New Lands, New Faces, and Capitalism

October 2, 2014 Updated: April 23, 2016

If there is one thing we can learn from Canadian history is that Capitalism works, and in fact it is those such as Cartier who have proved this to us.

October 2nd, 1535, tired and restless, Captain Cartier left the mass of his two ship fleet at Stadacona, to arrive at the grand city of Hochelaga, modern day Quebec. On the very front of the bow of his smallest ship, he looked outward toward the beauty of the St. Lawrence River in hope that he would find a passage to the riches of Asia.

Commissioned by King Francis I, Cartier remained confident in his search, in fact to such a degree that posterity chose to name a town found in a location nearby his original voyage on the St. Lawrence “La Chine”, China, which is Lachine today. Yet, he never found a way to the Pacific.

Although disappointed he came across something of greater value, or at least another kind of value.

Cartier and a handful of his men disembarked near Hochelaga, and hiked for nearly 6 miles before reaching the town. The Iroquois, interested in the newcomers, received them with warmth, and based on Cartier’s later testimony in his journal allowed them to rest in one of the long houses that made up the settlement. Although Cartier was there and enjoyed the interaction, I am sure there was still one thing on his mind: a way to the Asian markets.

The ultimate truth remains that all explorations of the New World were fueled by the notion of profit, perhaps the second most important principle in capitalism, only behind that of the individual. It was the sheer need for profit that drove Cartier to the St Lawrence, the first, the second, and finally the third time in 1541

The drive to make money is what fueled him to venture across the dangers of the Atlantic, and finally truthfully find his way to Hochelaga which would be a historic meeting between Europeans and the Iroquois of that area. One can only wonder if the same can be said of the contrapositive.

Perhaps there has been a misconception that explorations were actual quests for knowledge and the belief that men sought pure adventure at the whims of their intrepid characters. The truth is that  in some way or another they were connected to the fostering of profit, be it through trade, the expansion of empire or simple resources. Yet, this was a positive thing as the fact that men such as Cartier sought after riches, led them to find new lands, new faces, and finally an array of diverse cultures.

The fleet could not return to France because of the cold, thus they decided to winter in a makeshift fort they built. Scurvy, pneumonia, and starvation decimated a big chunk of the men. A local people known as the Domagaya saved Cartier and his crew by teaching them that the bark of some local trees cure scurvy. The news of Cartier’s friendly encounter at Hochelaga most likely spread which saved his entourage.

Cartier returned for a third voyage, however this time with a much different goal. Acting as the chief navigator for Robevanal, who was later to be the First Lieutenant General of French Canada, they set out with the intention of building a settlement for the purpose of colonization. In other words, the hope of finding resources that could be taken back to France, both for the Crown and their own benefit.

Yet hardship struck the two men and their crew as the indigenous peoples of the area became increasingly cold and even hostile to their presence.

They never settled anywhere, and in fact the Iroquois most likely attacked Cartier and his men, which led to his return to France. He would never endeavour to come to the “New World” again, only to live out the rest of his day in Saint-Malo.

However to look at this from one single point of view is erroneous. It was also profit which fueled many of the explorers and settlers that followed Cartier, to push and finally play a role in the conquering of Indigenous lands, thus destroying their livelihoods.  The difference is that settlers took the notion of “greed” from a setting of free and voluntary trade, and took it to a full on social and physical warfare against the indigenous populations of North America, where coercion played a massive role.

It was not capitalism as an ideology, rather people that exacerbated the destruction of the Indigenous in North America. Rarely are ideologies dangerous, it is almost always the people that implement them. To seek profit does not mean to destroy other’s livelihoods as the left has been trying to persuade others for decades. To create profit is to do so for all parties involved in mutual trade. Although inconceivable to some, there is some hinge of ethics within markets systems, and to conquest for gains is simple warfare.

So what is the one thing we can learn?

To seek profit for individual gain, reaps rewards beyond the monetary scale, and in fact plays a role in human progress. If it was not for the desire to become wealthy, men such as Cartier, Champlain, and even Columbus in the south would have never ventured to the Americas. Profit is what brought these men to these uncharted lands, and profit is what led to the cornerstones of the Americas.