timeline

Exploration

This timeline traces the history of exploration in Canada

Detail of a pulley on the HMCS Sackville.

January 01, 985

Exploration 

Bjarni Sights America

Bjarni Herjolfsson sighted mainland North America, probably Newfoundland, southern Labrador and Baffin Island. Bjarni was likely the first European to visit North America, and his discovery led to a brief Norse colonization of Newfoundland.

June 24, 1497

John Cabot

Exploration 

John Cabot Claims Atlantic Coast

John Cabot landed on the Atlantic coast of North America, claiming it for England. Cabot's discovery led to England's interest in what is now Atlantic Canada, especially the fishery.

October 21, 1520

Exploration 

Magellan Rounds S America

Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan discovered and entered the strait in South America that now bears his name.

April 27, 1521

Exploration 

Magellan Killed

Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan was killed by islanders in the Philippines. Only four of his crew eventually returned to Portugal on September 6, 1522, becoming the first people to sail around the world.

April 02, 1534

La Grande Hermine

Exploration 

Cartier Reaches Labrador

French explorer Jacques Cartier arrived on the coast of Labrador. He further explored the Gulf of St Lawrence, discovering the Magdalen Islands and PEI.

July 24, 1534

La Grande Hermine

Exploration 

Cartier Lands at Gaspé

Jacques Cartier landed at Gaspé, placed a cross bearing the arms of France and made an official claim over the territory in the name of France.

August 10, 1535

Exploration 

Name St-Laurent First Used

Jacques Cartier gave the name St-Laurent to a bay north of Ile d'Anticosti.

September 06, 1535

Exploration 

Cartier Discovers Île-aux-Coudres

French explorer Jacques Cartier discovered the Île-aux-Coudres during the second of his three voyages.

September 14, 1535

La Grande Hermine

Exploration 

Cartier Reaches Stadacona

Jacques Cartier reached the Native village Stadacona (site of Québec) on his second voyage up the St Lawrence River.

October 02, 1535

Exploration 

Cartier Reached Hochelega

French explorer Jacques Cartier sailed down the St. Lawrence River and reached the Iroquois village of Hochelega. Cartier’s log describes a walled village that was home to roughly 1,500 people living in about 50 enormous longhouses. A cairn set near the main entrance to McGill University commemorates the location of the village, which remains uncertain.

September 01, 1557

La Grande Hermine

Exploration 

Death of Cartier

Jacques Cartier died at Limoilou, near St-Malo, France.

August 11, 1576

Sir Martin Frobisher

Exploration 

Frobisher Sights Baffin Island

Martin Frobisher sighted the bay in Baffin Island that now bears his name.

March 15, 1603

Champlain's Astrolabe

Exploration 

Champlain's First Trip

Samuel de Champlain boarded the Bonne-Renommée at Honfleur, France, destined for New France, as a private passenger on Gravé Du Pont's expedition.

May 26, 1603

Champlain's Drawing of Tadoussac

Exploration 

Champlain Reaches Tadoussac

Samuel de Champlain reached Tadoussac on the north shore of the St Lawrence River and set foot for the first time in New France.

June 11, 1603

Samuel de Champlain (false portrait)

Exploration 

Champlain Learns of Hudson Bay

Samuel de Champlain travelled nearly 60 km up the Saguenay River, and learned from the Montagnais tribe that a large saltwater body existed to the north (the Hudson Bay).

July 04, 1603

Exploration 

Champlain Reaches Montréal

Samuel de Champlain explored the Saguenay River and journeyed up the St Lawrence River, reaching the Lachine Rapids and the future site of Montréal on July 4.

July 15, 1603

Port-Royal (Champlain's Drawing)

Exploration 

Champlain Arrives at Gaspé

Samuel de Champlain arrived at Gaspé, where he first heard about Acadia.

September 02, 1604

Port-Royal (Champlain's Drawing)

Exploration 

Champlain Explores Bay of Fundy

Samuel de Champlain began exploring the Bay of Fundy to seek an ideal site for a permanent settlement, becoming the first European to create a geographical description of the area.

