Wintering (1535-1536)

Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site

Scurvy decimates Cartier's crew Drawing of marines dying of the scurvy.
© Parks Canada / CD-3913-70

Upon returning from Hochelaga in mid-October, Cartier and his crew gradually confronted the rigors of the harsh Canadian climate. Intense cold froze the food and drink kept inside the ships, which were used for shelter during the winter season. The French were weakened by a combination of cold weather and poor food, and were unable to resist disease effectively. The 110 members of the crew primarily ate dried or salt meat; fruit and vegetables were absent from their diet. Owing to the lack of vitamin C, scurvy, a disease whose causes were unknown at the time, decimated the crew. By mid-February, nearly all of the sailors suffered from this disease. Their legs and arms became swollen, their gums rotted and their teeth fell out. Finally, and even though Cartier had employed a hundred and one ruses in order to dissimulate the poor health of his crew, the Amerindians supplied the scurvy-sufferers with an unhoped-for remedy.

Preparing annedda Soldiers preparing tea (anneda).
© Parks Canada / CD-3913-71

At Cartier's request, Domagaya had the medicine prepared by two Amerindian women. Annedda, a kind of tea, is made using the bark and twigs of a Canadian conifer believed to be the Eastern white cedar. These ingredients were crushed then boiled to make a brew that the sick were made to drink. The residues of this concoction were applied to parts of their body. During this particularly difficult winter, 25 sailors died from this horrible disease, and the others were saved in extremis thanks to the care provided by Domagaya.

Adding to the difficulties in connection with a harsh climate and rampant illness, relations with the Amerindians became acrimonious, which made wintering even more difficult. The palisades erected around the ships during Cartier's journey to Hochelaga were not enough to calm the worries of the French. No sooner had fall ended than Domagaya and Taignoagny attempted to dissuade their fellow villagers from bartering with the sailors by declaiming against the worthless presents offered to the Amerindians. On November 5, however, a great celebration of reconciliation was held. The captain nevertheless remained distrustful.

In February, Chief Donnacona and men from the village set out on a hunting expedition. When they returned two months later, they came accompanied by several people whom Cartier was unable to recognize. Tensions mounted; the French now feared an attack. In early May, the captain took action, and had Donnacona, Domagaya, Taignoagny and several other inhabitants of Stadacona taken hostage. These Amerindians would guarantee safe passage for the French. In addition, they could describe the great marvels of Canada to François I. Cartier set sail for the home country on May 5, 1536.

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