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Samuel de Champlain
Detail from "Deffaite des Yroquois au Lac de Champlain," from Champlain's Voyages (1613). This is the only contemporary likeness of the explorer to survive to the present. It is also a self-portrait.
Born between 1567 and 1580
(most probably near 1580)
Died December 25, 1635
Occupation navigator, cartographer, soldier, explorer, sailor, administrator and chronicler of New France
Known for exploration of New France, foundation of Quebec City, Canada, being called The Father of New France
Samuel de Champlain (signature).svg

Samuel 'Hunterry' de Champlain ( c. 13 August 1567 – 25 December 1635) was a French navigator, cartographer, draughtsman, soldier, explorer, geographer, ethnologist, diplomat, and chronicler. He made between 21 and 29 trips across the Atlantic Ocean, and founded Quebec, and New France, on 3 July 1608. He is called "The Father of New France". He founded Quebec City on July 3, 1608. In 1609 he came to Lake Champlain, which is named for him.

Early Travels

Born in Brouage, France, much of Champlain's early life is unknown, although it is speculated by some that his mother was a Huguenot. His first trip to North America was on March 15, 1603 as part of a fur trading expedition. Although he had no official assignment on the voyage, he created a map of the St. Lawrence River and, on his return to France on September 20, wrote an account of his travels called Des Sauvages (The Savages).

Instructed by Henry IV to make a report on his discoveries, Champlain joined another expedition to New France in the spring of 1604 led by Pierre Du gua Sieur de Monts. He helped found the Saint Croix Island settlement which was abandoned the following spring 1605 when the settlers moved across the Bay of Fundy to found the Habitation at Port-Royal (which had been located with Champlain's assistance), where Champlain lived until 1607 while he explored the Atlantic coast.

In 1605 and 1606 Champlain explored the land that is now Chatham, Cape Cod as a prospective settlement but small skirmishes with the resident Monomoyick Indians ultimately dissuaded him from the idea. He named the area Port Fortune and featured it on his maps.

Founding of Quebec City

On July 3, 1608 Champlain landed at the "point of Quebec" and set about fortifying the area against attack by building three main buildings (each two stories tall) and also moat 15 feet wide. This was to become the city of Quebec. Fortifying Quebec City (which he referred to as his "Habitation") became one of his passions, which he embarked on periodically for the rest of his life.

The first winter was difficult for the colonists. Of the twenty-five people who stayed for the winter only 8 survived, most having died of scurvy and some of smallpox.


Champlain married Hélène Boullé on 27 December 1610.

Hélène lived in Quebec for several years, but returned to Paris and eventually decided to enter a convent. The couple had 1 child, and Champlain adopted three Montagnais girls named Faith, Hope, and Charity in the winter of 1627–28.

Relations and War with Indians

During the summer of 1608, Champlain attempted to form better relations with the local Indians. He made alliances with the Huron and Algonquins (who lived to the north of the St. Lawrence River) promising to help them in their war against the Iroquois. Champlain set off with 9 French soldiers and 300 Indians in order to explore the Rivière des Iroquois (now Richelieu) when he subsequently discovered Lake Champlain. Having had no encounters with the Iroquois at this point many of the men headed back, leaving Champlain with only 2 Frenchmen and 60 natives.

On July 29, at Ticonderoga (now Crown Point, New York) Champlain and his party encountered a group of Iroquois. A battle began the next day. Two hundred Iroquois advanced on Champlain's position as a native guide pointed out the three Iroquois chiefs. Champlain fired his arquebus and killed two of them with one shot. The Iroquois turned and fled. This was to set the tone for French-Iroquois relations for the next one hundred years.

After his victory, he returned to France in an unsuccessful attempt, with de Monts, to renew their fur trade monopoly. They did, however, form a society with some Rouen merchants in which Quebec would become an exclusive warehouse for their fur trade and, in return, the Rouen merchants would support the settlement. Champlain returned to Quebec on April 8, 1610.

Securing New France

During the summer of 1611, he traveled to the area which is now Montreal where he cleared the land and built a wall "to see how it would last during the winter." Then, in order to increase his prestige among the natives, he shot the Lachine Rapids with them, a feat that had only been done once before by a European.

That fall he returned once again to France to secure a future for his venture in the New World. Having lost the support of the merchants in 1610, he wrote a note to Louis XIII to ask him to intervene on his behalf.

On October 8, 1612, Louis XIII named Charles de Bourbon, comte de Soissons his lieutenant-general in New France. Charles died almost immediately, and was succeeded in the office by Henry II, Prince of Condé. Champlain was given the title of lieutenant and received the power to exercise command in the lieutenant-general's name, to appoint “such captains and lieutenants as shall be expedient,” to “commission officers for administration of justice and maintenance of police authority, regulations and ordinances,” to make treaties and carry out wars with the natives, and to restrain merchants who did not belong to the society. His duties included finding the easiest way to China and the East Indies, as well as to find and exploit mines of precious metals in the area.

Exploration of "New France"

Samuel de Champlain Carte geographique de la Nouvelle France
Map of New France (Champlain, 1612). A more precise map was drawn by Champlain in 1632.

At the start of the year he published an account of his life from 1604-1612 called Voyages and on March 29, 1613, he arrived back in New France and proclaimed his new commission. Champlain set out on May 27th to continue his exploration of the Huron country and in hopes of finding the 'northern sea' he had heard about (probably Hudson Bay). He traveled the Ottawa River giving the first description of this area. It was in June that he met with Tessouat, the Algonkian chief of Allumette Island, and offered to build them a fort if they were to move from the area they occupied with its poor soil to the Lachine Rapids.

