The 17th Century: 

French Exploration of the New World

From the moment they set foot in North America, French colonists were eager to appropriate the newfound expanses. The network of navigable waterways leading to the Great Lakes, in particular, enabled explorers and traders to roam the territory. In 1669, René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle sold his land, which was strategically located at the head of the rapids on the banks of Lac Saint-Louis, in order to raise the large sum of money needed to finance his dream of finding a route to China.

René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle’s exploration routes, 1670-1687

René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle

Born November 21, 1643, in Rouen, Normandy; killed March 19, 1687, in what is now the state of Texas. A bachelor, he learned several First Nations languages and explored the Ohio River, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi basin all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, where he laid claim to the territory he called Louisiana.

He commanded Fort Frontenac (now Kingston, Ontario) and other trading posts and founded the Lachine site, which he owned from 1667 to 1669.

The Name “Lachine”

La Salle called his seigneury Saint-Sulpice, but by 1669, it was commonly known as Lachine. This nickname apparently stemmed from the explorer’s burning ambition to discover a route to the Orient (la Chine means China), and it quickly gained currency, appearing in notarized documents and parish registers.

1. Portrait of René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle

Reproduction in Catalogue illustré, Exposition rétrospective des colonies françaises de l’Amérique du Nord (Paris, Société d’éditions géographiques, maritimes et coloniales, 1929).

This relief portrait was made from a cast of a bronze medallion found at the base of the Saint-Romain tower of the Rouen Cathedral. The medallion is part of a decorative plaque made by A. Guilloux, who taught at the École des beaux-arts in Rouen. Gift of the estate of Gérald Godin RG-2004-001

2. Rosary fragments (2)

Copper alloy and wood, 17th century. AR-2000-080-1.2

3 to 6 Douzains (4)

Copper alloy, 17th century. These coins are stamped with the fleur-de-lys hallmark that made them official currency in New France.

Restored by the Centre de conservation du Québec

3. Several types of hallmark. AR-2000-087

4. Fleur-de-lys hallmark and various decorations. AR-2000-417

5. Fleur-de-lys hallmark, semi-obliterated coat of arms and various decorations. AR-2000-086

6. Fleur-de-lys hallmark, coat of arms and various decorations. AR-2000-085

7 Beads (48)

These beads were used in the fur trade. They served as gifts in bartering for pelts with First Nations trappers and hunters. 41 glass, 6 shell, 1 bone. AR-2000-153, AR-2000-359 to 367, AR-2000-416, AR-2000-427, AR-2000-429, AR-2000-322, AR-2000-336, AR-2000-337, AR-2000-430-1.2, AR-2000-338, AR-2000-339, AR-2000-340