The lives of the early French colonizers were marked by many hardships and challenges. Until the colony was well established, many faced extreme cold, near starvation, and death.

Those who survived and endured were helped by First Peoples like the Mi’kmaq, who shared their techniques for survival with the new arrivals. For example, the French learned to boil birch bark and drink the liquid as a defence against scurvy.

During this time period, there were some key figures who made history. Membertou was the Grand Chief of the Mi’kmaq, and Samuel de Champlain was the French cartographer and colonizer. The Frenchman forged alliances not only with the Mi’kmaq but also with the Maliseet, Innu, and Wendat peoples (also referred to as Huron). These alliances helped with the expansion of the fur trade and defence.

For the French newcomers, this period of history was marked by hardship. Eventually, through the fur trade and settlement, there was also prosperity.

For the First Peoples of Atlantic Canada many changes followed the arrival of the Europeans. The Mi'kmaq First People, unlike their neighbours, the Beothuk, engaged directly with the newcomers as military allies, as trading partners, and as converts to the teachings of Roman Catholic missionaries. Their adaptability ensured their survival as a people, but not all changes proved beneficial. For example, changes in diet, such as an increased use of trade foods, led to health problems ranging from malnutrition to lung and intestinal disorders.

The interaction between the First Peoples and the French changed everyone’s lives.
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Royal Ontario Museum
Historical Advisors: Alison Faulknor, The Dominion Institute; Nick Brune, author and history teacher; Keith Jameison, Woodland Cultural Centre
1604 - 1763
© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.

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