The Thousand and one faces of Samuel de Champlain

Samuel de Champlain, founder of Quebec City, is often called the father of New France. He was, in fact, the first French man to choose to battle wind and tides in order to establish a permanent settlement in the St. Lawrence valley. He also established the foundations of the fur trade, by maintaining good relations with the Amerindian peoples. Without his determination, would New France have come into being? Many historians have asked that very question...

In 1908, during the Quebec’s 300th anniversary, several events commemorated the contribution made by this man. Samuel de Champlain was celebrated in historical processions and his face appeared on stamps and post cards. As we approach the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City, Champlain still stirs up admiration for the major contribution he made to the history of our country. This series of chronicles will give you an opportunity to discover – or rediscover – this man, who was both fascinating and enigmatic.

The Thousand and one faces of Samuel de Champlain

Carte géographique tirée de l’ouvrage de Champlain «Les voyages de la Nouvelle France occidentale (...)»
Source: ICMH no 90023, de Notre mémoire en ligne, produit par

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First episode
Samuel de Champlain's Early Days
Samuel de Champlain's Early Days

Samuel de Champlain, gravure par Decaris, vers 1850
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec / P600,S5,PGN63

Samuel de Champlain’s childhood is surrounded with mystery. We don’t know either his birth date, or his social rank. Based on the meager information we have about his family, we know that his father was Antoine de Champlain, naval captain, that his mother was Marguerite Le Roy, and that his uncle was Guillaume Allène, also a naval captain, who went to Africa and America.

Champlain grew up in Brouage, a dynamic city, open to world, and ideal for stimulating an adventurous mind. Located in the Gulf of Saintonge, which opens onto the Atlantic Ocean, the region had been a large salt producer since Antiquity. Devastated during the One Hundred Years' War, the region was re-built during the 15th and 16th centuries. The City of Brouage was founded in 1555. Ships from many places of origin tied up in this prosperous port. Some set sail for North America, going there to hunt whales and fish.

During the wars of religion, Brouage was fortified by King Charles IX and became a military centre. The army maintained a presence there since it became a headquarters for the admiralty from which the king intended to control shipping activities.

Protestant elementary schools and even an academy which taught young people to ride horses, fence and draw plans, were located near Brouage. Did Champlain attend those institutions? It is difficult to know. Obviously, he learned the art of drawing when he was young, as proven by the magnificent maps that are attributed to him. It is possible, however, that it was a friend of his father, Charles Leber Du Carlo, the king’s engineer and geographer, who taught Champlain this skill. Champlain also learned how to navigate at a very young age, as he informed the queen in 1613.

At a young age, Samuel de Champlain signed up with the army of King Henry IV where he served as the Accomodation Marshal. At the end of the wars of religion, he went to Spain to prepare for a trip to the “West Indies”. A report of this trip exists and it is possible that it was written by Champlain. When he returned to his home land, Champlain was received by the king, who took an interest in his tales and offered him a pension at the court.

Two elements combined in France to encourage the exploration of America and the founding of a lasting settlement overseas. The year 1598 marked the beginning of a period during which King Henry IV took a great deal of interest in the New World. He appointed people to make expeditions, while granting them monopolies for the fur trade.

Several of the king's representative set off in this way during a short period of time. At the same time, supply problems increased the demand for furs from New France, inciting investors to take part in this adventure, which had become a profitable one.

It was in this favorable period that Samuel de Champlain set out for North America in 1603. This trip, which provided an excellent opportunity to acquire an in-depth knowledge of the sites to be colonized, would have a major impact on his destiny... as well as on ours.

To learn more about Champlain’s travels, we invite you to come back on December 25, 2007.

  • LITALIEN, Raymonde et Denis Vaugeois (dir). Champlain: la naissance de l'Amérique française. [Paris], Nouveau Monde éditions ; Sillery, Septentrion, 2004. 397 pages.
  • TRUDEL, Marcel. «Samuel de Champlain», Dictionnaire biographique du Canada, tome 1, [Québec], Presses de l’Université Laval, 1966. Pages 192 à 204.

Second episode
Champlain the explorer
Champlain the explorer

Aquarelle: Champlain en canot indien, 1603
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada / Crédit: John Henryca de Rinzy / Collection John Henryca de Rinzy / C-013320

Car d’un fleuve inLatei tu cherches l’origine
ALate qu’à l’avenir y faisant ton séjour
Tu nous fasses par là parvenir à la Chine
Marc Lescarbot *

You seek the source of an endless river
So that when you stay there in the future
You can send us to China from there

At the end of the 15th century, the Europeans were looking for an alternate route to Asia. They viewed North America as an unexpected obstacle which they kept trying to overcome until the 19th century. To the south of the continent, Magellan discovered a narrow area that could provide access to the Pacific Ocean, but that route was very long. The contemporaries of the Portuguese explorer then hoped that there would be a similar narrowing at the northern tip of the continent, in keeping with the principle of symmetry. Champlain spent a large part of his life looking for this northern massage, as did many who came after him.

In 1603, Champlain took part in an initial trip heading for the St. Lawrence River, as an observer, on a ship commanded by François Gravé Du Pont. Champlain, who took a very active interest in discovery, questioned the Amerindians, and learned about the existence of a salt body of water to the north of the Saguenay, as well as about the great lakes that lay beyond sault Saint-Louis. These two pieces of information gave him hope that he would find the coveted northwest passage. Champlain accompanied Gravé Du Pont as he explored the river. He sailed onto the Richelieu, then headed to Sault Saint-Louis. As a result of the size of the ship in which they traveled, they could go no further and Champlain promised to return by canoe. They were not the first Europeans to navigate on the river, but Champlain was the first to make such a detailed description of it.

On the way back, a chance encounter, provided a new direction for Champlain’s exploration projects. In fact, Jean Sarcel de Prévert, a merchant from St. Malo, spoke to him about Arcadie, a region with which the French were more familiar boasting about the fertile soil, the hospital bays and the promising mines. Acadia was the destination for Champlain’s second trip, commanded by Pierre Dugua de Monts. While taking part in exploration missions, Champlain looked for mines, identified the best places for establishing a colony and evaluated the chances of finding a passageway to Asia. He explored Baie Sainte-Marie, Fundy Bay, the Penobscot River, traveled down the so-calledFlorida Coast to Cape Cod. The French founded Port-Royal, in 1604, the first lasting French settlement in North America.

