- History Classics
- Your Profile
- Find History on Facebook (Opens in a new window)
- Find History on Twitter (Opens in a new window)
- Find History on YouTube (Opens in a new window)
- Find History on Instagram (Opens in a new window)
- Find History on TikTok (Opens in a new window)
- This Day In History
- History Podcasts
- History Vault
By: History.com Editors
Updated: June 6, 2023 | Original: November 9, 2009
In 1534, France’s King Francis I authorized the navigator Jacques Cartier to lead a voyage to the New World in order to seek gold and other riches, as well as a new route to Asia. Cartier’s three expeditions along the St. Lawrence River would later enable France to lay claim to the lands that would become modern-day Canada. He gained a reputation as a skilled navigator prior to making his three famous voyages to North America.
Jacques Cartier’s First North American Voyage
Born December 31, 1491, in Saint-Malo, France, Cartier began sailing as a young man. He was believed to have traveled to Brazil and Newfoundland—possibly accompanying explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano —before 1534.
That year, the government of King Francis I of France commissioned Cartier to lead an expedition to the “northern lands,” as the east coast of North America was then known. The purpose of the voyage was to find a northwest passage to Asia, as well as to collect riches such as gold and spices along the way.
Did you know? In addition to his exploration of the St. Lawrence region, Jacques Cartier is credited with giving Canada its name. He reportedly misused the Iroquois word kanata (meaning village or settlement) to refer to the entire region around what is now Quebec City; it was later extended to the entire country.
Cartier set sail in April 1534 with two ships and 61 men, and arrived 20 days later. During that first expedition, he explored the western coast of Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence as far as today’s Anticosti Island, which Cartier called Assomption. He is also credited with the discovery of what is now known as Prince Edward Island.
Cartier’s Second Voyage
Cartier returned to make his report of the expedition to King Francis, bringing with him two captured Native Americans from the Gaspé Peninsula. The king sent Cartier back across the Atlantic the following year with three ships and 110 men. With the two captives acting as guides, the explorers headed up the St. Lawrence River as far as Quebec, where they established a base camp.
The following winter wrought havoc on the expedition, with 25 of Cartier’s men dying of scurvy and the entire group incurring the anger of the initially friendly Iroquois population. In the spring, the explorers seized several Iroquois chiefs and traveled back to France.
Though he had not been able to explore it himself, Cartier told the king of the Iroquois’ accounts of another great river stretching west, leading to untapped riches and possibly to Asia.
Cartier’s Third and Final Voyage
War in Europe stalled plans for another expedition, which finally went forward in 1541. This time, King Francis charged the nobleman Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval with founding a permanent colony in the northern lands. Cartier sailed a few months ahead of Roberval, and arrived in Quebec in August 1541.
After enduring another harsh winter, Cartier decided not to wait for the colonists to arrive, but sailed for France with a quantity of what he thought were gold and diamonds, which had been found near the Quebec camp.
Along the way, Cartier stopped in Newfoundland and encountered Roberval, who ordered Cartier to return with him to Quebec. Rather than obey this command, Cartier sailed away under cover of night. When he arrived back in France, however, the minerals he brought were found to have no value.
Cartier received no more royal commissions, and would remain at his estate in Saint-Malo, Brittany, for the rest of his life. He died there on September 1, 1557. Meanwhile, Roberval’s colonists abandoned the idea of a permanent settlement after barely a year, and it would be more than 50 years before France again showed interest in its North American claims.
Jacques Cartier. The Mariner’s Museum and Park . The Explorers: Jacques Cartier 1534-1542. Canadian Museum of History .
Sign up for Inside History
Get HISTORY’s most fascinating stories delivered to your inbox three times a week.
By submitting your information, you agree to receive emails from HISTORY and A+E Networks. You can opt out at any time. You must be 16 years or older and a resident of the United States.
- Skip to main content
- Skip to "About government"
The first voyage (1534)
Cartier-brébeuf national historic site.
Jacques Cartier made three voyages to Canada. On April 20, 1534, accompanied by approximately 60 sailors who were to handle two ships of about 60 tonnes each, Cartier set sail from Saint-Malo. Crossing the Atlantic went smoothly; after 20 days, he entered the Strait of Belle Isle. After following the north shore of the gulf of St. Lawrence for a time, he turned back, then headed south following the west coast of Newfoundland. Then, sailing toward the continent, he deduced the existence of the Cabot Street, skirted the Magdalen Islands, rounded the northern tip of Prince Edward Island, and put in at Chaleur Bay. Believing he had discovered the passage to Asia, he travelled to the head of the bay, but then had to backtrack. A storm drove him into the bay of Gaspé, where he met more than 300 people from Stadacona (Québec), who had come there to fish. Two Amerindians who were relatives (sons) of the chief Donnacona were made to embark on Cartier's ship; they accompanied the explorer on the remainder of his exploration.
Following this, weather conditions prevented Cartier from making out the entrance to the St. Lawrence River between the Gaspé peninsula and Anticosti Island. After hunting along the north shore of this island, he finally found a passage, but was unable to travel further inland on account of strong winds and opposing tides. As winter was not far off, Cartier and his men decided to head the two ships back to France. A second voyage thus became a compelling necessity: the St. Lawrence River might be the northern passage so ardently hoped for.
Map of Cartier's first voyage (1534)
- The great explorations
- The second voyage (1535-1536)
- Wintering (1535-1536)
- The third voyage (1541-1542)
French explorer Jacques Cartier is known chiefly for exploring the St. Lawrence River and giving Canada its name.
Who Was Jacques Cartier?
French navigator Jacques Cartier was sent by King Francis I to the New World in search of riches and a new route to Asia in 1534. His exploration of the St. Lawrence River allowed France to lay claim to lands that would become Canada. He died in Saint-Malo in 1557.
Early Life and First Major Voyage to North America
Born in Saint-Malo, France on December 31, 1491, Cartier reportedly explored the Americas, particularly Brazil, before making three major North American voyages. In 1534, King Francis I of France sent Cartier — likely because of his previous expeditions — on a new trip to the eastern coast of North America, then called the "northern lands." On a voyage that would add him to the list of famous explorers, Cartier was to search for gold and other riches, spices, and a passage to Asia.
Cartier sailed on April 20, 1534, with two ships and 61 men, and arrived 20 days later. He explored the west coast of Newfoundland, discovered Prince Edward Island and sailed through the Gulf of St. Lawrence, past Anticosti Island.
Upon returning to France, King Francis was impressed with Cartier’s report of what he had seen, so he sent the explorer back the following year, in May, with three ships and 110 men. Two Indigenous peoples Cartier had captured previously now served as guides, and he and his men navigated the St. Lawrence, as far as Quebec, and established a base.
In September, Cartier sailed to what would become Montreal and was welcomed by the Iroquois who controlled the area, hearing from them that there were other rivers that led farther west, where gold, silver, copper and spices could be found. Before they could continue, though, the harsh winter blew in, rapids made the river impassable, and Cartier and his men managed to anger the Iroquois.
So Cartier waited until spring when the river was free of ice and captured some of the Iroquois chiefs before again returning to France. Because of his hasty escape, Cartier was only able to report to the king that untold riches lay farther west and that a great river, said to be about 2,000 miles long, possibly led to Asia.
In May 1541, Cartier departed on his third voyage with five ships. He had by now abandoned the idea of finding a passage to the Orient and was sent to establish a permanent settlement along the St. Lawrence River on behalf of France. A group of colonists was a few months behind him this time.
Cartier set up camp again near Quebec, and they found an abundance of what they thought were gold and diamonds. In the spring, not waiting for the colonists to arrive, Cartier abandoned the base and sailed for France. En route, he stopped at Newfoundland, where he encountered the colonists, whose leader ordered Cartier back to Quebec. Cartier, however, had other plans; instead of heading to Quebec, he sneaked away during the night and returned to France.
