of English origin, overtook the settlement at Québec. Samuel de Champlain, who had command of the settlement under the orders of the King of France, was obliged to abandon the trading post he had established and was taken to England. Québec would not be in French hands again until three years later, when the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye was signed in 1632.

Sir David Kirke
Sir David Kirke.
© Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives / MF 231-411

Samuel de Champlain had built the Québec settlement in 1608 on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, where the river narrows. Champlain understood the importance of gaining a monopoly of the fur trade, and the position he chose for his trading post offered many advantages. First, its location on a promontory would be easy to defend. Second, its proximity to the Amerindians’ trade routes fostered contacts and exchanges with them. Third, its position well upstream on the St. Lawrence made it a good site from which to explore the interior.

The son of a London merchant, David Kirke was born around 1597 in Dieppe, France, and died in London, England, in 1654. In 1628, King Charles I of England commissioned him to expel the French from Canada and Acadia, for England and France had been at war since the previous year. Accompanied by his four brothers, Kirke set sail from England for North America with at least three ships.

The Kirke brothers reached the St. Lawrence in the summer of 1628 and, on July 18, after intercepting a ship of the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France fleet, they succeeded in taking Tadoussac. Kirke called upon Champlain to surrender, but he refused, hoping for help from France. Faced with Champlain’s resistance, Kirke set off in search of the French supply fleet, and succeeded in capturing it. Certain that Québec would not be resupplied, Kirke sailed back to England, since it was late in the season.

Samuel de Champlain
Samuel de Champlain.
© Library and Archives Canada / C-014305
By the spring of 1629, matters had grown critical at Québec; food was in desperately short supply. When Kirke returned from Europe with a new expedition, Champlain, who had received no supplies from France, was forced to surrender and yield Quebec to the English on July 19, 1629.

Kirke would subsequently play a significant role in the history of Newfoundland. He was its first Governor, from 1638 to 1651. Sir David Kirke was designated a person of national historic significance in 1968. A plaque was erected in his honour in Calvert, Newfoundland and Labrador, in 1970.

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