During his following trips, he returned to the St. Lawrence. In 1608, Champlain traveled up the river by ship to found Quebec on July 3. In 1609, he explored the Richelieu River, traveling as far as Lake Champlain where he fought a battle with his Amerindian allies. In 1611, he traveled to Montreal naming Île Sainte-Hélène in honor of his wife Hélène Boullé.

Major progress was made with respect to the exploration of the interior of the continent in 1613 and 1615, when Champlain traveled in the direction of the Great Lakes. Accompanied by a few French men and guided by the Amerindians, in 1613 he went as far as l’île aux Allumettes, and in 1615, he reached Lake Huron. He was the first European to describe the river that was so important for the fur trade.

Since they were thoroughly familiar with the country and better equipped to undertake such trips, the Amerindians were valuable guides. They promised to help Champlain if, in exchange, he would agree to fight their enemies. These trips were difficult for the French who, in addition to other things, had to deal with portages and flies. Champlain was strong and maintained good morale, as shown by his writings. During one of these trips, Champlain apparently lost an astrolabe which was found in the 19th century.

After this trip, Champlain spent less time exploring and more time setting up and administering the new colony. Nevertheless, he never lost sight of the dream of China, hoping that, one day, the settlements that were founded would serve as customs stations for France for trade with the East.

Champlain’s explorations provided a great deal of information about the North American territory. To learn more about the maps drawn by Samuel de Champlain, we invite you to return on January 8, 2008.

* These lines, honoring Champlain, were written in 1607 and published in the Muses de la Nouvelle-France.

  • LITALIEN, Raymonde et Denis Vaugeois (dir). Champlain: la naissance de l'Amérique française. [Paris], Nouveau Monde éditions; Sillery, Septentrion, 2004. 397 pages.
  • MONTEL-GLÉNISSON, Caroline. Champlain: la découverte du Canada. [Paris], Nouveau Monde éditions, 2004. 188 pages.
  • TRUDEL, Marcel. «Samuel de Champlain», Dictionnaire biographique du Canada, tome 1, [Québec], Presses de l’Université Laval, 1966. Pages 192 à 204.

Third episode
Champlain the cartographer

Champlain was a pioneer when it came to North American cartography. His maps, which covered a region that extended from the Nantucket Sound to the Great Lakes, were the first to be so accurate. Before Champlain, Cartier and Roberval had made nothing more than rough sketches from on board their ships. Champlain’s maps were considered references and were republished many times. Unlike the king’s cartographers, who drew their maps in Paris, Champlain enjoyed the advantage of obtaining the information he needed for his maps, on his own and on site.

Champlain the cartographer

Carte géographique tirée du tome III des «Oeuvres de Champlain»
Source: ICMH no 26835, de Notre mémoire en ligne, produit par

The methods Champlain used to draw his maps were simple. Essentially, he estimated distances, calculated latitudes and worked with his compass, without any references to geometry or trigonometry, which would seem to indicate that he did not study surveying. Apparently he learned this trade in the field, when he served as the accomodation marshall, and following that during his trip to the Spanish colonies, and perhaps also with his father’s friend, the geographer Charles Leber Du Carlo. In 1629, when he served time as a prisoner on an English ship he also discovered techniques that he described in one of his works, the Traitté de la marine et du devoir d’un bon marinier. In that work, Champlain stated that it was useful to know the art of “portrait painting” when drawing maps. It is thought that he had learned some notions of painting.
Champlain cartographe

Page titre d’un ouvrage de Champlain publié en 1632
Source: ICMH no 90023, de Notre mémoire en ligne, produit par

During his expeditions, Champlain questioned the Amerindians and had them draw maps. In this way, he made a broad outline of the territory and filled in the details during his travels, noting distances and several other pieces of information. Champlain occasionally included Amerindian maps in his own. This was the case of a map he drew in 1616, in which an entire section was based on a map drawn in charcoal on bark by an Outaouais chief and traded to Champlain for an iron ax.

When Champlain prepared reports for the king, he often included maps with them. Few of these maps have been preserved. Fortunately, certain travel accounts included maps. Champlain published such works in 1604, 1613, 1620 and 1632. Like the maps, the travel accounts provide information about the territory explored.

The 1613 travel report contains several geographic maps, including sixteen small ones, of which three are more like sketches, and two large ones, one of which was provided in two versions. That last map has a particular history. In 1611 and 1612, Champlain spent his time, in France, working on his second report, drawing a large Carte Géographique de la Nouvelle Franse (sic), which was the most complete map of New France at that time. In fact, along with the information he collected, Champlain added details from a map illustrating the discoveries of Henry Hudson. Champlain then learned that Nicolas de Vignau was boasting that he had traveled to Hudson’s Bay by going up the Ottawa River. When he returned to New France to verify this information, Champlain decided to postpone the publication of his work. During his absence, the printer started printing the map. When he returned in 1613, Champlain re-worked the map on the copper plate, adding the results of his most recent explorations. As a result, the published book includes two versions of the same map.

Champlain’s last account, published in 1632, provides a summary of the explorer’s career as well as a large map. This map was not as accurate as the previous ones since it includes information that Champlain could not verify for himself, resulting in a certain amount of confusion. This account was published at a time when France was fighting to get its colony back, shortly after the English had taken Quebec. In the title of his work, Champlain emphasized the fact that the territories described were discovered by the French, under the king’s authority. In this context, the maps, provided as evidence of French explorations, supported France’s claims.

In keeping with his writings, Champlain showed himself to be an unparalleled communicator, capable of winning people to his cause and surmounting obstacles he encountered on his way. To learn more about Champlain’s work with the rich and the powerful, we invite you to return on January 22, 2008.

  • LITALIEN, Raymonde et Denis Vaugeois (dir). Champlain: la naissance de l'Amérique française. [Paris], Nouveau Monde éditions; Sillery, Septentrion, 2004. 397 pages.

Fourth episode
Champlain, Promoter of an Important Project

Since the fur trade in New France was a profitable undertaking, the monopolies granted in France were highly coveted. Those in the race to control colonial trade included merchants from Saint-Malo, Rouen, La Rochelle, Brittany and Normandy, who fought either to obtain the precious monopoly or to ensure free trade. Samuel de Champlain and his patron and friend Pierre Dugua de Monts. found themselves in a veritable rat race. They worked tirelessly to convince those in power and to negotiate with their associates in order to ensure that the projects they planned for the colony would come to fruition.

