Origins of New France 1523-1541

Following in the footsteps of Italian Explorer Giovanni da Verrazano – whose 1523 expedition had been commissioned by King Francis I of France – Jacques Cartier planted a cross in the Gaspe Peninsula in 1534, which was the first province of New France.  In 1535, he sailed up the St. Lawrence and visited Native American settlements near present day Montreal and Quebec, where he spent the winter and 25 of his men died of scurvy. In 1536, he returned to France.

In 1541-42, Cartier returned to establish a settlement of 400 people at Fort Charlesbourg-Royal – present day Quebec. The motive of the voyage and the establishment of colonies were religious, economical, and also the hope of finding the Northwest Passage to China, which was the main motivation of the earlier voyages by Verrazano. But, the settlement of Fort Charlesbourg-Royal failed after 2 years.  Cartier brought back some minerals from this voyage that he believed to be gold and diamonds, however, they were pyrite and quartz.

After these initial attempts at colonizing New France, the French turned their attentions elsewhere, and mostly ignored these distant lands until the end of the 16th century. But, some French people showed interest in the regions fisheries. Specifically, there are reports of Basque, Breton and Norman fishermen plying the Grand Banks of Newfoundland in the first decades of the 16th century. By mid century, at least 100 ships were making the trip annually, the the fishermen were drying their catches on the shores. They were also making contact with the native Americans, and taking furs back to France. By the 1580’s, ship owners were moving from fishing to fur trapping, which brought the French further into the continent.

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