There, his "gold" and "diamonds" were found to be worthless, and the colonists abandoned plans to found a settlement, returning to France after experiencing their first bitter winter. After these setbacks, France didn’t show any interest in these new lands for half a century, and Cartier’s career as a state-funded explorer came to an end. While credited with the exploration of the St. Lawrence region, Cartier's reputation has been tarnished by his dealings with the Iroquois and abandonment of the incoming colonists as he fled the New World.
Cartier died on September 1, 1557, in Saint-Malo, France.
- Name: Jacques Cartier
- Birth Year: 1491
- Birth date: December 31, 1491
- Birth City: Saint-Malo, Brittany
- Birth Country: France
- Gender: Male
- Best Known For: French explorer Jacques Cartier is known chiefly for exploring the St. Lawrence River and giving Canada its name.
- Astrological Sign: Capricorn
- Death Year: 1557
- Death date: September 1, 1557
- Death City: Saint-Malo, Brittany
- Death Country: France
- If the soil were as good as the harbors, it would be a blessing.
- [T]he land should not be called the New Land, being composed of stones and horrible rugged rocks; for along the whole of the north shore I did not see one cartload of earth and yet I landed in many places.
- Out of 110 that we were, not 10 were well enough to help the others, a thing pitiful to see.
- Today was our first day at sea. The weather was good, no clouds at the horizon and we are praying for a smooth sail.
- We set sail again trying to discover more wonders of this new world.
- Today I did something great for my country. We have taken over the land. Long live the King of France!
- I'm anxious to see what lies ahead. Every day we are getting deeper and deeper inside the continent, which increases my curiosity.
- Today I have completed my second voyage, which I can say had thought me a lot about how different things are in this world and how people start building up communities according to their common beliefs.
- The world is big and still hiding a lot.
- There arose such stormy and raging winds against us that we were constrained to come to the place again from whence we were come.
- I am inclined to believe that this is the land God gave to Cain.
10 Famous Explorers Who Connected the World
Sir Walter Raleigh
Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo
Vasco da Gama
Giovanni da Verrazzano
René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle
Search The Canadian Encyclopedia
Enter your search term
Why sign up?
Signing up enhances your TCE experience with the ability to save items to your personal reading list, and access the interactive map.
- MLA 8TH EDITION
- Allaire, Bernard. "Jacques Cartier". The Canadian Encyclopedia , 09 July 2020, Historica Canada . www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/jacques-cartier. Accessed 25 January 2024.
- The Canadian Encyclopedia , 09 July 2020, Historica Canada . www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/jacques-cartier. Accessed 25 January 2024." href="#" class="js-copy-clipboard b b-md b-invert b-modal-copy">Copy
- APA 6TH EDITION
- Allaire, B. (2020). Jacques Cartier. In The Canadian Encyclopedia . Retrieved from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/jacques-cartier
- The Canadian Encyclopedia . Retrieved from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/jacques-cartier" href="#" class="js-copy-clipboard b b-md b-invert b-modal-copy">Copy
- CHICAGO 17TH EDITION
- Allaire, Bernard. "Jacques Cartier." The Canadian Encyclopedia . Historica Canada. Article published August 29, 2013; Last Edited July 09, 2020.
- The Canadian Encyclopedia . Historica Canada. Article published August 29, 2013; Last Edited July 09, 2020." href="#" class="js-copy-clipboard b b-md b-invert b-modal-copy">Copy
- TURABIAN 8TH EDITION
- The Canadian Encyclopedia , s.v. "Jacques Cartier," by Bernard Allaire, Accessed January 25, 2024, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/jacques-cartier
- The Canadian Encyclopedia , s.v. "Jacques Cartier," by Bernard Allaire, Accessed January 25, 2024, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/jacques-cartier" href="#" class="js-copy-clipboard b b-md b-invert b-modal-copy">Copy
Thank you for your submission
Our team will be reviewing your submission and get back to you with any further questions.
Thanks for contributing to The Canadian Encyclopedia.
Article by Bernard Allaire
Published Online August 29, 2013
Last Edited July 9, 2020
Jacques Cartier, navigator (born between 7 June and 23 December 1491 in Saint-Malo, France; died 1 September 1557 in Saint-Malo, France). From 1534 to 1542, Cartier led three maritime expeditions to the interior of the Gulf of the St. Lawrence River . During these expeditions, he explored, but more importantly accurately mapped for the first time the interior of the river, from the Gulf to Montreal ( see also History of Cartography in Canada ). For this navigational prowess, Cartier is still considered by many as the founder of “Canada.” At the time, however, this term described only the region immediately surrounding Quebec . Cartier’s upstream navigation of the St. Lawrence River in the 16th century ultimately led to France occupying this part of North America.
Voyages to the Americas
Jacques Cartier’s early life is very poorly documented. He was likely employed in business and navigation from a young age. Like his countrymen, Cartier probably sailed along the coast of France, Newfoundland and South America (Brazil), first as a sailor and then as an officer. Following the annexation of Brittany to the kingdom of France, King François 1 chose Cartier to replace the explorer Giovanni da Verrazano . Verrazano had died on his last voyage.
First Voyage (1534)
Jacques Cartier’s orders for his first expedition were to search for a passage to the Pacific Ocean in the area around Newfoundland and possibly find precious metals. He left Saint-Malo on 20 April 1534 with two ships and 61 men. They reached the coast of Newfoundland 20 days later. During his journey, Cartier passed several sites known to European fishers. He renamed these places or noted them on his maps. After skirting the north shore of Newfoundland , Cartier and his ships entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence by the Strait of Belle Isle and travelled south, hugging the coast of the Magdalen Islands on 26 June. Three days later, they reached what are now the provinces of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick . He then navigated towards the west, crossing Chaleur Bay and reaching Gaspé , where he encountered Iroquoian lndigenous people from the region of Quebec . They had come to the area for their annual seal hunt. After planting a cross and engaging in some trading and negotiations, Cartier’s ships left on 25 July. Before leaving, Cartier abducted two of Iroquoian chief Donnacona’s sons. They returned to France by following the coast of Anticosti Island and re-crossing the Strait of Belle Isle.
Second Voyage (1535-6)
The expedition of 1535 was more important than the first expedition. It included 110 people and three medium-sized ships. The ships were called the Grande Hermine (the Great Stoat), the Petite Hermine (the Lesser Stoat) and the Émérillon (the Merlin). The Émérillon had been adapted for river navigation. They left Brittany in mid-May 1535 and reached Newfoundland after a long, 50-day crossing. Following the itinerary from the previous year, they entered the Gulf , then travelled the “Canada River” (later named the St. Lawrence River ) upstream. One of chief Donnacona’s sons guided them to the village of Stadacona on the site of what is now the city of Quebec . Given the extent of their planned explorations, the French decided to spend the winter there and settled at the mouth of the St. Charles River. Against the advice of chief Donnacona, Jacques Cartier decided to continue sailing up the river towards Hochelaga , now the city of Montreal . Cartier reached Hochelaga on 2 October 1535. There he met other Iroquoian people, who tantalized Cartier with the prospect of a sea in the middle of the country. By the time Cartier returned to Stadacona (Quebec), relations with the Indigenous people there had deteriorated. Nevertheless, they helped the poorly organized French to survive scurvy thanks to a remedy made from evergreen trees ( see also Indigenous Peoples’ Medicine in Canada ). When spring came, the French decided to return to Europe. This time, Cartier abducted chief Donnacona himself, the two sons, and seven other Iroquoian people. The French never returned Donnacona and his people to North America. ( See also Enslavement of Indigenous People in Canada. )
Third Voyage (1541-2)
The war in Europe led to a delay in returning to Canada. In addition, the plans for the voyage were changed. This expedition was to include close to 800 people and involve a major attempt to colonize the region. The explorations were left to Jacques Cartier, but the logistics and colonial management of the expedition were entrusted to Jean-François de La Rocque , sieur de Roberval. Roberval was a senior military officer who was responsible for recruitment, loading weapons onto the ships, and bringing on craftsmen and a number of prisoners. Just as the expedition was to begin, delays in the preparations and the vagaries of the war with Spain meant that only half the personnel (led by Cartier) were sent to Canada in May 1541 by Roberval. Roberval eventually came the following year. Cartier and his men settled the new colony several kilometres upstream from Quebec at the confluence of the Cap Rouge and St. Lawrence rivers. While the colonists and craftsmen built the forts, Cartier decided to sail toward Hochelaga . When he returned, a bloody battle had broken out with the Iroquoian people at Stadacona .
