The first Europeans landed on the North American continent from the far North. These pioneers, still a mystery today, were Vikings, under the direction of a bold leader, Leif Erikson, who founded a small colony on the Labrador Coast, Vinland, in the year 1000. The venture, short-lived, would soon fall into oblivion.
Half a millennium later, other Europeans touched the coast of the future Canada.
The first was an Italian explorer in the service of King Henry VII of England named John Cabot. He reached the islands of Cape Breton and Newfoundland at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River on June 24, 1497, just five years after Christopher Columbus’s first voyage to the West Indies.
In 1609, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) entrusted an exploration mission to the English captain Henry Hudson. The latter returned to Amsterdam with a project of colonization at the mouth of the river that would later bear his name. This would be New Amsterdam, better known today as . . . New York.
In April 1638, about fifty Swedish settlers settled at the mouth of Delaware, around a fort called Christina in honor of the future Queen Christine, daughter of King Gustavus Adolphus. But this colony was soon conquered by the Dutch.
More than a hundred years had elapsed between the time when a European first reached North America (in 1497) and the moment when English and French settlers established themselves there for good (in 1607 with Sir Newport on the coast of Virginia; and in 1608 with Samuel de Champlain on the banks of the St. Lawrence).
This vast territory was then populated by American Indians; those to the South, in the drylands, mainly cultivated corn, while those to the North, in the Great Plains, lived off of innumerable bison. In total, there were about one million souls over an area of more than 16 million km2 (three times the size of Europe).
Stimulated by the dynamism of their navy in the 17th and 18th centuries, the British quickly drove the Dutch from the North American coast and founded a total of Thirteen Colonies along the seaboard. These colonies all had their own personalities because of the circumstances of their foundation and their histories, starting with the first, Virginia.