Government of Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

CHAPTER 1: The First Warriors

The Challenge of Nature (2 pages)

Waterways Gave Access

Another feature of the vast Canadian territory is the multitude of rivers flowing through it. Until the mid-nineteenth century, waterways provided the only major communication routes, and controlling them was of prime strategic importance to the Europeans from their first arrival. As long as no land routes existed, the only way for explorers to penetrate the great Canadian interior was along waterways. In their attempts to reach the heartland of the continent, they soon adopted the Amerindian canoe, a light and manoeuvrable craft made of birchbark. For many years to come, waterways remained the only practical method of transporting tons of material and hundreds of people over long distances. The first road between Montreal and Quebec City - the Chemin du Roy - was built in the 1730s and used mainly for light transportation. Merchandise and troops continued to travel by water, until railways became sufficiently developed to take over in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The immense distances and sense of space, the rigorous climate and close proximity of untamed nature were all new to the first Europeans arriving in Canada. Today still, Europeans who arrive here are greatly impressed by these vast, virtually uninhabited spaces and the ubiquity of the natural world - its fauna only a gunshot away, so to speak - just as their ancestors were several centuries ago. Nevertheless, the most striking of the experiences awaiting European man in America was not untamed nature, however impressive that might be, but American man.