The French Period to 1763
The coasts of Labrador became known to Europeans soon after their "discovery" of the New World. French and Basque migratory fishermen and whalers frequented the southern coast from the 16th century, though it is unlikely that they ventured much further north than Chateau Bay. The more northerly stretches of the coastline were more formally explored by English mariners looking for the northwest passage. During the 17th century, the coast was also visited by Dutch whalers, and Dutch maps of the region were influential.
It was in the 17th century as well that French traders from Québec began to move east along the North Shore and onto the south Labrador coast, usually being granted seigneuries or concessions by the government of New France. They were involved with fishing, sealing, and trade with the Innu and Inuit. Effective year-round use of the coast did not extend beyond Cape Charles, but the French did venture further north.
In 1694 Louis Jolliet explored the coast as far as 56.8° North, and wrote the first account of the shoreline between Cape Charles and what later became known as Zoar. Augustin Le Gardeur de Courtemanche received in 1702 a huge concession extending from the Mingan area as far north as what is today called Hamilton Inlet, known at that time as the Baie des Esquimaux or Kessessakiou. He explored his concession, but did not establish a post in the northern part of it.
But in 1743 Louis Fornel made a determined attempt to open up trade in the area. He formally claimed the Baie des Esquimaux for France, and left behind one Jean Pilote and his son, with several Innu families at or near modern North West River. The Pilotes returned to Québec overland. Fornel applied for a huge concession extending far inland from the bay, which was eventually granted to his widow in 1749.
By this time, the southern interior of the Labrador peninsula was becoming better known to the French, largely through contact with the Innu. The French themselves explored routes between the North Shore and James and Hudson bays, being concerned by the presence there after 1670 of the English Hudson's Bay Company. But if Europeans knew the Labrador coast reasonably well, their knowledge of the interior remained vague at best. "We have no Knowledge of the Inland Parts of this Country", wrote the geographer Emanuel Bouman in 1717. It was an exaggeration, but not a large one.