Return to France
In a state of relative siege during the winter, and not expecting the arrival of Jean-François de La Rocque , sieur de Roberval until spring, Jacques Cartier decided to abandon the colony at the end of May. He had filled a dozen barrels with what he believed were precious stones and metal. At a stop in St. John’s , Newfoundland, however, Cartier met Roberval’s fleet and was given the order to return to Cap Rouge. Refusing to obey, Cartier sailed toward France under the cover of darkness. The stones and metal that he brought back turned out to be worthless and Cartier was never reimbursed by the king for the money he had borrowed from the Breton merchants. After this misadventure, he returned to business. Cartier died about 15 years later at his estate at Limoilou near Saint-Malo. He kept his reputation as the first European to have explored and mapped this part of the Americas, which later became the French axis of power in North America.
- St Lawrence
Marcel Trudel, The Beginnings of New France, 1524-1663 (1973).
Watch the Heritage Minute about French explorer Jacques Cartier from Historica Canada. See also related online learning resources.
Exploring the Explorers: Jacques Cartier Teacher guide for multidisciplinary student investigations into the life of explorer Jacques Cartier and his role in Canadian history. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
Indigenous languages in canada, enslavement of indigenous people in canada, indigenous perspectives education guide, citizenship challenge contest.
Teachers! Are you interested in an engaging way to teach Canadian history AND win money for your classroom? Have your class take the Citizenship Challenge, and send us the results using our scorecard for a chance to win a $200 gift card! Competition starts 8 January 2024
Virtual museum of New France
- Virtual museum of new France
- Colonies and Empires
- Economic Activities
- Useful links
- North America Before New France
- From the Middle Ages to the Age of Discovery
- Founding Sites
- French Colonial Expansion and Franco-Amerindian Alliances
- Other New Frances
- Other Colonial Powers
- Wars and Imperial Rivalries
- Governance and Sites of Power
Jacques Cartier 1534-1542
- Samuel de Champlain 1604-1616
- Étienne Brûlé 1615-1621
- Jean Nicollet 1634
- Jean de Quen 1647
- Médard Chouart Des Groseilliers 1654-1660
- Pierre-Esprit Radisson 1659-1660
- Nicolas Perrot 1665-1689
- René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle 1670-1687
- Charles Albanel 1672
- Jacques Marquette 1673
- Louis Jolliet 1673-1694
- Louis Hennepin 1678-1680
- Daniel Greysolon Dulhut 1678-1679
- Louis-Armand de Lom d’Arce, baron Lahontan 1684-1689
- Pierre de Troyes 1686
- Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville 1686-1702
- Antoine Laumet dit de Lamothe Cadillac 1694-1701
- Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye 1732-1739
- Basque Whalers
- Industrial Development
- Commercial Networks
- Social Groups
- Religious Congregations
- Pays d’en Haut and Louisiana
- Health and Medicine
- Vernacular Architecture in New France
We do not know how Jacques Cartier learned the art of navigation, but Saint-Malo, the town where he was born between the summer and winter of 1491, was at the time one of the most important ports in Europe. In 1524 he probably accompanied Giovanni da Verrazzano on unofficial explorations initiated by the king of France. Some ten years later, Jacques Cartier was a sufficiently experienced navigator to be asked by Francis I to undertake the official exploration of North America. There is no doubt that he was already familiar with the sea route that he took in 1534.
To the New Lands
On March 19, 1534, Cartier was assigned the mission of “undertaking the voyage of this kingdom to the New Lands to discover certain islands and countries where there are said to be great quantities of gold and other riches”. The following April 20, the navigator from Saint-Malo cast off with two ships and a crew of 61. Twenty days later he reached Newfoundland. The exploration began in an area frequented by Breton fishermen: from the Baie des Châteaux (Strait of Belle Isle) to southern Newfoundland. After erecting a cross at Saint-Servan on the north coast of the Gulf, Cartier tacked to the south. He first encountered the Magdalen Islands, and then set course for present-day Prince Edward Island, failing to notice that it was in fact an island.
A Lie and A Claiming of Possession
Cartier then moved on to Chaleur Bay, where he encountered some Micmacs on July 7. The talks were accompanied by a swapping of items, which history has recorded as the first act of trade between the French and Amerindians. Soon after, Cartier reached Gaspé Bay.
More than 200 Iroquois from Stadacona (Québec) were on the peninsula to fish. Initially trusting and cordial, relations were tarnished when Jacques Cartier claimed possession of the territory on July 24. The 30-foot cross he erected at Pointe-Penouille seemed improper to Donnacona, the Native chief. Fearing the consequences of this discontent, Cartier lied, describing the cross as an insignificant landmark.
Jacques Cartier in Gaspé On the 25th he left the Gaspé area, heading for the Gulf of St. Lawrence. After navigating the strait separating Anticosti Island from the north shore, he set off again for Saint-Malo, where he landed on September 5. The St. Lawrence River had not been discovered.
Revelations of the Amerindian Guides
Jacques Cartier arrived in France with two precious trophies: Domagaya and Taignoagny, the sons of Donnacona, whom he had convinced to come with him. They told him of the St. Lawrence River and the “Kingdom of the Saguenay”, the objectives of his second voyage upon which he set forth on May 19, 1535. Cartier had been persuasive: his crew had doubled and he had command of three ships: the Grande Hermine, Petite Hermine and Émérillon.
Fifty days after putting to sea, a first vessel laid anchor off the shores of Newfoundland. On July 26 the convoy was reunited, and exploration could begin again. On August 10, the day of St. Lawrence, the explorer gave the saint’s name to a little bay. Cartographers later applied it to the the “great river of Hochelaga and route to Canada” leading to the interior of the continent, “so long that no man has seen its end”.
From the Saguenay to Hochelaga
Sailing along the river to Stadacona (Québec), the ships passed Anticosti Island and the mouth of the Saguenay. Cartier established his headquarters on the Sainte-Croix (Saint-Charles) river, and five days later boarded the Émérillon to travel to Hochelaga (Montreal). Leaving the ship in Lake Saint-Pierre, he proceeded in a small craft to the Iroquois village, where he arrived on October 2.
There were nearly 2,000 people living there. The island and village were overlooked by a mountain, which he named mount Royal. He was taken there by his hosts, who spoke to him of the riches of the west, and again of the “Kingdom of the Saguenay”. The rapids north and south of Montreal Island prevented him from continuing his route to the west. Cartier had to return to harbour on the Saint-Charles river, where he found that relations with the Iroquois had become more acrimonious. The threat of an early winter lay before the Frenchmen.
Isolation, Cold and Scurvy
From mid-November, the ships were imprisoned in the ice. December began with an epidemic of scurvy. The Iroquois, the first affected, were slow in delivering up the secret of anedda, a white cedar tea which would save them. Of the 100 Frenchmen afflicted, 25 died.
