Follow The Rivers


Have you ever thought about the important part that the oceans and rivers played in the exploration and discovery of Canadian lands? From the fishermen who discovered the fishing banks off Newfoundland, to the discovery of Hudson Bay and James Bay, to the exploration of the St. Lawrence, these waterways played key roles in establishing the Dominion of Canada.

Recently, I wanted to understand how Samuel de 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 Indian tribes.

Another interesting piece of information I discovered was the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ which European monarchs used 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. You can view an exhibit of this shield in Lewiston, just across from Niagara Falls on the American side.

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, the Great Lakes, the Ohio River basin and the Mississippi River basin, for France.

In effect, New France stretched virtually from the mouth of the St. Lawrence to New Orleans. Now you know why there was French influence in New Orleans. 

The French-Indian War began when 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 after the British Prime Minister who ordered the capture of that strategic site. You can read the entire account here 

The plaque below is in honour of a French explorer celebrated in Lewiston.


By Pierre5018 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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?

Let us know what you would like to learn more about.

Most footprints made on the sands of time were made with WORK shoes.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Shopping Cart