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European Contact and Mapping

European exploration of the coast of eastern North America before 1600 consisted of a number of voyages by mariners from several nations each adding fragments of geographical reckoning to a growing store of knowledge that had to be assembled and conceptualized by cartographers who resided in Europe. In deducing the nature and geography of Atlantic Canada, explorers and cartographers wrestled not only with the desire to find a preconceived new geography but also with the realities that emerged out of the fog as they navigated an unfamiliar coast.

Often these two factors, the jig saw puzzle nature of the information and the confusion over what was being found, collided and stood in the way of an accurate rendering of the coastal regions encountered. Thus while Cartier had found and charted the opening into the continent through the Gulf of St Lawrence in 1534, the opening to the Bay of Fundy remained undetected or, at best, confused through much of the second half of the 16th century.

champlain 1607 map.

Click on image to enlarge

Map of the northeast coast of North America, 1607, drawn by Samuel de Champlain : a facsimile from the Library of Congress found in the American Memory digital collections.

Ganong concluded that the first European to probe the Bay of Fundy was probably the Portuguese explorer Joao Álvares Fagundes in about 1520, yet the Bay does not appear clearly on a map until the Portuguese map of Diogo Homen in1558, when the cartographer combined the separate impressions then in existence for Penobscot Bay and what was the Bay of Fundy. Nevertheless it appears that Fagundes may have traveled up the Bay and into the Minas Basin. Evidence for this was found by Champlain who records finding on his voyages of 1607, “an old cross, all covered with moss, and almost wholly rotted away...” at a location that Ganong suggests was Advocate Harbour.

English maps also added to an understanding of the Bay of Fundy by employing other sources of information. By 1599 or 1600 maps included in Richard Hakluyt’s Navigations (with the likely input of others such as Emery Mollineaux and Edward Wright) refer to a bay or river called Menon or Menin, (perhaps Manan) which Ganong traces to an obscure voyage by one Stephen Bellinger about 1583 in which reference is made to the appearance of copper extraction in the area by the indigenous people. This is presumed to refer to small deposits found at Cape d’Or, which stands at the entrance to the adjacent Minas Basin and this deposit undoubtedly contributed to the derivation of Minas (from Mines).

The real clarification of the existence and the geography of Bay of Fundy comes with the arrival of Champlain and his associates in 1602-1604. However their efforts at planting a lasting French presence in the region were centred, as we know, initially on the St. Croix River, followed very quickly by their relocation to Port Royal and the occupation of the lower Annapolis area. By the 1670s the area at the head of the Bay of Fundy became better known as the Acadian population responded to local population pressures by establishing new settlements at Cobequid (present-day Truro, NS) and Beaubassin (on the upland ridge between the Missaguash and La Planche Rivers near present-day Amherst, NS).

Mount Allison University Archives does not hold copies of early maps from the period of European exploration and contact. In order to see evidence of these maps we suggest using the link provided to the Library of Congress web site where it is possible to see the Champlain map of 1607. by manipulating the zoom feature it should be possible to highlight the area at the head of the Bay of Fundy and see some of the representation of the Tantramar Marshes. Note that the cartographer recognized the constricted entrance to the Cumberland Basin, suggesting that Champlain or someone influencing the creation of this map had navigated the section of the Bay sufficient to recognize the geography of this feature.

This page was updated on 26 April 2012


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