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Home > History > Jacques Cartier Biography

Jacques Cartier Biography

This is a full biography of French explorer Jacques Cartier.
Jacques Cartier Canadian Postage Stamp

Jacques Cartier

Jacques Cartier was born on December 31, 1491 in Saint-Malo, Brittany, which would later become part of France. His career in exploration began in 1524, when he accompanied the Italian-born French explorer Giovanni da Verrazano on his explorations of the Atlantic Coast of Canada and the United States. The experience would prove valuable to Cartier's explorations in the future.

I Know I Found Asia!

In 1534, Cartier was commissioned by the King of France to find the fabled Northwest Passage through the continent of North America to Asia (the Indies). When Cartier reached the New World, he sailed around parts of Newfoundland and parts of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. On July 24, 1534, Cartier planted a cross with the words engraved, "Long Live the King of France" on the shores of Gaspe Bay in Quebec. Cartier claimed the region for France and kidnapped the two sons of an Iroquoian chief. Later in 1534, Cartier returned to France, believing he had found Asia.

The Search for the Northwest Passage

In 1535, Cartier and 112 men (including the two kidnapped natives) left France for their return trip and sailed up the St. Lawrence River to the Iroquoian capital of Stadacona. He reached the location of modern-day Montreal (then called Hochelaga) on October 2, 1535, where rapids prevented him from continuing. Cartier believed the rapids were the last obstacle in his discovery of the Northwest Passage. Today, the town on the banks of the rapids is called Lachine, the French word for China.

Surviving the Winter and Cities of Gold

Cartier and his crew were forced to spend the winter of 1535-1536 at Stadacona, where the snow was four feet deep. In addition, scurvy broke out among members of Cartier's crew, though most were saved by ingesting a native remedy using the boiled bark of a white spruce tree. In early May of 1536, after enduring a brutal winter, Cartier returned to France with an Iroquoian chief who would tell the tale of the Kingdom of Saguenay, a mythical city said to be full of rubies, gold, and other riches.

Paving the Way for New France

In 1540, Cartier returned to the New World as captain general of a colonization project. Nevertheless, Cartier set off with five ships down the St. Lawrence River for the purposes of finding the Kingdom of Saguenay and for starting a permanent settlement on the river. The site of the settlement was chosen near present-day Cap-Rouge, Quebec, and named Charlesbourg-Royal. Despite the forts built at the settlement, and the fact that Cartier's men falsely believed they had discovered diamonds and gold, conditions deteriorated rapidly. The settlers had begun to starve and attacks by nearby Iroquoian Indians resulted in the deaths of at least 35 of them. Cartier abandoned the settlement in 1542, and the entire settlement disbanded by 1543. Cartier returned to France and died of an epidemic in 1557. Although he was unsuccessful in establishing a permanent settlement, Cartier's explorations of the St. Lawrence River opened up the interior of Canada to further French exploration and eventual settlement.

Jacques Cartier Activities

  • Jacques Cartier Reading Comprehension - This resource includes a historical passage and ten multiple choice questions.
  • Dreaming of Saguenay - What is the most amazing placed you've visited? - Based on the Iroquoian explanation of the Kingdom of Saguenay to Jacques Cartier, students must describe and draw the greatest mythical place they have ever experienced in a book, movie, or video game! Very fun and engaging.
  • French Explorers Correct-me Passage - This fun activity requires students to correct a passage about French explorers that has nine factual errors. Students first must discover the errors, then click on them and select the correct answer from the drop down menu.
  • Jacques Cartier Virtual History Teacher - Students play the role of a virtual history teacher and must grade responses to three questions about Jacques Cartier. Each response is incomplete, and students must fill in the missing information in the "response" section. Students can use the Jacques Cartier biography for reference.
  • Jacques Cartier Fact or Fiction - Online - This fun activity requires students to read a Jacques Cartier passage and then, to sort 10 statements into those that are facts and those that are fiction. It gives immediate feedback.
  • Jacques Cartier Fact or Fiction - Printable - This fun activity requires students to read a Jacques Cartier passage and then, to sort 10 statements into those that are facts and those that are fiction.
  • Comparing and Contrasting the Lives fof Cartier and Champlain - This activity requires students to compare and contrast Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain. Students must evaluate ten statements to determine if each is associated with Cartier, Champlain, or both.
  • The Sick Ship - This activity explains common diseases that sailors contracted such as scurvy, yellow fever, cholera, typhoid, and others. It then requires students to play the role of a ship doctor and to diagnose sick sailors based on their symptoms.
  • Scurvy: A Simple, but Elusive Explanation - This activity requires students to write about a modern mystery that they think will be solved by humans in the future - in the same way that the cause of Scurvy was a mystery for hundreds of years.
  • Scurvy Reading Comprehension - Printable - This resource includes a historical passage and seven multiple choice questions.
  • Scurvy Reading Comprehension - Online - This resource includes a historical passage and seven multiple choice questions. It gives immediate feedback. In addition, when you click the "listen" button, you can hear the passage while it highlights the text.
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