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Banner: Pathfinders and Passageways: The Exploration of Canada About This Site
The Mapmakers: An Essay in Four Parts
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Who discovered and explored the land we know as Canada? Was it the first inhabitants who entered North America over ten thousand years ago? Was it the Norse who established the first European settlement? Or was it John Cabot or Jacques Cartier who first claimed its shores for their respective nations? The answer is that the discovery and exploration of Canada was accomplished by many people and many nations, over thousands of years.

Europeans rarely ventured anywhere in North America that First Nations and Inuit had not already been. Native people often acted as guides, informants, map-drawers, and even saviours to visitors who sought their help. It would be centuries before anyone understood the vastness of the continent, and Native peoples were crucial participants in the exploration of it. Since they left few records of their own, we know about them mostly from accounts written by others.

The accounts written by explorers and visitors to the continent tend to describe the writer's sense of wonder on encountering strange new people, lands and animals. These accounts convey both respect and fear of the natural environment, and recount daring journeys and deaths from cold, hunger, and battle, as well as what the narrators knew of the adventurers who had come before them.