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Indigenous Presence and European Exploration

Before the Europeans arrived, the Indigenous peoples were already using the rivers to get around—a much faster way to travel than walking!

Indigenous artefacts displayed on a black background. In the lower right-hand corner, there is an arrowhead and a grey ceramic pipe fragment. On the left are 20-some beige and grey pottery shards with a zigzag pattern.

Indigenous Relics


With Champlain’s arrival in North America, we have more detailed accounts of the routes taken and the lands occupied. In 1637, the Relations des Jésuites [Jesuit Relations] described Île Jésus, once called Île Montmagny, as “big and beautiful” and bordered on the north by the Saint-Jean River. The Jesuits even celebrated the first mass on our island when they set foot here.

In 1674, Father Antoine Dalmas sailed around Île Jésus on the Des Prairies River. At two locations on the island, he found Indigenous camps. One was indicated on his map as an “Algonquin camp.” So it seems that Île Jésus was used as a temporary settlement by Indigenous people. They travelled south to trade furs in summer. Artefacts of their settlements are still being found today.


Hand-drawn map of the south shore of Île Jésus in 1674. The paper is yellowed and the ink is beige. Locations and Algonquin sites are noted, and there is a compass rose on either end.

Father Dalmas and Exploration of the Island


The Europeans also left traces of their exploration of the island, mostly thanks to the rivers on which they could sail westward. Granted to the Jesuits in 1636 by the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France [Company of New France], Île Jésus was later ceded to François Berthelot. It was then given to Monseigneur Laval in 1672 in exchange for Île d’Orléans and a sum of money. It was Monseigneur Laval who gave it to the Séminaire de Québec in the end. That’s when the colonization of the island really began.