Who was Champlain? His Family and Early Life

Texte de la conférence présentée par Conrad E. Heindenreich à Métis-sur-Mer le 8 août 2008.

Who was Champlain?

His Family and Early Life.[1]

(Métis sur mer; August 8, 2008)

Conrad E. Heidenreich

Champlain near Métis-sur-mer.

-When Champlain came to Canada for the first time in 1603, he sailed past Métis sur Mer on May 24, on his way to Tadoussac.

-He sailed again past Métis on July 12 on his way from Tadoussac to Isle Percé.

-From Percé he returned to Tadoussac along the north shore of the St. Lawrence.

-Then on August 16, 1603, coming from Tadoussac, he sailed past Métis on his way back to France.


Today I would like to outline the little we know about Champlain’s origin, his family, those who influenced him, his training, and briefly, his rise through the ranks from a fourrier in 1595, in the maison du roy (king’s household), to become lieutenant governor of New France to Cardinal Richelieu in 1628. Having reviewed the facts pertaining to his life, I would like to leave you with some observations that are central to understanding his life; and finally a question about his origin – Who Was He? It is a question I cannot answer, except in the form of a speculative hypothesis, based on a tiny hint given by Champlain in one of his books.

Who was Champlain?

There can’t be many people who have made such an indelible imprint on the imagination and history of Canada as Samuel de Champlain, about whom so little personal information is known. Even though he wrote four substantial books about his activities, comprising 1308 printed pages, 5 folding maps, 22 small maps and 14 illustrations, he never mentioned the date of his birth, his parents, his education, his early life, his career in Henry IV’s household and army or anything personal of any consequence. Not once did he record the name of his wife, Hélène Boullé, to whom he was married for twenty-five years except to refer to her on a couple of occasions as ma famille. My colleague Dr. Janet Ritch tells me that this is not unusual for a French writer of this period, nevertheless I find it so. The little that is known about his wider family comes from a few manuscript legal records. Unfortunately this meagre record cannot be expanded very far because the early parish records of Brouage no longer exist.

Champlain wrote that he was born at Brouage in the province of Saintonge (now Charente-Maritime), France. His birth date has been estimated as sometime between 1567 and 1580. He died at Québec, Canada, on December 25, 1635, after suffering a severe stroke early in October of that year. The earliest and most often quoted date of his birth is given as 1567. Unfortunately this date cannot be corroborated. Instead, biographers have adopted a neutral “circa 1570,