OTD: Champlain appointed lieutenant to Henry II

On today’s date in 1620, Samuel de Champlain was appointed a lieutenant to Henry II, Duke of Montmorency.

Born into a family of French mariners in 1574, Champlain began exploring North America in 1603 and eventually climbed to the top of society on this side of the pond. He went to the North American colony of New France in 1620, when he was appointed as a lieutenant to the Duke of Montmorency, and spent his life trying to develop the region rather than explore and map it.

On March 1, 1632, he was appointed as New France’s first governor.

Champlain died on Christmas Day, 1635, in Québec. By the time of his death, the first Québécois settlers were beginning to arrive in New France.

More than 100 years later, in 1763, France ceded its North American colonies (excluding the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon) to Great Britain and Spain in the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years’ War.

Champlain’s depiction on the coin is similar to a false portrait of the French explorer that’s based on a 1654 engraved portrait of Michel Particelli d’Emery by Balthazar Moncornet. Photo by Library and Archives Canada/C-006643.


In 2014, the Royal Canadian Mint featured Champlain on the third coin of its “Great Explorers” series.

The pure gold Proof coin with a face value of $200 features Champlain alongside a First Nations guide as they disembark from canoes on the Ontario shoreline. The coin was designed by Glen Green and has a mintage of 2,000 pieces.

Although there’s no known confirmed portrait of Champlain, the coin’s design presents the French explorer as he’s frequently portrayed in artistic depictions—with long dark hair, a long moustache and a trimmed beard and sporting a feathered cap, jacket and pantaloons of the era. The false portrait of Champlain is based on a 1654-dated engraved portrait of Michel Particelli d’Emery by Balthazar Moncornet.

In his right hand, Champlain carries his astrolabe, famously thought to have been lost on a portage through the Calumet rapids near Cobden, Ont.; however, this story has been largely discredited. In his left hand, he holds a notebook believed to have held his maps and drawings.

Behind the portrait is Champlain’s birch-bark canoe, which is replete with supplies and paddles. His back turned to the waterway and distant tree-lined shore behind him. A First Nations guide stands to his left with his own supply-filled canoe, holding a paddle in his right hand. His long hair sports two feathers, and he wears a buckskin loincloth, footwear and arm straps.

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