Jacques Cartier’s Voyages to Canada

Canada - Scott #208 (1934)
Canada – Scott #208 (1934)

On May 10, 1534, French explorer Jacques Cartier arrived off the coast of Newfoundland following a 20-day voyage from Saint-Malo, France, accompanied by two ships and 61 men. He had been commissioned by King François of France to search for a passage to Cathay (the Orient), either around or through the New World. If no route could be found, then Cartier was to seek out riches, especially gold, as the Spanish had found in South America.  On May 10, discovered a barren, uninviting land. “I am rather inclined to believe that this is the land God gave to Cain.” Newfoundland offered few opportunities for settlement. This official voyage may not have been Cartier’s first excursion across the Atlantic — it’s possible that he had gone to Brazil and Newfoundland as a sailor before his voyages of discovery, but the Breton explorer was the first European to describe and map the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and the shores of the Saint Lawrence River and would claim Canada for France. He was be responsible for naming the future dominion, calling the area that he explored “The Country of Canadas” after the Iroquois names for the two big settlements he saw at Stadacona (Quebec City) and at Hochelaga (Montreal Island).

Jacques Cartier was born on December 31, 1491, in Saint-Malo, the port on the north-west coast of what was then the Duchy of Brittany. Cartier, who was a respectable mariner, improved his social status in 1520 by marrying Mary Catherine des Granches, member of a leading family. His good name in Saint-Malo is recognized by its frequent appearance in baptismal registers as godfather or witness.

Sketch of a painting by François Riss, circa 1839. No contemporary portraits of Cartier are known.
Engraving of a painting by François Riss, circa 1839. No contemporary portraits of Cartier are known.

In 1534, two years after the Duchy of Brittany was formally united with France in the Edict of Union, Cartier was introduced to King Francis I by Jean Le Veneur, bishop of Saint-Malo and abbot of Mont Saint-Michel, at the Manoir de Brion. The king had previously invited (although not formally commissioned) the Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano to explore the eastern coast of North America on behalf of France in 1524. Le Veneur cited voyages to Newfoundland and Brazil as proof of Cartier’s ability to “lead ships to the discovery of new lands in the New World”.

On April 20, 1534, Cartier set sail under a commission from the king, hoping to discover a western passage to the wealthy markets of Asia. In the words of the commission, he was to “discover certain islands and lands where it is said that a great quantity of gold and other precious things are to be found”. Before sailing, his men took an oath that they would “behave themselves truly and faithfully in the service of the Most Christian King.”

Map of the first (1534) and second (1535-1536) voyages to Canada by French explorer Jacques Cartier.
Map of the first (1534) and second (1535-1536) voyages to Canada by French explorer Jacques Cartier.

It took him twenty days to sail across the ocean. On May 10, 1534, Cartier and the sixty-one sailors in his two small ships, sighted Cape Bonavista, “The Cape of Happy Vision.” It was his first glimpse of Newfoundland. Ice was so thick along the shore that they could not land. Instead they sailed south and spent a few days repairing their ships. On May 21, they set to sea again, to chart parts of Newfoundland, areas that now comprise the Canadian Atlantic provinces and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

After skirting the north shore of Newfoundland, Cartier and his ships entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence by the Strait of Belle Isle and travelled south, hugging the coast of the Magdalen Islands on June 26.  During one stop at Îles aux Oiseaux (Islands of the Birds, now the Rochers-aux-Oiseaux federal bird sanctuary, northeast of Brion Island in the Magdalen Islands), his crew slaughtered around 1000 birds, most of them great auks (now extinct). The expedition reached what are now the provinces of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick three days later, June 29.

On July 7, as Cartier was sailing past Baie de Chaleur, he encountered a fleet of 50 canoes filled with with aboriginal peoples, most likely the Mi’kmaq. The natives seemed excited to see them and their celebrations aboard the canoes helped to assure Cartier that they wished only to be friendly with the newcomers. With some reservation and hesitation, Cartier met with the leader of the group. Small items were exchanged in friendship which would be historically recorded as the first trading action between Europeans and the natives of the New World. However, when the other canoes began to approach the ship with unknown intent, Cartier had two cannon shots fired to scare them away.

Drawing depicting raising the cross at Gaspé Bay on July 24, 1534, claiming the land for the Kingdom of France.
Drawing depicting raising the cross at Gaspé Bay on July 24, 1534, claiming the “new-found lands” for the Kingdom of France.

