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Samuel de Champlain's Voyages
Volume II, Part XXII, Chapter V
The Voyages to the great river St. Lawrence...

The Journals of the intrepid French explorer who was the first European to discover Lake Champlain

This is the twenty-second in a continuing series of entries from the Voyages of Samuel de Champlain, first published in 1613. To view Part I, click here. For Champlain's account of the discovery of the lake that bears his name, click here...

Original translation from the French by Charles Pomeroy Otis, Ph.D. Republished by the Prince Society, Boston: 1878.

The voyages to the great river St. Lawrence, 
made by Sieur de Champlain,
Captain in ordinary to the King in the Marine, 
from the year 1608 to that of 1612



On the 1st of October, I had some wheat sown, and on the 15th some rye. On the 3d, there was a white frost in some places, and the leaves of the trees began to fall on the 15th. On the 24th, I had some native vines set out, which flourished very well. But, after leaving the settlement to go to France, they were all spoiled from lack of attention, at which I was much troubled on my return. On the 18th of November, there was a great fall of snow, which remained only two days on the ground, during which time there was a violent gale of wind. There died during this month a sailor and our locksmith [319] of dysentery, so also many Indians from eating eels badly cooked, as I think. On the 5th of February, it snowed violently, and the wind was high for two days. On the 20th, some Indians appeared on the other side of the river, calling to us to go to their assistance, which was beyond our power, on account of the large amount of ice drifting in the river. Hunger pressed upon these poor wretches so severely that, not knowing what to do, they resolved, men, women, and children, to cross the river or die, hoping that I should assist them in their extreme want. Having accordingly made this resolve, the men and women took the children and embarked in their canoes, thinking that they could reach our shore by an opening in the ice made by the wind; but they were scarcely in the middle of the stream when their canoes were caught by the ice and broken into a thousand pieces. But they were skilful enough to throw themselves with the children, which the women carried on their backs, on a large piece of ice. As they were on it, we heard them crying out so that it excited intense pity, as before them there seemed nothing but death. But fortune was so favorable to these poor wretches that a large piece of ice struck against the side of that on which they were, so violently as to drive them ashore. On seeing this favorable turn, they reached the shore with as much delight as they ever experienced, notwithstanding the great hunger from which they were suffering. They proceeded to our abode, so thin and haggard that they seemed like mere skeletons, most of them not being able to hold themselves up. I was astonished to see them, and observe the manner in which they had crossed, in view of their being so feeble and weak. I ordered some bread and beans to be given them. So great was their impatience to eat them, that they could not wait to have them cooked. I lent them also some bark, which other savages had given me, to cover their cabins. As they were making their cabin, they discovered a piece of carrion, which I had had thrown out nearly two months before to attract the foxes, of which we caught black and red ones, like those in France, but with heavier fur. This carrion consisted of a sow and a dog, which had sustained all the rigors of the weather, hot and cold. When the weather was mild, it stank so badly that one could not go near it. Yet they seized it and carried it off to their cabin, where they forthwith devoured it half cooked. No meat ever seemed to them to taste better. I sent two or three men to warn them not to eat it, unless they wanted to die: as they approached their cabin, they smelt such a stench from this carrion half warmed up, each one of the Indians holding a piece in his hand, that they thought they should disgorge, and accordingly scarcely stopped at all. These poor wretches finished their repast. I did not fail, however, to supply them according to my resources; but this was little, in view of the large number of them. In the space of a month, they would have eaten up all our provisions, if they had had them in their power, they are so gluttonous: for, when they have edibles, they lay nothing aside, but keep consuming them day and night without respite, afterwards dying of hunger. They did also another thing as disgusting as that just mentioned. I had caused a bitch to be placed on the top of a tree, which allured the martens [320] and birds of prey, from which I derived pleasure, since generally this carrion was attacked by them. These savages went to the tree, and, being too weak to climb it, cut it down and forthwith took away the dog, which was only skin and bones, the tainted head emitting a stench, but which was at once devoured.

This is the kind of enjoyment they experience for the most part in winter; for in summer they are able to support themselves, and to obtain provisions so as not to be assailed by such extreme hunger, the rivers abounding in fish, while birds and wild animals fill the country about. The soil is very good and well adapted for tillage, if they would but take pains to plant Indian corn, as all their neighbors do, the Algonquins, Ochastaiguins, [321] and Iroquois, who are not attacked by such extremes of hunger, which they provide against by their carefulness and foresight, so that they live happily in comparison with the Montagnais, Canadians, and Souriquois along the seacoast. This is in the main their wretched manner of life. The show and ice last three months there, from January to the 8th of April, when it is nearly all melted: at the latest, it is only seldom that any is seen at the end of the latter month at our settlement. It is remarkable that so much snow and ice as there is on the river, and which is from two to three fathoms thick, is all melted in less than twelve days. From Tadoussac to Gaspé, Cape Breton, Newfoundland, and the Great Bay, the snow and ice continue in most places until the end of May, at which time the entire entrance of the great river is sealed with ice; although at Quebec there is none at all, showing a strange difference for one hundred and twenty leagues in longitude, for the entrance to the river is in latitude 49° 50' to 51°, and our settlement [322] in 46° 40'.