Champlain, Promoter of an Important Project

Carte géographique tirée du tome III des «Oeuvres de Champlain»
Source: ICMH no 26835, de Notre mémoire en ligne, produit par

After a few years of fruitless efforts, the first people who held the trade monopoly had done nothing to promote the colony and the king was dissatisfied with the results. The proposal presented by Dugua de Monts at that time included everything needed to please the monarch. Focusing on colonization, Dugua des Monts agreed to transport the first families. He was given a monopoly in order to finance his work. Dugua de Monts took Samuel de Champlain, who was already well known at court with him.

As a result of the pressure exerted by certain of his opponents, Dugua de Monts’ monopoly was not extended after 1608 and the efforts made by Champlain to overthrow that decision were in vain. Despite everything, Dugua de Monts and Champlain formed a partnership with a few merchants in order to continue with their colonization project, although it was much less successful.

In 1611, in order to get things moving, Champlain presented a new proposal to the king. Following the advice he had received from his ally, royal advisor Pierre Jeannin, he suggested that the government of New France be entrusted to a member of the upper nobility, who could rely on the companies with the monopolies for financing. Once that proposal was accepted, Champlain was selected to serve as the lieutenant for that noble and represent royal authority in the colony. Dugua de Monts was no longer involved, but he continued to support Champlain in his undertakings.

At this time, Champlain’s second travel account was published. Such works provided additional means for supporting his projects since, through his books, he made the intelligentsia of the time aware of the colony, while presenting himself as the expert on colonial matters.

Despite his title as lieutenant for the viceroy of New France, Champlain had not overcome all of the obstacles he faced. The colonization of New France was supported by an association of merchants who took the name “Compagnie de Canada”. His relationship with these associates was not always harmonious. Although they did not try to assassinate, him, as others would do, some of them refused to accept his authority. When the viceroy of New France was imprisoned in 1616 and another was named, one of his partners, Daniel Boyer, refused to allow Champlain to board the ship for New France, claiming that he was no longer the lieutenant of the legitimate viceroy. A similar problem occurred in 1619, forcing Champlain to go and plead his case to the king yet again.

In order to obtain even greater support, Champlain submitted two proposals in 1618, one to the king and the other to the Chamber of Commerce. He pleaded for New France, boasting about all of the advantages France could find there: a vast, habitable territory, a passage to China and various resources such as tar, roots for dying, hemp, livestock, vines, metal and lumber. Champlain also mentioned that there were thousands of people there to be converted to Christianity, a weighty argument that earned him the support of France's cardinals and bishops.

Every time Champlain returned to his mother country (starting in 1603, he crossed the Atlantic 23 times), he worked to consolidate his support and develop new associates. In 1630, he fought to restore Quebec, after it had been taken by the English. Champlain, who was both a man of action and a skilled communicator, managed to impose his will.

A skilled diplomat at the king’s court, Champlain was every bit as skilled when it came to negotiating with the Native Peoples. To learn more about this topic, we invite you to return on February 5, 2008.

  • LITALIEN, Raymonde et Denis Vaugeois (dir). Champlain: la naissance de l'Amérique française. [Paris], Nouveau Monde éditions; Sillery, Septentrion, 2004. 397 pages.
  • TRUDEL, Marcel. «Samuel de Champlain», Dictionnaire biographique du Canada, tome 1, [Québec], Presses de l’Université Laval, 1966. Pages 192 à 204.

Fifth episode
Champlain and the Native peoples
Champlain and the Native peoples

Aquarelle: Champlain qui échange avec les Indiens (sic)
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada / Crédit: Charles William Jefferys / Fonds Charles William Jefferys / C-103059

One of Champlain’s greatest accomplishments was laying the groundwork for an alliance with the Montagnais, Algonquin and Huron peoples. This alliance would enable the French to settle the territory peacefully, while consolidating a vast fur trade network. Champlain made this alliance concrete in several manners, going so far as to risk his life by meeting the Amerindians in their villages and accompanying them during armed battles.

When Champlain landed in the St. Lawrence Valley in 1603, the region was inhabited by the Montagnais and the Algonquin, who were nomadic people living by fishing and gathering. They were allies with the Huron, a sedentary and horticultural people who lived in the Great Lakes region. Both the Montagnais, who occupied the Tadoussac region, and the Algonquin, who had settled near the Ottawa River, played an active role in the fur trade, serving as intermediaries between the Europeans and the other tribes.

As soon as he arrived in New France, Champlain witnessed an important diplomatic event: the first documented agreement between the King of France and the peoples of North America. On May 27, 1603, two young Montagnais, who were returning from France where they had met with Henry IV, spoke in the presence of several Native chiefs.They told of the time they had spent in Europe and conveyed a message from the king: France would help the Native peoples bring peace back to their war-torn country if, in turn, they would allow the French to settle there. The proposal was formally accepted by Chief Anadabijou.

Champlain relied a great deal on the help of his Amerindian allies in order to learn about and explore the country. In order to be able to communicate with them he provided for the training of “truchements”. En 1610, Champlain confie un jeune homme, probablement Étienne Brûlé, à un chef algonquin pour qu’il apprenne la langue huronne. D’autres suivront ses traces, tel Nicolas de Vignau et Thomas Godefroy, qui apprennent, de plus, à vivre à l’amérindienne. In 1610, Champlain assigned a young man, probably Étienne Brûlé, to an Algonquin chief, so that he could learn the Huron language. Others would follow in his footsteps, such as Nicolas de Vignau and Thomas Godefroy, who also learned to live in Amerindian style.

Champlain was a friendly, cheerful companion to the Native People, often making them laugh. In order to earn their respect, he performed several daring deeds, such as traveling down the rapids in a canoe as they watched on. He always provided gifts for them. For the Native People, the ability to give gifts was a sign of power. Champlain also took Native protégés under his wing, such as the young Huron man, Savignon, whom he took to France, and three adoptive daughters, named Foi (Faith), Charité (Charity) and Espérance (Hope), whom he would have liked to have educated in France. Nevertheless, the action that went the farthest to win the friendship of the Native Peoples was, beyond a doubt, his involvement in their wars. Champlain personally led three military expeditions, thereby turning the king’s promise into concrete action.

