OTD: Jacques Cartier reaches Stadacona, meets Donnacona

On today’s date in 1535, the second voyage of Breton explorer Jacques Cartier arrived at the Iroquois village of Stadacona, near present-day Québec, Qué., where he met Chief Donnacona while traversing the St. Lawrence River.

Cartier’s three ships were called the Grande Hermine, the Petite Hermine and the Emerillon, and not wanting to linger in Stadacona, Cartier made known his desire to push upriver to Hochelaga, which was another Laurentian Iroquois settlement, according to Jon Parmenter’s 2010 book The Edge of the Woods.

Cartier found no willing guides among his Stadaconan hosts.

“After a preliminary discussion with Donnacona on September 15, 1535 (which Cartier believed had established ‘a marvelous stedfast league of friendship’), Donnacona clarified the nature of the arrangements in a formal ceremony two days later at the site of Cartier’s anchored vessels,” writes Parmenter.

“Following a round of singing and dancing, Donnacona moved all his people to one side, then drew ‘a ring in the sand, [and] caused the Captain [Cartier] and his men to stand in it.’ He then presented Cartier a gift of three Stadaconan children, which Taignoagny explained were offered to Cartier (as a sign of alliance) on the condition that he not travel to Hochelaga. The spatial gesture represented by the ring drawn in the sand, combined with the offer of children, represented the Stadaconans’ conditional offer of allegiance, an offer that depended on Cartier accepting their power to control his freedom of movement and binding himself as an ally of the community with kinbased obligations of reciprocity.”

Later that year, Cartier built a fort at the site, where he stayed for about a year while claiming the area for France and calling it “Canada,” which was an alteration of the Iroquois word “kanata,” which means village or settlement.

Québec city (or “Ville de Quebec” in French) is named after the St. Lawrence River promontory by which it’s located. In fact, “Kebec” is an Algonquin word meaning “where the river narrows.”


In 2013, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a $200 gold coin featuring Cartier as the second of six issues in its “Great Explorers” series.

With a limited mintage of 2,000 coins – 1,000 fewer than the series’ first coin – this gold piece has a weight of 15.43 grams, a diameter of 29 millimetres and serrated edges.

Designed by artist Laurie McGaw, the coin’s reverse features a full-length portrait of Cartier standing atop a riverbank and surveying the land. He’s flanked by French soldiers and an aboriginal guide, with surrounding inscriptions reading “CANADA,” the year-date “2013” and the face value of “200 DOLLARS.”

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