Another encounter took place on the shores of Gaspé Bay with a party of St. Lawrence Iroquoians, where on July 24, he planted a cross to claim the land for France. The 30-foot (10 m) wooden cross bore a fleur-de-lis shield and plaque with ‘Vive le Roi de France’ (‘Long live the King of France’) engraved on it. Cartier knelt in prayer and took possession of the territory in the name of the king. The change in mood was a clear indication that the Iroquoians understood Cartier’s actions. Here he kidnapped the two sons of their chief, Donnacona. Cartier wrote that they later told him this region where they were captured (Gaspé) was called by them Honguedo. The natives’ chief at last agreed that they could be taken, under the condition that they return with European goods to trade.

Cartier returned to France in September 1534, sure that he had reached an Asian land. During that first expedition, he explored the western coast of Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence as far as today’s Anticosti Island, which Cartier called Assomption. He is also credited with the discovery of what is now known as Prince Edward Island.

Jacques Cartier set sail for a second voyage on May 19 of the following year with three medium-sized ships — the Grande Hermine [the Great Stoat], the Petite Hermine [the Lesser Stoat] and the Émérillon [the Merlin] – which had been adapted for river navigation. along with 110 men, and his two Iroquoian captives — Chief Donnacona’s two sons, Dom Agaya and Taignoagny. Reaching Newfoundland after a long, 50-day crossing and following the itinerary from the previous year, they entered the Gulf and up the “Canada River” (later named the St. Lawrence River) for the first time. and finally arrived at  the Iroquoian capital of Stadacona, where Chief Donnacona ruled, site of what is now the city of Québec.

Against the advice of Chief Donnacona, Cartier decided to continue sailing up the river. He left his main ships in a harbor close to Stadacona, and used his smallest ship to continue on to Hochelaga (now the city of Montréal), arriving in the vicinity on October 2, 1535. Hochelaga was far more impressive than the small and squalid village of Stadacona, and a crowd of over a thousand came to the river edge to greet the Frenchmen.

Painting by Adrien Hébert representing Jacques Cartier meeting the Iroquois. The Iroquois chief raises his arm as a sign of welcome, while Cartier responds by raising his own slightly while keeping the other hand on his sword. The painting is currently displayed at Mount Royal Park in Montreal.
Painting by Adrien Hébert representing Jacques Cartier meeting the Iroquois. The Iroquois chief raises his arm as a sign of welcome, while Cartier responds by raising his own slightly while keeping the other hand on his sword. The painting is currently displayed at Mount Royal Park in Montreal.
Postcard of butter sculpture tableau of the meeting of Jacques Cartier and Donnacona, Franco-British Exhibition, London, 1908. Sponsored by the Canadian Dairy Association. From the private collection of Pamela H. Simpson and published in
Postcard of butter sculpture tableau of the meeting of Jacques Cartier and Donnacona, Franco-British Exhibition, London, 1908. Sponsored by the Canadian Dairy Association. From the private collection of Pamela H. Simpson and published in “Butter Cows and Butter Buildings: A History of an Unconventional Sculptural Medium”, Winterthur Portfolio 41, no. 1 (Spring 2007): 1-19.

The site of their arrival has been confidently identified as the beginning of the Sainte-Marie Sault — where the bridge named after him now stands. The expedition could proceed no further, as the river was blocked by rapids. So certain was Cartier that the river was the Northwest Passage and that the rapids were all that was preventing him from sailing to China, that the rapids and the town that eventually grew up near them came to be named after the French word for China, La Chine: the Lachine Rapids and the town of Lachine, Quebec.

As night fell, Cartier withdrew with his men aboard the boats. Early on the morning of October 3, along with his men and twenty marines, he undertook on foot the worn path to Hochelaga. After walking about two leagues (about 6 miles or 11 km), he saw the village surrounded by hills and cultivated fields of corn. This appeared to him much more impressive than Stadacona. He wrote in his journal:

And here within the countryside is situated and sits the said town of Hochelaga, near and joining a mountain that is, around it, ploughed and very fertile, from on top of which one can see very far.”

