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Cartier standing in small paddle boat near where Donnacona stands on shore
Meeting of Jacques Cartier and Donnacona. Postcard of butter sculpture tableau, Franco-British Exhibition, London, 1908.
Died c. 1539
Other names Chief of Stadacona
Known for First Nations chief being taken to France by Jacques Cartier

Chief Donnacona (died c. 1539 in France) was the chief of the St. Lawrence Iroquois village of Stadacona, located at the present site of Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. French explorer Jacques Cartier, concluding his second voyage to what is now Canada, returned to France with Donnacona. Donnacona was treated well in France but he died there. Later Cartier would make a third voyage to the same area.

Cartier's first voyage

Jacques Cartier made three voyages to the land now called Canada, in 1536, 1538 and 1549. In late July 1534, in the course of his first voyage, he and his men encountered two hundred people fishing near Gaspé Bay. Cartier's men erected a "thirty foot long" cross which provoked a reaction from the leader of this fishing party. After some presentation of gifts to the people there, he left the area the next day, with two men on board, Domagaya and Taignoagny, from the fishing party. He returned to France with them, concluding his first voyage in September 1534. Some sources say that these men were the sons of Donnacona and the fishing party's leader was Donnacona himself, although the original 16th-century report does not mention this.

Upon the 25 of the month, we caused a faire high Crosse to be made of the height of thirty feet, [...] in the top was carved in the wood with Anticke letters this posie, Vive le Roi de France. [...] And after we were returned to our ships, their Captain clad with an old Bears skin, with three of his sons, and a brother of his with him, came unto us in one of their boats, but they came not so near us as they were want to do so: there he made a long Oration unto us, showing us the cross we had set up, and making a cross with two fingers, then did he showed us all the Country about us, [...]. One of our fellowes that was in our boat, tooke hold on theirs, and suddenly leapt into it, with two or three more, who enforced them to enter into our ships, whereat they were greatly astonished. But our Captain did straight- waies assure them, that they should have no harme, nor any injurie offered them at all, and entertained them very friendly, making them eate and drinke. Then did we shew them with signes, that the crosse was but onely set up to be as a light and leader which wayes to enter into the port, and that wee would shortly come againe, and bring good store of iron wares and other things, but that we would take two of his children with us, and afterward bring them to the sayd port againe: and. so wee clothed two of them in shirts, and coloured coates [...] we gave to each one.of those three that went back, a hatchet, and some knives, which made them very glad. After these were gone, and had told the newes unto their fellowes, in the afternoone there came to our ships sixe boates of them, with six men in everyone, to take their farewells of those two we had detained to take with us [...] How after we were departed from the sayd porte, following our voyage along the said coast, we went to discover the land lying Southeast, and Northwest. The next day, being the 25 of the month, we had faire weather and went from the said port : and being out of the river, we sailed Eastnortheast, for after the entrance into the said river[...]

Cartier's second voyage

Jacques Cartier's second voyage began 19 May 1535 after he kidnapped Domagaya and Taignoagny from their father, Chief Donnacona, to use them as guides. They showed Cartier the entrance to the St. Lawrence River, and piloted him upriver to L'Isle-aux-Coudres and on to Donnacona's capital, Stadacona. (Cartier gives Donnacona's title as Agohanna, an Iroquoian word for chief.) Also as part of this voyage, Cartier went further up the St. Lawrence to Hochelega, present-day Montreal, on 2 October 1535, without Domagaya and Taignoagny, who were stopped by the chief from going with him.

NASA satellite image of the Gaspé Peninsula. Part of Anticosti Island (Cartier's Island of the Assumption) appears to the northeast.

In the year of our Lord 1535, vpon Whitsunday, being the 16. of May, by the commandement of our Captaine Iames Cartier, and with a common accord, in the Cathedrall Church of S. Malo we deuoutly each one confessed a selues, and receiued the Sacrament [...]. The Wednesday following, being the 19. of May, there arose a good gale of wind, and therefore we hoysed sayle with three ships [...]

[...]beyond the abouesayd hauen about ten leagues, where we found a goodly great gulfe, full of Islands, passages, and entrances toward what wind soeuer you please to bend: for the knowledge of this gulfe there is a great Island that is like to a Cape of lande [...] We named the sayd gulfe Saint Laurence his bay. [...] The next day after being our Ladie day of August the fifteenth of the moneth, hauing passed the Straight, we had notice of certaine lands that wee left toward the South, which landes are full of very great and high hilles, and this Cape wee named The Island of the Assumption [...]

But for a resolution of the matter Taignoagny and Domagaia tolde our Captaine, that their Lord Donnacona would by no meanes permit that any of them should goe with him to Hochelaga vnlesse he would leaue him some hostage to stay with him: our Captaine answered them, that if they would not goe with him with a good will, they should stay, and that for all them he would not leaue off his iourney thither.

[...] our Captaine with all his Gentlemen and fiftie Mariners departed with our Pinnesse, and the two boates from Canada to goe to Hochelaga: and also there is described, what was seene by the way vpon the said riuer.

Cartier Second Voyage Map 1
Route of Cartier's second voyage.

As recorded in Cartier's journal, the French wintered in Canada. Relations between the St. Lawrence Iroquoian and French deteriorated over the winter. During the winter, twenty-five French sailors died of scurvy. In spring, Cartier intended to take the chief to France, so that he might personally tell the tale of a country further north, called the "Kingdom of Saguenay", said to be full of gold, rubies and other treasures. In May 1536, he kidnapped Chief Donnacona. It was an arduous trip down the St. Lawrence and a three-week Atlantic crossing. Donnacona and nine others from the tribe, including Domagaya and Taignoagny, arrived in Saint-Malo, France on 15 July 1536, concluding Cartier's second voyage.

Donnacona was treated well in France, and looked after at the king's expense. Cartier promised to bring Donnacona back in 12 moons. Donnacona died in France around 1539. The presence of these First Nations visitors whetted the French appetite for New World exploration with their tales of a golden kingdom called "Saguenay". All but one of the other Iroquoians died, a little girl whose fate is unknown.

Cartier returned to the new land in May 1541, on his third voyage, without any of those whom he had brought to France. That voyage lasted until his return in May 1542.

A report of Cartier's second voyage was printed in France in 1545, and is today in the British Museum. Excerpts given here are taken from Burrage, using Richard Hakluyt's English translation published in 1589–1600.


Donnacona is remembered by a town, which now bears his name, on the north shore 30 mi (48 km) west of Quebec City, at the confluence of the Saint Lawrence and the Jacques-Cartier Rivers.

In 1981, Donnacona was recognized as a National Historic Person by the government of Canada. A plaque commemorating this is located at the Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site, 175 De L'Espinay St, Québec, Quebec.

HMCS Donnacona, a stone frigate, is located in Montreal, QC.

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