As a result of the good relationships Champlain developed with the Native Peoples, they in turn helped him when it came time to explore the Richelieu River and the Ottawa River. Yet, this partnership was not perfect and problems did occur. In fact, the Amerindians who enjoyed a privileged position with the French hoped to be able to prevent them from encountering other groups. They postponed fulfilling some of their promises and prevented certain trips. For his part, Champlain was sometimes held up in France. He missed two meetings, to the great dismay of his allies who were waiting for him to make war.

In 1613 and 1615, Champlain invited the Algonquin and the Huron to settle in Montreal where the soil was fertile. They replied that they would settle there when a settlement had been built there, which Champlain agreed to. Both Champlain, and Récollet Le Caron, were of the opinion that having the Native People settle near colonial centers would facilitate their evangelization. In 1622, Champlain did manage to settle several Montagnais near Quebec, while also influencing their choice of chief.

War was not the only means Champlain used to bring peace to the Native Peoples. He also took part in diplomatic meetings. Thus, in 1622, the Iroquois who came to negotiate peace were received by Champlain, who convinced his allies to send some of their men to Iroquois lands as a sign of friendship. In 1623, Champlain intervened as a mediator in a quarrel between the Huron and the Algonquin and in 1627 he sent a Frenchman to Iroquois territory to prevent a new war.

The contagious diseases carried to New France by the French were, unfortunately, an element that hindered the development of good relations with the Native People. The Amerindians were much more susceptibles than the Europeans to certain diseases and they experienced major epidemics, which they quickly attributed to the presence of Europeans. The missionaries bore the brunt of the consequences since they were viewed with suspicion. Fortunately, Champlain did not have to deal with any major epidemics.

When he returned to France, Champlain wrote down everything he saw. His travel accounts contain a great deal of information about the various groups of Native People: their dwellings, clothing, beliefs, economic, political and family life, etc. Both for Champlain’s contemporaries and historians today, they are a valuable source of information.

Champlain’s war activities had serious consequences, consolidating ties with certain groups while creating new enemies for the French. To learn more about Champlain’s military life, we invite you to return on February 19, 2008.

  • LITALIEN, Raymonde et Denis Vaugeois (dir). Champlain: la naissance de l'Amérique française. [Paris], Nouveau Monde éditions. Sillery, Septentrion, 2004. 397 pages.
  • TRUDEL, Marcel. «Samuel de Champlain», Dictionnaire biographique du Canada, tome 1, [Québec], Presses de l’Université Laval, 1966. Pages 192 à 204.

Sixth episode
Champlain the Warrior
Champlain the Warrior

Illustration tirée du tome III des «Oeuvres de Champlain»
Source: ICMH no 26835, de Notre mémoire en ligne, produit par

Because he was originally from a city familiar with the realities of war and had served as Accommodation Marshal for the army, in France, Champlain did not hesitate to call on his military experience when he was in New France. He took part in three war expeditions, putting the king’s promise to provide military support for his new allies into action. The enemy was the Iroquois Confederacy. The conflict focused on control of the St. Lawrence valley, a strategic commercial axis.

In 1609, Champlain traveled down the Richelieu River, with two French men and about 60 Amerindians, to fight 200 Iroquois. The battle took place near Ticonderoga. The French guns caused a great panic. Champlain killed three enemy chiefs with an arquebus, earning the respect of the Amerindians. The next year, Champlain’s allies expected him to go to war again. This time, the Iroquois built a barricade at the mouth of the Richelieu River. During this second victory, Champlain sustained an injury to his ear.

In 1615, the warriors set out from the village of Cahiagué, in Huron territory. The allies traveled for more than a month before arriving at an Iroquois fort which was surrounded by four large palisades. Champlain used European techniques to prepare for the siege: he built a cavalier and mantlets. Unfortunately, the Amerindians were impatient and undisciplined. Instead of a siege, the battle turned into three hours of disorganized skirmishes during which Champlain was injured. Following this defeat, the Amerindians had to wait several decades before France renewed its military commitment to them, which was done in about 1660, when the Carignan-Salière regiment was sent to New France.

For his part, Champlain had to face a new threat a few years later, from the English. They managed to capture and occupy Quebec, from 1629 to 1632. The attack was initiated by a family of merchants, the Kirke family, As part of the war fought by France and England, they landed at Cap Tourmente in 1628, where they captured five colonists. Alerted, the Amerindians informed Champlain. The French colony had run out of everything but Champlain was hoping that reinforcements would arrive soon. A skilled strategist, he informed his enemies that he could hold on and was waiting for them, convincing the Kirkes to return to Europe.

The Kirkes returned the following year. Knowing that the colony was too weak to fight, Champlain preferred to negotiate. Since a peace treaty had just been signed by France and England, something the Kirkes did not want to believe, Champlain planned to return to his New France quickly. A few colonists left with their belongings while others chose to stay behind. A short battle took place at sea, when ships owned by Frenchman Émery de Caën arrived, but Champlain quickly negotiated a cease fire.

In 1629, Champlain did not play the role of the brave warrior, but made wise decisions for the well-being of the colony. To learn more about the kind of administrator Champlain was, we invite you to return on March 4, 2008.

  • LITALIEN, Raymonde et Denis Vaugeois (dir). Champlain: la naissance de l'Amérique française. [Paris], Nouveau Monde éditions ; Sillery, Septentrion, 2004. 397 pages.
  • TRUDEL, Marcel. «Samuel de Champlain», Dictionnaire biographique du Canada, tome 1, [Québec], Presses de l’Université Laval, 1966. Pages 192 à 204.

Seventh episode
Champlain the Administrator

After making two trips to New France as an observer, Champlain quickly obtained a position as a commanding officer, first as a lieutenant for Pierre Dugua de Monts, then as a lieutenant for the viceroy of New France. At that time, he became the official representative of royal power in the colony. However, although Champlain the man of action excelled when it was time to take off on adventures, the daily administration of the little settlement was more difficult for him.

