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New France

When you study French in France, you learn about Charlemagne, the Hundred Years War, Joan of Arc, the Bourbon dynasty, Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette, the French Revolution, Versailles, and Napoleon Bonaparte.

When you study French in Quebec, you learn about the explorers Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain, as well as the Alqonquins, the Montagnais, and the Iroquois. You learn about the King’s Daughters, the fur trade, the French and Indian War, the conquest of New France by the British, General James Wolfe, and General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm.

US readers may remember learning about Champlain in a high school American history class—in a unit on explorers. But whereas Champlain is just one explorer among many in the history of the United States, he is revered in the province of Quebec as the founder of New France. This photo shows a statue of Champlain on the Terrace Dufferin in Quebec. The statue is by Paul Chevré , a survivor of the Titanic (Mathieu).

Statue of Samuel de Champlain. Pixabay,

I read about Champlain recently in David Hackett Fischer’s Champlain’s Dream and also in a novel that centers on the mystery of Champlain’s death: Bury Your Dead, by Louise Penny. Penny writes murder mysteries that are set in the province of Quebec and feature the detective Armand Gamache. Bury Your Dead is set in Quebec City. In the novel, the body of Augustin Renaud is found in the basement of the Literary and Historical Society, the first scholarly society in Canada. Renaud had been obsessively pursuing the location of Champlain’s remains, which have never been found.

A few years ago, The New York Times did a story on a real-life Augustin Renaud: René Lévesque. The article notes that people like Lévesque have been searching for Champlain’s remains since the nineteenth century. For Lévesque, as well as for the fictional Renaud, the discovery would bolster support for French language and culture in a country dominated by Anglophones. Lévesque remarks that “[f]inding Champlain would spur a move to go back to our language and culture. . . . It would be an opportunity to talk about another way of living based upon the traditions and morals of the past” (qtd. in Krauss).

So how did Champlain come to be the founding father of Quebec?

The Web site of the Canadian Museum of History notes that Champlain was born in Brouage, in western France, around 1570 and got interested in navigation in his youth. He traveled extensively in North and South America in the early seventeenth century (“Explorers”). As I learned in Fischer’s biography, Champlain learned from the Spanish what not to do when trying to set up a colony. In the chapter “A Spy in New Spain,” Fischer explains that Champlain “was appalled by the treatment [the native people of Mexico] received from Spanish conquerors.” His experience “turned his thoughts to another idea of empire, where Indians and Europeans could live together in a different spirit.”

Champlain had the chance to try out his ideas around 1602, when he was invited to join an expedition to find a place to set up a factory in New France, where France had a thriving fur trade. He founded the future Quebec City in 1608 (“Explorers”). He succeeded in no small part because he aimed to have good relations with the native peoples, and once the colony was set up, “[m]any incentives were offered to encourage the French to emigrate and settle in the St. Lawrence Valley” (Lacoursière ).

This interactive map shows Champlain’s many voyages (“Samuel de Champlain Interactive Map”).

Champlain was an expert cartographer. Below is one of his maps of New France, from 1612.

Champlain, Samuel de; Carte Geographique de La Novvelle Franse; National Museum of American History, Accessed 25 Aug. 2019.

Works Cited

“The Explorers.” Virtual Museum of New France, Canadian Museum of History / Musée Canadien de l’histoire, Accessed 25 Aug. 2019.

Fischer, David Hackett. Champlain’s Dream. E-book, Simon and Schuster, 2008.

Krauss, Clifford. “Quebec Journal: No Rest for You, Champlain: The Hunt Goes On.” The New York Times, 8 Apr. 2002,

Lacoursière, Jacques. A People’s History of Quebec. Translated and adapted by Robin Philpot, e-book, Baraka Books, 2009.

Mathieu, Jacques. “New France.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 4 Mar. 2015,

Penny, Louise. Bury Your Dead. E-book, St. Martin’s, 2011.

“Samuel de Champlain Interactive Map.” The Mariners Museum and Park, 2019,


Published by Jen Rappaport

A writer, copyeditor, proofreader, translator, and website expert in New York, Jen studied English and French literature in college and graduate school and the French language in Paris, the South of France, and Quebec. She loves exploring the books and culture of francophone regions around the world.

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