Champlain: Father of New France

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13031

A wise, skillful explorer and leader, Champlain started the first permanent settlement in Canada and was well-loved by the people. He explored two of the Great Lakes and named another after himself!


World, World

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Have you ever heard a funny-sounding name for a place and wondered how it got that weird name?

If you look into it, an interesting story will be behind it!

Read the following story about Astrolabe Lake in Ontario, Canada.

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  • So, how did the astrolabe get there?
  • And what does all this have to do with Samuel de Champlain?

Read on!

In this lesson, you'll learn about Samuel de Champlain.

Champlain was a skillful navigator, explorer, geographer, leader, and writer. He's considered the founder of Quebec and the Father of New France.

Samuel de Champlain

Champlain was born in the seaside village of Brouage, France, around 1574. Historians were not quite sure about the date because a fire broke out in his hometown that destroyed the town's records, so some facts about his early life are missing.

His writing shows that he grew up loving the sea and learned much about navigation as a young man. He took his first voyage before he turned twenty, traveling with his uncle to Spain and the West Indies. He took many notes on this voyage and sent a summary of all that he observed to King Henry IV of France.

The King was very impressed. In 1603, he chose Champlain to join a man named Du Pont, who was leading a voyage to Canada. Champlain's job was to be the King's official geographer, study and describe the landscape, and help choose a location for a large fur-trading center.

Champlain was eager to follow the route taken by Jacques Cartier in 1535. Coming into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, they sailed down the St. Lawrence River, made a little side trip up the Saguenay River, and then headed to Hochelaga (Montreal); however, the Indian settlement Cartier had described was no longer there.

  • What do you think could have happened?

Champlain came up against the same rapids as Cartier (Lachine) and had to stop. But he learned from the natives that there were some huge lakes beyond the rapids, and he looked forward to returning and exploring them again.

rapids of Lachine in Montreal

In 1604, the King sent Champlain on another expedition and asked him to choose a place for a permanent settlement. Landing on the southeast coast of Nova Scotia, Champlain explored the Bay of Fundy and the St. John River and established Port Royal (which is now Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia).

While the crew was working on building a settlement, Champlain used it as a base to continue exploring. He explored the Atlantic coast from Maine to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In all his explorations, he made excellent maps and took careful notes.

In 1608, Champlain got command of his ship and returned to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence River. He sailed on to Statacona, where Cartier had visited.

Champlain thought this was the best place to establish a settlement. He renamed it Quebec, from an Algonquin word meaning where the river narrows. Quebec City, as it's now called, is the oldest permanent settlement in Canada and one of the oldest in North America.

Here, you can see a part of the fortified walls built around the city in 1690 and still standing.

Quebec City

Champlain built his own home in Quebec and continued exploring expeditions. In 1609, he explored the Richelieu River and was the first European to map Lake Champlain, which he named after himself.

This large lake is located at the borders between New York, Vermont, and Canada.

map of Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain

Around this time, Champlain made what many people believe was his big mistake. While trying to establish good relations with the natives, he allied with the Huron Indians. They were at war with the Iroquois and wanted the French to help them.

Champlain set out with nine soldiers and 300 natives to help the Huron in battle. When they met the Iroquois, Champlain shot his long gun at two of the Iroquois chiefs and killed them. One of his men killed another.

This began a bad relationship between the French and the Iroquois that would last nearly a hundred years.

  • Do you think Champlain made a bad decision in supporting the Huron?

Below is Champlain's drawing of the battle.

encounter with the Iroquois

In 1612, Champlain finally made it past the Lachine Rapids and explored more of the land beyond the St. Lawrence. He went through an area of small lakes near Cobden, Ontario.

In one place, the crew had to portage (carry their canoes) over land, and historians believe that was when Champlain lost his astrolabe. It wasn't found again until 1867, and you know the rest of that story!

This statue in Ottawa, sculpted by Hamilton MacCarthy in 1915, shows Champlain using his astrolabe.

Samuel de Champlain with Astrolabe statue

In 1615, Champlain reached two Great Lakes: Lake Huron and Lake Ontario. He also traveled with a group of Huron warriors to somewhere beyond Lake Ontario (historians are not quite sure where) to fight the Iroquois again.

This time, Champlain and his companions lost the battle. Champlain was shot in the knee with an arrow and couldn't walk, so he stayed with the natives for the winter. He later described their way of life in detail and seemed to have enjoyed his time with them.

That was Champlain's last expedition. He spent the rest of his life trying to build up the settlement in Quebec City. The English captured the settlement in 1629, and Champlain had to return to France.

He was able to return in 1633 and continue his work for two more years. The people there considered him the governor of the colony. He died there in 1635.

In addition to Lake Champlain, many bridges, parks, buildings, streets, etc. are named in Champlain's honor in Canada and even in New York and Vermont.

  • Have you ever visited any of them?

Now that you've learned some things about Champlain, move on to the Got It? section, where you'll watch a video about his life and think about his achievements.

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