Follow The Rivers

Have you ever thought about the important part that oceans and rivers played in the exploration and discovery of Canadian lands?

First Contact

Fishermen from Europe (France, Portugal, Holland and England) discovered the fishing banks off Newfoundland.
That led to them hanging out on the beaches of Acadia to dry and salt their fish on the beach, which further led to them interacting with the Indigenous peoples while drying their fish on the shores.
The natives observed with much curiousity the ‘strange’ tools which the fishermen used. They liked the ‘new technology’ which was very desirable to them. This is how the natives were first introduced to trade and consumerism. They offered pelts in exchange for pots, plates, knives… and more to their detriment, guns and alcohol or ‘fire water’.
And so, almost accidentally, the Fur Trade began.


Explorers in Canada

That early development of the Fur Trade and the race between the French and the Spanish to ‘discover’ the New World, influenced Cartier’s arrival and interaction with the Mi’kmaq tribes living in what is now Labrador, New Brunswick and eventually on the the St. Lawrence.
Fifty years later, Champlain explored further along the St. Lawrence to  discover the Ottawa River, the Mattawa River and the French River, which opened up the route for the Fur Trade in Western Canada.
The exploration of the St. Lawrence River and these waterways played a key role in establishing the Dominion of Canada.
As a direct result of Groseillier and Radisson’s discovery of the Hudson Bay as a trading opportunity with the Indigenous peoples, the Hudson Bay Company was established and the parameters of Rupert’s Land was decided (to enable the Hudson Bay Company to trade with the Natives).

Expansion of New France

In cooperation with the Natives, Champlain discovered the Great Lakes. That discovery was expanded upon, to the reaches of New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi River by Rene-Robert Chevalier, Sieur of La Salle. New France, based on the Doctrine of Discovery, once spanned an area from the Hudson Bay to the mouth of the Mississippi (New Orleans) in the Gulf of Mexico. Now you know why New Orleans has such a French influence.
Recently, I wanted to understand how Samuel Champlain was able to claim so much land for New France. I pulled up Google maps and followed the rivers and lakes. It is a time-consuming venture on which to embark, even with modern technology.
But Champlain patiently traversed the land and mapped out rivers and lakes with the help of the Native tribes.


Doctrine of Discovery

Another interesting piece of information I discovered was the meaning of the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’. European monarchs used this principle to claim land ‘discovered’ by their representatives – land that was inhabited by the Natives.
This doctrine was actually first implemented by the kingdoms of Portugal and Spain who were the leaders in navigation, shipbuilding and exploration. When lands were ‘discovered’ on behalf of the king, small shields were nailed into trees along the rivers and lakes as claims of ownership.
I did not understand how this worked until I visited Lewiston a few years ago, just across from Niagara Falls on the American side, and saw the exhibit of this shield below.

This shield states:
La Salle (1643-1687). Cleric. Soldier. Explorer.
Here at the mouth of the Niagara, Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle raised the first rude palisades of a fort and from this base began his far voyaging in exploration of mid-America – the Ohio, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. Author of great beginnings. Dreamer of dreams. Through his sufferings, courage and endurance came Christianity and civilization.
You can read what Wikipedia has to say about him here. 
With the help of Google Maps, it is easy to trace this voyage, first from Montreal to New York travelling along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, and next to his second landing at the mouth of the Mississippi.

The Doctrine of Discovery stated in essence: The first monarch to claim the estuary of a river also claimed all the tributaries and lakes flowing into the river. 
Because the Natives could portage from one river to the next, Champlain was able to claim all the rivers flowing into the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes for France, while La Salle was able to claim the Ohio River basin and the Mississippi River basin, for France.


French-Indian War

In the French-Indian War, the French fled from the advancing 6000 British army, which was sent to drive them out of the Ohio Valley. After a few battles and recognizing that they were outnumbered, the French abandoned Fort Duquesne after setting it on fire. It was renamed Fort Pitt in honour of the British Prime Minister who ordered the capture of that strategic site. You can read the entire account here. 

Make It Personal:

  • Can you map a route from the mouth of the St. Lawrence to New Orleans?
  • What do you know about Portugal’s role in ‘discovering’ the New World?
  • Did you hear about the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ before?
If you would like to tell us which areas of history you would like to hear about, then take a few minutes to answer this survey

My Personal Reflection

This past week, I was listening to Acts 17 and heard this:
“He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God…” – Acts 17:25-26.
And I thought about the argument that the colonizers ‘took’ the natives’ land. There is so much that I have learnt from eye-witness accounts, that this topic needs time, patience and a Biblical (not denominational) worldview to comprehend and express from God’s perspective.
All that we communicate from ChristianRoots Canada, is written from the perspective the God is Sovereign and He sets up and brings down nations (see Daniel Chapter 2).
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Author’s Note; Lynette is the owner of ChristianRoots Canada. Blogger. Publisher. Course Creator. Passionate about Canadian History from the perspective of God’s Providence. 
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