Story Ideas

Meet Samuel de Champlain, Canada’s first great explorer.

It’s more 400 years since the French adventurer first set foot on these shores; discover how to celebrate his epic journeys.

28 January 2015

Suggested tweet: Champlain uncorked: celebrating the 400th anniversary of an epic exploration of Canada

How about a bit of Champlain to celebrate 2015? We’re not talking about bubbly poured into a fluted glass. Instead, we’re talking about the legendary Samuel de Champlain, the poster boy for wanderlust circa 1615.

The French explorer and geographer put many places on the map—literally. Champlain established Québec City (which earned him the title of Father of New France), and charted the St. Lawrence River with uncanny accuracy. With more than a dozen trips to Ontario and Quebec, he was among the first Europeans to make Canada their favourite vacation destination.

In 2015, Champlain reappears into the spotlight as Canadians recognize the 400th anniversary of his journey through Ontario and Quebec. Time has not erased his imprint of the country.

Champlain’s name pops up everywhere. At the last count, two bridges are named in his honour, a lake, a valley, a prehistoric sea, a provincial park, two colleges, two hotels, a Royal Canadian Navy destroyer and many streets in various cities. In 2006, he even had his own commemorative stamp issued jointly by Canada Post and United States Postal Service.

Such a superstar deserves a proper party and there will be opportunities to whoop it up. The Ontario town of Penetanguishene feels a kindred connection to Champlain: the explorer landed in the village of Toanche, inhabited by the Huron people, via Penetanguishene Bay.
Our hero Champlain must have been a true charmer: that landing was the start of a long friendship with the Huron that helped him explore Ontario’s interior. At Rendez-vous Champlain Festival (July 31 to Aug. 2), the momentous moment when the explorer pulled up to the shore in a canoe and was greeted by the Huron will be re-enacted. Count on a lively blend of history and fun, fireworks and storytelling.

In Pembroke, ON, in the heart of the Ottawa Valley, a trip to the Champlain Trail Museum and Pioneer Village reveals a series of Champlain-themed exhibits. One of those is a replica of an astrolabe, the 17th-century small, navigational device weighing just 629 gm (1.4 lb), used by Champlain and mariners around the world.
In a tale so odd it has to be true, Champlain’s original astrolabe was found by a teen who was clearing trees with his father near Cobden, ON, in 1867. Sold to a man for today’s equivalent of $170, it wound up in New York until 1989 when the Canadian Museum of Civilization (now called Canadian Museum of History) acquired it for $250,000 and brought it back home.

This isn’t the only mystery surrounding Champlain. Where was he buried? Although he died in 1635, no-one is sure where his body lies. Historians still debate the location while archaeologists dig for answers. The puzzle provided fodder for Canadian mystery writer’s Louise Penny’s research-soaked novel “Bury Your Dead.”

However, travellers can drop by to see Champlain in other locations such as Saint John, NB, and Gatineau, QC, Ottawa and Orillia, ON. the cities pay tribute to the enterprising explorer with memorial statues.

Happy 400th, Samuel!

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