Canada | Eastern North America

Early encounters

When Samuel de Champlain dropped anchor in the waters near Tadoussac in 1603, he was welcomed by the local inhabitants: the Montagnais and Algonquin. In fact, it was thanks to the Montagnais that Champlain was able to penetrate further into the territory and set up the fur trade monopoly ― the task he had been given by the king of France. The Montagnais knew the waterway network that lay between the St. Lawrence and Lac Saint-Jean extremely well, since they travelled upon it to trade with other tribes. They set up strict rules of trade that the French gladly agreed to.

In his writings (notably Voyages and Travels in New France, An Exploration of Acadia from the St. Lawrence Valley and The Savages), Champlain left detailed descriptions of how these people he calls ‘savages’ lived. His words accompany many of the images presented here.

Champlain wrote: “We went to visit the savages at St. Matthew’s point, distant a league from Tadoussac . . . Their canoes were about eight or nine feet long, and one to two feet wide in the middle, growing narrower toward the two ends . . . When they wish to go overland to some river where they have business, they carry their canoes with them . . . Their cabins are low and made like tents, being covered with the same kind of bark as that before mentioned. The whole top for the space of about a foot they leave uncovered, whence the light enters; and they make a number of fires directly in the middle of the cabin, in which there are sometimes ten families at once.”

Champlain described his hosts as follows: “These savages shave their heads at the top and wear the rest long, which they comb and arrange very neatly in a number of ways, affixing feathers to their heads.”

He described his welcome by the Montagnais in Tadoussac: “Having landed, we proceeded to the cabin of their grand Sagamore, named Anadabijou, who was celebrating a tabagie, which means banquet. He received us very cordially, according to the custom of his land, seating us near himself, with all the Savages arranged in rows on both sides of the cabin.”

Champlain also wrote: “They began celebrating their tabagie, or banquet, at which they have elk’s meat, which is similar to beef, also that of the bear, seal and beaver . . . Now after they had finished their tabagie, they began to dance, taking the heads of their enemies, which were slung on their backs . . .”

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[peinture #33015]
Champlain’s meeting with Native Americans at Tadoussac.
Canada, Quebec, Tadoussac
Film illustration, coloured pencil and dry pastel, sketchbook page (disbound)
Credit: Frédéric Back and ONF
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