Champlain: Father of New France

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13031

A wise, skillful explorer and leader who started the first permanent settlement in Canada, and was well-loved by the people. He explored two of the Great Lakes, and named another lake 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? Chances are, if you look into it, there will be an interesting story 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 the previous Related Lessons in this French Explorers of the New World series, found in the right-hand sidebar, you learned how the French began exploring North America.

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

Image by Théophile Hamel [cropped], via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

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. We do know from his own writing that he grew up loving the sea and learned much about navigation as a young man. He took his first voyage before he had turned twenty, travelling 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 choose 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 the landscape and describe it, 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, then headed to Hochelaga (Montreal); however, the Indian settlement that Cartier had described was no longer there.

  • What do you think could have happened?
  • Do you remember that Cartier came to some rapids in the river and could go no farther?

Champlain came up against those same rapids (Lachine) and had to stop. But he learned from the natives that there were some very large lakes beyond the rapids, and he looked forward to coming back and exploring them another time.

rapids of Lachine in Montreal

Image by Richard Mc Neil, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY 3.0 license.

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 own 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 all of North America.

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

Quebec City

Champlain built a home of his own in Quebec and continued his 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

Image by Kmusser and modified by Pierre cb, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY-SA 2.5 license.

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 made an alliance with the Huron Indians. They were at war with the Iroquois and wanted the French to help them. Champlain set out with nine of his 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 was the beginning of a bad relationship between the French and the Iroquois that would last for nearly a hundred years.

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

Below is Champlain's own drawing of the battle.

encounter with the Iroquois

Image by Samuel de Champlain, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

In 1612, Champlain was finally able to make 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

Image by D. Gordon E. Robertson, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

In 1615, Champlain reached two of the 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 at Quebec City. The settlement was captured by the English in 1629, and Champlain had to go back to France; however, 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, there are many bridges, parks, buildings, streets, etc., 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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