On May 3, Cartier planted a cross on the site where he had just wintered. The same day, he seized about ten Iroquois, one of them Donnacona, the only one who was able to “relate to the King the marvels he had seen in the western lands”.
The voyage back began three days later, without the Petite Hermine. Following a swerve along the Newfoundland coast, Jacques Cartier discovered the strait which bears the name of the explorer Giovanni Caboto. On July 16, 1536, Cartier was again in Saint-Malo.
The Colonization of Canada
On October 17, 1540, Francis I ordered the Breton navigator to return to Canada to lend weight to a colonization project of which he would be “captain general”. But on January 15, 1541 Cartier was supplanted by Jean-François de La Roque de Roberval, a Huguenot courtier.
Authorized to leave by Roberval, who was awaiting the delivery of artillery and merchandise, Jacques Cartier departed from Saint-Malo on May 23, 1541. He led five vessels “well provisioned with victuals for two years”, including the Grande Hermine, Émérillon, Saint-Brieux and Georges. There were 1500 people travelling with him. The crossing took more than three months.
With the exception of one little girl, all the Iroquois died in France. Cartier admitted the death of Donnacona, but claimed that the others “had remained in France where they were living as great lords; they had married and had no desire to return to their country”.
Being no longer welcome in Stadacona, the colonists settled at the foot of Cap Rouge (Cap Diamant), named Charlesbourg Royal. The experience was a disaster. In June 1542 Cartier left the St. Lawrence valley with the survivors. At Newfoundland he met with Roberval’s group, which had only left La Rochelle in April. The night after their encounter, Cartier placed the entreprise in jeopardy by slipping away from his leader. He landed in Saint-Malo in September.
Jacques Cartier would never return to Canada. As for Roberval, he continued on to Charlesbourg Royal, which he renamed France-Roi. After putting up with the climate, scurvy, quarrelling and adversity, his colony was extinguished in 1543 with the repatriation of those who survived.
Biography of Jacques Cartier, Early Explorer of Canada
Rischgitz / Stringer/ Hulton Archive / Getty Images
- Canadian Government
- The U. S. Government
- U.S. Foreign Policy
- U.S. Liberal Politics
- U.S. Conservative Politics
- Women's Issues
- Civil Liberties
- The Middle East
- Race Relations
- Crime & Punishment
- Understanding Types of Government
- B.A., Political Science, Carleton University
Jacques Cartier (December 31, 1491–September 1, 1557) was a French navigator sent by French King Francis I to the New World to find gold and diamonds and a new route to Asia. Cartier explored what became known as Newfoundland, the Magdalen Islands, Prince Edward Island, and the Gaspé Peninsula, and was the first explorer to map the St. Lawrence River. He claimed what is now Canada for France.
Fast Facts: Jacques Cartier
- Known For : French explorer who gave Canada its name
- Born : Dec. 31, 1491 in Saint-Malo, Brittany, France
- Died : Sept. 1, 1557 in Saint-Malo
- Spouse : Marie-Catherine des Granches
Jacques Cartier was born on Dec. 31, 1491, in Saint-Malo, a historic French port on the coast of the English Channel. Cartier began to sail as a young man and earned a reputation as a highly-skilled navigator, a talent that would come in handy during his voyages across the Atlantic Ocean.
He apparently made at least one voyage to the New World, exploring Brazil , before he led his three major North American voyages. These voyages—all to the St. Lawrence region of what is now Canada—came in 1534, 1535–1536, and 1541–1542.
In 1534 King Francis I of France decided to send an expedition to explore the so-called "northern lands" of the New World. Francis was hoping the expedition would find precious metals, jewels, spices, and a passage to Asia. Cartier was selected for the commission.
With two ships and 61 crewmen, Cartier arrived off the barren shores of Newfoundland just 20 days after setting sail. He wrote, "I am rather inclined to believe that this is the land God gave to Cain."
The expedition entered what is today known as the Gulf of St. Lawrence by the Strait of Belle Isle, went south along the Magdalen Islands, and reached what are now the provinces of Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. Going north to the Gaspé peninsula, he met several hundred Iroquois from their village of Stadacona (now Quebec City), who were there to fish and hunt for seals. He planted a cross on the peninsula to claim the area for France, although he told Chief Donnacona it was just a landmark.
The expedition captured two of Chief Donnacona's sons, Domagaya and Taignoagny, to take along as prisoners. They went through the strait separating Anticosti Island from the north shore but did not discover the St. Lawrence River before returning to France.
Cartier set out on a larger expedition the next year, with 110 men and three ships adapted for river navigation. Donnacona's sons had told Cartier about the St. Lawrence River and the “Kingdom of the Saguenay” in an effort, no doubt, to get a trip home, and those became the objectives of the second voyage. The two former captives served as guides for this expedition.
After a long sea crossing, the ships entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence and then went up the "Canada River," later named the St. Lawrence River. Guided to Stadacona, the expedition decided to spend the winter there. But before winter set in, they traveled up the river to Hochelaga, the site of present-day Montreal. (The name "Montreal" comes from Mount Royal, a nearby mountain Cartier named for the King of France.)
Returning to Stadacona, they faced deteriorating relations with the natives and a severe winter. Nearly a quarter of the crew died of scurvy, although Domagaya saved many men with a remedy made from evergreen bark and twigs. Tensions grew by spring, however, and the French feared being attacked. They seized 12 hostages, including Donnacona, Domagaya, and Taignoagny, and fled for home.
Because of his hasty escape, Cartier could only report to the king that untold riches lay farther west and that a great river, said to be 2,000 miles long, possibly led to Asia. These and other reports, including some from the hostages, were so encouraging that King Francis decided on a huge colonizing expedition. He put military officer Jean-François de la Rocque, Sieur de Roberval, in charge of the colonization plans, although the actual exploration was left to Cartier.
War in Europe and the massive logistics for the colonization effort, including the difficulties of recruiting, slowed Roberval. Cartier, with 1,500 men, arrived in Canada a year ahead of him. His party settled at the bottom of the cliffs of Cap-Rouge, where they built forts. Cartier started a second trip to Hochelaga, but he turned back when he found that the route past the Lachine Rapids was too difficult.
On his return, he found the colony under siege from the Stadacona natives. After a difficult winter, Cartier gathered drums filled with what he thought were gold, diamonds, and metal and started to sail for home. But his ships met Roberval's fleet with the colonists, who had just arrived in what is now St. John's, Newfoundland .
Roberval ordered Cartier and his men to return to Cap-Rouge, but Cartier ignored the order and sailed for France with his cargo. When he arrived in France, he found that the load was really iron pyrite—also known as fool's gold—and quartz. Roberval's settlement efforts also failed. He and the colonists returned to France after experiencing one bitter winter.
Death and Legacy
While he was credited with exploring the St. Lawrence region, Cartier's reputation was tarnished by his harsh dealings with the Iroquois and by his abandoning the incoming colonists as he fled the New World. He returned to Saint-Malo but got no new commissions from the king. He died there on Sept. 1, 1557.
Despite his failures, Jacques Cartier is credited as the first European explorer to chart the St. Lawrence River and to explore the Gulf of St. Lawrence. He also discovered Prince Edward Island and built a fort at Stadacona, where Quebec City stands today. And, in addition to providing the name for a mountain that gave birth to "Montreal," he gave Canada its name when he misunderstood or misused the Iroquois word for village, "kanata," as the name of a much broader area.
- " Jacques Cartier Biography ." Biography.com.
- " Jacques Cartier ." History.com.
- " Jacques Cartier: French Explorer ." Encyclopedia Brittanica.