September 05, 1606

Exploration 

Expedition to Massachusetts

Samuel de Champlain and Jean de Poutrincourt launched another expedition from Port-Royal to explore the coast of Massachusetts, hoping to establish friendly relationships with the Secoudon and Messamouet in the area. Their efforts were met with hostility and soon abandoned.

August 11, 1607

Exploration 

Port-Royal Abandoned

The Port-Royal settlement was abandoned on orders from France. On Sept 3, after skirting the Straits of Canso and mapping the Atlantic coastline from Cape Breton to the south of Cap Blanc, Samuel de Champlain and the other voyagers headed home to St Malo. Only Poutrincourt would return, in 1610.

April 13, 1608

Champlain's Drawing of Tadoussac

Exploration 

Champlain Leaves on 3rd Voyage

As lieutenant to the Sieur de Monts, Samuel de Champlain set out on his third voyage to New France. He arrived at Tadoussac on 3 June.

June 28, 1609

Defeat of the Iroquois at Lac Champlain

Exploration 

Champlain Explores Iroquois Country

Samuel de Champlain explored Iroquois country, entering the Rivière des Iroquois (Richelieu), paddling upriver and reaching a great lake that would later bear his name.

July 30, 1609

Defeat of the Iroquois at Lac Champlain

Exploration 

Champlain Battles the Iroquois

Champlain and his First Nations allies battled the Iroquois on Lake Champlain, beginning 150 years of war between Iroquois and French. Champlain''s musket kills three and astonishes the enemy.

October 13, 1609

Champlain's Astrolabe

Exploration 

Champlain Returns to France

Samuel de Champlain arrived back in France, ready to report to the king on the success of New France and extol the virtues of the Québec habitation as a warehouse for the fur trade.

August 03, 1610

Henry Hudson, explorer

Exploration 

Hudson Enters Hudson Bay

Henry Hudson entered Hudson Bay. He wintered on the coast of James Bay.

August 08, 1610

Champlain's Astrolabe

Exploration 

Champlain Sets Sail for France

After a disastrous year for the fur trade, Samuel de Champlain set sail for France, leaving behind 16 men under the command of Jean de Godet Du Parc.

May 28, 1611

Port-Royal (Champlain's Drawing)

Exploration 

Champlain Leaves for Lachine

Samuel de Champlain left Québec and arrived at Lachine and named the island in the middle of the St Lawrence River St. Hélène for his wife.

June 13, 1611

Port-Royal (Champlain's Drawing)

Exploration 

Champlain Shoots Rapids

Samuel de Champlain impressed his native allies by shooting the dangerous Lachine Rapids in a canoe.

June 23, 1611

Henry Hudson, explorer

Exploration 

Hudson's Crew Mutinies

Henry Hudson's crew mutinied and set Hudson, his son John and 7 others adrift in a small boat. They were never heard from again.

May 29, 1613

Champlain's Astrolabe

Exploration 

Champlain Reaches Ottawa River

Champlain reached the mouth of the Ottawa River. On June 4 he noted the mouths of the Gatineau and Rideau rivers at the present site of Ottawa.

September 26, 1613

Champlain's Astrolabe

Exploration 

Champlain Promotes New France

Champlain left for France, where he remained until April 24, 1615 to promote the cause of New France.

May 25, 1615

Exploration 

Récollets Arrive

Four Récollets from France arrived at Tadoussac with Champlain, only to quickly go their separate ways. The best-known Récollet, Gabriel Sagard, later published Le Grand Voyage du pays des Hurons, an indispensable source of knowledge of Huron customs and culture.

July 01, 1615

Huronia

Exploration 

Champlain Visits Huronia

French explorer Samuel de Champlain reached Huronia, at the southern end of Georgian Bay.

