This Day In History: May 10

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On May 10, 1534, French navigator Jacques Cartier becomes the first European explorer to encounter the eastern coast of Canada, as he enters the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the present-day province of Quebec. In the first of his three expeditions to Canada, he would circumnavigate the Gulf and explore the coasts of Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, ultimately claiming them for France.

In 1534, Cartier was commissioned by King Francis I of France to explore the northern American lands in search of riches and the rumored Northwest Passage to Asia. Leaving France on April 20, he entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence by the Strait of Belle Isle, explored its barren north coast for a distance, and then traveled down the west shore of Newfoundland to Cape Anguille, arriving on May 10. From there, he sailed around Magdalen and Prince Edward islands, explored Chaleur Bay and claimed Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula for France. He then discovered the mouth of the St. Lawrence River north of Anticosti Island, but forbidding winds and unfavorable tides prevented his ship from entering. With winter approaching, he returned to Europe.

Cartier’s discoveries of the fertile lands around the Gulf of St. Lawrence, previously thought to be a barren and inhospitable region, inspired Francis I to dispatch him on a second expedition in 1535. On this voyage, he entered the St. Lawrence River, believing it to be the northwest passage he sought, and sailed to the native village of Hochelaga, site of the modern-day city of Montreal. On his return voyage to France, he explored Cabot Strait along the southern coast of Newfoundland. Cartier led a final expedition to the region in 1541, as part of an unsuccessful colonization effort. His extensive geographical discoveries formed the basis of France’s claims to the rich St. Lawrence Valley in the 17th century.

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