The Mystery of Champlain
Sunday March 7 at 5:30 on CBC-TV
Samuel de Champlain lived his life with his eyes on the horizon. He never wanted to be the second person to see what lay beyond it.
We think we know him well - the founder of Québec City, a daring adventurer, a meticulous mapmaker and a great explorer. But in fact his life is as big a mystery as this country was when he first landed. Was he a commoner with uncommon ambitions? Was he illegitimate royalty? Or was he a spy? Whoever he was, Champlain was not the man we think we know.
On the 400th anniversary of the founding of Québec City, we asked a range of experts and historians for their impressions of Champlain.
Key Events in Champlain's Life
Circa 1567The French town of Brouage is now one kilometre inland from the sea.
Samuel de Champlain is born in Brouage, France - a port city on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. His father, Antoine Champlain was a navy captain and it's believed that the family was Protestant.
Champlain is employed in the royal army. Champlain is a 'fourrier' - an officer responsible for lodging troops in Brittany, France. Like the King of France, it's likely that Champlain has converted to Catholicism.
Champlain heads to Port-Louis to meet up with his uncle, Guillaume Allene, one of France's best seamen. They head for Spain and by the summer arrive in Cadiz, Spain's main Atlantic port. There he joins a Spanish armada heading to the West Indies, but he leaves his uncle behind.
1598 - 1600
Champlain tours the Spanish Caribbean. During that time it is presumed he is working for the King of France, Henry IV.It was believed that this was a portrait of the real Champlain, but it was later discovered that the man depicted is in fact a little-known financial officer.
Credit: Musée de la civilisation - Centre de référence de l'Amérique francaise
Champlain returns to Paris. He reports to the King and is put on the royal payroll. His report is called A Brief Discourse of the Most Remarkable Things that Samuel Champlain of Brouage Reconnoitered in the West Indies. Three known copies of the report exist, all of which are different and none of which are written in Champlain's handwriting.
The court hears of other journeys to New France where a huge waterway exists going into the interior of the continent. Could this be a western route to China? Champlain is asked to sail to New France and investigate.
1603Champlain's second book on the new world.
After a 71 day crossing, Samuel de Champlain enter the St. Lawrence River. Champlain explores the territory and questions its inhabitants. He heads west hoping to find a passage to China, he is stopped dead by the Lachine rapids.
He returns to France and publishes a book called Des Sauvages.
In the spring Champlain makes a second voyage to New France, this time to Acadia. He travels with Pierre Du Gua de Mons who wants to set up a trading post. After three hard years, during which many of their crew members die, the money runs out and the pair are forced to return to France.
In the spring, Champlain sails for New France again. On July 3, he finds a flat stretch of shoreline overlooked by a cliff on the St. Lawrence River. He chooses this spot to establish a trading post, the origins of Québec City. Champlain heads inland to assess the territory's commercial value.Champlain's detailed maps of New France paved the way for colonization later.
King Henry is assassinated, putting an end to Champlain's privileges at the royal court.
Champlain marries into a wealthy and influential family. The marriage means an inflow of cash and it secures a new entry into court.
Champlain makes several crossings over the Atlantic to New France. During that time he's involved with the trading post of Québec. He gets beyond the Lachine rapids in a canoe and travels into the Great Lakes. He takes precise notes and draws accurate maps of the area. See one of Champlain's maps.
His wife, Hélene joins him in 1620 but leaves after only four years. The couple have no children.
Champlain continues to write and publishes three more books about New France. He records every detail about the land and it's inhabitants, but includes nothing about himself.
1629Champlain's signiture on a document.
Québec falls to the British.
For three years, Champlain negotiates fiercely for Québec's return to the French. In 1632 finally he succeeds and sets sail for his final voyage across the Atlantic.
On December 25, Samuel de Champlain dies in Québec surrounded by the Jesuits who had become a guiding force in his life. He bequeathed them half of his possessions in New France.
The governor's chapel, where Champlain body has been interred, burns to the ground. His coffin is recovered and moved to a safe place. Records which document the new location are lost and for the last 150 years, no effort is spared to find the tomb.
The body's location remains a great Canadian mystery.
1898One of the many statues erected in Champlain's honour.
A statue of Samuel de Champlain is erected on the Dufferin Terrace in Québec. He becomes part of a movement to create a historiography of New France and is recognized as one of it's founding fathers.