Montagnais couple Samuel de Champlain

(version française)


Although he is mostly reknown as the founder of Québec city, Champlain also lived the incredible life of a great explorer and adventurer. Here are the most important moments in the life of the man now known as the father of New France.

Champlain's exact date of birth remains a mystery. We know that he was born in the city of Brouage around 1570. Even his appearance is unknown. No official portrait of the man exists. Although the image on the right is the result of the artist's imagination, it is consistent with the look generally associated to Samuel de Champlain.

1599-1601: Young Champlain navigates with his uncle in the Caribbean and visits several ports of New Spain. He will soon afterwards to become a geographer, like his uncle.

The father of Nouvelle-France
1603: Champlain is recruited by the catholic commander Aymar de Chaste for his voyage of exploration in America. Henri IV, king of France, names him Royal geographer. He arrives in Tadoussac on May 26th and receives a warm welcome from the local tribes. He smokes his first peace calumet. He then visits the Saguenay and the future locations of Québec, Montréal and Boucherville. Chief Anadabijou of Tadoussac declares that he sees no objection to France sending colonists on his lands. Back in France, Champlain published his first book: "Des Sauvages".

1605: Champlain installs a settlement in Port-Royal (Acadie). He explores the Atlantic coast all the way to Cap Cod where he is forced to flee hostile Indians. He founds an Order to fight the the terrible disease of scurvy.

Construction de l'Abitation 1608: Since the English are increasing their presence in the Gulf of the Saint-Laurent, Champlain decides to head inland. At the foot of Cap Diamant, Champlain builds the l'Abitation de Québec, destined to become the capital of Nouvelle-France. Originally, he wanted to name the establishment "Ludovica", which means "If it pleases God and the King". A big gallery is built around the wooden building on which men of arms are permanently stationed. A 15-feet large and 6-feet deep pit is dug around the location, outside the palisade.

Basque smugglers who were operating in the area are very displeased by Champlain's arrival and start plotting against him. A few French colonists, among them Jean Duval, join in the conspiracy. In exchange for their cooperation, the Basques promise them a fat reward and a safe return to Spain. But one of the conspirators, Antoine Natel, decides to swtich sides and tells Champlain everything in exchange for his forgiveness. Champlain has the conspirators arrested and organises the first known trial in the history of North America. Duval is found guilty and is hanged. His severed head is then placed at the end of a pike on the fort's palisade. Three other conspirators are condemned to death and returned to France.

The winter of 1608-1609 is terrible. Two colonists die of dysentery and ten more of scurvy. The hunting and fishing season having been particularly bad, local Indian tribes are suffering from hunger. Hordes of famished people come to seek refuge at Québec. Champlain shares his small reserves with them.

Auto-portrait 1609: Champlain leaves with Hurons and Montagnais to explore the surrounding areas. To the South he discovers lake Champlain. To prove his loyalty to his new allies, he participates in a battle against an Iroquois war party. During the battle, Champlain kills one of their chiefs with his musket. The events of this fateful day will result in a century-long hatred between the French and the Iroquois confederation. Below is a drawing of the battle by Champlain himself.


1610: In the church of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois in France, Champlain marries Hélène Boullé. He is in his thirties and she has just turned 12. The two parties decide that the union will not be consumed until at least two years and perhaps more, "according to the opinion of parents and friends." What Champlain is really interested in is his new wife's dot, a considerable sum of 6000 pounds.

1612: Champlain names Sainte-Hélène island in honour of his young wife. He names the future site of Montréal "Place Royale". A young man named Louis tragically drowns, thus giving his name to both Sault-Saint-Louis and Lake Saint-Louis. Champlain pushes on all the way to the actual position of Ottawa.

1615-16: Champlain spends the winter in Huronie and is injured during a battle with the Iroquois.

1618: Québec is still nothing more than a fur trade outpost, but Champlain now dreams of a great realm in which the Indian and French people would unite into a new nation. He sees Québec as the center of a new French world and an important stop on the road to Asia. He sends a letter to Paris in which he shares this dream and asks that more colonists be sent. Champlain remains convinced that a passage to Asia can be found somewhere at the end of the Great Lakes.

1619: Champlain publishes his travels in Huronie.

1620: Champlain organises the fortifications of Québec whi still only protect 60 people, for the most part workmen and priests.

1627: The cardinal de Richelieu creates the Compagnie des Cent-Associés, with the mission to bring new colonists to Nouvelle-France. Soon after, a few hundred colonists leave forr the New World. But the boats are intercepted by the Kirke brothers who then attack Québec. Threatened by famine, Champlain must capitulate. Québec will be English for three years. The English deport the inhabitants.

1627-1632: Upon returning to France, Champlain learns that the conquest of Québec actually took place after the end of the hostilities between England and France. Champlain begins a judicial battle and even goes to London to ask the help of the French ambassador to save the young colony. Québec is finally restituted to France in 1632 by the treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

1634: The first recruiting lords arrive with their colonists and found the first seigneuries. It is the birth of the first Québécois families.

1635: The father of Nouvelle-France dies on December 25th. He leaves behind him a young colony that now has everything it needs to grow. The foundation of Québec the first successful colonisation attempt by France. Champlain also leaves us his notes, drawings, maps and his published books that are a gold mine of information and help us learn more about the origins of our country.

Statue of Champlain in Québec

Map of Nouvelle-France by Champlain

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