July 09, 1615

Champlain's Astrolabe

Exploration 

Champlain Treks Up Ottawa River

Samuel de Champlain began his journey up the Ottawa River, passing through the Lac des Népissingues (Lake Nipissing), the Rivière des Français (French River) and the great Lac Attigouautau (Lake Huron). He arrived among the Hurons on 1 August.

August 01, 1615

Champlain's Astrolabe

Exploration 

Champlain Arrives at Huronia

Samuel de Champlain completed his journey up the Ottawa River, arriving among the Hurons.

January 15, 1616

Champlain's Astrolabe

Exploration 

Champlain Leaves Huronia

Samuel de Champlain left Huronia to visit the Tobacco Nation (south of Nottawasaga Bay), then the Cheveux-Relevés (Ottawas, south of Georgian Bay), extending an invitation to the natives to come to Québec.

September 10, 1616

Champlain's Drawing of Tadoussac

Exploration 

Champlain Returns with Map

Samuel de Champlain arrived in France, where he would publish an engraved map of New France.

July 07, 1620

Exploration 

Récollet Arrives in Québec

Récollet lay brother Gabriel Sagard arrived at Québec. He was the author of The Long Journey to the Country of the Hurons.

March 23, 1633

Port-Royal (Champlain's Drawing)

Exploration 

Champlain's Final Voyage

Samuel de Champlain set sail on his final voyage to Québec at age 63.

March 23, 1670

Exploration 

Explorers Reach Lake Erie

Fathers Dollier de Casson and Galinée claimed Lake Erie for France.

June 15, 1673

Exploration 

French Reach Mississippi

Explorers Jolliet and Marquette arrived at the upper reaches of the Mississippi River.

April 09, 1682

La Salle, René-Robert Cavelier de

Exploration 

La Salle Reaches Mouth of the Mississippi

The La Salle expedition passed the mouth of the Mississippi River.On April 9 he claimed the entire region for Louis XIV.

April 09, 1682

La Salle, René-Robert Cavelier de

Exploration 

La Salle Claims Louisiana

La Salle, de Tonty and Jacques Bourdon d'Autray arrived at the Mississippi Delta. La Salle claimed the territory he had explored for France and named it Louisiana.

March 19, 1687

La Salle, René-Robert Cavelier de

Exploration 

La Salle Assassinated

La Salle was assassinated by his own men in present-day Texas.

August 26, 1731

Explorations of La Vérendrye

Exploration 

La Vérendrye at Grand Portage

La Vérendrye and his three sons reached Grand Portage. In the autumn they built Fort Saint-Pierre, the first of 8 posts.

October 03, 1738

Map of La Vérendrye's Discoveries

Exploration 

Fort La Reine Founded

La Vérendrye arrived at the site of Portage-la-Prairie on the Assiniboine River, where he built Fort La Reine.

January 01, 1743

Explorations of La Vérendrye

Exploration 

La Vérendryes Sight Rockies

The La Vérendryes sighted the Rocky Mountains, most likely the Big Horn Range.

March 30, 1743

Explorations of La Vérendrye

Exploration 

La Vérendrye's Plaque

La Vérendrye left a metal plate inscribed "Posé par le Chevalier de la Lavérendre le 30 Mars 1743" in the northwest. It was recovered in 1913 near Pierre, South Dakota.

July 24, 1754

Red Deer

Exploration 

Henday in the West

Anthony Henday reached Fort Paskoyac; he later reached a Blackfoot camp southwest of present-day Red Deer, being likely the first European to set foot in territory that became Alberta.

July 17, 1771

Explorations of Samuel Hearne

Exploration 

Hearne Reaches the Arctic

Samuel Hearne, exploring inland from Churchill with his Native guide Montonabbe, reached the Arctic Ocean via the Coppermine River; he returned via Great Slave Lake.

July 15, 1774

Queen Charlottes

Exploration 

Juan Pérez Hernández

Spanish explorer Juan Josef Pérez Hernández sighted the Queen Charlotte Islands.

