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Banner: Pathfinders and Passageways: The Exploration of Canada About This Site
The Mapmakers: An Essay in Four Parts
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Attempts at Settling the "New" Land

More than a century would pass between the time that Europeans began fishing the waters of riches and their first attempts to settle Canada. There are a few reasons for this delay. The fishery was made profitable by men who crossed the Atlantic seasonally -- arriving on the North American coast in the spring and returning to Europe in the fall. Settlement, as the historian Gillian Cell put it, was irrelevant to the fishery. The same was true of the fur trade in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which was attracting investors by the late 1500s. Europeans did not trap furs themselves, but acquired them from the Native inhabitants of Canada, in exchange for European goods. For those who invested in the fishery or the fur trade, it simply made more sense to operate seasonally, without incurring the enormous cost and risk of transporting settlers from Europe and then maintaining them year-round. As a result, no attempt was made to settle permanently north of the Carolinas before the 17th century.

Map: ["Port Royal"], 1613, by Samuel de Champlain

Around 1600, something changed. Between 1603 and 1613, numerous attempts were made to establish permanent European outposts in North America: by the French in the Bay of Fundy region in 1603-04; by the English in Virginia in 1607; by the French again at Quebec in 1608; and by the English in Newfoundland several times, beginning in 1610. What triggered this seemingly abrupt interest in permanent settlement? The answer is complicated. As the 17th century began, a period of war drew to a close in Europe, one that had preoccupied several countries. The onset of peace brought new interest in overseas investment, including the notion that profits could be made through the development of colonies. The first colony in Newfoundland, for instance, was established in 1610 by the London & Bristol Company (commonly called the Newfoundland Company). The investors of this company expected the colony to generate wealth through the development of Newfoundland's mineral, forest, and agricultural resources as well as from its fishery.

Map: ["Quebec"], 1613, by Samuel de Champlain

Expectations such as these were nurtured by the optimistic predictions of those promoting overseas colonization. They insisted that the island had a climate as mild as that of London or Paris, soil suitable for European crops, and mineral potential in abundance. Unfortunately, the inaccuracy of these claims was not revealed until after the experience of those who settled there proved the promoters wrong. The climate was in fact quite harsh, the soil thin and acidic, and the mineral potential would have to wait a few centuries for the development of mining technologies.

Image: Plan of the harbour and port of Plaisance, before 1692
Artifact: 17th century ceramic bowl found at Ferryland, Newfoundland

This is not to say that settlement would not take root in Newfoundland. Archaeological evidence at Ferryland and at Cupid's Cove suggests that settlement did persist. Yet only the fishery in Newfoundland, like the fur trade in New France, would generate the sort of profits that pleased investors in Europe. Since settlement was really not essential to either the fishery or the fur trade, this meant that settlement in the new land progressed very slowly throughout the 17th century.

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