A Short Biography
of Champlain

image Champlain, soldier and navy captain, 1609
Based on detail of the engraving
Defeat of the Iroquois at Lake Champlain

Champlain, The Voyages, 1613
National Library of Canada

Samuel Champlain (born in Brouage circa 1575; died at Quebec, December 25, 1635), son of Antoine Champlain, a navy captain, and Marguerite Leroy. Samuel spent his childhood in Brouage, an Atlantic harbour, in Saintonge, near the salt marshes, where ships were fitted out for fishing off for the Grand Banks and the coast of Newfoundland.

His career began in the military. In March 1595, he was a quartermaster in Brittany’s royal army, then he became an assistant to the billet master. According to military accounting records, in 1597 the Sieur de Champlain was an ensign or a captain in a company stationed at Blavet, near Quimper. At the end of the war, he was a billet master.

Champlain's first voyage to Canada in 1603

Unemployed after the war, he left for Spain on a ship belonging to his uncle Guillaume Allene, also known as "captain Provençal", a privateer that was at the service of the king of France. Upon his arrival in Cádiz, Champlain was granted permission to leave for the "West Indies". He spent two years in the Spanish colonies in Peru and Mexico. In 1601, he inherited an immense estate from his uncle, near La Rochelle, and a pension at the court of Henri IV.

Upon the invitation of Aymar de Chaste, who now held the fur trade monopoly in New France, Champlain boarded Gravé du Pont’s ship as a volunteer, on March 15, 1603, for his first trip to Canada. Thus began his Canadian career.

Scientifically inclined, a good observer, an excellent technician, a writer, illustrator, cartographer and ethnographer, Champlain left us six works, four of which are about Canada, and 70 drawings or maps. A consummate soldier and navigator, the author of the Treatise on Seamanship was a "man of action".

In 1618, before his ninth trip to New France, Champlain submitted reports to the king and the chamber of commerce in which he proposed a programme of commercial colonization for Canada, which showed that he was a visionary and practical administrator. He eventually became the representative of the viceroys and Cardinal Richelieu, as well as one of the shareholders in the Company of One Hundred Associates.

From 1603 to 1632, he informed the nobility and the bourgeoisie about the Canadian colony. The accounts of his voyages, published in four volumes starting in 1603, reveal only the details of his life as an explorer and his official role as a colonial administrator. There is nothing on his personal life and very little on that of his companions.

Champlain’s last work describes, among other things, how Quebec was taken by English privateers, the Kirke brothers, on July 20, 1629, two months after the end of the war between France and England. In 1632, subsequent to the signing of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Cardinal Richelieu sent an expedition to Canada to take possession of Quebec.

Over the course of his Canadian career, Champlain crossed the Atlantic 22 times, travelled 35,000 kilometres and lived on the banks of the Saint Lawrence throughout the year, until his death at Quebec on December 25, 1635.


    Last Updated: September 1, 2009