Cartier’s Plans Crushed

A portrait of Jacques Cartier.
A portrait of Jacques Cartier. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jacques Cartier was more than a good navigator. He was a showman. After spending the winter of 1535 at Quebec and losing twenty-five of his men through illness, he knew that it was important to put on a good show when he returned to France, if he were ever going to get back to Canada.

Before sailing from Quebec, he invited Chief Donnacona and some of his braves to a feast. When they entered the stockade, they were taken prisoner and put on board a ship. Cartier didn’t exactly force them to go with him to France, but told Donnacona that he would be treated like a king and that he and his braves would be given many gifts.

Donnacona agreed, but there was great weeping and wailing on shore. Donnacona explained the situation to the Native Indians from the deck and gave them gifts of two brass frying pans and eight steel hatchets.

All went well. Donnacona was taught French to talk to the King. The Native Indians have great imagination and spin good yarns. Donnacona was no exception and did such a good sales job that King Francis decided to send a large expedition to Canada.

Then Cartier’s plans went sour. King Francis appointed a nobleman, Sieur de Roberval, to be in charge of the expedition because he felt that it was not good enough to have a mere sea-captain represent him. More blows fell. Life in France was not good for Donnacona and his men and they soon died.

Cartier had great plans to bring some of the best French artisans to Canada to build homes and found a colony. Roberval would not allow Cartier to recruit the type of men he wanted. Instead, on March 9, 1541, he obtained authorization to take criminals to Canada. Greatly disappointed, Cartier broke away from Roberval and went to Canada on his own.

To read a more detailed account of Jacques Cartier, Donnacona, and Roberval, I suggest Upper Canada History; and there’s Place Royale – from the present to the past; also you can visit Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online and the Canadian Encyclopedia; another good place to learn about Jacques Cartier is

Here’s something of a treat I found: a translation taken from Cartier’s writings, a description of Native Indians.  It’s long, I know. And, I might add, the grammar mistakes here are not mine, but how it was translated.  I thought it worth posting here:

“… They are by no means a laborious people and work the soil with short bits of wood about half a sword in length.  With these they hoe their corn which they call ozisy, in size as large as a  pea.  Corn of a similar kind grows in considerable quantities in Brazil.  They have also a considerable quantity of melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, pease and beans of various colours and unlike own.  Furthermore they have a plant, of which a large supply is collected in summer for the winter’s consumption.

They hold it in high esteem, though the men alone make use of it in the following manner.  After drying it in the sun, they carry it about their necks in a small skin pouch in lieu of a bag, together with a hollow bit of stone or wood.  Then at frequent intervals they crumble this plant into powder, which they place in one of the openings of the hollow instrument, and laying a live coal on top, suck at the other end to such an extent, that they fill their bodies so full of smoke, that is streams  out of their mouths and nostrils as from a chimney.  They say it keeps them warm and in good health, and never go about without these things.  We made a trial of this smoke.  When it is in one’s mouth, one would think one had taken powdered pepper, it is so hot.

The women of this country work beyond comparison more than the men, both at fishing, which is much followed, as well as at tilling the ground and other tasks. Both the men, women and children are more indifferent to the cold than beasts; for in the coldest weather we experienced, and it was extraordinary severe, they would come to our ships every day across the ice and snow, the majority of them almost stark naked, which seems incredible unless one has seen them.  While the ice and snow last, they catch a great number of wild foxes, otters and others.


  1. It is interesting that even the early account of Canada that you translated mentions how cold it is and how adept the natives were at dealing with it!

    That same account could be written today by any tourist visiting Canada in the winter! 🙂


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