Saint Croix Island International Historic Site

A Winter of Despair

"It was difficult to know the country without having wintered there... Winter came upon us sooner than we had expected... Of the seventy-nine of us, thirty-five died [of scurvy] and twenty others were near it…these circumstances made Sieur de Mons and others dissatisfied with the settlement... There are six months of winter in that land."

(French quotations are from vol.1 of Champlain Society's 1971 ed., of Champlain's 1613 ed., Voyages du Sieur de Champlain. The 17th century French has been transcribed into modern usage.)

Picture of Saint Croix Island in winter.
Picture of Saint Croix Island in winter.
© Parks Canada / Brian Townsend / 2003

Could you survive a winter on Saint Croix Island if...

  • Dangerous ice cut you off from the mainland?
  • There was over a meter of snow from October to April, with extremely cold winds?
  • There was a severe shortage of firewood and fresh water?
  • Your only rations were salted meat and vegetables?

In 1968-69, archaeologists examined 23 burials on Saint Croix Island. The bodies were buried with the feet towards the east, as was the Christian burial practice at the time. Variations in positions were due to changes in the location of the sun on the horizon during the winter and spring. Research in 1995 suggests that the deceased men ranged in age from about 17 to 45 years.

In December 1605, Sieur de Mons testified that

"...on the last day of March 1605... René Noël, Sieur de Bourgioly of Vitrey, Bretagne... died on Saint Croix Island of scurvy... and was buried on the island the same day he died."

(Nouveaux documents sur Champlain et son époque, vol.1, 1560-1622, National Archives of Canada)