- A Timeline of North American Exploration: 1492–1585
- Amerigo Vespucci, Explorer and Navigator
- Captain James Cook
- The Florida Expeditions of Ponce de Leon
- Biography of Ferdinand Magellan, Explorer Circumnavigated the Earth
- Amerigo Vespucci, Italian Explorer and Cartographer
- The Story of How Canada Got Its Name
- Biography and Legacy of Ferdinand Magellan
- Explorers and Discoverers
- Biography of Christopher Columbus
- Queen Elizabeth's Royal Visits to Canada
- Profile of Prince Henry the Navigator
- French and Indian War: Battle of Quebec (1759)
- Biography of Christopher Columbus, Italian Explorer
- Biography of Juan Ponce de León, Conquistador
- Biography of Juan Sebastián Elcano, Magellan's Replacement
By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.
- Skip to primary navigation
- Skip to main content
- Skip to primary sidebar
- Native Americans
- Age of Exploration
- Revolutionary War
- Mexican-American War
- War of 1812
- World War 1
- World War 2
- Family Trees
- Explorers and Pirates
Jacques Cartier Facts, Biography, Accomplishments, Voyages
Published: Jun 4, 2012 · Modified: Nov 11, 2023 by Russell Yost · This post may contain affiliate links ·
Jacques Cartier (December 31, 1491 – September 1, 1557) was the first French Explorer to explore the New World. He explored what is now Canada and set the stage for the great explorer and navigator Samuel de Champlain to begin colonization of Canada.
Cartier was the first European to discover and create a map of the St. Lawrence River. The St. Lawrence River would play an important role in the New World during the French and Indian War, the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the colonization of America.
Early Life of Jacques Cartier
First voyage, 1534, second voyage, 1535–1536, third voyage, 1541–1542, later life and death.
- Cartier was born in 1491 in Saint-Malo. During his early childhood, he would hear stories of the great Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and the exploits of the Spanish Conquistadors .
- His homeland, France, was relatively inactive in the exploits of the New World. Instead, it was embroiled in the European wars with the Holy Roman Empire, England, and Spain. Cartier grew and began to study navigation and, over time, became an excellent mariner.
- In a feudal society, talents were often overlooked and superseded by political standing. Cartier did not get the attention he deserved until he married Mary Catherine, who was a daughter in a wealthy and politically influential family.
- In 1534, Jacques Cartier was brought to the court of King Francis I. King Francis I ruled France during the reign of Charles V in the Holy Roman Empire and Henry VIII of England.
- He was a talented Monarch and ambitious for great treasure. 10 years prior to Cartier, he had asked Giovanni da Verrazzano to explore the eastern coast of North America but had not formally commissioned him.
- Cartier set sail with a commission from King Francis I in 1534 with hopes of finding a pathway through the New World and into Asia.
- Jacques Cartier sailed across the ocean, landed around Newfoundland, and began exploring the area around the Gulf of the St. Lawrence River. While exploring, he came across two Indian tribes, the Mi'kmaq and the Iroquois. Initially, relations with the Iroquois were positive as he began to establish trade with them. However, Cartier then planted a large cross and claimed the land for the King of France.
- The Iroquois understood the implications and began to change their mood. In response, Cartier kidnapped two of the captain's sons. The Iroquois captain and Cartier agreed that the sons could be taken as long as they were returned with European goods to trade. Cartier then returned to his ships and began his voyage home. He believed that he had found the coast of Asia.
- After his return from his first voyage, Cartier received much praise from Francis I and was granted another voyage, which he left the next year. He left France on May 19 with three ships, 110 men, and the two natives he promised to return to the Iroquois captain.
- This time, when he arrived at the St. Lawrence River, he sailed up the river in what he believed to be a pathway into Asia. He did not reach Asia but instead came into contact with Chief Donnacona, who ruled from the Iroquois capital, Stadacona.
- Cartier continued up the St. Lawrence, believing that it was the Northwest passage to the east. He came across the Iroquois city of Hochelaga and was not able to go much further. The St. Lawrence waters became rapids and were too harsh for ships.
- His expedition left Cartier unable to return to France before the coming of winter. He stayed among the people of Hochelaga and then sailed back to Stadacona around mid-October. He most likely set up winter camp here. During his encampment, scurvy broke out among the Iroquois and soon infected the European explorers. The prognosis was dim until the Iroquois revealed a remedy for scurvy. Bark from a white spruce boiled in water would rid them of the disease.
- Cartier and his men used an entire white spruce to concoct the remedy. The remedy would work and would save the expedition from failure.
- Cartier left Canada for France in May of 1536. Chief Donnacona traveled to France with him to tell King Francis of the great treasures to be found. Jacques Cartier arrived in France on July 15, 1536. His second voyage had made him a wealthy and affluent man.
- Jacques Cartier's third voyage was a debacle. It began with King Francis commissioning Cartier to found a colony and then replacing Cartier with a friend of his, Huguenot explorer Roberval. Cartier was placed as Roberval's chief navigator. Cartier and Roberval left France in 1541.
- Upon reaching the St. Lawrence, Roverval waited for supplies and sent Cartier ahead to begin construction on the settlement. Cartier anchored at Stadacona and once again met with the Iroquois. While they greeted him with much happiness, Cartier did not like how many of them there were and chose to sail down the river a bit more to find a better spot to construct the settlement. He found the spot and began construction and named it Charlesbourg-Royal.
- After fortifying the settlement, Cartier set out to search for Saguenay. His search was again halted by winter, and the rapids of the Ottawa River forced him to return to Charlesbourg-Royal. Upon his arrival, he found out that the Iroquois Indians were no longer friendly to the Europeans. They attacked the settlement and left 35 of the settlers dead. Jacques Cartier believed that he had insufficient manpower to defend the settlement and search for the Saguenay Kingdom. He also believed that he and his men had found diamonds and gold and had stashed them on two ships.
- Cartier set sail for France in June of 1542. Along the way, he located Roberval and his ships along the coast of Newfoundland. Roberval insisted that Cartier stay and continue with him to the settlement and to help find the Kingdom of Saguenay, and Carter pretended to oblige. Cartier waited, and when the perfect night came, he and his ships full of diamonds and gold left Roberval and returned to France. Roberval continued to Charlesbourg-Royal but abandoned it 2 years later after harsh winters, disease, and the hostile Iroquois Indians.
- Upon returning to France, Cartier would learn that the diamonds he believed to have found were nothing more than mineral deposits. This ended the career of Jacques Cartier.
- Jacques Cartier retired to Sain-Malo, where he served as an interpreter of the Portuguese language. A typhus epidemic broke out in 1557 and claimed the life of the great explorer. Cartier died 15 years after his last voyage to the New World.
- While Cartier's missions did not establish a permanent settlement in Canada, it laid the foundation for Samuel de Champlain.
- The Voyages of Jacques Cartier
In this Book
- With an introduction by Ramsay Cook
- Published by: University of Toronto Press
Jacques Cartier's voyages of 1534, 1535, and 1541constitute the first record of European impressions of the St Lawrence region of northeastern North American and its peoples. The Voyages are rich in details about almost every aspect of the region's environment and the people who inhabited it.
In addition to Cartier's Voyages , a slightly amended version of H.P. Biggar's 1924 text, the volume includes a series of letters relating to Cartier and the Sieur de Roberval, who was in command of cartier on the last voyage. Many of these letters appear for the first time in English.
Ramsay Cook's introduction, 'Donnacona Discovers Europe,' rereads the documents in the light of recent scholarship as well as from contemporary perspectives in order to understand better the viewpoints of Cartier and the native people with whom he came into contact.
