Canada would indeed not exist without the courage and persistance of a few intrepid souls. From the explorers Cabot and Cartier to Samuel de Champlain, founder of Quebec, who himself went to the great Richelieu for help in establishing the foundling colony. The Canada that my ancestors came to was hardly different than it had been for hundreds of years. It was primarily inhabited by aboriginal peoples who had migrated here following the melting glaciers. As they came, they developed means of survival appropriate to their surroundings, fishing on the coasts, hunting first the giant mammoths and then the bison on the prairies, learning to cultivate corn in the east. Among them trade networks developed and wars were fought.
When explorers and fishermen sailed from Europe to Canada, they brought disease with them, measles, tuberculosis and smallpox which soon decimated the aboriginal populations. Rats poured off the ships and the seeds of foreign plants were carried in on the bottoms of shoes. In 1603, Champlain arrived at Stadacona, later to be called Quebec and set up a small fort. The men soon got scurvy but were helped by the Montagnais, who brought them pine tea to drink. They also brought furs to trade which would keep the little company going. Champlain embraced the aboriginal way of life and was soon going with them on their travels. As he travelled he drew maps and pictures of what he saw.
In 1615, he travelled 1000 miles to the home of the Huron people. What he saw surprised him, the Huron people were farmers and they were settled. They grew squash, corn, beans and tobacco which they traded along the lakes and rivers of northern Ontario and Quebec. The Huron homeland was on a small peninsula on Georgian Bay, in Lake Huron where more than 20,000 people lived. This was the Huron Confederacy, a nation of matriarchal tribes. The women chose the chiefs.
The enemies of the Huron were the Iroquois which means “rattlesnake”, a name given them by the Huron. They called themselves the People of the Longhouse. The Iroquois spoke the same language and lived the same lifestyle but were age-old enemies. Since the French had arrived they were fighting for control of the fur trade routes. Atironta, the Huron war leader, had asked Champlain to fight alongside the Hurons to which he agreed since the colony was dependent on the furs brought to them. The attack failed and Champlain was wounded in the knee but the French were now Huron allies. At the same time, Catholic missionaries started to come to Huron country looking for conversions, among them, Jean de Brebeuf.
Champlain was determined to make New France a permanent settlement believing it would bring wealth and honor to his King and country. Soon labourers, artisans and farmers began to arrive, among them Louis and Marie Hebert, the first settlers of Quebec. A sailor named Abraham Martin also arrived in 1620 and farmed where the Plains of Abraham stand. Soon, religious orders began to arrive, the Ursuline teaching nuns and Paul de Maissoneuve founder of Ville Marie, to whom my ancestors would be connected.
Champlain for his part was kept very busy up to his death in 1635, he was continually sailing back and forth to France looking for support from the King or to publish his books. His marriage to Helene Boullé, 31 years his junior had been made mainly to gain him respectability. She spent most of her life in France, spending only 4 years in Quebec after which she entered a convent. Champlain became known as the Father of New France.
If your are interested in how the Woodland people lived you can watch this film.