He declared that the mountain would be named Mount Royal, in honor of King Francis I of France, as was customary in that period. Cartier then visited Hochelaga, and noted its organization:

The said town is all in a circle, enclosed in wood, in three ranks, in the manner of a pyramid, crossed at the top, having a row perpendicular to it all. And this town there is only one door and entrance. There are within this town roughly fifty houses, each about fifty steps long, and in each one of them, there are several hearths and several rooms.

he Terra De Hochelaga Nova Nova Nella, designed by Giacomo Gastaldi, appeared in the Italian book by Giovanni Battista Ramusio, Delle Navigationi and Viaggi, Volume III (Venice, 1565). The plan represents the Iroquoian village of Hochelaga, which was located next to the current Mount Royal in Montreal, Canada, a mountain on the map with the inscription MONTE REAL. From the holdings of McGill University Library.
The Terra De Hochelaga Nova Nova Nella, designed by Giacomo Gastaldi, appeared in the Italian book by Giovanni Battista Ramusio, Delle Navigationi and Viaggi, Volume III (Venice, 1565). The plan represents the Iroquoian village of Hochelaga, which was located next to the current Mount Royal in Montreal, Canada, a mountain on the map with the inscription MONTE REAL. From the holdings of McGill University Library.

When the tour of the village was over, Cartier and his companions were then guided up Mount Royal, probably on the back of a man, according to a custom of courtesy he mentions later in his journal. The mountain was “distant from the village by about a quarter-league”. Once atop the summit of one the hills comprising the mount, Cartier declared:

We can see the said river, other than where we left our barques, where there is a rapid, the most impetuous it is given to see, one which is not possible for us to pass.”

Once the visit was over, Cartier and his men returned to their boats:

We withdrew to our boats, not without a great number of the said people, a part of which, that when they saw our people tired, took them upon themselves, as on a horse, and carried them.””

Model of the Iroquoian village of Hochelaga, from the descriptions of Jacques Cartier and other Quebec archaeological sites. Artist: Michel Cadieux. Photographed on January 6, 2018.
Model of the Iroquoian village of Hochelaga, from the descriptions of Jacques Cartier and other Quebec archaeological sites. Artist: Michel Cadieux. Photographed on January 6, 2018.

After spending two days among the people of Hochelaga, who tantalized Cartier with the prospect of a sea in the middle of the country, the expedition returned to Stadacona on October 11. It is not known exactly when he decided to spend the winter of 1535–1536 in Stadacona, and it was by then too late to return to France. Cartier and his men prepared for the winter by strengthening their fort, stacking firewood, and salting down game and fish.

From mid-November 1535 to mid-April 1536, the French fleet lay frozen solid at the mouth of the St. Charles River, under the Rock of Quebec. Ice was over a fathom (1.8 m) thick on the river, with snow four feet (1.2 m) deep ashore. To add to the misery, scurvy broke out — first among the Iroquoians, and then among the French. Cartier estimated the number of dead Iroquoians at 50. On a visit by Domagaya to the French fort, Cartier inquired and learned from him that a concoction made from a tree known as annedda, probably Spruce beer, or arbor vitae, would cure scurvy. This remedy likely saved the expedition from destruction, allowing 85 Frenchmen to survive the winter. In his journal, Cartier states that by mid-February, “out of 110 that we were, not ten were well enough to help the others, a pitiful thing to see”. The Frenchmen used up the bark of an entire tree in a week on the cure, and the dramatic results prompted Cartier to proclaim it a Godsend, and a miracle.

Ready to return to France in early May 1536, Cartier decided to kidnap Chief Donnacona and take him to France, so that he might personally tell the tale of a country further north, called the “Kingdom of Saguenay”, said to be full of gold, rubies and other treasures. After an arduous trip down the St. Lawrence and a three-week Atlantic crossing, Cartier and his men arrived in Saint-Malo on July 15, 1536, concluding the second, 14-month voyage, which was to be Cartier’s most profitable. Chief Donnacona died in either 1540 or 1541 and was buried in France.

The Dauphin Map of Canada, c. 1543, showing Cartier's discoveries
The Dauphin Map of Canada, circa 1543, showing Cartier’s discoveries

The war in Europe led to a delay in returning to Canada, with the further result that the plans for the voyage were changed. On October 17, 1540, King Francis I ordered the navigator  Cartier to return to Canada to lend weight to a colonization project of which he would be “captain general”. This expedition was to include close to 800 people and involve a major attempt to colonize the region.  However, January 15, 1541, saw Cartier supplanted by Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval, a Huguenot courtier and friend of the king named as the first lieutenant general of French Canada. Roberval was to lead the expedition, with Cartier as his chief navigator. Roberval was responsible for recruitment, loading weapons onto the ships, and bringing on craftsmen and a number of prisoners. Just as the expedition was to begin, delays in the preparations and the vagaries of the war with Spain meant that only half the personnel (led by Cartier) were sent to Canada in May 1541 by Roberval, who eventually came the following year.