July 12, 1776

Exploration 

Cook Sails from Plymouth

In search of a Pacific-coast exit from the Northwest Passage, Captain James Cook set sail on his third and final voyage. Though he would discover the Sandwich Islands (now the Hawaiian Islands) on this voyage, Cook's expedition was blocked entry to the Northwest Passage by a frozen Bering Strait.

March 29, 1778

Cook, Captain James

Exploration 

Cook Sights Vancouver Island

Captain James Cook sighted land at Vancouver Island. He landed at Nootka, sighted Mount Elias (10 May) and continued north to Alaska and the Bering Strait.

May 05, 1789

Endeavour

Exploration 

Martinez Reaches Nootka

A Spanish expedition under Esteban José Martinez reached Nootka Sound and plundered a number of British ships, touching off the Nootka Sound Controversy.

July 10, 1789

Alexander Mackenzie, explorer

Exploration 

Mackenzie Reaches Arctic

Alexander Mackenzie travelled down the Mackenzie River and reached the Arctic Delta.

June 22, 1792

Exploration 

Spanish Sight Vancouver

Spanish explorers Alcalà-Galiano and Valdés sighted George Vancouver's ships Discovery and Chatham near present-day Vancouver. Each side was mortified to discover its major competitor.

July 21, 1793

Exploration, Western Interior

Exploration 

Mackenzie Reaches the Pacific

Alexander Mackenzie party reached the Pacific via the Bella Coola River, the first explorer to complete the journey overland. Though a physical triumph, Mackenzie's achievement failed to provide the fur traders with a viable route.

May 12, 1798

Exploration 

Death of George Vancouver

British naval officer and explorer George Vancouver, known for his exploration of the BC Pacific coast, died at London, England.

October 28, 1798

Exploration 

Death of Estéban José Martinez

Spanish naval officer Estéban José Martinez, whose seizure of several trading vessels in Nootka Sound during the summer of 1789 touched off a confrontation with England, died at Loreto, Mexico.

July 02, 1808

Simon Fraser, explorer, fur trader

Exploration 

Fraser Reaches Pacific

Simon Fraser reached the Pacific, after descending the river that now bears his name.

July 15, 1811

Exploration, Western Interior

Exploration 

Thompson Ascends Columbia River

David Thompson, descending the Columbia River, reached the Pacific Ocean at Cape Disappointment, a few weeks after American traders had staked their claim.

June 01, 1831

Ross, Sir James Clark

Exploration 

North Magnetic Pole Found

Sir James Clark Ross located the North Magnetic Pole. He set up the British flag, took possession of the North Magnetic Pole and adjoining territory in the name of King William IV, and erected a cairn.

January 10, 1850

Sir John Franklin.

Exploration 

Search for Franklin Begins

Robert McClure and Richard Collinson began the extensive search for Franklin, likely the greatest search mission in the history of exploration. In the process, more was revealed of the geography of the North than at any other time.

April 15, 1853

Sir John Franklin.

Exploration 

Rae Searches for Franklin

John Rae set out from Fort Confidence on a search for Sir John Franklin. He covered 1126 km of previously unknown coastline.

October 22, 1854

Sir John Franklin.

Exploration 

Rae Learns Fate of Franklin

John Rae learned of the fate of Franklin and his crew from Inuit around Pelly Bay. Franklin's ship had become frozen into the northern ice in 1846, setting off one of the most extensive rescue operations in the history of exploration. Based on Inuit reports and evidence of personal effects, John Rae claimed the £10,000 reward for settling Franklin's fate.

March 13, 1900

Chesterfield Inlet

Exploration 

Tyrrell's Survey

J.W. Tyrrell began a 2782 km journey to survey the area from Great Slave Lake to Chesterfield Inlet.

April 21, 1902

Exploration 

Peary Turns Back

Robert Peary turned back at 84°17' north latitude, in his attempt to reach the North Pole.

