John Cabot may have discovered an ocean route from Europe to North America, but the information he returned with did little to clarify the geography of eastern Canada. Whether this was the northeastern tip of Asia or one of the islands that geographers believed to lie out in the Ocean Sea nobody yet knew. Over the next quarter century, however, a succession of voyages undertaken by several Portuguese explorers as well as the discoveries of Giovanni Verrazano, sailing for the king of France, proved beyond doubt that something resembling a full continent lay astride the route to the east.
Enthusiasts continued to believe that there might be a narrow channel through this landmass or at least a northern, navigable waterway around it. Further European exploration in the region, however, would henceforth have to justify itself not only in terms of a route to Cathay, but also in terms of what of value might be found in the New World itself.
Thus, when Jacques Cartier explored the Gulf of the St. Lawrence in the 1530s, he was looking first for a channel through the Americas into the Pacific and also for "the vast quantity of gold and other rich things" that were believed to exist in this part of the world.
Martin Frobisher's three voyages to the Canadian Arctic north of Labrador between 1576-1578 combined the search for a northwest passage with the misguided belief that there was gold to be mined on Baffin Island. The further these explorers pushed into the frozen north, however, the less they found of value; and from 1580-1620, when John Davis, Henry Hudson, Robert Bylot, and William Baffin were cruising the eastern Arctic, they were looking exclusively for a way to China and gave the frozen lands around them little thought at all.
Newfoundland and Labrador were also "explored" during this period; we know this from the sharpening sense of the region's geography reflected in the maps of the day. Yet, this was the work, not of famous mariners, but of common fishermen and forgotten shipmasters from fishing ports of Western Europe. They have left their mark in the names they gave to the hundreds of bays, capes, and islands they frequented along the coast of this province, but who these explorers were is beyond recall.