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Jacques Cartier
Jacques Cartier by Hamel.jpg
Portrait of Jacques Cartier by Théophile Hamel, ca. 1844. No contemporary portraits of Cartier are known.
Born December 31, 1491
St. Malo, Duchy of Brittany
Died September 1, 1557(1557-09-01) (aged 65)
Occupation French navigator and explorer
Known for First European to travel inland in North America. Claimed what is now known as Canada for France.
Jacques Cartier Signature.svg

Jacques Cartier (December 31, 1491September 1 1557), baptised Jakez Karter, was an explorer popularly thought of as one of the major discoverers of Canada. Cartier was born in Saint-Malo, a small village of the duchy of Brittany, which would later become incorporated to France in 1532. Cartier was part of a respectable family of mariners, and improved his social status in 1520 by marrying Catherine des Granches, member of a leading ship-owning family.

First Voyage, 1534

Route of Cartier's first voyage

In 1534, he set sail, hoping to discover some western passage to the wealthy markets of Asia. He explored parts of Newfoundland starting on May 10 of that year, and what are now the other Canadian Maritimes. He bartered for furs with the Micmac Indians, and learned of a river further west (the St. Lawrence), that he hoped might be the long-sought passage to Asia.

Yet, he did not sail the St. Lawrence river during his first voyage. Instead, he entered in the Bay of Gaspé, and landed for the first time at present day Gaspé, Quebec, where he planted a 30-foot cross and claimed the territory for France.

Second Voyage, 1535-1536

Route of Cartier's second voyage

Cartier set sail for a second voyage on May 19 of the following year with 3 ships and 110 men. Reaching the St. Lawrence, he sailed up-river for the first time, and reached the Huron village of Stadacona (site of present-day Québec City).

Cartier used his smallest ship to continue up-river and visit Hochelaga (now Montreal) where he arrived October 2, 1535. The site of their arrival has been identified as the beginning of the Sainte-Marie Sault -- where the Jacques Cartier Bridge now stands.

Third Voyage 1541-1542

Jacques Cartier a Hochelaga
Jacques Cartier at Hochelaga

On May 23, 1541 Cartier departed Saint-Malo on his third voyage with five ships. This time, any thought of finding a passage to the Orient was forgotten. The goals were now to find the "Kingdom of Saguenay" and its riches, and to establish a permanent settlement along the St. Lawrence.

Sailing to a spot he had previously observed, he decided to settle on the site of present-day Cap-Rouge, Quebec. The convicts and other colonists were landed, the cattle that had survived three months aboard ship were turned loose, earth was broken for a kitchen garden, and seeds of cabbage, turnip and lettuce were planted. A fortified settlement was thus created and was named Charlesbourg-Royal. Another fort was also built overlooking the settlement, for added protection.

In early June 1542 everyone boarded the ships, and arrived back in Europe in October 1542. This was his last voyage. Cartier spent the rest of his life in Saint-Malo , and died aged 66 on September 1, 1557 from an epidemic. He died before any permanent European settlements were made in Canada; that had to wait for Samuel de Champlain in 1608.

Cartier's professional abilities can be easily ascertained. Considering that Cartier made three voyages of exploration in dangerous and unknown waters without losing a ship, and that he entered and departed some 50 undiscovered harbors without serious mishap, he may be considered one of the most conscientious explorers of the period.

Cartier was also one of the first to formally acknowledge that the New World was a separate land mass from Europe/Asia.

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