Canadian Military History Gateway
Organization > National Defence
Subject > Soldiers, Warriors and Leaders > Population Groups > First Nations
Date > 1600
When Champlain took part in a 1609 Huron expedition against the Iroquois, he began a contest between two ways of warfare that lasted centuries. The combination of armour and firearms was rapidly understood and used to advantage by early French soldiers in Canada. By contrast, the Amerindians evolved furtive tactics and rapid movements which eventually proved to be the best in a wilderness environment.
This early-20th century engraving shows the climax of the legendary 1660 defence of Long-Sault against the Iroquois by Adam Dollard des Ormeaux and his men. One of the French defenders is shown holding a keg of gunpowder above his head. This makeshift bomb would fall back inside the fort and kill much of the garrison.
One problem of raid warfare was the treatment of prisoners - they were often brutally tortured, as was the custom of the Amerindians. This was ironic, as the Canadians themselves had suffered badly this way from the Iroquois.
A slide show presentation of Native American dress from the 16th to mid-18th century.
The Iroquois pressed their advantage, raiding and spreading fear among the colonists. A French attempt to force a pitched battle was unsuccessful.
Until the 1660s, especially in the Montreal area, no one in the French settlements really felt quite safe from surprise attacks by hostile Iroquois warriors. Many Canadian settlers, including women, learned to handle firearms during the 1650s.
Once established, the tactics of Canadian warfare would persist as long as the French regime. Refinements were made as the regular soldiers of the Compagnies franches de la Marine grew more experienced in the new methods.
Unlike the Spanish Central America, Europeans were unable to successfully colonize North America in the 16th Century. Amerindian guerrilla tactics combined with a cold and hostile land to frustrate the newcomers. Nevertheless, North America became a theatre of war for European conflicts.
A party of men under Dollard des Ormeaux, commander of the Montreal garrison, was surprised by a much larger group of Iroquois. Besieged at a disused Algonquin fort at Long-Sault on the Ottawa River, the Frenchmen and their Huron allies were wiped out.
Robert Cavelier de La Salle is shown taking part in a ceremony where he claimed Louisiana for France on 6 April 1682, after having descended the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. Even in the wilderness, the ceremony was done in full regalia with all the formalities.