If you have not heard of the Kingdom of Saguenay, you are not alone. This rumored land, a legend from the 16th century, still exists in limbo. While we can be reasonably sure that it existed, much of the story of this kingdom is unknown.
Saguenay itself is easy to find. Located just inland of the modern city of Quebec in Canada, the French explorer Jacques Cartier first searched for the rumored land around 1535. Indeed Saguenay itself is easy to find: it is the people who lived there who are a mystery.
According to First Nation Iroquois legends, the people of the kingdom of were uniquely blond and possessed of limitless wealth. However their kingdom had disappeared long ago, and any attempts at discovery were almost certainly doomed to fail.
By now alarm bells are almost certainly ringing. An advanced civilization with fantastic wealth “just over there” is a tale as old as time, and has ever been used to trick foolhardy and gullible explorers. However one possibility does intrigue: based on the location, the description, and the mystery surrounding these people, could the Kingdom of Saguenay be Norse?
The Legend of Saguenay
Even today we have no concrete evidence as to the existence of this kingdom, and it is most likely that we are either looking for something that never existed or have already fond the traces of this kingdom but not yet made the connection. What we do know is that the French certainly believed the legend.
When the rumor about Saguenay’s lost kingdom reached France’s shores, French explorers left for the new world and tried to find the kingdom in present-day Canada. When the French crossed the Atlantic and reached the areas of Canada in search of the Kingdom of Saguenay, they started colonizing parts of Canada.
Some historians of the French called the Kingdom of Saguenay the El Dorado of North America. There have been many legends of lost cities of gold that have not yet been discovered.
Whether it is the legend of Atlantis or the legend of Golden Lanka, what remains of these ancient gold cities is only land and ruins that are not yet fully discovered. The Kingdom of Saguenay is also an area that has only existed in legends, and there has been no real proof of its existence over the centuries.
Some people believe that the Kingdom of Saguenay is a legend and a myth. But with in creasing evidence of Scandinavian peoples reaching North America centuries before Columbus, it is possible that these peoples were smaller raiding parties, misunderstood by the Iroquois.
The French explorer Jacques Cartier was the first person from France to sail for Canada in search of the Kingdom of Saguenay. The search led him to the new world, and he renamed the area as Canada.
But it was not his intention solely to search for the lost kingdom. In 1534, the explorer’s main ambition was to find a direct route to Asia over the top of the American continent, a dream which would frustrate explorers for centuries.
His course led him to Nova Scotia and the delta of the St. Lawrence River. He not only found these new regions and claimed them for France, but also contacted the Iroquoians who were probably not consulted about their imminent colonization.
The first encounter the French had with the Iroquoians was not friendly. Cartier kidnapped two Iroquoian people, sometimes identified as the sons of the Iroquois chief Donnacona, to prove to the French king that he had made a significant discovery on his voyage.
From these captives he came to know of a possible hidden kingdom somewhere in the wilderness beyond Iroquois territory. The kidnapping of the Iroquoian people was done as living proof of his discovery of a new land, and doubtless as an amusement for the French court.
The prisoners however revealed that there was a secret kingdom that Cartier had missed, along the banks of a river which ran inland from Iroquois territory. The details that the two persons revealed excited the explorer, and his sponsors were also ready to fund a second voyage that would have been targeted toward finding the kingdom of Saguenay.
Second Voyage to Saguenay
The second voyage for the area of Saguenay departed in 1535 from France. During this voyage, the two kidnapped persons also accompanied the explorer. The goal of this voyage was to find the location of the kingdom and claim it as a territory of France.
It is believed that the Iroquoians agreed to help Cartier in achieving this goal (we’ve all taken a tall tale too far, haven’t we?). The expedition for the Kingdom of Saguenay lasted for fourteen months.
For all these long months, the prisoners along with local Iroquoians helped the French team in finding the kingdom of Saguenay. The team found a river as had been described and followed its path upstream into the continental interior.
This river was later named the Saguenay river after the mysterious region. According to the chief of the Iroquoians, the river skirted the outskirts of the Saguenay kingdom.
However, it seems that the expedition did not venture completely into the area identified as that of the kingdom. It is not clear why Cartier did not go further down the waterway and the inner region to find the Saguenay kingdom.
Many historians believe that the team had come deep into the wilderness and they were running low on supplies. Moreover, the weather conditions were severe, and Cartier had to choose between survival or discovery.
The area experienced severe winter, and the rivers froze. Cartier and his team had to wait near the Iroquoian capital of Stadacona till the rivers started flowing again. The ancient region of Stadacona is today’s Quebec city of Canada.
The second voyage must have taken the explorer close to the Saguenay Kingdom, but it did not result in finding anything like the description provided by the prisoners. However, the French did benefit from the expedition.
The French people were able to claim the new lands for exploration and colonization. The explorer team even found the village of Hochelaga. Today, the area under the two villages of the Iroquoians is known as the Montreal area of French Canada.
It is believed that the Iroquoian Chief Donnacona was either invited or kidnapped by Cartier after the second voyage and taken to France. In France, the chief told the French king about the fabled Kingdom of Saguenay. Although future explorations about Saguenay were not successful, the legend of Saguenay survived through centuries of history.
What were the Iroquois describing to the French. Had they sighted Scandinavia settlers and exploration parties along the river inland from their territory? Or were they spinning lies to confuse the French?
Sadly, all we have is the legend.
Top Image: Jacques Cartier and the Iroquois. His search for the Kingdom of Saguenay was ultimately unsuccessful. Source: Guerinf / Public Domain.
By Bipin Dimri