By August 26 Champlain was back in Saint-Malo. There he wrote an account of his journey up the Ottawa river and published another map of New France. In 1614 he formed the "Compagnie des Marchands de Rouen et de Saint-Malo" and "Compagnie de Champlain", which bound the Rouen and Saint-Malo merchants for eleven years. He returned to New France spring of 1615, this time with four Recollects in order to further religious life in the new colony.

Champlain continued to work to improve relations with the natives promising to help them in their struggles against the Iroquois. With his native guides he explored further up the Ottawa river and reached Lake Nipissing. He then followed the French River until he reached the fresh-water sea he called Lac Attigouautau (now Lake Huron).

In 1615, Champlain is brought through the Peterborough area by Huron. He used the ancient portage between Chemong Lake and Little Lake (now Chemong Road); stayed for a short period of time in Bridgenorth area.

Military Expedition

On September 1, at Cahiagué (on Lake Simcoe), he started a military expedition. They passed Lake Ontario at its eastern tip where they hid their canoes and continued their journey by land. They followed the Oneida River until they found themselves at an Iroquois fort. Pressured by the Hurons to attack prematurely, the assault failed. Champlain was wounded twice in the leg by arrows, one in his knee. The attack lasted three hours until they were forced to flee.

Although he didn't want to, the Hurons insisted that Champlain spend the winter with them. During his stay he set off with them in their great deer hunt, during which he became lost and was forced to wander for three days living off game and sleeping under trees until he met up with a band of Indians by chance. He spent the rest of the winter learning "their country, their manners, customs, modes of life". On May 22, 1616 he left the Huron country and was back in Quebec on July 11 before heading back to France on July 20.

Improving Administration in New France

Champlain returned to New France in 1620 and was to spend the rest of his life focusing on the administration of the country rather than exploration.

In early July, 1628 supplies were low. A war had broken out between France and England, and Charles I of England had issued letters of marque that authorized the capture of French shipping and its colonies in North America.

On July 19, Champlain was forced to surrender the colony. Many colonists were transported first to England and then to France but Champlain remained in London to begin the process of regaining the colony. It was not until the 1632 Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, however, that Quebec was formally given back to France.

Illness and Death

By October of 1635 Champlain was stricken with paralysis. He died December 25, 1635. He was buried temporarily in an unmarked grave while construction was finished on the chapel of Monsieur le Gouverneur. Unfortunately it was destroyed by fire in 1640 and immediately rebuilt but nothing is known of it after 1640 although after 1674 it no longer existed. As such the exact burial site of Champlain is unknown.

There is no authentic portrait of Champlain. Paintings of Champlain have been shown to be actually of Michel Particelli d’Émery. The only surviving picture we have is an engraving of a battle at Lake Champlain in 1609, but the facial features are too vague to make out.


Samuel de Champlain (Québec)
Statue of Samuel de Champlain at sunrise (looking to the north-west; with a similar expressive face as traditionally Jacques Cartier's), by Paul-Romain Marie Léonce Chevré [fr] (Paris, 1896–1898), as newly repaired for 2008, at Quebec City since 1898, near Château Frontenac grand hotel, on the Terrasse Dufferin.

Many sites and landmarks have been named to honour Champlain, who was a prominent figure in many parts of Acadia, Ontario, Quebec, New York, and Vermont. Memorialized as the "Father of New France" and "Father of Acadia", his historic significance endures in modern times. Lake Champlain, which straddles the border between northern New York and Vermont, extending slightly across the border into Canada, was named by him, in 1609, when he led an expedition along the Richelieu River, exploring a long, narrow lake situated between the Green Mountains of present-day Vermont and the Adirondack Mountains of present-day New York. The first European to map and describe it, Champlain claimed the lake as his namesake.

Memorials include:

  • Streets named Champlain in numerous cities, including Quebec, Shawinigan, the city of Dieppe in the province of New Brunswick, in Plattsburgh, and no less than eleven communities in northwestern Vermont.
  • A garden called Jardin Samuel-de-Champlain in Paris, France.
  • A memorial statue on Cumberland Avenue in Plattsburgh, New York on the shores of Lake Champlain in a park named for Champlain.
  • A memorial statue in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada in Queen Square that commemorates his discovery of the Saint John River.
  • A memorial statue in Isle La Motte, Vermont, on the shore of Lake Champlain.
  • The lighthouse at Crown Point, New York features a statue of Champlain by Carl Augustus Heber.
  • A commemorative stamp issue in May 2006 jointly by the United States Postal Service and Canada Post.
  • A statue in Ticonderoga, New York, unveiled in 2009 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Champlain's exploration of Lake Champlain.
  • A statue in Orillia, Ontario at Couchiching Beach Park on Lake Couchiching. This statue was removed by Parks Canada, and is not likely to be returned, as it incorporated offensive depictions of First Nations peoples.
  • HMCS Champlain (1919), a S class destroyer that served in the Royal Canadian Navy from 1928 to 1936.
  • HMCS Champlain, a Canadian Forces Naval Reserve division based in Chicoutimi, Quebec since activation in 1985.
  • Champlain Place, a shopping centre located in Dieppe, New Brunswick, Canada.
  • The Champlain Society, a Canadian historical and text publication society, chartered in 1927.
  • A memorial statue in Ottawa at Nepean Point, by Hamilton MacCarthy. The statue depicts Champlain holding an astrolabe (upside-down, as it happens). It did previously include an "Indian Scout" kneeling at its base. In the 1990s, after lobbying by Indigenous people, it was removed from the statue's base, renamed and placed as "Anishinaabe Scout" in Major's Hill Park.

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