In the first few years, Champlain’s trips to Quebec were very brief. It was only in 1620, that this small outpost became his permanent home, until his death in 1635, with the exception of a two-year trip to France (1624-1626) and the English occupation (1629-1632). When he governed, Champlain did not do so in an authoritarian manner, but rather as the captain of a ship. For important reasons, Champlain listened to the opinions of several people and tried to reach a consensus. In 1621, Champlain easily authorized a general assembly of the inhabitants, which appointed the Récollet priest Le Baillif to go to France to present the colony’s grievances. Quebec’s first ordinances were published shortly after this. Champlain’s men had a great deal of respect for him. Nevertheless, they did not always obey his orders.

During his exploratory expeditions, Champlain identified the best sites for settlements. In Quebec, the first task he was expected to perform was to build a settlement to house supplies, merchandise and colonists. Work to build and repair buildings was a priority for Champlain who spent a great deal of time and resources on this project. Champlain also undertook the construction of a fort at Cap Diamant, a large dwelling and a chapel. Some people criticized him for stubbornly insisting on these projects when the colony had other, more urgent, needs.

Food supplies were a source of constant concern for Champlain, since the colony often experienced shortages. He was responsible for the difficult task of evaluating the quantity of supplies needed and either keeping colonists or sending some of them home. Champlain realized how important agriculture was for the independence of the colony. And he left this matter to others, such as colonist and apothecary Louis Hébert. Agriculture here developed very slowly. In 1628, the first mill was developed following the threat of famine. As for animal husbandry, in 1626 the first structures were built at Cap Tourmente in 1626, allowing the colonists to settle there, harvest and store hay, and raise animals.

In addition to the problems they experienced with respect to food supplies, Champlain also had to deal with scurvy, which ravaged the settlers. In Port-Royal, during the winter of 1606-1607, Champlain came up with a good idea for fighting this disease. Presuming that salted meat was the cause of the problem, he created the Order of Good Cheer, whose members took turns at hunting and fishing to feed the others. That winter, none of the members of the association suffered from scurvy. Unfortunately, the experience was not repeated at Québec.

In addition to his management duties, Champlain was also responsible for justice. Of the actions he took in this field, the most important was, beyond a doubt, sentencing Jean Duval to death and then executing him because Duval had attempted to assassinate Champlain in 1608. Champlain based the trial on a similar case that had occurred in the navy. He had the condemned men, seamen and several other people, including François Gravé Du Pont submit their statements in writing to the ship’s pilot. Then he dealt with the testimony given by the accused men and the witnesses before rendering his verdict.

Some people felt that Champlain did not get involved enough in colonial agriculture. Yet, during his second trop, he took interest in gardening and made several observations. To learn more about Champlain's interest in botany, we invite you to come back on March 18, 2008.

  • LITALIEN, Raymonde et Denis Vaugeois (dir). Champlain: la naissance de l'Amérique française. [Paris], Nouveau Monde éditions; Sillery, Septentrion, 2004. 397 pages.
  • TRUDEL, Marcel. «Samuel de Champlain», Dictionnaire biographique du Canada, tome 1, [Québec], Presses de l’Université Laval, 1966. Pages 192 à 204.

Eighth episode
Champlain the Ethnobiologist
Champlain the Ethnobiologist

Dessin: Champlain.
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada.
Crédit: George Agnew Reid Fonds George Agnew Reid, C-011016

While traveling in North America, Champlain collected a vast amount of information, which he presented to his contemporaries. He was interested in the country’s natural resources; he verified the fertility of the soil and conducted “gardening” experiments, which he documented. This information was essential for anyone who wanted to play a role in establishing New France. Without agriculture, how could the colony survive?

In 1604, Champlain witnessed the first horticultural trials on l’Île Sainte-Croix. Following this, he made a small garden at Port-Royal and built a small lock there to keep trout. He was not the first explorer to get his hands into the dirt. Jacques Cartier did the same before him. At Port-Royal, agriculture seemed to do rather well. During the early years, they grew a variety of vegetables, legumes, herbs, fruit and grain there. They even saw fit to build a flour mill there in 1606.

When Champlain founded Quebec, he wasted no time clearing the land near the settlement. Starting in October 1608, he tried to sow wheat and rye brought over from France in order to determine if the seeds would grow in the spring. He also planted French fruit trees and vines. A few years later, Champlain described the beauty of the peas, corn, beans, pumpkins, gourds, cabbages, leeks and herbs harvested at Quebec. He took some Quebec-grown wheat to France to demonstrate the fertility of the land.

Horticultural tests were also conducted in the loam of Montreal. Champlain built two small gardens there, one on the plain and the other in the forest. Seeds sowed in June grew well.

The climate was another reality observed by Champlain. He noted the dates of the first freeze and when the leaves fell. In May 1620, he described the arrival of spring, noting the dates on which leaves and flowers appeared and the time when certain plants were ready for harvesting. This information was useful for farmers who had to deal with a climate that was quite different than that of France and, thus, had to adjust their calendars.

At the time of the first settlers in Quebec, the development of agriculture was a necessity. They had to adapt their growing methods to this new environment quickly, while learning how to make the most of the new species discovered.

This is the last of the chronicles on the first great colonizer of Canada, Samuel de Champlain.

  • LITALIEN, Raymonde et Denis Vaugeois (dir). Champlain: la naissance de l'Amérique française. [Paris], Nouveau Monde éditions; Sillery, Septentrion, 2004. 397 pages.
  • MONTEL-GLÉNISSON, Caroline. Champlain: la découverte du Canada. [Paris]: Nouveau Monde éditions, 2004. 188 pages.
  • TRUDEL, Marcel. «Samuel de Champlain», Dictionnaire biographique du Canada, tome 1, [Québec], Presses de l’Université Laval, 1966. Pages 192 à 204.


Champlain’s flowering spring
Here is a translation of an except from a travel account in which Champlain notes the rebirth of the vegetation:

On the eighth of the month, the buds on the cherry trees started to open, pushing the leaves out.
At the same time, small flowers started to poke out of the soil, flax colored and white, which are first to appear in the spring in this place.
On the ninth, the raspberries started to bud and all of the herbs started to poke out of the dirt.
On the tenth, the elders displayed its leaves.
On the 12th, white violets started to bloom.
On the 15th, the trees were covered with buds and the cherry trees had all their leaves.
The raspberries opened their leaves; the chervil was ready to cut; in the woods the common sorrel was two inches tall.
On the 18th, the birch opened their leaves, with the other trees following close behind. The oak is covered with buds. The apple trees from France that we transplanted here, as well as the plum trees, were also covered with buds. The leaves on the cherry trees were large and the vines covered with buds and flowers; the common sorrel was ready to be cut.

