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First Contact

It is highly likely that French fishermen were the first Europeans to come into contact with the Innu. Maps show that Bretons already frequented fish shoals in the “New Found Lands” in 1506. Italian Giovani Caboto (better known as John Cabot, since he navigated for the British Crown), discovered these shallows, where cod abounded, on his famous voyage of 1497. His discovery would spark a summer race to the best fishing spots by ships from England, France, Spain, and especially, Portugal. Indeed, these seasonal visits most likely brought a number of fishing boats to the coast of what would later become the Basse-Côte-Nord.

One thing for sure, Saint-Malo navigator Jacques Cartier himself encountered Breton cod-fishing crews somewhere west of the actual village of Blanc-Sablon on his voyage of 1534. From the 1550s onwards, the Strait of Belle-Isle region quickly became a favorite sector of the French fishing fleet, (particularly ships from Brittany and Normandy), and of Basque whaling ships.

It’s a safe bet that the presence of several dozen European ships in the area presented an excellent opportunity for the Innu to establish commercial relations with these strangers, most of whose ships carried trading goods to supplement the fishing operations that were their primary motivation.

Certain archival documents even lead us to believe that Natives were occasionally employed in the cod and whaling stations in the protected harbors of the Basse-Côte-Nord and southern Labrador.

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