This Week in History


Cartier Arrives at Stadacona

For the week of Monday September 10, 2001

On September 14, 1535, French explorer Jacques Cartier dropped anchor near the Iroquois village of Stadacona, today's Québec City. In the service of the King of France, Cartier made three voyages to North America. During his second expedition, while trying to find a passage to Asia, he explored the St. Lawrence River and stopped near Stadacona.

Portrait of Jacques Cartier by Théophile Hamel, 1860

Portrait of Jacques Cartier
by Théophile Hamel, 1860

© LAC / C-011226

In 1534, Cartier led his first expedition to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. He explored the gulf and Chaleur Bay, where he met 200 Iroquois and one of their chiefs, Donnacona, on a fishing expedition. He convinced the chief's sons, Domagaia and Taignagny, to accompany him back to France to become interpreters.

The success of his first voyage brought about a second crossing. In July 1535, Cartier returned to the Gulf of St. Lawrence with Donnacona's sons. This time, he found the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and continued his expedition. Looking for a harbour, Cartier stopped at the St. Charles River. Domagaia and Taignagny lead him to the nearby Iroquois village of Stadacona, where they reunited with their father Donnacona, the village chief.

Cartier continued his exploration of the river to the Iroquois village of Hochelaga (Montréal). However, he returned to spend his first winter near Stadacona. It was a difficult challenge for Cartier and his men, who were not used to the harsh climate. They had to fight the cold and scurvy, a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C, which decimated the crew. Fortunately, the Stadaconans gave them an effective remedy, herbal tea made from white cedar.

Jacques Cartier sailing up the St. Lawrence River, 1535

Jacques Cartier sailing
up the St. Lawrence River, 1535

© LAC / W. Baker / C-11510

In the spring of 1536, Cartier took advantage of a conflict in the Iroquois village by capturing a dozen villagers, including Donnacona and his sons, in order to present them at Court as witnesses to his discoveries. He promised to return them the following year. However, all but one little girl died in France. This incident marked the beginning of the Iroquois hostility toward the French, which became apparent when Cartier returned to Stadacona during his third voyage in 1541.

Jacques Cartier's arrival at Gaspé in 1534 is considered an event of national historic importance. The Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site of Canada commemorates the wintering of Jacques Cartier and his crew in 1535-1536 near the Iroquois village of Stadacona. Iroquois chief Donnacona is also recognized here with a plaque.

For more information on Cartier's voyages in Canada, please consult Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site of Canada or theVirtual Museum of New-France

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