The Viking Contact
The Fishery
Early French explorations
The Birth of New France
Huron-Iroquois War



Nearly 60 years separate Cartier and Roberval's first settlement in Canada to the next successful attempt. During these years, French interest in colonizing was severely curtailed by the civil war between Catholics and Protestants in France. Moreover, the disappointing experience of winters in the Saint Lawrence Valley prompted France to seek a place with a milder climate for founding a colony.


In 1555, an attempt sponsored by Admiral Gaspard de Coligny was made to colonize a bay on the coast of Brazil, near present-day Rio de Janeiro. It failed due to severe dissention between the Catholic and Protestant colonists, as well as attacks by the Portuguese. Fort Coligny was abandoned and in 1565, the Portuguese founded Rio de Janeiro. In 1564, another attempt at establishing a French Huguenot colony, once more sponsored by Admiral de Coligny, was made in Florida. The colony was almost immediately lost to Spanish attacks.


The fate of these southern colonies explains that the French withdrew further north for their next attempts, to the area at about 45° latitude, which was not coveted by the Spanish or the Portuguese, and where it could be hoped that  winter would not as be as harsh as on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. As early as 1563, the French founded a trading post in Acadia in the Baie Française (Bay of Fundy), from where a profitable trade in furs was conducted. In the years that followed, the French became very familiar with the area through fishing and conducting the fur trade.


In April 1598, the signing of the Edict of Nantes ended the wars of religion in France, allowing King Henri IV to turn his attention once again to America. By then, the fur trade had become increasingly profitable and the promise of a fur trade monopoly thus became the main engine of French colonization. In 1603, the King named Pierre du Guast, seigneur de Monts, a Protestant gentleman of the King’s Chamber, his lieutenant general in North America and granted him a trade monopoly and jurisdiction over a vast area of land on the Atlantic coast and the St Lawrence, on condition that he establish a colony. Monts and his Catholic assistant Samuel de Champlain chose an island near the Sainte Croix River in the Bay of Fundy, and settled there with 78 colonists. Again the winter was a disaster, despite the help of neighbouring Micmac tribes. Champlain chose a new location that he named Port Royal. The first Jesuit missionaries arrived in 1611. The colony was named Acadia and led a precarious existence, since France and England were at war from 1618 to 1648; as a result the colony was seized three times by the English.


In 1608, Du Guast's monopoly was renewed, thus allowing him to plan another expedition, this time up the Saint Lawrence. The new settlement was also to serve as a trading post with Aboriginal peoples, a base for exploring mineral resources and river or land routes providing access to the “western sea” and to China. The ambitious settlement program had to cover the entire continent. In France, the agent was Pierre Du Guast de Monts, a “gentleman of the King’s Chamber” acquainted with the King and the Court; in America, Champlain applied the terms of the mandate. Champlain sailed from France in April 1608 for the Saint Lawrence and established a settlement in the present site of Quebec. Only 9 out of 25 men survived the first winter in 1608-1609. Champlain controlled the fate of the colony until 1629 when English raiders seized the village, then returned it to France in 1633. He worked to make Quebec an agricultural settlement rather than simply a fur-trading post. Champlain died in the colony in 1635; at the time, the total population was 15







The French territory was in fact under Algonquin and Huron control, and the French obtained their consent for settlement in exchange of an alliance against their Iroquois enemies. The first confrontation took place in 1609, another one in 1615. The French and the Hurons sought to control the fur trade, in opposition to the alliance of the Iroquois with the Dutch merchants.













The French were also interested in spreading Catholicism and thus cementing their alliances with native Americans. The first mission in 1615 was carried on by the Recollets, with little success because of their open contempt of Huron culture. In 1625, the Jesuits began arriving and quickly supplanted the Recollets. They were far more successful because they were more flexible. They learned native languages and lived among the tribes, accepting syncretic religious practices. But it is difficult to know if conversions are authentic or accepted to further trade links. The Jesuits showed remarkable persistence, and even desire for martyrdom, which they found when they tried to convert the Iroquois.