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 River.

Anchoring at Stadacona, Cartier met with the new Iroquoian chief Agona. He explained that Donnacona had grown ill and had died in France. He was buried there. Cartier then lied and told the chief that the others who had accompanied him to France had become rich and had decided to marry and to remain there. In reality, all of the Iroquoians — the same two sons who had been kidnapped during the first voyage, along with their father, Donnacona, three other natives, and four children who had been ‘gifted’ to the King of France — had died except for one of the children.

The natives were outraged.  Cartier found their “show of joy” and their numbers worrisome, and decided it best to abandon the fort at Stadacona. He had previously observed a spot at the mouth of the Rivière de Cap-Rouge, 9 miles (14 km) away from Stadacona, and built a new fort 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, which would become the first French settlement in North America. Another fort was also built on the cliff overlooking the settlement, for added protection.

 Jacques Cartier Monument in St Malo, France. Photo taken on August 28, 2008.
Jacques Cartier Monument in St Malo, France. Photo taken on August 28, 2008.

The men also began collecting what they believed to be diamonds and gold, but which upon return to France were discovered to be merely quartz crystals and iron pyrites, respectively — which gave rise to a French expression: “faux comme les diamants du Canada” (“As false as Canadian diamonds”). Two of the ships were sent on their journey home with some of these minerals on September 2.

Having set tasks for everyone, Cartier left with the longboats for a reconnaissance in search of “Saguenay” on September 7. Having reached Hochelaga, he was prevented by bad weather and the numerous rapids from continuing up to the Ottawa River.

Returning to Charlesbourg-Royal, Cartier found the situation ominous. The Iroquoians no longer made friendly visits or peddled fish and game, but prowled about in a sinister manner. No records exist about the winter of 1541–1542 and the information must be gleaned from the few details provided by returning sailors. It seems the natives attacked and killed about 35 settlers before the Frenchmen could retreat behind their fortifications. Even though scurvy was cured through the native remedy (Thuja occidentalis infusion), the impression left is of a general misery, and of Cartier’s growing conviction that he had insufficient manpower either to protect his base or to go in search of the Saguenay Kingdom.

Cartier left for France in early June 1542, encountering Roberval and his ships along the Newfoundland coast, at about the time Roberval marooned Marguerite de La Rocque. Despite Roberval’s insistence that he accompany him back to Saguenay, Cartier slipped off under the cover of darkness and continued on to France, still convinced his vessels contained a wealth of gold and diamonds. He arrived there in October, in what proved to be his last voyage. Meanwhile, Roberval took command at Charlesbourg-Royal, but it was abandoned in 1543 after disease, foul weather and hostile natives drove the would-be settlers to despair.

Commemorative dollar released by Canada Mint in 1984 honoring Jacques Cartier on the reverse.
Commemorative dollar released by Canada Mint in 1984 honoring Jacques Cartier on the reverse.
200-dollar gold coin issued by Canada to honor Jacques Cartier in 2013.
200-dollar gold coin issued by Canada to honor Jacques Cartier in 2013.

The stones and metal that Cartier brought back turned out to be worthless and he was never reimbursed by the king for the money he had borrowed from the Breton merchants. After this misadventure, he returned to business and spent the rest of his life in Saint-Malo and his nearby estate at Limoilou, where he often was useful as an interpreter in Portuguese. He died at age 65 on September 1, 1557, during an epidemic, possibly of typhus, though many sources list his cause of death as unknown. Cartier is interred in St. Vincent’s Cathedral.

A report of Cartier’s second voyage was printed in France in 1545, and is today in the British Museum. Excerpts given here are taken from Burrage, using Richard Hakluyt’s English translation published in 1589–1600

No permanent European settlements were made in Canada before 1605, when Samuel Champlain founded Port Royal in present-day Victoria Beach just outside Annapolis Royal.

Cartier was the first to document the name Canada to designate the territory on the shores of the St-Lawrence River. The name is derived from the Huron-Iroquois word kanata, or village, which was incorrectly interpreted as the native term for the newly discovered land. Cartier used the name to describe Stadacona, the surrounding land and the river itself. Cartier named  the inhabitants (Iroquoians) he had seen there “Canadiens“. Thereafter, the name Canada was used to designate the small French colony on these shores, and the French colonists were called Canadiens until the mid-nineteenth century when the name started to be applied to the loyalist colonies on the Great Lakes and later to all of British North America.

