Settlers to Prince Edward County

A historical examination of who they were and why they came [*]


Page 1 - Samuel de Champlain and Native Canadians

Samuel de Champlain

Natives of the Iroquois tribe were the first people to live in Prince Edward County, and Samuel de Champlain was the first European to discover the area. Champlain’s first expedition to Canada was up the St. Lawrence River in 1603, though he travelled no further than the Lachine Rapids. In 1604, he explored the North American coast and helped found Port Royal in Nova Scotia, the first French settlement in North America. 1608 saw Champlain sail the St. Lawrence again, this time far enough to establish the most important fur-trading post of the era in Quebec.

champlain's route 1615

Figure 1 - Route of Champlain, 1615.

Champlain made successful contact with Native Canadians. It was French policy at the time to enter into Native affairs, so Champlain allied France with the Huron and Algonquin tribes. He even agreed to join the Huron as part of their war party and aid in an attack against their mortal enemy, the Iroquois in the Mohawk Valley in 1615. Joining the war party was a strategic move on Champlain’s part to discover more land in Western Canada and possibly trade routes or opportunities for France. Champlain came through Lake Nipissing and Georgian Bay to Huronia, and the war party travelled from Huronia, through Sturgeon Lake, Chemong Lake, the Otonabee River, Rice Lake, the Trent River and the Bay of Quinte into Lake Ontario. Historians believe that Champlain is writing about Prince Edward County when he recorded in his journal: "All this lovely area was uninhabited for it’s Indian population had abandoned it for fear of Iroquois raiders." This is evidence that Prince Edward County was occasionally populated by nomadic Iroquois.

Natives and Canoes

Native Americans lived in Prince Edward County long before any Europeans ‘discovered’ the area. It’s residents were primarily Iroquois, who depended on Prince Edward County waterways for survival. They were hunters and fishers who depended upon Lake Ontario for sustenance as well as travel. Travelling by water was much quicker than travelling by land and therefore was the preferred mode of transportation. Natives used canoes to navigate the waterways. Many different types of canoes were handmade by the Iroquois; skin canoes, dugout canoes, elm-bark canoes and birch-bark canoes. Birch-bark canoes were the most popular variety of canoe because they were speedy on the water and lightweight, which lessened the strenuous carrying on long portages. Canoes greatly varied in length. A small canoe was 9 ft. long and held one person, whereas a large canoe was 40 ft. long, 6 ft. wide and could hold a war party of sixty people. The natives taught French explorers and fur-traders called ‘Voyageurs’ the complicated art of canoe building. A canoe was made from a single piece of birch bark that was bent into the required shape. The inside was ribbed with wood as reinforcement and the seams or any small holes were filled with pitch.

canoe painting

Figure 2 - Canoe trip in a Hudson's Bay trading canoe.

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* [back] - This project was developed by Isabel Slone (one of the Society's 2007 "summer students") and was in part funded with a grant from Young Canada Works, in part with a grant from the Municipality of the County of Prince Edward, and in part with this Society's research funds.