August 26, 1905

Roald Amundsen

Exploration 

Amundsen Completes Passage

Roald Amundsen, travelling west of King William Island, sighted an American whaling ship that had come from San Francisco. At this point, he knew that he had achieved the Northwest Passage, a quest that had obsessed explorers for nearly 400 years.

November 05, 1905

Judi Falsnes on a dogsled near Inuvik.

Exploration 

Amundsen Tells World of Achievement of Passage

Roald Amundsen and an American companion reached Eagle City, Alaska, after a voyage by dog sled over 800 km of ice from his ice-bound ship. There he was able to use the telegraph to announce to the world that he had completed the Northwest Passage.

April 06, 1909

Exploration 

Peary Reaches North Pole

American explorer Robert Peary claimed to be the first person to reach the North Pole.

December 14, 1911

Exploration 

Amundsen Reaches South Pole

Roald Amundsen and 4 companions were the first humans to reach the South Pole.

January 18, 1912

Exploration 

Scott Reaches South Pole

British explorer Robert Scott and four others reached the South Pole, only to find Norwegian Roald Amundsen had beaten him by a month. None of Scott's expedition survived.

May 07, 1928

Exploration 

St. Roch Launched

The RCMP schooner St. Roch was launched at the Burrard Shipbuilding & Drydock Company, North Vancouver, BC. It would become the first ship to sail the Northwest Passage from west to east and to circumnavigate North America.

June 18, 1928

Roald Amundsen

Exploration 

Amundsen Lost

Roald Amundsen, Norwegian polar explorer, was lost on a rescue mission in the Arctic.

June 23, 1940

Larsen, Henry

Exploration 

West to East Northwest Passage

An RCMP patrol commanded by Henry Asbjorn Larsen sailed from Vancouver in the St. Roch. They reached Halifax via the Arctic, in the first successful west to east navigation of the Northwest Passage.

October 11, 1942

St. Roch

Exploration 

St. Roch Arrives in Halifax

The St. Roch arrived in Halifax after navigating the Northwest Passage from west to east.

July 22, 1944

St. Roch

Exploration 

St. Roch Leaves Halifax

The RCMP ship St. Roch left Halifax to return to Vancouver by the Northwest Passage; the trip was completed 86 days later.

October 16, 1944

Exploration 

St. Roch Arrives in Vancouver

The RCMP ship St. Roch arrived in Vancouver from Halifax via the Northwest Passage, the first ship to have sailed the passage in both directions.

May 29, 1950

St. Roch

Exploration 

St. Roch Completes Voyage

The RCMP ship St. Roch reached Halifax after passing through the Panama Canal from Vancouver. It was the first ship to circumnavigate North America.

December 14, 2000

Exploration 

St. Roch II Arrives in Victoria

The St. Roch II arrived in Victoria, BC, after repeating the historic trip of its predecessor, the St. Roch, which in 1944 became the first ship to traverse the Northwest Passage.

September 30, 2009

Exploration 

Laliberté Travels to Space

Cirque du Soliel creator Guy Laliberté became the first Canadian civilian to enter space, a mission he hoped would increase awareness of the need for global water conservation. Donning a red clown nose, Laliberté blasted off to a chorus of Elton John's "Rocket Man" from cheering fans below. The ride aboard Russian Soyuz craft cost the billionaire entertainer US $35 million.

September 09, 2014

Sir John Franklin.

Exploration 

Franklin Expedition Ship Discovered

The HMS Erebus, one of Sir John Franklin's expedition ships, was found submerged off the coast of King William Island. The ship was part of Sir John Franklin's 1845 expedition to find the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic Ocean to Asia.

September 12, 2016

Exploration 

Discovery of HMS Terror

A team from the Arctic Research Foundation (founded by Jim Balsillie) announced that they had found the second lost ship of the Franklin expedition, HMS Terror, in Nunavut’s Terror Bay, north of where the Erebus was found in 2014. The discovery was confirmed by Parks Canada on 26 September 2016.