In this way, Cartier is not strictly the European discoverer of Canada as this country is understood today, a vast federation stretching a mari usque ad mare (from sea to sea). Eastern parts had previously been visited by the Norse, as well as Basque, Galician and Breton fishermen, and perhaps the Corte-Real brothers and John Cabot (in addition of course to the Natives who first inhabited the territory). Cartier’s particular contribution to the discovery of Canada is as the first European to penetrate the continent, and more precisely the interior eastern region along the St. Lawrence River. His explorations consolidated France’s claim of the territory that would later be colonized as New France, and his third voyage produced the first documented European attempt at settling North America since that of Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón in 1526–27.

Jacques Cartier commemorative cross on St-Quentin Island in Trois-Rivières. Saint-Quentin Island lies at the confluence of the Saint-Maurice River and St. Lawrence River in the city of Trois-Rivières, in province of Quebec, Canada. Photo taken on August 24, 2008.
Jacques Cartier commemorative cross on St-Quentin Island in Trois-Rivières. Saint-Quentin Island lies at the confluence of the Saint-Maurice River and St. Lawrence River in the city of Trois-Rivières, in province of Quebec, Canada. Photo taken on August 24, 2008.

Cartier’s professional abilities can be easily ascertained. Considering that Cartier made three voyages of exploration in dangerous and hitherto 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.

On August 18, 2006, Quebec Premier Jean Charest announced that Canadian archaeologists had discovered the precise location of Cartier’s lost first colony of Charlesbourg-Royal. The colony was built where the Cap-Rouge river runs into the St. Lawrence River and is based on the discovery of burnt wooden timber remains that have been dated to the mid-16th century, and a fragment of a decorative Istoriato plate manufactured in Faenza, Italy, between 1540 and 1550, that could only have belonged to a member of the French aristocracy in the colony. Most probably this was the Sieur de Roberval, who replaced Cartier as the leader of the settlement. This colony was the first known European settlement in modern-day Canada since the c.1000 AD L’Anse aux Meadows Viking village in northern Newfoundland. Its rediscovery has been hailed by archaeologists as the most important find in Canada since the L’Anse aux Meadows rediscovery.

Watercolor made by Lawrence R. Batchelor, circa 1933, showing Jacques Cartier visiting the village of Hochelaga on October 3, 1535
Watercolor made by Lawrence R. Batchelor, circa 1933, showing Jacques Cartier visiting the village of Hochelaga on October 3, 1535
Stone marker at the site of Hochelaga village near McGill University and Mount Royal in Montreal, Canada. Photo taken on August 15, 2012.
Stone marker at the site of Hochelaga village near McGill University and Mount Royal in Montreal, Canada. Photo taken on August 15, 2012.

A stone marker commemorating the former village of Hochelaga was placed in 1925 on land adjacent to McGill University in present-day Montréal, Québec, Canada. It is believed to be in the vicinity of the village first visited by Cartier on October 2, 1535. He was greeted well by the Iroquoians, and named the mountain he saw nearby Mount Royal. The site of the marker is designated a National Historic Site of Canada. Several names in and around Montréal and the Hochelaga Archipelago can be traced back to Cartier.

For a long time, it was considered obvious that Jacques Cartier had continuously followed the Saint Lawrence River; the rapids he mentioned were identified as the Lachine Rapids. Some think his description better corresponds to the rapids in the Rivière des Prairies at Sault-au-Récollet. Close examination of historical documentation in the 20th century raised the possibility that before the European arrival, the Rivière des Prairies was the usual waterway used by the indigenous tribes, as it was much less dangerous than the Saint Lawrence River with its rapids. It constituted a more direct waterway connecting to the upstream Rivière des Outaouais. Therefore, it is possible that Cartier traveled to Hochelega via this river. Furthermore, the three rapids described by Cartier on a subsequent expedition are easier to locate on the Rivière des Prairies, the so-called “river of three saults”, than on the Saint Lawrence River.

Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site commemorates the second voyage of Jacques Cartier; more precisely in 1535-1536 when he and his shipmates wintered near the Iroquoian village of Stadacona (Quebec City). It is located at the confluence of Saint-Charles and Lairet rivers, in Quebec City more precisely in La Cité-Limoilou borough. In order to find artifacts from Jacques Cartier’s presence in 1535-1536 and from the Notre-Dame-des-Anges residence, archeological excavations were made in the years 1959, 1962, 1986, 1993, 2004, 2007. Probably because of the numerous changes in the ground due to human activities which were held on the site, traces have not yet been discovered. However, archeologists found many objects related to hand-crafted or industrial activities dating from New-France onward. The most relevant items which have yet to be found are the graves of 25 deceased sailors and the remains of the small fort and the ditches.

