On today’s date in 1610, Samuel de Champlain and his Huron and Algonquin allies began an attack on an Iroquois party on Québec’s Richelieu River.
Champlain’s group eventually defeated the Iroquois party five days later. The attack echoed a similar incident a year earlier, when a similar group led by Champlain defeated another Iroquois party, this near Crown Point (present-day Ticonderoga), where the French explorer killed two chieftains with his arquebus.
“These humiliating defeats inflicted on the Iroquois were not soon forgotten,” wrote Bernd Horn in his 2006 book, Perspectives on the Canadian Way of War: Serving the National Interest. “The consequences of these events would rock the colony for generations. The Iroquois Confederacy became the intractable enemy of the French. ‘Between us and them,’ conceded an intendant in New France, ‘there is no more good faith than between the most ferocious animals.”
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.
Tasked with mapping the New World and finding a western route to the Orient – building on fellow explorer Jacques Cartier’s earlier achievements – Champlain made the first attempts at a permanent settlement in 1608, when he built a habitation that eventually became Québec.
From 1608-16, Champlain deepened trading relations with Québec’s local Indigenous people. As he began to explore the western interior with Indigenous guides, his quest for new territory was slowed by demands for permanent settlement and by his growing role as Lieutenant General of New France. He went to New France in 1620 and spent the rest of his life trying to improve the territory rather than simply exploring it.
On March 1, 1632, Champlain was appointed New France’s governor—the first ever.
He later died on Christmas Day, 1635, in Québec. By the time of his death, the first Québécois settlers were beginning to arrive.
2014 CHAMPLAIN COIN
In 2014, the Royal Canadian Mint featured Champlain on the third coin of its Great Explorers series.
The $200 pure gold Proof coin features the French explorer alongside an Indigenous 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; a weight of 15.43 grams; and a 29-millimetre diameter.