Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site of Canada

The St. Lawrence Iroquoians

The Vast Territory of the St. Lawrence Iroquoians

The St. Lawrence Iroquoians occupied an immense territory. Extending from the mouth of Lake Ontario to the estuary of the St. Lawrence River, their country, which in this text is referred to as Iroquoian Laurentia, measured more than 700 km along the entire St. Lawrence Valley, and contained an estimated population of more than 10,000 during the 16th century.

The map represents the south of the Province of Québec and the north of Ontario. We can see the iroquoian territory, on both sides of the St.Lawrence river, from the Lake St-Jean to the Lake Erié. Map of Iroquoian Laurentia at the time of Cartier's arrival.
© Parks Canada

Given the fact that other Iroquoian nations, such as the Hurons or the Neutrals, occupied smaller territories yet had divided into smaller groups, it stands to reason that Iroquoian Laurentia encompassed several different groups. In the narrative he gave of his second voyage, Jacques Cartier noted that the inhabitants of Hochelaga differed significantly from those of Stadacona and the surrounding areas. He added that the Stadaconans and another eight or nine groups appeared to be under the domination of the Hochelagans. Moreover, archaeological findings suggest that possibly four distinct cultural provinces lay within the St. Lawrence Valley. One major province was quite probably located in present-day Jefferson County, in New York State, at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, but it has been little studied until now. At least one other province covered the upper St. Lawrence Valley, the easternmost limits of which presumably coincided with present-day Montréal, where the village of Hochelaga was located. A third province is believed to have occupied the Lac Saint-Pierre region. Finally, a fourth group, to whom Cartier gave the name of prouvynce de Canada, or province of Canada, corresponded fairly closely with the Québec area.