Viking colonists of Iceland and Greenland were the first Europeans known to have reached North America. They began to visit the northeast coast of Canada about ad 985, when they settled Greenland. Leif Ericson of Greenland sailed west about ad 1000 to a place he called Vinland and built a settlement there. This may have been L’Anse aux Meadows, a place on the island of Newfoundland and Labrador where remains of a Viking village were found in the 1960s. Although the colony did not last long, Viking contact with indigenous people may have been widespread on the northeast coast. This contact seems to have been marked by conflict despite some evidence of trading exchanges. Contact with North America had ceased entirely by the time Europe lost contact with Greenland in 1410.
Later in the 15th century, Europe’s seafarers began extending the range of their voyages. John Cabot, an Italian in the service of England, renewed contact with northern North America when he sailed to Newfoundland in 1497. Cabot sought a Northwest Passage, a westward sea route to the wealthy empires known to exist in Asia.
He was soon followed by Portuguese and other explorers who were seeking a water route to Asia through or around North America. In 1576 Martin Frobisher sailed to Baffin Island. In 1585 John Davis found and named Davis Strait. In 1610 Henry Hudson sailed into Hudson Bay. Hudson was marooned there by his mutinous crew, and Sir Thomas Button’s unsuccessful search for him (1612-1613) confirmed that there was no western exit from the bay. Well into the 18th century, however, hopeful explorers looked for navigable rivers that might form a water route if connected by short portages. All of these explorations helped to map Canada and bring its natural resources to the attention of people in Europe.
In 1534 King Francis I of France dispatched explorer Jacques Cartier to seek empires similar to the wealthy ones that Spain had recently conquered in Mexico. Cartier explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but he found no such empires. In 1535 he traveled the St. Lawrence River as far as the Iroquoian town of Hochelaga (the present site of Montréal) and confirmed that the river offered no sea route to Asia.
Cartier’s men spent the winter at Stadacona, an Iroquoian village where Québec City now stands. Cartier brought back a name for the country, Canada, which seems to mean “village.” In 1541 he led a larger colonization venture that was also unsuccessful. "Canada" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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