In the footsteps of Jacques Cartier: the third and final voyage (3/3)


After a first voyage of discovery and an eventful second exploration, follow in the footsteps of Jacques Cartier’s final voyage to Canada!

Never two without three: the perfect expression to sum up Jacques Cartier’s adventures in the Canadian lands formerly known as New France. After discovering Newfoundland, Gaspésie, Stadaconé and Hochelaga, and despite the bitter failure of his second voyage, Jacques Cartier once again obtained the green light from François I to set sail across the Atlantic.

But little does he know that this final expedition has many surprises in store for him…

New on board? Start the adventure withEpisode 1, before moving on toEpisode 2.

A tense journey

The change of course

Five years have passed since Jacques Cartier returned to Saint-Malo. Although the second voyage was trying, the desire for wealth and discovery is still an obsession for the Governor of New France. So it was only logical that the Malouin should ask François I for a third expedition, to finally find his way to Asia, and the famous riches of the Kingdom of the Saguenay.

Problem: the previous trip didn’t work in his favor. His credibility with the king was no longer high. Indeed, Cartier was unable to navigate the entire St. Lawrence River, and François I had no precious stones to sink his teeth into. The chances of Cartier setting sail again for the French crown seemed slim. Yet the Breton was to succeed.

Arrivée à Stadaconé

Left: Discovery of the Iroquois village of Stadaconé during the second voyage | Right: Cartier begging the Amerindians to treat his troops Photo credits: Wikipedia – Walter Baker | Batchelor, Lawrence R.

Remember, before heading back to the Breton coast, Cartier tricked the Iroquois into a so-called feast, enabling the French to kidnap some Amerindians, including Iroquois chief Donnaconna. Once in France, Donnaconna understood what the French were after: the gold of the Saguenay. Donnaconna tells the French what they want to hear, telling the legend of the Saguenay and what’s hidden there. As the years went by, these revelations made François I give in. Cartier could return to New France.

Nevertheless, the monarch wished to focus this third voyage on wealth and colonization. Gone are the days of seafaring adventures; these lands must be conquered and resources found.

A new commander

But the main objective was not the only change demanded by François I. The king was now wary of Cartier and wanted to keep an eye on him, especially as he also doubted his ability to colonize New France.

He therefore decided to place him under guardianship, and entrusted responsibility for the trip to Jean-François de La Rocque de Roberval, a man of the court in whom François I had complete confidence.

Sur les traces de Jacques Cartier

Portraits of François I (left), Roberval (middle) and Jacques Cartier (right) – Photo credits: Wikipedia – Oakenchips | Jean Clouet | Wilfredor

Jacques Cartier was therefore only the second on this voyage. A demotion that scandalized the explorer himself. In fact, the relationship between the explorer and Roberval was virtually non-existent from the very start of the voyage. The former criticized Roberval for taking an inordinate amount of time. On May 23, 1541, the Malouin explorer had had enough: he’d waited too long. Le Malouin set sail without waiting for Roberval, who would have to find another ship to reach the other side of the ocean.

Mineral discovery

Stadaconé and its capes

While the few colonists accompanying him quickly decided to settle on the shores of the St. Lawrence, the Breton had nothing to do with it. The now rebel had only one obsession: to find resources. Cartier believes in his destiny, the one that will make him a man of great wealth. And it’s here that we resume our adventure.

Remember, in the last episode, we had just discovered Quebec City, the city built on and around the Iroquois village of Stadaconé. Now that we’ve skirted the banks of the St. Lawrence and gained a bit of height, it’s time to head off in search of the capes.

The first cape Cartier explored was called Cap Rouge. Here, our explorer spotted cliffs with reddish-colored stone, creating a color contrast with the blue of the river, whose water caressed the edge. His nose tells him that the precious stones are not far away. He ordered the construction of a fort, which he named Charlesbourg-Royal.

L'Anse du Cap Rouge

L’Anse du Cap Rouge, Quebec City – Photo credits: Wikipedia – Judicieux

Nonetheless, after a short mop, the Breton’s eyes noticed an even more interesting spot. A cape of glittering stones. Cartier is convinced that his dream has just come true. According to him, such brilliance can only come from a diamond! Perched on the heights of the hill, his emotions overflowing, the man from La Malouin no longer touches the ground. The panoramic view gives him the same feeling as on Mount Royal: that of being on the roof of the New World.

We can feel it too. The panorama of Quebec City is breathtaking, and the presence of a 19th-century citadel reinforces this impression. As if nothing could stop us.

It’s also a unique moment, when we can realize just how much our forefathers managed to build in just 500 years. An opportunity our explorer obviously didn’t have. And today, even if the Citadelle of Quebec is the main attraction of the area, some will never forget who named this hill Cap Diamant.

Cap Diamant

Cap Diamant and the Citadelle of Québec – Photo credits: Wikipedia – Judicieux | shipfactory

Finally, we end our tour of the capes below Cap Diamant, where the navigator can also see stones glittering with a thousand lights. After climbing the staircase of the same name, we come to Cap Blanc, whose name is said to derive from an Amerindian term referring to the cape’s primitive appearance.

