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Partie Occidentale du Canada ou de la Nouvelle France

Vincenzo Coronelli

Into the heart of the Continent
To Europeans in the late 1600s, water routes in the interior of North America were known in greater detail than the land itself.

This English map of the Great Lakes region was based on a French map of North America made in 1650 by Nicholas Sanson, geographer to the king of France. It is one of the first maps to show all five Great Lakes, although “Lack of Puans” may have actually been Green Bay. The bay shows up as “Baye des Puans” on later maps. The French name for the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago), who lived along Green Bay, was Puans.

The French knowledge of the Great Lakes region at this time was far more advanced than represented on this map. French exploration of Lake Michigan took place gradually between 1634, when Jean Nicollet made landfall on the eastern shore of Green Bay, through 1679. French explorers, missionaries and fur traders had also circumnavigated Lake Superior by 1670. This exploration was the result of the rival efforts of France and England to lay claim to North America, reap the rewards of the fur trade and find the elusive Northwest Passage to the Orient.

Geographers used information from explorers, traders and missionaries to draw this map. It was printed from a copper plate, hand-tinted and published in an atlas or book. Because a book at that time cost as much as a European peasant earned in two years, it probably graced the shelves of an English aristocrat.