For the colonists in Quebec, growing peas was of great interest since the pea is an easy plant to grow. This nourishing vegetable often enabled them to survive the last months of winter, before supplies arrived. The Native People also adopted this vegetable and were so fond of it that the colonists were able to use the peas they grew for barter.
Champlain’s vines
The specimens Champlain planted initially withstood the climate but then declined.
Sowing in the fall
This practice was possible in France where certain seeds withstood the winter.
Île Sainte-Croix
On this island (now called Île Dochet), Champlain and Dugua de Monts established a first settlement and spent the winter of 1604-1605 there. Champlain’s travel account relates the horticultural tests conducted at this site: “We made a few gardens, both on the main body of land and on the island, where we sowed several types of seeds which did very well on the island, particularly since the soil was very sandy and everything burned when the sun was high, even though we took great pains to water it all.” (translation)
Order of Good Cheer
This knightly association included fifteen people who were close to the lieutenant-governor of Acadia, Jean de Poutrincourt. With a great deal of ceremony, the participants passed around a necklace that designated the individual who was responsible for hunting and fishing for the others. Marc Lescarbot, poet, was a member and responsible for the ceremonies at meals. It was all very theatrical and festive. Although the fresh meat did little to combat scurvy, the red wine served to the guests did contain tannin which protected their reserves of Vitamin C.
The Chapel
Built in 1633, this chapel was named Notre-Dame-de-la-Recouvrance.
The Quebec settlement
Here’s how Champlain described his first few moments when he arrived at Quebec, in July 1608: “As soon as we arrived, I sent some of our workers out to cut down trees so we could build our settlement, and others to saw the lumber, dig a cellar and make ditches.” The Quebec settlement, which was surrounded by palisades, was very similar to that of Port-Royal. It included a fort, a command post and a warehouse.
Survey work
The first time he traveled in the vicinity of Trois-Rivières, Champlain described the site as suitable for settlement. Likewise, when traveling to Montreal 1611, he selected a site, which he named Place Royale, and cleared it for future construction. He decided to erect a wall there and see if it would stand the test of time.
Obedience of Champlain’s men
After 1633, Champlain forbade the trade of alcohol, subject to corporal and financial punishment. He would not be obeyed in this matter, as was the case of many who followed him. Occasionally, Champlain’s frustration was obvious in his writings such as when he stated that those who give orders for His Majesty were not obeyed, since there was no one to assist them, except when it pleased the company.
A good captain
In Quebec, the colonists Champlain led were not much more numerous than the crew of a large whaling ship and his leadership style seemed to be based on the navy. In his Traitté (sic) de la marine et du devoir d’un bon marinier, Champlain wrote how the captain had to be gentle and friendly in conversation, absolute with respect to his orders and should never communicate too easily with his companions, unless they were fellow officers (...) and should also punish the wicked severely and reward the good.
Champlain’s death
After returning to Quebec in 1633, Champlain died on December 25, 1635. Jesuit priest Charles Lalemant was on hand to assist him until the end. At his funeral, Father Paul Le Jeune gave the funeral oration, stating that although Champlain “died outside France his name would still go down in glory”.
Heading the colony
Charles de Bourbon, Count of Soissons, who was lieutenant general of the colony for a brief period in 1612, was succeeded by several viceroys in turn: Henri de Bourbon, Prince of Condé (from 1612 to 1620), Henry II, Duke of Montmorency (from 1620 to 1625), and Henri de Lévis, Duke of Ventadour (from 1625 to 1627). The colony was then placed under the supervision of Cardinal Richelieu (from 1629 to 1635).
Champlain’s mandate
In 1612, Champlain’s mandate was explicit. Among other things, he was responsible for designating subordinates, assigning officers to mete our justice and maintain policy, regulations and ordinances, maintaining diplomatic relations with the Native Peoples and arresting those who took part in illegal trade.
Staying behind in New France
After this first conquest, several French settlers headed off into the woods, while waiting for the colony to be returned to France. Others were invited by the English to stay behind, particularly those who were very familiar with the country, such as the interpreters and the Récollets. The Récollets were allowed to continue with their evangelization.
The Kirkes
These English merchants were very familiar with France since they had traveled to its ports. Although it was the father, Jarvis Kirke, who obtained permission from Charles 1, king of England, to travel to New France, it was his sons, David, Lewis, Thomas, John and James who actually went there to push the French out.
Champlain injured
During the attack, Champlain was injured twice, including once in the knee, which made the return trip very painful for him. Since it was difficult for him to walk, Champlain was placed in a “basket” and carried by a Huron. He compared his uncomfortable position to that of babies who are swaddled so tightly they cannot move. After two unpleasant days, he decided to walk.
A large shield equipped with wheels and used during sieges.
Structure serving to overlook the enemy installations. Champlain’s was so large that it took 200 men to drag it to the fort.
Onondaga fort
Fort located near Lake Onondaga, in what is now New York State.
This fortified village is located near Lake Simcoe.
A bloody gift
The French enjoyed a great deal of prestige following this first victory. To acknowledge this, the Amerindians offered Champlain the head of an Iroquois warrior, as well as weapons.
Relatively light-weight gun, compared to the first muskets but having a short range. It could be supported on a shoulder or on a fork.
Town located south of Lake Champlain, in New York State.
Iroquois Confederacy
An association of the five Native Peoples living south of Lake Ontario (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca). Geographically, they were located between the Mohicans, who traded with the Dutch and the English, and the Huron and Algonquin, who were partners with the French.
Native people and diseases
Since diseases such as chicken pox, measles and the flu did not exist in America, the Native Peoples had developed no immunities to them. One reason that could account for the absence of this disease concerns domesticated animals, which transmit illness. Since the Amerindians had no large numbers of domesticated animals, viruses were not sustained.
Champlain renders justice
During this quarrel, Champlain pardoned an Amerindian who had killed French people.
Joseph Le Caron
This Récollet was the first missionary to go to Huronia.
A settlement in Montreal?
Champlain always intended to settle in Montreal and started to clear the land there. However, plans to build a settlement were never completed.
Champlain, you won’t go far!
In 1613, when Champlain wanted to explore further and visit the Nipissing, his allies tried to discourage him, accusing that tribe of being murderers and sorcerers. They also accused Nicolas de Vignau of lying when he claimed that he had traveled as far as Hudson’s Bay, which he admitted under torture. Champlain turned back.
Exploration of the Ottawa River and the Great Lakes
In 1613, Champlain went to Île aux Allumettes, to visit Chief Tessouat. When he returned in 1615, he was amazed by the beauty and the fertility of the Huron's country. While spending the winter with them, he learned a lot about them and, for example, took part in a great hunt during which he got lost in the forest. He found his companions by accident, only three days later. Champlain also visited the Petuns and the Ottawa, which Champlain called “Cheveux-Relevés” (high hair) because of the way they wore their hair.