Table of Contents
- Title Page, Copyright Page
- pp. vii-viii
- Donnacona Discovers Europe: Rereading Jacques Cartier's Voyages
- The Voyages
- Cartier's First Voyage, 1534
- Cartier's Second Voyage, 1535-1536
- Cartier's Third Voyage, 1541
- Roberval's Voyage, 1542-1543
- pp. 107-113
- Documents relating to Jacques Cartier and the Sieur de Roberval
- 1 Grant of Money to Cartier for His First Voyage
- 2 Commission from Admiral Chabot to Cartier
- 3 Choice of Vessels for the Second Voyage
- pp. 119-120
- 4 Payment of Three Thousand Livres to Cartier for His Second Voyage
- 5 Roll of the Crews for Cartier's Second Voyage
- pp. 122-124
- 6 Order from King Francis the First for the Payment to Cartier of Fifty Crowns
- 7 List of Men and Effects for Canada
- pp. 126-129
- 8 Letter from Lagarto to John the Third, King of Portugal
- pp. 130-133
- 9 The Baptism of the Savages from Canada
- 10 Cartier's Commission for His Third Voyage
- pp. 135-138
- 11 Letters Patent from the Duke of Brittany Empowering Cartier to Take Prisoners from the Gaols
- pp. 139-140
- 12 The Emperor to the Cardinal of Toledo
- pp. 141-142
- 13 An Order from King Francis to Inquire into the Hindrances Placed before Cartier
- 14 Roberval's Commission
- pp. 144-151
- 15 Secret Report on Cartier's Expedition
- pp. 152-155
- 16 Cartier's Will
- pp. 156-158
- 17 Examination of Newfoundland Sailors regarding Cartier
- pp. 159-168
- 18 Cartier Takes Part in a 'Noise'
- pp. 169-170
- 19 Statement of Cartier's Account
- pp. 171-176
- 20 Death of Cartier
Project muse mission.
Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide. Forged from a partnership between a university press and a library, Project MUSE is a trusted part of the academic and scholarly community it serves.
2715 North Charles Street Baltimore, Maryland, USA 21218
+1 (410) 516-6989 [email protected]
©2024 Project MUSE. Produced by Johns Hopkins University Press in collaboration with The Sheridan Libraries.
Now and Always, The Trusted Content Your Research Requires
Built on the Johns Hopkins University Campus
The Ages of Exploration
Jacques cartier interactive map, age of discovery.
Jacques Cartier’s voyages across the Atlantic Ocean brought him to northern North America which he claimed for France and named “Canada, and explored much of the St. Lawrence River
Click on the world map to view an example of the explorer’s voyage.
How to Use the Map
- Click on either the map icons or on the location name in the expanded column to view more information about that place or event
- Original "EXPLORATION through the AGES" site
- The Mariners' Educational Programs
Jacques Cartier (1491-1557) was a Breton sailor who visited Brazil and may have accompanied Giovanni da Verrazzano during his exploration of the North American coast in 1524. In 1533 he inquired about further exploration of North America and received permission from the crown to pursue his idea. He made voyages in 1534, 1535-1536, and 1541-1542, and may have returned once more in 1543. Cartier died in September 1557 at or near his home in St. Malo, France.
Cartier�s First Expedition, 1534
Commanding one-hundred-twenty men on two sixty-ton ships, Cartier sailed from St. Malo in April 20, 1534, and in twenty days they arrived off the coast of Newfoundland. Cartier sailed north and encountered the Cape of Buona Vista and an island thick with auks, gannets, razorbills, and bears. In sailing the coast of Newfoundland, Cartier named harbors, beaches, and landmarks, while fishing for salmon, and harvesting eggs from abundant bird nests. The sailors encountered several different Indian inhabitants, and retained peaceful relations with them. During July they described the plentiful pine, cedar, and fir forests, wild fruits and berries, and diverse bird life of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. By the middle of July Cartier encountered Indians who exchanged furs for French manufactured goods, a trade that would drive much of North America�s exploration. In addition to acquiring large amounts of fur pelts, Cartier saw the potential for converting the Indians to Christianity. These early encounters expanded into full contact with the native peoples of the region, as the French traded knives, combs, glass beads, and other objects for furs in increasing numbers.
Cartier set sail from Labrador on August 9, 1534 and returned to France September 5, 1534. In addition to the abundance of furs and the potential for converting Indians to Christianity, Cartier�s account included a translation of Algonkin terms into French for the next explorers. Cartier made two more voyages to Canada (see AJ-027 and AJ-028) before retiring near St. Malo, France.
This account was recorded by Cartier or a companion, and an Italian translation by Ramusio was published in Venice in 1556. An English translation made by Jean Florio was published in 1580, and Richard Hakluyt�s account of the voyage first appeared in 1600.
Other Internet or Reference Sources
The standard modern edition of Cartier�s writings is The Voyages of Jacques Cartier, Published from the Originals with Translations, edited by Henry P. Bigger (Toronto, 1924). A book-length biography of the explorer, written in 1916 by Stephen Leacock, is available from Project Gutenberg at http://www.gutenberg.org/
- In the footsteps of Jacques Cartier: the first voyage (1/3)
After so many trips around the world, you want to change dimension? Great expeditions are made for you! Discover a French adventure, that of Jacques Cartier on the (once) unknown lands of Canada.
It all began when a Genoese sailor, named Christopher Columbus, discovered the American continent on behalf of the Spanish crown. From then on, a real time trial towards the New World and its riches begins. If the South has returned to the Spanish and Portuguese, France follows suit, but to the North. Towards one of the most visited countries nowadays: Canada.
This adventure of the Kingdom of France began in 1534, when King François I gave the green light to a sailor from Saint-Malo, a certain Jacques Cartier. For Travel Lovers invites you to embark on the tracks of the famous Breton navigator, following the route of his very first voyage.
The Asian dream
It was thus said that the discovery of America in 1492 made the various European kingdoms want to set out to conquer the New World. They all then sought a way to reach Asia by sea, taking the direction of the West, to get their hands on the Asian riches.
Nevertheless, the Iberian kingdoms quickly understood that Christopher Columbus did not throw the ink in the Indies, but on an unknown continent. France, the great loser of the first conquests, also wanted to take the plunge. Contrary to its neighbours to the south, the kingdom of France is heading north. But how did she know that in the North there was land waiting for her?
It turns out that a secret was kept for a long time by European fishermen. Far, far away from the coasts of the Old Continent, a land and its coastline were sighted. It is Newfoundland. There, European fishermen discovered a stunning shoal of codfish. Jacques Cartier knows this secret, since he simply sailed there when he accompanied his father. When Cartier was older, he took off and set sail again off the Atlantic Ocean, first to Brazil and then to Africa. Enough to make him a reputation in his hometown: Saint-Malo.
On the capital side, François I rebelled against the Treaty of Tordesillas. But the monarch has not finished with the challenge of the Indies, and intends to conquer new lands to make his way to Asia. In 1524, he entrusted a Florentine, Giovanni da Verrazzano, with the task of sailing to the New World. If the navigator found America, he was unable to make his way to Asia. However, Francis I did not abandon the idea of finding this famous route.
In 1534, the abbot of Mont-Saint-Michel introduced him to Jacques Cartier. After praising his merits, the navigator managed to convince Francis I, blinded by the promise to bring back gold. Thus began, on April 20, 1534, Jacques Cartier's voyage to America.
Diving in the Strait of Belle Isle and arriving in the Gaspé Peninsula
Our journey, as far as we're concerned, begins in Newfoundland. An exceptional natural landscape, where the land is scarce but the sea is omnipresent. It's as if we've just found the end of the world. A feeling contrary to that of Jacques Cartier, for whom the view of the coast is synonymous with arriving in the New World, after twenty days of sailing.
