Jacques Cartier, navigator (b at St-Malo, France, between 7 June and 23 Dec 1491; d there 1 Sept 1557). Cartier led 3 voyages of exploration to the St Lawrence region in 1534, 1535-36 and 1541-42. He is usually credited with discovering Canada, meaning the small region of Québec he named Canada during his 1535 voyage. He was the first explorer of the Gulf of St Lawrence and certainly the first to chart the ST LAWRENCE RIVER, the discovery of which in 1535 enabled France to occupy the interior of N America. From remarks in the travel accounts credited to him, it would seem that Cartier's career began with voyages to Brazil. He probably accompanied Giovanni da VERRAZZANO to America in 1524 and 1528, and certainly came to Newfoundland before 1534, since the stated destination of his first official voyage was the "Baie des Châteaux" (Str of Belle Île), and he sailed there directly as if it were familiar to him.
Charged by François I to look for gold in the New World and a passage to Asia, Cartier set off from St-Malo 20 Apr 1534 with 2 ships and 61 men. He arrived off Newfoundland 20 days later. Searching for a passage through the continent, he explored areas that were already known, freely assigning names to the N coast of the Gulf of ST LAWRENCE. He sailed along the W coast of Newfoundland and reached Cabot Str. On June 26 he reached the Îles de la Madeleine and on June 29 discovered Prince Edward Island. He searched vainly for a passage, entering Baie de Chaleur and Baie de Gaspé, where he made contact with a group of Iroquoians who had come there to hunt seal. He raised a cross on July 24, bearing the arms of France. The meaning was clear to the Iroquoian chief DONNACONA, who protested but later relented and allowed Cartier to leave with 2 of his sons. Cartier sailed N to Île d'Anticosti (missing the opening to the river), thence to Newfoundland, and on Aug 15 headed home, arriving at St-Malo 5 Sept 1534.
The larger 1535 expedition had 3 ships, Grande Hermine, Petite Hermine and Émérillon, and a crew of 110. Cartier left St-Malo 19 May 1535 and reached the Gulf after a long 50-day crossing and on Aug 13, led by his 2 Indian guides, entered the river which was called Rivière du Canada, and which was renamed St Lawrence early in the 1600s. He sailed upriver to STADACONA [Québec], which he reached on Sept 7.
Against Donnacona's wishes, Cartier set out Sept 19 to explore the river farther, reaching HOCHELAGA [Montréal] on Oct 2. On his return to Stadacona he found that relations with the natives were strained. The effect of a severe winter was made more tragic by SCURVY, which claimed 25 lives among the French. On 6 May 1536 he left for France with some captured Iroquoians, including Donnacona, arriving July 16. Cartier's reports, supported by Donnacona, of a golden "Kingdom of Saguenay," led to a third voyage.
Cartier made ready, but on 15 Jan 1541 Jean-François de la Rocque, sieur de ROBERVAL received a commission placing him, not Cartier, at the head of the expedition to colonize the St Lawrence. Cartier put to sea first, on May 23, with 5 ships and a crew of some 1500. He reappeared before Stadacona on 23 Aug 1541, announced Donnacona's death, and set up at the western tip of Cap Diamant [Cap Rouge]. He made another trip to Hochelaga and again found himself at odds with the inhabitants of Stadacona, who kept the French under constant siege. Convinced that he had found diamonds and gold among the rocks, Cartier struck camp in June 1542. He met Roberval in the harbour of St John's, Nfld, and was ordered to return to Stadacona, but slipped away under cover of darkness and headed for France. The "gold" proved to be only iron pyrite and the "diamonds," worthless quartz. It is not known if Cartier was reprimanded but he was not entrusted with another long-range expedition. He retired to his manor at Limoilu and died at age 66. Cartier deserves mention among the great explorers of the 16th century. He discovered one of the world's great rivers, which was to become the axis of French power in N America.