Exploration of the Richelieu
In 1609, Champlain traveled down the Richelieu River to Ticonderoga. He discovered a vast lake that now bears his name.
In French, this word designates an interpreter.
It’s a deal!
To seal the alliance in Native tradition, a female Iroquois prisoner was given to the French, along with the son of a Montagnais chief, who wanted to visit France.
A great assembly
Native People, possibly from three different tribes (Montagnais, Algonquin Etchemin), met near Tadoussac to celebrate a great military victory. The leaders included the very influential Anadabijou, who hosted the event.
An important alliance
For this first agreement, The French presented themselves as mediators for the Native People. This position was confirmed in 1701, during the signing of the Great Peace in Montreal.
A failed assassination
Organized by Jean Duval, a locksmith who tried to include as many people as possible in his machinations, Champlain’s assassination was intended to turn Quebec over to the Basques and the Spanish. Duval hoped to make a fortune in this manner. Champlain was informed in time and escaped. Duval was executed.
Compagnie de Canada
It was also called the Compagnie de Condé, since the viceroy of New France at that time was Henry of Bourbon, Prince of Condé.
Representing the royal authority
In the colony, Champlain held the position of commandant. King Louis XIII recommended that he ensure that the country would “be obedient to the king, and have people live there who would respect the laws of his kingdom.”
Free trade
For various reasons the profits generated by a free trade system are less than those that may be earned by someone who holds a monopoly, despite the losses inherent in colonization.
Gifts for the king
When Champlain met the king in 1609, he did everything possible to ensure the monarch would decide in his favor. He brought gifts back from New France, including two birds “as large as thrushes”, a belt made of porcupine quills and the head of a fish caught in the “great lake of the Iroquois.”
At the court of Henry IV, certain advisors did not support the colonial initiative, such as the powerful Sully. The Parisian hatters and furriers, for their part, believed that free trade would result in better prices and opposed the monopoly, as did the Normans and the Dutch who wanted to take part in the trade.
Champlain at court
As of the end of the 16th century, Samuel de Champlain was listed on the king’s payroll. He was, among other things, paid “for a certain secret voyage which provided an important service for the king.”
Dugua de Monts’ proposal
Presented in the form of seven article “for the discovery and inhabitation of the shores and lands of Acadia”, this proposal constitutes the first project to colonize New France.
Pierre Dugua de Monts
Originally from Saintonge, Dugua de Monts was born between 1540 and 1563. A former companion-in-arms to Henry IV, he was rewarded by the king with a pension and the title of “Gentilhomme ordinaire de la Chambre du Roy” (ordinary gentleman of the king’s chamber). Although this is often forgotten, Dugua de Monts was the co-founder of Quebec. He invested a large portion of his personal fortune in the New France undertaking.
Preparing a map for publication
In order to be published, Champlain’s maps and drawings were first engraved by an engraver. With a few exceptions, we no longer have Champlain's original drawings.
Nicolas de Vignau
Nicolas de Vignau was a French man who spent the winter of 1611-1612 with the Amerindians on Île aux Allumettes, in the Outaouais region. When he returned to Paris, he wrote an account of his adventures.
Henry Hudson
English explorer who, when looking for a northern passage to Asia, discovered Hudson’s Bay in 1610.
Map of Hudson’s Bay
This map was drawn by Dutch cartographer Hessel Gerritsz.
Fourth account
Champlain’s fourth work was entitled Les voyages de la Nouvelle France occidentale, dicte Canada faits par le Sr. de Champlain Xainctongeois, capitaine pour le Roy en la marine du Ponant, & toutes les descouvertes qu'il a faites en ce pais depuis l'an 1603, jusques en l'an 1629, où se voit comme ce pays a esté premièrement descouvert par les François sous l'authorité de nos Roys très-Chrestiens, jusques au règne de Sa Majesté à présent régnante Lovis XIII, Roy de France & de Nauarre.
Third account
Chaplain’s third account was entitled Voyages et descouvertures faites en la Novvelle France, depuis l'année 1615, jusques à la fin de l'année 1618 où sont descrits les moeurs, coustumes, habits, façons de guerroyer, chasses, dances, festins & enterrements de divers peuples sauvages, & de plusieurs choses remarquables qui luy sont arrivées audit païs, avec une description de la beauté, fertilité & temperature d'iceluy.
Second account
Champlain’s second account was entitled Les Voyages du sieur de Champlain Xaintongeois divisez en deux livres: ou Journal tres-fidele des observations faites és descouvertures de la Nouvelle France: tant en la descriptio des terres costes rivieres ports havres leurs hauteurs & plusieurs declinaisons de la guide-aymant: qu'en la creace des peuples leur superstition façon de vivre & de guerroyer: enrichi de quantité de figures.
First account
Champlain's first was work was entitled Des sauvages, ou, Voyage de Samuel Champlain, de Brouage, faict en la France nouvelle, l'an mil six cens trois contenant les moeurs, façon de vivre, mariages, guerres, & habitations des Sauvages de Canadas.
Travel accounts
Champlain’s travel accounts use a chronological order, much like ships’ logs. Champlain’s works were published in very limited quantities. They were intended for a well-educated, wealthy audience, with a passion for novelties. His works about New France did, however, have major competitors, such as Marco Polo’s writings. In the 17th century, works about New France were much fewer in number than those about the more exotic continents. Through his works, Champlain wanted, among other things, to convince influential men of the importance of pursuing his work in New France.
1607 map
A hand-drawn map by Champlain can be found in the American Library of Congress in Washington. It is dated 1607. Another, dated 1616, was only published 20 years after Champlain’s death.
On the enemy’s ship
After the Kirke brothers captured Quebec, Champlain returned to Europe on a ship in the English fleet.
Units of measurement borrowed from Spain
In Champlain’s case, Spain’s influence can be seen in the unit of measurement he chose for calculating distances in the high seas and for his large maps: the Spanish nautical league. In other cases, he used French units of measurement.
Getting one’s bearings
As the accommodation marshal, Champlain learned get his bearings in order to choose the best site for installing the troops.
Evaluating latitude
The astrolabe and the cross-staff are two instruments that were used to determine latitude based on the position of the sun or the North star. When the horizon was clearly visible, the cross-staff was easier to use. For traveling on land, the astrolabe was preferable.
Navigating by estimates
Two methods are used to estimate maritime distances. The first involves evaluating the coordinates from the departure point and the arrival point, drawing a triangle and calculating the hypotenuse in order to determine the distance traveled. The other method involves noting the ship’s speed at regular intervals. To do this, the English would drag a weighted rope, in which they tied knots at intervals corresponding to 30 seconds, alongside the ship.
An instrument used by navigators, the astrolabe measures the height of the stars. An astrolabe dated 1603 was found near Green Lake, in 1867. Could it be Champlain's? Unfortunately, there is nothing to confirm this with any certainty.
Difficult route
The French found travel within the continent difficult as a result of the great dangers they faced and the difficult living conditions. Here are translations of two extracts from the work Les voyages du sieur de Champlain (1613) which provide an idea of these difficulties:

This was the place where we had a hard time; for, not being able to carry our canoes by land on account of the density of the wood, we had to drag them in the water with ropes, and in drawing mine I came near losing my life, as it crossed into one of the eddies, and if I had not had the good fortune to fall between two rocks the canoe would have dragged me in, inasmuch as I was unable to undo quickly enough the rope which was wound around my hand, and which hurt me severely and came near cutting it off. In this danger I cried to God and began to pull my canoe, which was returned to me by the refluent water, such as occurs in these falls. Having thus escaped I thanked God, begging Him to preserve us.


We had much difficulty in going this distance overland. I, for my part, was loaded only with three arquebuses, as many oars, my cloak, and some small articles. I cheered on our men, who were somewhat more heavily loaded, but more troubled by the mosquitoes than by their loads. Thus after passing four small ponds and having gone a distance of two and a half leagues, we were so wearied that it was impossible to go farther, not having eaten for twenty-four hours anything but a little broiled fish without seasoning (...)
Amerindian know-how
The Native Peoples built light bark canoes that were easy to handle and most suitable for use on Canadian rivers. Familiar with the routes traveled, they hid food supplies along the way. They used dried corn to prepare sagamite.
Île aux Allumettes
The island where Champlain was stopped is called Morrison Island today. It is part of the municipality of L'Isle-aux-Allumettes, in the Outaouais region. Its original name may have been inspired by the reeds found there, which the first colonists used as matches. During Champlain’s time, the Native People who lived there tried to slow the progress of the French explorers, out of fear of losing their privileged position.
Hélène Boullé
Hélène Boullé was 12 years old when she signed a marriage contract with Samuel de Champlain, in 1610. Champlain immediately received a portion of her dowry, a most interesting sum, to finance his undertakings. Hélène Boullé only came to Canada once, a trip she found difficult. Once she was widowed, she became a nun and founded the Ursulines of Meaux.
First French settlements
The first site chosen by Champlain for a settlement was an island near Sainte-Croix. The winter spent there was a catastrophe. Port-Royal turned out to be a better choice.
The Florida coast
In the 1650s, the French tried unsuccessfully to establish a colony in Florida. Following this, the archives frequently used the expression the “Florida coast” to refer to a larger portion of the American coasts that extended to New England.
Pierre Dugua de Monts
He replaced Aymar de Chaste, as the owner of the fur trade monopoly. He had already visited Tadoussac and hoped to establish a settlement somewhere where the climate was more favorable.
The French in Acadia
Since the middle of the 16th century, the French had traveled to the shores of Acadia, drying cod there and trading with the Amerindians. Some of the Native People Champlain met talked French and dressed in European style clothing.
In 1525, Verrazzano designated the region of Washington by this name, referring to Ancient Greece. Cartographers shifted this region northeast. It was then named “Cadia” and later “Acadia”.
Before Champlain, Jacques Cartier had surveyed the St. Lawrence River and Guillaume Levasseur had drawn a map of it in 1601. Archeological digs, moreover, confirm the presence of Basque fishers in the Tadoussac region.
Ultimate frontier
Known today as the Lachine rapids, Sault Saint-Louis is the site where Jacques Cartier, was also forced to stop.
First departure
On May 15, 1603, at Honfleur, Champlain boarded the Bonne-Renommée, at the invitation of Aymar de Chaste who held a monopoly for the fur trade.
The furs most used by the furriers in Paris were those of the martin, the lynx and the otter. The demand for beaver furs increased as beaver hats became more and more fashionable. They were similar to wool felt hats, but more expensive and, as a result, more popular.
Many starts
In 1598, the Marquis de La Roche founded a small colony on Sable Island, which remained there until 1603. Pierre Chauvin de Tonnetuit, a merchant from Honfleur, established an outlet at Tadoussac in 1600. François Gravé, Seigneur du Pont, who represented Aymar de Chaste, started his undertaking in 1603.
France finally at peace
In 1598, the Edict of Nantes ended the wars of religion. With the country at peace once again, Henry IV had time to take on new projects.
Accommodation Marshal
Champlain was responsible for housing and supplying the troops.
Champlain, a painter
In about 1613, Merchants from Saint-Malo wrote a brief about Champlain's 1603 trip. They explained that he had taken part in the trip as a passenger and that his “profession as a painter gave him an opportunity to see the country”.
Brouage Academy
The existence of this academy was confirmed by a travel account by Thomas Platter, from Switzerland.
Wars of religion
Series of French civil wars fought by French Roman Catholics and Protestants, between 1562 and 1598.
One Hundred Years’ War
Series of conflicts between France and England between 1337 and 1453.
A small margin of error
It is estimated that Champlain was born between 1567 and 1580.