Interpretive panel at Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site in Quebec, Canada. Photo taken on March 17, 2008.
Interpretive panel at Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site in Quebec, Canada. Photo taken on March 17, 2008.

Proofs of his stay therefore consist of written attestations by Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain.

Jacques Cartier wrote :

And we went some ten leagues up the river, coasting this island [of Orleans] at the end of which we came to a forking of the waters, which is an exceedingly pleasant spot where there’s a small river and a harbor a bar, […]. We thought this river St-Charles a suitable place in which to lay up our ships in safety. We named it ‘St-Croix’ , as we arrive there that day.

Samuel de Champlain wrote :

Moreover, near Quebec, there’s little river, coming from the lake in the interior distant 6 or 7 leagues distant from or settlement . I am of opinion that this river (st-charles), which is North quarter North-West from our settlement, is a place where Jacques Cartier wintered, since there are still , a leak of the river remains of what seems to have been a cheminey, the foundation of which has been found and indications of there having been ditches surrounding there dwelling which was small.

From the opening of the site in 1972 up to 2001, a replica of the Grande-Hermine was exposed on the site. It was built in 1966 by the Davie Brothers on the south shore of Quebec City for the 1967 Universal Exposition in Montreal. The replica was placed in an artificial lake until 1987, when it was placed on dry dock and its masts were removed. It was left outside of water until 2001, when it was demolished, after being exposed for 29 years, because it was becoming dangerous.

Two long houses were built on the location of the Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site to represent the type of building the Saint-Lawrence Iroquoian lived in. The first one was built in 1985 and it was destroyed the same year by a criminal fire. The second one, surrounded by a palisade, was built in 1986-1987 and was dismantled in 2007 in order to leave place for the new lay out.

Plaque on the statue of Jacques Cartier (1491-1557) in front of the Gabrielle-Roy public library, in the Saint-Roch part of Quebec City. The inscription in French reads:
Plaque on the statue of Jacques Cartier (1491-1557) in front of the Gabrielle-Roy public library, in the Saint-Roch part of Quebec City. The inscription in French reads: “JACQUES CARTIER 1491-1557 Réplique d’un monument érigé sur les fortifications de Saint-Malo et oeuvre du sculpteur Georges Bareau, ce monument est un don de la Commission des monuments historiques à la Ville de Québec. Il fut inauguré en 1926 et restauré par le centre de conservation du Québec en 1982.” Translated to English: “JACQUES CARTIER 1491-1557 Replica of a monument erected on the fortifications of Saint-Malo and work of the sculptor Georges Bareau, this monument is a gift of the Commission of the historical monuments to the City of Quebec. It was inaugurated in 1926 and restored by the Quebec Conservation Center in 1982.” Photo taken on July 13, 2007.

Jacques Cartier has been honored on several stamp issues, most of them issued by Canada followed by France.  The first was Scott #7, released by the Province of Canada in 1855. In 1854, reduced postal rates between Canada and the United Kingdom had created a demand for two new denominations in postage stamps, 10 pence and 7½ pence. The Postmaster General’s Report of March 31, 1854, announced, in part, the reduction of postal rates affecting the overseas mail to the United Kingdom. The mail of one-half ounce for each letter sent by packet ships from Halifax was charged at the reduced rate of 6pence sterling equal to 7½ pence in currency. The rate was also reduced from 1 shilling and 2 pence sterling to 8 pence sterling on mail sent overseas by way of the United States.

When William Henry Griffin wrote to the security printers, he sketched a suggested design of the 10 penny stamps:

It would promote the public convenience to procure postage stamps of the value of 10 pence and 7½ pence to correspond with the packet letter charges.”

While these reductions were made in sterling, the people in the Province of Canada were being drastically restricted by the confusion of money with its varying degrees of valuation. The Province of that time did not have a currency of its own. Sterling was of higher value than the monetary exchange commonly referred to as currency. For that reason, the new stamps in 10 pence had an additional inscription of 8 pence stg (sterling). The 7½-pence stamps were inscribed “Six Pence Sterling” in the oval frame of Queen Victoria’s portrait.

