“I believe that this was the land God allotted to Cain”

English: Map of Jacques Cartier's first voyage...
Map of Jacques Cartier’s first voyage to North America in 1534. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

April 20, 1534, marked the beginning of Jacques Cartier‘s first historic voyage to Canada.  He made the crossing to Bonavista, Newfoundland, in the incredible time of twenty days.

After an overhaul, Cartier took his ships northward along the east coast of Newfoundland to the Strait of Belle Isle, which had already been named by French fishermen.  He explored the strait which he hoped was the beginning of a river leading to China.  He knew from the movement of the water that there must be a great river ahead.

After exploring the Labrador coast in small boats, Cartier became discouraged.  The land was so desolate and poor that her wrote in his diary:

“I believe that this was the land God allotted to Cain.”

Along here he saw natives for the first time and wrote that they tied their hair on top of their heads like wreaths of hay!

Cartier made his way along the west coast of Newfoundland which he saw only occasionally through the fog.  Gradually, the country improved, especially along the north shore which is now Prince Edward Island.  He was still hoping to find the route to Cathay (China) and  was fired with hope when he sailed into a deep inlet in the Gaspé.  The inlet opened out into a bay which he named “Chaleur”, the French word for “heat”.  The weather was so hot that Cartier expected to find figs growing there.

When Cartier landed he was greeted by the natives who sang, danced and waded out into the water.  The French raised a huge wooden cross on the shore, and nailed a shield on it, with a crest bearing the fleurs-de-lis and the words, “Vive le Roy de France.”  A monument was erected there 400 years later.

Although it was only July, Cartier felt that he should hurry back to France before winter came.  He persuaded an Indian chief to let him take two of his sons, promising to bring them back the next year.  Cartier, in return, gave the natives all the presents he could, especially shirts, red caps and other clothing.

One of the most valuable features of the exploit was the careful diary Cartier kept, in his own writing.  It is one of the world’s truly historic documents.

Interesting, isn’t it? To read more extensively about this, I suggest History World.org and an interesting article at Sympatico, as well as a new site I found at the Original Catholic Encyclopedia, and another new site for me is Helium, which seems to be a community “where knowledge rules.”

I find reading a diary from time past very interesting. As such, I found a wonderful blog called Jacques Cartier, a blog devoted to Cartier (as the name implies). There’s a well-written .pdf of his journals from Government of historial narratives of early Canada from the government of Manitoba.  You might also want to read Upper Canada History.


  1. I wish now I had the reference but I do recall in a book I read a decade or so ago that there was evidence or at least informed speculation that Cartier had previously visited Canada’s shores.
    There’s no doubt–we have physical evidence–that the Basque were stationed at the Strait of Belle Isle between NL and LAB around 1504, in search of the whales should have to move through the narrow strait as they migrated N and S. Probably much earlier but the Basque whalers were fairly secretive about their sources, so until more physical evidence is found any dating will have to be speculative.
    There is also indirect evidence (again I cannot cite the source) of fishing activity that pre-dates Cabot’s so-called discovery of NL in 1497. This evidence is, I believe a mis-match in cod supposedly caught in the known places and that which was sold. More was sold than was known to be caught–indirect evidence of rich fishing grounds that the fishers did not want to reveal because 1. it was breaking a ‘legal’ monopoly and 2. Hey–would you share the location if you found a tonne of ‘gold’!?!
    Anyway the story I read was that Cartier may have been a long-time part of this otherwise unknown fishery and was now capitalizing on his expertise to make some additional money. Fascinating if true but, I suppose, very expensive to try and corroborate owing to the relative lack of appropriate written records from the time.
    Of course the Norse were fairly fond of the general area, referring to Labrador (we are pretty sure) as Markland–the land of trees. For a time, especially during the relatively mild period that occurred 1100 years ago, Norse merchant vessels regularly came to the Labrador coast and retrieved precious timber.
    As for it being Cain’s land–hey that was old Jacques’ opinion not that of the people who live there now and FIERCELY love it! It is also so beautiful! In the south, the evergreens grow straight and orderly, like a park. Beautiful rivers wind throughout and then, way up north there’s the absolutely breathtaking Torngats! http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/nl/torngats/index.aspx


      • As a starting point at the time I was probably reading Daniel Prowse’s history of NL, Nearer to heaven by Sea by Kevin Major and perhaps book 1 of Patrick O’Flaherty’s history of NL. Who knows? Interestingly…and somewhat related…Chief Misel Joe of NL has long stated that the age-old story of the Beothuck being lost to time is bunk and a recent story here in NL lends a bit of credance to it. I hope more comes from that story.


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