310. The river St. Charles flows from a lake in the interior of the same name. It was called by the Montagnais, according to Sagard as cited by Laverdière, _in loco_, "Cabirecoubat, because it turns and forms several points." Cartier named it the Holy Cross, or St. Croix, because he says he arrived there "that day;" that is, the day on which the exaltation of the Cross is celebrated, the 14th of September, 1535.--_Vide Cartier_, Hakluyt, Vol. III. p. 266. The Récollects gave it the name of St. Charles, after the grand vicar of Pontoise, Charles des Boues.--_Laverdière, in loco_. Jacques Cartier wintered on the north shore of the St. Charles, which he called the St. Croix, or the Holy Cross, about a league from Quebec. "Hard by, there is, in that river, one place very narrow, deep, and swift running, but it is not passing the third part of a league, over against the which there is a goodly high piece of land, with a towne therein: and the country about it is very well tilled and wrought, and as good as possibly can be seene. This is the place and abode of Donnacona, and of our two men we took in our first voyage, it is called Stadacona ... under which towne toward the North the river and port of the holy crosse is, where we staied from the 15 of September until the 16 of May, 1536, and there our ships remained dry as we said before."--_Vide Jacques Cartier, Second Voyage_, Hakluyt, Vol. III. p. 277.

311. The spot where Jacques Cartier wintered was at the junction of the river Lairet and the St. Charles.

312. Cartier discovered the Isle of Coudres, that is, the isle of filberts or hazel-nuts, on the 6th of September, 1535.--_Vide Cartier_, 1545, D'Avezac ed., Paris, 1863, p. 12. This island is five nautical miles long, which agrees with the statement of Champlain, and its greatest width, is two miles and a quarter.

313. Notre Dame Day, _iour de nostre dame_, should read "Notre Dame Eve." Cartier says, "Le septiesme iour dudict moys iour nostre-dame_," etc.--_Idem_, p. 12. Hakluyt renders it, "The seventh of the moneth being our Ladees even."--Vol. III. p. 265.

314. As Champlain suggests, these islands are only three leagues higher up the river; but, as they are on the opposite side, they could not be compassed in much less than seven or eight leagues, as Cartier estimates.

315. This was an error in transcribing. Cartier has Stadacone.--_Vide Brief Récit_, 1545, D'Avezac ed., p. 14.

316. The distance, according to Laurie's Chart, is at least twenty-six nautical miles.

317. Canada at this time was regarded by the Indians as a limited territory, situated at or about Quebec. This statement is confirmed by the testimony of Cartier: "Ledict Donnacona pria nostre cappitaine de aller le lendemain veoir Canada, Ce que luy promist le dist cappitaine. Et le lendemam, 13. iour du diet moys, ledict cappitaine auecques ses gentilz homines accompaigne de cinquante compaignons bien en ordre, allerèt veoir ledict Donnacona & son peuple, qui est distàt dou estoient lesdictes nauires d'une lieue."--_Vide Brief Récit_, 1545, D'Avezac ed., p. 29. Of the above the following is Hakluyt's translation: "Donnacona their Lord desired our Captaine the next day to come and see Canada, which he promised to doe: for the next day being the 13 of the moneth, he with all his Gentlemen and fiftie Mariners very well appointed, went to visite Donnacona and his people, about a league from our ships."

Their ships were at this time at St. Croix, a short distance up the St. Charles, which flows into the St. Lawrence at Quebec; and the little Indian village, or camp, which Donnacona called Canada, was at Quebec. Other passages from Cartier, as well as from Jean Alfonse, harmonize with this which we have cited. Canada was therefore in Cartier's time only the name of a very small territory covered by an Indian village. When it became the centre of French interests, it assumed a wider meaning. The St. Lawrence was often called the River of Canada, then the territory on its shores, and finally Canada has come to comprehend the vast British possessions in America known as the "Dominion of Canada."

318. The locality of Cartier's winter-quarters is established by Champlain with the certainty of an historical demonstration, and yet there are to be found those whose judgment is so warped by preconceived opinion that they resist the overwhelming testimony which he brings to bear upon the subject. Charlevoix makes the St. Croix of Cartier the Rivière de Jacques Cartier.--_Vide Shea's Charlevoix_, Vol. I. p. 116.

319. Unless they had more than one locksmith, this must have been Antoine Natel.--_Vide antea_, p. 178.

320. _Martres_. The common weasel, _Musltla vulgaris_.

321. _Ochastaiguins_. This, says Laverdière, is what Champlain first called the Hurons, from the name of Ochateguin, one of their chiefs. Huron was a nickname: the proper name of this tribe was Wendot or Wyandot. They occupied the eastern bank of Lake Huron and the southern shores of the Georgian Bay. The knowledge of the several tribes here referred to had been obtained by Champlain, partly from his own observation and partly from the Indians. The Algommequins or Algonquins, known at this time to Champlain, were from the region of the Ottawa. The Yroquois or Iroquois dwelt south of the St. Lawrence in the State of New York, and comprised what are generally known as the Five Nations. The Montagnais or Montaignets had their great trading-post at Tadoussac, and roamed over a vast territory north and east of that point, and west of it as far as the mountains that separate the waters of the Saguenay and those of the Ottawa. The name was given to them by the French from this mountain range. The Canadians were those about the neighborhood of Quebec. The Souriquois were of Nova Scotia, and subsequently known as Micmacs. Of most of these different tribes, Champlain could speak from personal knowledge.

322. Laverdière gives the exact latitude of Quebec at the Observatory, on the authority of Captain Bayfield, as 46° 49' 8".

This is the conclusion of Volume II, Part XXII, Chapter 5 of Voyages
Click here for Voyages, Volume II, Part XXIII, Chapter 6

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Samuel de Champlain. 1567-1635. "Voyages of Samuel de Champlain" Edited by Edmund F. Slafter, (Boston: Prince Society 1878)

Samuel de Champlain image: Warwick Stevens Carpenter. The Summer Paradise in History. Albany: General Passenger Department, The Delaware and Hudson Company. 1914. Courtesy of John and Barbara Gallagher.

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