Canada - Scott #7 (1855 [NIMC - 2018]
Canada – Scott #7 (1855 [NIMC – 2018]

The portrait of Jacques Cartier on the 10-pence blue stamp is from a painting by François Riss who is said to have copied it from another portrait, circa 1839. Some art authorities believe that the portrait is entirely spurious. Monsieur Riss, a Russian painter who moved to Paris, copied a picture reported to be the likeness of Cartier some three hundred years after Cartier’s first voyage. The historic Chateau de Ramezay on Notre-Dame Street East in Montreal owns a similar painting about 48 inches high by 36 inches. A note appearing in the thirtieth edition of the gallery catalogue states that no genuine portrait of Cartier exists. The nearest is in Ramusio’s engraving of his visit to Hochelaga.

The firm of Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson printed 172,200 copies of the stamp which was issued imperforate on January 1, 1855.

In 1859, the province standardized on a single decimal monetary system, which also meant new stamps would be needed. Between 1859 and 1864, the American Bank Note Company, New York, produced seven new stamps in 1-¢ent, 5-cent, (two) 10-cent, 12½-cent, 17-cent and 2¢ values. In general, the existing designs were used. These were the last stamps produced for the Province of Canada.

The Jacques Cartier design previously used on the 10-pence stamp of 1855, was repeated denominated 17 cents, newly engraved by the American Bank Note Company. still bearing the additional value of 8 stg. and again in blue (Scott #19). This was released on July 1, 1859, with 599,999 copies printed, perforated 11.75, 12 x 11.75, and 12.

Canada - Scott #97 (1908) mint block of 4, lightly-hinged
Canada – Scott #97 (1908) mint block of 4, lightly-hinged

A set of eight stamps released by Canada on July 16, 1909, to mark the three hundredth anniversary of the founding of Quebec by Samuel de Champlain honored Cartier and his voyages on two of the eight stamp designs (Scott #96-103). In March, 1908, the government had proposed to issue a series of postage stamps to commemorate the occasion. In view of the marked departure from the precedent in subject matter for the proposed stamp design, the Post Office Department sought the permission of King Edward VII to use portraits of non-royal persons and historical subjects on stamps of permanent validity. His Majesty consented, and the stamp were released for sale to the public throughout the Dominion before the Prince of Wales (later King George V) reached Québec for the festivities.

The 1-cent blue green stamp (Scott #97) bears portraits of Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain from paintings dated about 1839 displayed in the Hotel de Ville at Saint-Malo, France. The Cartier portrait is the same as attributed to François Riss on the 1855 and 1859 stamps.  Designed by José Antonio Machado, the stamp was engraved by Robert Savage. The American Bank Note Company plant in Ottawa printed 22,530,000 copies, perforated 12.

Canada - Scott #103 (1908) used
Canada – Scott #103 (1908) used

Scott #103 is a 20-cent yellow brown stamp portraying the arrival of Cartier at Quebec in 1535. Designed by José Antonio Machado, an artist with the American Bank Note Company in Ottawa, it depicts the three small vessels of Cartier’s second expedition which have come to rest near Cape Diamond. Boats are putting off to make a landing on the unknown shore. The vessels shown are the two ships Grande Hermine and Petite Hermine, and a galley, the Emerillon. Cartier anchored near the mouth of the St. Charles River, not far from the Indian village of Stadacona. From Quebec, or Kebec, an Algonquin word meaning, “narrowing of the waters”, Cartier pushed on in the Emerillon as far as the Indian village of Hochelaga. Elie Timothée Loizeaux did the engraving on the stamp which saw 304,200 copies printed by the American Bank Note Company, perforated 12.

Canada - die proof of Scott #208 (1934). From the holdings of the National Archives of Canada.
Canada – die proof of Scott #208 (1934). From the holdings of the National Archives of Canada.
Canada - Scott #208 (1934) first day cover
Canada – Scott #208 (1934) first day cover

On  July 1,, 1934, a special 3-cent blue stamp was issued by Canada to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of Cartier’s first voyage — today’s Scott #208. Designed by George Arthur Gundersen and printed by the British American Bank Note Company in a quantity of 12,370,000 stamps, perforated 11, the engraving shows the explorer directing the first landing operation on the shores of what is now Canada. An artist engraved the central portion of the design from a drawing in the Montreal offices of the British American Bank Note Company. Although the drawing is signed, the signature cannot be deciphered. It may be the work of a former staff artist of about 1880.

