Jacques Cartier is the adventurer who is often credited with discovering Canada. He was the first European to locate the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence River, and was the first to venture deep into the northern wilderness of the North American continent. The accounts he made of his journeys became the basis for the first maps of the area. Those maps opened the major routes followed by later French explorers into Canada.
Born in the port of Saint-Malo, in the French province of Brittany in 1491, Cartier began his seafaring career with a number of voyages to Brazil, Newfoundland and perhaps even to America as a member of Giovanni da Verrazzano's crew in the 1520s. His first recorded journey, however, was his expedition to the New World in 1534. He received command of the voyage after the bishop of Saint-Malo recommended Cartier to King François I. Cartier set sail with two ships and five dozen men in April 1534. Their mission was to find gold and other valuable minerals. Less than three weeks after they left Saint-Malo, Cartier's ships reached Newfoundland at a point only 11 miles (17.7 km) from their set destination. They continued south to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, recording the first European accounts of many sites along the way, including Prince Edward and Anticosti islands, and the Bay of Gaspe. Although he was near the St. Lawrence River, Cartier either didn't reach it or missed it due to poor weather conditions. He returned from his six-month journey to a hero's welcome in Saint-Malo.
With the success of the 1534 voyage, Cartier embarked on another expedition in the spring of 1535. He took three ships this time, along with a full crew plus two Native Americans he had brought back with him to France on his previous voyage. The Native Americans, who had learned the French language during their stay overseas, served as interpreters for Cartier on his 1535 visit. With information garnered from the Native Americans, Cartier was able to locate the St. Lawrence estuary and by September to travel up the river to a village named Stadacona, located at the present-day Quebec. A month later, by longboat rather than in his sailing ship, he arrived in a village named Hochelaga. Cartier named the hill near the village Mont Réal. The area is now known as the major Canadian city of Montreal.
Cartier set sail for his next voyage to the New World in 1541. He served as chief pilot for the expedition under Jean François de la Rocque de Roberval, who commanded the eight-ship, 1,500-man voyage. Cartier's ship arrived in Canada early and overwintered apart from the other ships north of Quebec. Cartier rejoined Roberval in June, but disobeyed Roberval's orders to return to Quebec and instead made his way back to France. There, Cartier lived the rest of his life outside Saint-Malo. He died on September 1, 1557.