When Europeans explored Canada they found all regions occupied by native peoples they called Indians, because the first explorers thought they had reached the East Indies. The native people lived off the land, some by hunting and gathering, others by raising crops.
The Huron-Wendat of the Great Lakes region, like the Iroquois, were farmers and hunters. The Cree and Dene of the Northwest were hunter-gatherers. The Sioux were nomadic, following the bison (buffalo) herd. The Inuit lived off Arctic wildlife. West Coast natives preserved fish by drying and smoking. Warfare was common among Aboriginal groups as they competed for land, resources and prestige.
The arrival of European traders, missionaries, soldiers and colonists changed the native way of life forever. Large numbers of Aboriginals died of European diseases to which they lacked immunity. However, Aboriginals and Europeans formed strong economic, religious and military bonds in the first 200 years of coexistence which laid the foundations of Canada.
The First Europeans
The Vikings from Iceland who colonized Greenland 1,000 years ago also reached Labrador and the island of Newfoundland. The remains of their settlement, l’Anse aux Meadows, are a World Heritage site.
European exploration began in earnest in 1497 with the expedition of John Cabot, who was the first to draw a map of Canada’s East Coast.
John Cabot, an Italian immigrant to England, was the first to map Canada’s Atlantic shore,
setting foot on Newfoundland or Cape Breton Island in 1497 and claiming the
Exploring a River, Naming Canada
Between 1534 and 1542, Jacques Cartier made three voyages across the Atlantic, claiming the land for King Francis I of France. Cartier heard two captured guides speak the Iroquoian word kanata, meaning “village.” By the 1550s, the name of Canada began appearing on maps.
Royal New France
In 1604, the first European settlement north of Florida was established by French explorers Pierre de Monts and Samuel de Champlain, first on St. Croix Island (in present-day Maine), then at Port-Royal, in Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia). In 1608 Champlain built a fortress at what is now Québec City. The colonists struggled against a harsh climate. Champlain allied the colony with the Algonquin, Montagnais, and Huron, historic enemies of the Iroquois, a confederation of five (later six) First Nations who battled with the French settlements for a century. The French and the Iroquois made peace in 1701.
The French and Aboriginal people collaborated in the vast fur-trade economy, driven by the demand for beaver pelts in Europe. Outstanding leaders like Jean Talon, Bishop Laval, and Count Frontenac built a French Empire in North America that reached from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.
New Founde Land for England. English settlement did not begin until 1610
Count Frontenac refused to surrender Quebec to the English in 1690, saying: “My only reply will be from the mouths of my cannons!” Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville, was a great hero of New France, winning many victories over the English, from James Bay in the north to Nevis in the Caribbean, in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
Sir Guy Carleton (Lord Dorchester), as Governor of Quebec, defended the rights of the Canadiens, defeated an American military invasion of Quebec in 1775, and supervised the Loyalist migration to Nova Scotia and Quebec in 1782-83.