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.
||French Concessions on the Labrador coast, 1680-1763.
From Richard Budgel and Michael Staveley. The Labrador Boundary. Happy Valley-Goose Bay:
Labrador Institute of Northern Studies, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1987. Map adapted by Tina Riche.
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.
|Signature of Louis Jolliet.
From A. W. Greely, Explorers and Travellers. New York: Scribner, 1893.
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.
||Charles de Beauharnois (1670 1749).
Beauharnois was the Governor of New France from 1727 to 1746, when he was replaced
after the loss of Louisbourg to the British. In 1743 he gave a commission
to Louis Fornel to explore the Baie des Esquimaux, and Fornel subsequently named
a large island "forming the southern entrance of the bay ... pointe de Beauharnois".
From Francis Parkman, A Half Century of Conflict. Vol II. Boston: Little, Brown, 1901.
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.
©1998, J.K. Hiller