France - Scott #297 (1934) used, perfin
France – Scott #297 (1934) used, perfin

France also released a pair of stamps on July 20, 1934, to mark the 400th anniversary of Cartier’s first explorations of Canada (Scott #296-297). The common design of the stamps features a portrait of Jacques Cartier with his fleet in the background. The 75-centime value was printed in rose lilac while the 1.50-franc denomination is blue with 2,500,000 copies of each issued. The stamps are engraved and perforated 13. They were withdrawn from sale on November 21, 1934. Mint copies of each are quite scarce and valued about ten times more than used copies.

CAPEX 78, Canada’s second international stamp exhibition, marked the centennial of Canada’s joining the Universal Postal Union. It was held in Toronto, Ontario, June 9-18, 1978. For the design of the CAPEX 78 commemorative issue of four stamps plus a souvenir sheet (Scott #753-756a), Canada Post used a stamp-on-stamp format which portrayed imperforate pairs of each of four of Canada’s classics, a pair for each denomination. The stamps were designed by Carl Brett of Toronto. The engravings were executed by Robert Couture from originals, which may be seen in the National Postal Museum, Ottawa.

Canada - Scott #754 (1978) first day cover
Canada – Scott #754 (1978) first day cover

The 14-cent first class letter-rate stamp (Scott #754) reproduced a pair of the 10-penny blue Jacques Cartier stamps issued in December 1854 (Scott #7). There were 30,250,000 copies printed by the British American Bank Note Company using a combination of photogravure and recess printing, perforated 13½. The portrait shown was originally engraved after a painting of Cartier by François Riss, which is now in the Hôtel de Ville of Saint-Malo. The accompanying souvenir sheet was Canada’s first and was  produced in limited quantities. It was designed by the firm of Newton Frank Arthur & Company of Toronto.

Information sheet bearing copies of the joint issue of Jacques Cartier stamps issued in 1984 by Canada - Scott #1101 - and France - Scott #1923.
Information sheet bearing copies of the joint issue of Jacques Cartier stamps issued in 1984 by Canada – Scott #1101 – and France – Scott #1923.

Scott #1101, released on April 20, 1984, was a joint stamp issue with France (Scott #1923), marking the 450th anniversary of Cartier’s landing in Quebec. The double issue constituted several firsts, in both stamp design and printing. The stamp design, the work of Yves Paquin of Montreal, symbolically incorporated the highlights in the life of this intrepid explorer, and was chosen by both Canada and France to sum up the role of both countries in this historic event. This was also one of the rare occasions when a Canadian stamp was printed outside Canada. The design was adapted to the special presses of the Imprimerie des timbres-poste France using steel engraving in four colors. Designed by Yves Paquin, both stamps were engraved by France’s Claude Haley. The 32-cent Canadian version was perforated 13.

A four-stamp plus souvenir sheet set (Scott #1404-1407a) was released by Canada Post on March 25, 1992, to commemorate the 500th anniversary Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. A 48-cent stamp (Scott #1406) in the set depicted Cartier’s chart of Canada along with a snowshoe and ship’s mast. The release was in conjunction with the CANADA 92 World Philatelic Youth Exhibition organized by the Royal Philatelic Society of Canada, with the participation of the Fédération québécoise de philatélie and under the patronage of the Fédération Internationale de Philatélie. The event was held at the Palais de Congrès in Montreal from March 25-29, aiding in the celebrations surrounding the 350th anniversary of the founding of the city.

Canada - Scott #1406 (1992)
Canada – Scott #1406 (1992)

On opening day, the four commemorative stamps and companion souvenir sheet were issued depicting the exhibition’s theme: Exploration and Discovery. Two 42-cent se tenant stamps focused on the 350th anniversary of the founding of Montreal, while the 48-cent stamp honored Cartier and an 84-cent value paid tribute to Christopher Columbus. Although Cartier’s ships had brought his crew across the Atlantic and up the St. Lawrence as far as Lac St-Pierre, they were of limited use for inland exploration. They had to rely on the co-operation of the Amerindians not only to serve as guides but to teach them how to survive in hostile territory. Only with this guidance could the newcomers learn to tame the vast wilderness that was Canada. On his second voyage in 1535, Cartier reached Hochelaga (Montreal), spending time on what was referred to as the “Kingdom of Canada”.

Scott #1406 was designed by Pierre-Yves Pelletier based on an illustration by Suzanne Duranceau. The Canadian Bank Note Company Limited printed 15,400,000 copies of the stamp which were perforated 13½.

Flag of Canada, 1965-dateFlag of Canada, 1921-1957Coat of arms of (French) province of Canada

 

Jacques Cartier signature

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