Port-Royal National Historic Site of Canada
Samuel de Champlain
Site interpreter re-enacting Champlain’s recollections of Port-Royal © Parks Canada/A. Rierden
Samuel de Champlain made the first of an estimated 29 crossings of the Atlantic Ocean in 1598 on a voyage to the West Indies. In 1603 he traveled much farther north as a royal geographer on a fur trading expedition to the St. Lawrence River. The expedition sailed to Tadoussac, at the mouth of the Saguenay River, which had long been a trading center for the indigenous peoples living along the St. Lawrence. His next voyage would take him to Acadia.
By the time Champlain settled in Port-Royal in 1605, he had already mapped a large portion of the northeastern coast of North America. Consumed with curiosity and an irrepressible spirit of adventure, he continued to sail and chart the coasts, using Port-Royal as a base. He spent three years at Port-Royal where he lived in comfort. Champlain created for himself a work-room among the trees, and built a sluice to stock his own trout. He took “a particular pleasure” in gardening. At the same time, he developed amiable relations with the local indigenous people and they, in turn, taught him much about living and surviving in this new environment.
During the summer of 1606, Jean Biencourt de Poutrincourt arrived as lieutenant governor. In September 1606, Poutrincourt and Champlain searched southward for a new settlement sailing along the present-day New England coast and rounding Cape Cod. The expedition headed back north after a bloody scrimmage with the Monomoyick peoples in Port-Fortuné (present day Chatham, MA) in which several crew members died.
Bust of Champlain at Port-Royal © Parks Canada/A. Rierden
The winter of 1606-07 was a joyful one highlighted by moderate temperatures and food and wine in abundance. Champlain added to the high spirits by founding the Order of Good Cheer, or L’Ordre de Bon Temps, a dining society whose members took turns providing game for the table and maintaining an atmosphere of merriment. In the spring of 1607, de Mons’ trading privilege was revoked, forcing him to order his settlers back to France. Before leaving, however, Champlain went back to the Baie Françoise (Bay of Fundy) to look for a copper mine, but found only nuggets. Champlain’s partnership with Sieur de Mons would continue on an auspicious path. The next year, with financial backing obtained by de Mons, Champlain returned to the St. Lawrence and began to build a settlement that would mark the founding of Quebec.
Unlike his English and Spanish contemporaries, Champlain was more interested in learning from and cooperating with native people than in exploiting them. He envisioned a world where people of different faiths and races could live and mix together. Today Champlain is remembered as the father of New France.
For more information on Samuel de Champlain please go to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.