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European Contact: 985-1600, Search for the Northwest Passage

Martin Frobisher, Davis Strait, King Francis, Stadacona, Baffin Island

Later in the 15th century, Europe’s seafarers began extending the range of their voyages. John Cabot, an Italian in the service of England, renewed contact with northern North America when he sailed to Newfoundland in 1497. Cabot sought a Northwest Passage, a westward sea route to the wealthy empires known to exist in Asia. He was soon followed by Portuguese and other explorers who were seeking a water route to Asia through or around North America. In 1576 Martin Frobisher sailed to Baffin Island. In 1585 John Davis found and named Davis Strait. In 1610 Henry Hudson sailed into Hudson Bay. Hudson was marooned there by his mutinous crew, and Sir Thomas Button’s unsuccessful search for him (1612-1613) confirmed that there was no western exit from the bay. Well into the 18th century, however, hopeful explorers looked for navigable rivers that might form a water route if connected by short portages. All of these explorations helped to map Canada and bring its natural resources to the attention of people in Europe.

In 1534 King Francis I of France dispatched explorer Jacques Cartier to seek empires similar to the wealthy ones Spain had recently conquered in Mexico. Cartier explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but he found no such empires. In 1535 he traveled the St. Lawrence River as far as the Iroquoian town of Hochelaga (the present site of Montreal) and confirmed that the river offered no sea route to Asia. Cartier’s men spent the winter at Stadacona, an Iroquoian village where Quebec City now stands. Cartier brought back a name for the country, Canada, which seems to mean “village.” In 1541 he led a larger colonization venture that was also unsuccessful.

Article key phrases:

Martin Frobisher, Davis Strait, King Francis, Stadacona, Baffin Island, John Cabot, Henry Hudson, navigable rivers, Northwest Passage, Lawrence River, Hudson Bay, voyages, sea route, John Davis, Quebec City, Gulf of, explorations, Newfoundland, century, natural resources, Portuguese, winter, Italian, Mexico, Canada, Asia, range, country


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