And yet this is one of the finest examples of French colonial architecture on offer. Like Old Quebec and its center, some of the houses here immediately remind us of 19th-century French architecture. It’s as if we were in Western France, strolling through a Charente or Vendée village. This impression is heightened by the sight of the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde church.

Le Cap Blanc

Cap Blanc – Photo credits: Wikipedia – Jeangagnon | Gilbert Bochenek

Its name is no coincidence either. In the 19th century, sailors from Quebec City learned of the construction of a church in Marseilles dedicated to Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, which the sailors of Marseilles worshipped to protect them when they set sail.

When the church was inaugurated, sailors from Quebec City requested that it bear the same name.


Notre-Dame de la Garde church, Cap Blanc Photo credit: Wikipedia – Jeangagnon

In our case, these places are a prime tourist attraction, but for our explorer, there’s no time to lose. Collect as many resources as possible, until the boat can’t float.

The Saguenay kingdom

With the discovery of the three capes, Jacques Cartier had finally succeeded in finding riches, and knew he could return to France without incurring the wrath of François Ier. But don’t think our adventure ends here! The ex-governor of New France has no intention of returning home without unravelling the mystery of the famous Kingdom of the Saguenay. And neither are we!

According to information from Domagaya, son of Chief Donnacona, the route to the Saguenay begins north of Stadaconé, at the mouth of the river that leads to impressive lakes. Cartier managed to find the passage. What he didn’t know was that a fjord awaited him.

This is one of the most beautiful landscapes in North America. From the beauty of the azure waters to the magnificence of the verdant cliffs, everything is absolutely sublime. It’s enough to remind us of the emotion we felt when discovering the Gaspé Peninsula. But here comes the best part.

Fjord du Saguenay

Saguenay Fjord Photo credit: Shutterstock – Vlad G

As for the rest of our journey, it’s impossible to say that Jacques Cartier actually did it. While the navigator did see the fjord, and found precious stones there too, it’s impossible to know whether the Breton went any further. Even today, historians disagree on the facts. It is even said that the Malouin went there on his second voyage.

But who cares what history says? The place of the Kingdom of Saguenay and its legend is central to the adventure of the perfidious Breton. And above all, to miss these landscapes would be a monumental mistake.

A mistake, because at the end of the river, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world awaits us. Welcome to our final stop: Lac Saint-Jean. The first thing that strikes you is the immensity of the place, which confirms what we said at the beginning. Everything is bigger, more majestic. You only have to stand in the middle of the lake to realize that man is but a tiny part of nature.

This idea is also accentuated by the coasts, where fir trees are king, thanks to their great size and the green harmony they impose.

Lac Saint-Jean

Lac Saint-Jean Photo credit: Shutterstock – Vlad G

Let the silence lull you to sleep, admire the scenery and take time to reflect on our adventure. For this is where our expedition in the footsteps of Jacques Cartier ends. A journey like no other, for a story like no other.

A dramatic ending

But while the voyage may have come to an end for us, not so for France’s most famous navigator. Once the ship was full of precious stones, Cartier decided to set sail for home. He headed for the Gulf of St. Lawrence, around Newfoundland, and out into the Atlantic.

Cartier’s disobedience

But just as Newfoundland was a few knots away, the sailor spotted another boat. It’s just off the coast of Newfoundland. It’s simply Roberval, the expedition’s commander, who left late and was stood up by an exasperated and impatient Cartier.

Their meeting far from the Kingdom of France did not go as planned. Roberval demanded that the Malouin turn back, but he categorically refused. As a result, the king’s man of trust had to discover the New World without a scout, and get to know the Amerindians without an intermediary.

Moreover, the first contacts with the natives were extremely complicated, thanks to Cartier and his manipulations.

Paysage de Terre Neuve

Newfoundland, where Cartier-Roberval met Photo credit: Shutterstock – rustycanuck

Indeed, when the Iroquois see the Breton disembarking a third time, they don’t see their chief Donnacona, nor the other members of the tribe the French had kidnapped. The navigator explains that their friends have married in France, are very happy and have no desire to return.

The reality, however, is quite different. With the exception of the young girl, the only survivor, not all the Amerindians had survived Europe and the diseases of the Old Continent. And although the tribe will never know the truth about their companions, the lie was enough for them to distrust the French, once and for all.

As a result, the new governor faced defiance, and the various Amerindian tribes prevented the French from settling on Canadian soil. Colonization was a failure, and Roberval couldn’t help but notice the setback.

The great disappointment

In August 1542, Jacques Cartier finally arrived in the port of Saint-Malo. As soon as he disembarked, the Malouin had only one thing on his mind: to have the precious stones he had just brought back appraised, and then to present himself to François I like a hero. But Cartier had no idea that a nasty surprise awaited him.

Yes, after an expert appraisal, the navigator learned that all the stones he had brought back from America were quartz and pyrite. Stones of no value whatsoever. After three arduous voyages, months of navigation and unscrupulous choices, Jacques Cartier’s dream collapsed. In the end, all he brought to France was a proverb: « False as a Canadian diamond ».

Pierres Précieuses

Left: quartz / Right: pyrite – Photo credits: Shutterstock – Sebastian Janicki | olpo

He would end his life in Saint-Malo, in his manor house, as he had always planned. But without the riches he’d lusted after all his life.