However, it is not a pure discovery, since this is the famous coastline favourable to fishing. Moreover, Cartier came across a boat from La Rochelle to fish for cod. It was the last known European contact for the sailor and his crew until their return. Following Jacques Cartier's example, let's continue on our way to the north of the island. Indeed, during his voyage, Cartier decided to sail along Newfoundland from the north. A choice which will carry his men towards a mouth, that of the St. Lawrence River. Welcome to the Strait of Belle Isle.
The landscape is magnificent, both simple and immense. This is where Jacques Cartier truly enters the unknown. He even sees new animals, such as polar bears, walruses and even great penguins (a species that is extinct today). For us, seeing this wildlife would be a real miracle.
Nevertheless, the view from the mouth remains a grandiose spectacle. It is like Canada: everything there is bigger, more impressive.
If the beginning of this adventure is already magnificent, the continuation will be even more beautiful. It's time to follow the mouth and dive into the river. From now on, the land becomes more and more present. And after passing Anticosti Island, the American continent offers itself to us, just as it offered itself to Jacques Cartier five centuries ago.
The first coast we see is that of the Magdalen Islands, which Cartier once bypassed to head towards Prince Edward Island. Facing each other, these islands look alike and are easily recognizable, thanks to their ochre-coloured sand and rock, offering an unparalleled colourful panorama. Where the blue from the Atlantic predominates. Let's take the time to admire these lands, to look at them with our eyes, without a camera.
We find ourselves in one of the most beautiful places on our planet. A place at the same time wild, electric because it is full of history, but also soothing.
This time, Jacques Cartier does not take it, and continues to sink into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Enough to enter an indentation: the Baie des Chaleurs. Welcome to the Gaspé Peninsula. The environment can be reminiscent of Norman and British beaches, as the water cascades head-on onto enormous cliffs, giving the impression that the land has stopped dead in its tracks.
Next to such a feat, it is impossible not to feel tiny. Yet none of this is enough to scare our navigator, who is heading inland.
Meeting the Amerindians
As soon as the French arrived on the mainland, they came face to face with the Micmacs, an Aboriginal people. The two ethnic groups did not hesitate to trade, on good terms, until Jacques Cartier placed an enormous granite cross on which was inscribed "Long live the King of France! "» .
For yes, Cartier was looking for Asia and riches, but he was planning to colonize these new lands. Later, another tribe, the Iroquois, guessed the intention of the Malouin. But a lie (that it would be a landmark) is enough to calm relations. If today the cross no longer exists, it has been reproduced identically and installed in the same place, in Gaspé.
As for the Micmacs, they still live in Gaspé. Their reserves (some of which can be visited) make it possible to feel the fascination felt by our western ancestors, in front of a completely new culture, far from European customs. However, the fascination is shared. Indeed, the Amerindians (and particularly the Iroquois chief, Donnacona) fall under the spell of the European women on board. So much so that the Micmacs and Iroquois asked the Cartier band to haggle with them...
Our navigator is also interested in the Amerindian culture and its different tribes. But his intentions are not the most peaceful... Thus, the Breton invites the natives to a great feast and takes advantage of the occasion to betray the trust established between the two peoples by kidnapping two young Iroquois!
One of them is none other than the son of Chief Donnacona. The French set sail again and returned to the Old Continent. But Jacques Cartier doesn't intend to stop there and has an idea behind his head...
To discover it, go to Episode 2, where we'll follow in the footsteps of Jacques Cartier's second voyage. See you soon!
Continue the adventure in the footsteps of Jacques Cartier with Episode 2
Canada – Travel guide and top destinations
Vancouver – Everything you need to know before you go
Toronto – Complete City Guide
What to do in Whistler, Canada – 6 Must-See Tips
Lakes in Canada – 6 places worth visiting
McArthurGlen Designer Outlet em Vancouver
Add a comment of in the footsteps of jacques cartier: the first voyage (1/3).
- Things to do in Vancouver – 12 attractions to visit in the city
- Canada Visa – Spaniards can enter only with electronic authorization
- British Columbia – Top attractions and landmarks by region
- Exchange in Canada – How to choose the best city for your profile
- Aurora Borealis in Canada – Tips for planning your trip
- Whistler – Complete City Guide
- What is it like to fly on Air Canada
Remembering the Chelyabinsk Impact 10 Years Ago, and Looking to the Future
On Feb. 15, 2013, the people of Chelyabinsk, Russia, experienced a shocking event, and yet it was a small fraction of the devastation an asteroid on a collision course with Earth could yield. As NASA’s Planetary Defense experts reflect on the Chelyabinsk impact 10 years ago, they also look forward to the future and all that the agency has since accomplished in the field of Planetary Defense.
Harmless meteoroids, and sometimes small asteroids, impact our planet’s atmosphere daily. When they do, they disintegrate and create meteors or “shooting stars” and sometimes bright fireballs or bolides. Such was the case on Feb. 12 when a very small asteroid impacted Earth’s atmosphere over Northern France soon after discovery, resulting in a spectacular light show for local onlookers. Much more rarely, a larger asteroid that is still too small to reach the ground intact, yet large enough to release considerable energy when it disintegrates, can do significant damage to the ground. On Feb. 15, 2013, one such bolide event garnered international attention when a house-sized asteroid impacted Earth’s atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia, at a speed of eleven miles per second and exploded 14 miles above the ground. The explosion was equivalent to 440,000 tons of TNT, and the resulting air blast blew out windows over 200 square miles, damaged buildings, and injured over 1,600 people – mostly due to broken glass. Due to the asteroid’s approach from the daytime sky, it was not detected prior to impact, serving as a reminder that while there are no known asteroid threats to Earth for the next century, an Earth impact by an unknown asteroid could occur at any time.
Coincidentally, negotiations sponsored by the United Nations were finalizing formal recommendations for the establishment of Planetary Defense-related international collaborations – the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) and the Space Missions Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG) – when the Chelyabinsk impact occurred. Since then, NASA established the agency’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) in 2016 to oversee and coordinate the agency’s ongoing mission of Planetary Defense. This includes acting as a national representative at international Planetary Defense-related caucuses and forums, such as IAWN and SMPAG, and playing a leading role in coordinating U.S. government planning for response to an actual asteroid impact threat if one were ever discovered. The PDCO also funds observatories around the world through NASA’s Near-Earth Object (NEO) Observations Program to find and characterize NEOs – asteroids and comets that come within 30 million miles of Earth – with a particular focus on finding asteroids 460 feet (140 meters) and larger that represent the most severe impact risks to Earth. To help accelerate its ability to find potentially hazardous NEOs, NASA is also actively developing the agency’s NEO Surveyor mission , which is designed to finish discovery of 90 percent of asteroids 140 meters in size or larger that can come near Earth within a decade of being launched.
In 2022, working together with the Italian Space Agency, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission successfully demonstrated the world’s first-ever test for deflecting an asteroid’s orbit. Launched in 2021 , DART successfully collided with a known asteroid – which posed no impact threat to Earth – demonstrating one method of asteroid deflection technology using a kinetic impactor spacecraft. Since DART’s impact, Planetary Defense experts have been continuing to analyze data returned from the mission to better understand its demonstrated effects on the asteroid, which contributes to the understanding of how a kinetic impactor spacecraft could be used to address an asteroid impact threat in the future if the need ever arose.
The Chelyabinsk impact was a spark that ignited global conversation in Planetary Defense, and much progress in the field has occurred since then. However, there is still more work to be done, and NASA is actively at the forefront. In addition to building NASA’s NEO Surveyor to find the rest of the population of asteroids that could pose a hazard to Earth, the agency is considering a “rapid response reconnaissance” capability to be able to quickly obtain a more detailed characterization of a hazardous asteroid once it is discovered. NASA is also considering sending out a reconnaissance spacecraft to study an asteroid making a close approach to Earth in 2029.
