20 April

Jacques Cartier at Gaspé, 1534

Cartier Makes His First Voyage to Canada

April 20, 1534, marked the beginning of Jacques Cartier's first historic voyage to Canada. He made the crossing to Bonavista, Newfoundland, in die incredible time of twenty days.

After an overhaul, Cartier took his ships northward along the cast coast of Newfoundland to the Strait of Belle Isle, which had already been named by French fishermen. He explored the strait which he hoped was the beginning of a river leading to China. He knew from the movement of the water that there must be a great river ahead.

After exploring the Labrador coast in small boats, Cartier became discouraged. The land was so desolate and poor that he wrote in his diary: "I believe that this was the land God allotted to Cain." Along here he saw natives for the first time and wrote that they tied their hair on top of their heads like wreaths of hay!

Cartier made his way along the west coast of Newfoundland which he saw only occasionally through the fog. Gradually, the country improved, especially along the north shore which is now Prince Edward Island. He was still hoping to find the route to Cathay (China) and was fired with hope when he sailed into a deep inlet in the Gaspé. The inlet opened out into a bay which he named "Chaleur", the French word for "heat". The weather was so hot that Cartier expected to find figs growing there.

When Cartier landed he was greeted by the natives who sang, danced and waded out into the water. The French raised a huge wooden cross on the shore, and nailed a shield on it, with a crest bearing the fleurs-de-lis and the words, "Vive le Roy de France." A monument was erected there 400 years later.

Although it was only July, Cartier felt that he should hurry back to France before winter came. He persuaded an Indian chief to let him take two of his sons, promising to bring them back the next year. Cartier, in return, gave the natives all the presents he could, especially shirts, red caps and other clothing.

One of the most valuable features of the exploit was the careful diary Cartier kept, in his own writing. It is one of the world's truly historic documents.


20 April

-1769    Chief Pontiac was murdered at the present site of St. Louis, Missouri.

-1808    Explorer David Thompson tried to discover the route of the Columbia River from British Columbia into the State of Washington.

-1864    Frederick Seymour arrived to be Governor of British Columbia (mainland). 1907 Port Arthur and Fort William were incorporated as cities.

-1918    Men from eighteen to twenty-two years of age were called to military service.

-1941    Prime Minister Mackenzie King and President Roosevelt signed the Hyde Park declaration of joint defense and economic co-operation.