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New France and Detroit

French interest in the Great Lakes region dates from the first half of the 17th century; shortly after the founding of Québec the first adventurers are drawn to the richness of the forests and waterways of the area. There is a possibility that Etienne Brûlé reached Lake Erie before 1626. In 1670 the missionnaries Dollier and Gallinée claim possession of the Great Lakes territory in the name of the king of France. In 1679, Robert Cavelier de LaSalle sails up the Detroit River aboard the Griffon. On August 12th he enters a small lake at the eastern end of the Detroit River and names it Lake Saint Clair, in honour of Saint Claire of Assissi, whose feast it is that day.

In 1701, to protect French interests and oppose British plans in the Great Lakes region, the Governor of New France decides to follow the recommendations of Antoine Laumet, Sieur de Lamothe Cadillac and establish a permanent colony at Détroit (a word meaning strait). Cadillac leaves Montréal in June of 1701, accompanied by fifty soldiers and fifty colonists. The twenty-five canoe flotilla arrives at the Détroit du Lac Erié on July 25. Work begins immediately on the construction of the Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, so named in honour of Louis Phélipeaux Comte de Pontchartrain, Chancellor of France.

Relations with First Nations

Due to pressure from the Iroquois, the First Nations that had inhabited the land around Détroit had fled prior to Cadillac's arrival. However, as alliances with First Nations are vital to the French presence in the area, Cadillac invites several native groups to settle around the newly built Fort. These alliances ensure a good supply of furs, the main item of trade. As well, they provide a strong defence against British and allied Iroquois incursions into the territory. The Potawatamis from Lake Michigan and the Hurons of Michilimackinac settle to the west of the fort. Across the river, opposite to the fort, the Ottawas of Michigan establish a village. A little further off, the Chippewas from Sault Ste. Marie settle the lands on thesouth shore of Lake Saint Clair and along the St. Clair river. 

Map of Detroit, about 1730, drawn by Commandant de Boishébert, Courtesy of the Archives Nationales, Paris

Plan du Fort du Détroit, 1763. Tiré de l'atlas de Bellin (1767)

Fox Warrior, 17th - 18th century, Courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, P8454
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The outfit of an Ottawa, 17th century, Courtesy of Mackinac State Historic Parks, P8463
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Nahneetis, the Guardian of Health, mid 19th century, From "History of the Ojibway Indians" by Peter Jones (London, 1861)
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