“A collision of a NEO with Earth is the only natural disaster we now know how humanity could completely prevent” said NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson. “We must keep searching for what we know is still out there, and we must continue to research and test Planetary Defense technologies and capabilities that could one day protect our planet’s inhabitants from a devastating event.”
Learn more about NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office
Keep up to date on NASA’s Planetary Defense efforts by following Asteroid Watch on twitter
- Five Years after the Chelyabinsk Meteor: NASA Leads Efforts in Planetary Defense
- Around the World in Four Days: NASA Tracks Chelyabinsk Meteor Plume
- Science Papers on Chelyabinsk Meteor Findings
February 15, 2023
The Asteroid Blast That Shook the World Is Still Making an Impact
The Chelyabinsk asteroid slammed into Earth’s atmosphere 10 years ago, the largest impact in more than a century
By Phil Plait
Contrails left by the Chelyabinsk meteor over Russia.
Ten years ago, as the sun rose over Chelyabinsk, Russia, the sky exploded.
On February 15, 2013, an asteroid slammed into Earth's atmosphere at nearly 70,000 kilometers per hour. Almost the size of a tennis court, it blazed brilliantly in the sky as if a second sun had appeared and begun racing from southeast to northwest .
Ramming through the air at hypersonic velocities blowtorched the surface of the asteroid, which left behind a thick trail of vaporized rock as it screamed over Earth. The immense pressure started to flatten it (scientists call this “pancaking”), and the force finally overcame the asteroid some 40 kilometers above the ground. It crumbled into smaller chunks, each one still traveling at more than a dozen times the speed of a bullet fired from a rifle. These fragments also pancaked, creating a series of brief but powerful flashes of light as they heated to incandescence. The remaining pieces vaporized.
All of this happened in mere seconds, with the ultimate blow occurring when the asteroid was about 30 kilometers up. The energy of its last motion was converted into heat in an instant. The resulting huge fireball briefly outshone the sun in the sky, emitting energy equivalent to the detonation of about half a million metric tons of TNT.
The shock wave from this explosion traveled away from the blast, taking about a minute and a half to reach downtown Chelyabinsk, roughly 40 kilometers to the north. The industrial city of a million people was just starting its day when the apparition blazed across the sky. The awesome spectacle and the long, lingering vapor trail brought people outside or to their windows to see what happened—and that's when the shock wave touched down.
A tremendous thunderclap shattered windows all over the city, and flying glass was the source of most of the injuries to the roughly 1,500 people harmed in the event. Fortunately, no one was killed, and infrastructure damage was relatively minimal. Had the asteroid been bigger or made of metal or if it had plunged downward at a steeper angle, this story could have been quite different, the aftermath far more severe.
Chelyabinsk was a wake-up alarm for Earth —a loud one.
It was also a major learning experience for scientists, as it was the largest known atmospheric impact since the Tunguska bolide in 1908 . The asteroid's smoking trail was viewed by satellites as well as by thousands of eyewitnesses and cameras. Meteorites rained widely, including one monster half-ton chunk 1.5 meters across that plunged into a frozen lake and was later recovered. There's even security-camera footage of that piece crashing, creating a dramatic plume of snow and water shooting up into the air.
The meteorites recovered from the event revealed the asteroid's violent history . Shock veins riddled them, leaving narrow fissures. These showed that the 19-meter-wide Chelyabinsk rock was once part of a much larger asteroid that itself had suffered an impact, which broke off the piece that smashed into Earth and cracked it throughout. Radioactive dating indicated that the first impact may have occurred as long as 4.4 billion years ago, when the solar system was less than 200 million years old. Those fissures in the Chelyabinsk rock weakened it, allowing it to more easily disintegrate high above the ground and create that massive shock wave. The ghostly fingers of an ancient deep-space impact had reached out and touched the lives of thousands of Russian people that day.
It's not clear which asteroid may have been the parent asteroid. Scientists traced the trajectory of the Chelyabinsk impactor backward into space and found consistent matches to asteroids 2007 BD7 and 2011 EO40 . One may be the parent body, but it remains uncertain.
An analysis of Chelyabinsk, together with smaller, lower-energy events, showed that these kinds of impactors affect us much more frequently than previously thought . A Chelyabinsk-size impact happens every 25 years or so, with most occurring over the ocean or wilderness areas, thankfully.
It's a bit alarming that astronomers didn't see this asteroid coming long before it hit us. But asteroids tend to be very dark, and small ones are extremely faint even when close to our planet. Just a few years earlier the four-meter-wide asteroid 2008 TC3 became the first one ever detected before striking Earth. Only six others have been discovered before impact since then, including 2023 CX1, which lit up the English Channel on February 13, 2023, as if marking the week's anniversary. All were small, posing no danger to us on the ground.
Now, after I've terrified you about impacts from these objects, comes the good news: we're getting much better at finding them. In the decade since Chelyabinsk, about 20,000 near-Earth asteroids have been discovered —more than had been found in all of history up to 2013. New survey telescopes such as Pan-STARRS and the Zwicky Transient Facility have come online, and better detection and analysis techniques have been developed that accelerated the rate of discovery. Soon the huge Vera Rubin Observatory and NASA's NEO Surveyor space mission will also significantly boost the number of known Earth-threatening asteroids.
Finding them, though, is just the first step . Doing something about them is the next. To that end, in November 2021 NASA launched the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, which slammed a half-ton impactor into the 170-meter-wide asteroid Dimorphos—a moon of the larger asteroid Didymos. The momentum from the collision changed the orbital period of the asteroid by more than half an hour . That was an even bigger shift than had been predicted—a vast plume of material that the impact excavated and flung away from the asteroid's surface added a kick—showing that it's possible to use such a spacecraft to alter an asteroid's trajectory.
Bigger blasts might be able to divert an incoming space rock as well. Detonating a nuclear weapon near a small asteroid could vaporize much of its surface. This hot vapor would rapidly expand, acting like rocket exhaust and pushing the asteroid into a new and, one hopes, safer trajectory. Some issues regarding this method are still fairly difficult to overcome— it's currently illegal under the Outer Space Treaty to explode nuclear devices in space, for example —but a dangerous asteroid headed our way might grease the skids a bit on a political fix.
Since the Chelyabinsk impact, two spacecraft have not only approached small asteroids but also collected samples from them; one, Hayabusa2, already dropped off its samples back at Earth, and the other, OSIRIS-REx, will do so later this year. Both asteroids, Ryugu (roughly one kilometer across) and Bennu (500 meters across), are essentially rubble piles, loose collections of small rocks held together by their own meager gravity. It's likely all small asteroids are rubble piles, which will affect how we fend them off; their weak structures mean they can absorb the impact of a spacecraft more easily. Imagine trying to punch a box of packing peanuts, and you'll get the idea. The DART mission showed, however, that copious amounts of material are ejected after a collision, and that transfer of momentum can actually increase the effect of an impact .
Chelyabinsk caught us by surprise, and although such small impacts may still sneak past our guard, we're getting better at finding potential threats from space and learning what we can do if we find one with Earth in its crosshairs. Big, dangerous asteroids are rare, yet we need only look to Meteor Crater in Arizona to see why we need to take them seriously. The explosion from that impact, estimated as 10 to 40 megatons, carved a hole more than a kilometer across in the desert about 50,000 years ago, probably devastating the plants and animals living there at the time . This might be one of the most recent large direct impacts Earth has suffered, but it won't be the last.
Unless, of course, we do something to stop them.
This is an opinion and analysis article, and the views expressed by the author or authors are not necessarily those of Scientific American.