Discovery of Canada
The earliest discovery of the New World was made by Norse seafarers known as Vikings. The vague accounts of their exploits are drawn from their sagas, epic stories in prose or verse handed down by word of mouth through many generations. In AD 985 Norse seamen sailing from Iceland to Greenland were blown far westward off their course and sighted the coast of what must have been Labrador. The report of forested areas on the strange new coast encouraged further explorations by Norse colonists from Greenland, whose settlements lacked lumber.
In AD 1000 Leif Ericson became the first European to land in North America (see Ericson). According to the sagas, this was the first of many Norse voyages to the eastern shores of the continent. A colony was established in what the Vikings described as Vinland, identified in 1963 as being on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland. Recent investigations have cast doubt on the once-popular theory that the Vikings also penetrated Hudson Bay and reached the upper Great Lakes region by overland routes. Discoveries of "Norse" relics in that area have been exposed by scholars as hoaxes. The Greenland colony died out during the 14th and 15th centuries, and the Norse adventures in Canada must have come to an end well before that time.
Rediscovery and Exploration
In 1497 an Italian named John Cabot sailed west from Bristol, England, intent on finding a new trade route to the Orient for his patron, King Henry VII of England (see Cabot). This voyage led to the rediscovery of the eastern shores of Canada. Cabot was as confident as Columbus had been that a new seaway was now open to Asia. On a second voyage, the following year, Cabot explored the coast of North America, touching at various points--none too clearly charted--from Baffin Island to Maryland. The Cabot voyages gave England a claim by right of discovery to an indefinite area of eastern North America. Its later claims to Newfoundland, Cape Breton Island, and neighboring regions were at least partly based on Cabot's exploits.
Of more immediate significance were the explorer's reports of immensely rich fishing waters. The Roman Catholic countries of Western Europe furnished a market that made the ocean voyage worthwhile, even if it were made to gather the harvest of the sea instead of the spices and jewels of the Orient. Almost every year after 1497 an international mixture of fishing vessels could be seen on the offshore fisheries southeast of Newfoundland and east of Nova Scotia. Occasionally such ships even cruised into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. At times their crews encountered Indians along the shores who were willing to part with valuable furs in exchange for articles of little worth such as beads and other trinkets.
When it was realized that only the wilds of an unexplored new world had been discovered, there was a spirit of disillusionment in Europe. Gradually, however, this feeling was replaced by a fresh interest in North America, for Spanish and Portuguese adventurers were reported to be bringing home rich cargoes of gold and silver from the Caribbean. In 1524 King Francis I of France sent a Florentine navigator, Giovanni da Verrazano, on a voyage of reconnaissance overseas. Verrazano explored the eastern coastline of North America from North Carolina to Newfoundland, giving France too some claim to the continent by right of discovery. (See also America, Discovery and Colonization of.)
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