Michigan State University

Sanson 1656 map of Le Canada ou Nouvelle France


The MSU Map Library presents “Canada, ou Nouvelle France, &c.” by Nicolas Sanson, engraved by Jean Somer, published by Pierre Mariette in Paris in 1656.

This large hand-colored map represents important advances in European understanding of Great Lakes geography. It was the first map to draw and label all five Great Lakes in recognizable form. Lake Ontario bears an alternate name of Lac de St. Louys, and Erie also bears the alternate name ‘du Chat.’ Lake Huron is labeled Karegnon and Lake Michigan is known as Lac de Puans. Explorers had not yet reached the ends of the Great Lakes – Michigan and Superior both are open ended to the West.

Nicolas Sanson was named Geographer to the King of France, so named by Louis 13 in 1630 and he held the position with Louis 14 until Sanson’s death in 1667. Though one of many mapmakers active in Paris at the time, this title gained Sanson privileged access to official government archives which included the reports of French explorers and Jesuit missionaries active throughout the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes areas.

Sanson’s style was straightforward and his maps lack fanciful depictions of Native Americans, flora, fauna, or conjectures about unknown geography. The possible existence of a Northwest Passage to Asia is suggested, but isn’t promised.

The French point of view is clearly evident in the French claiming of East Florida. The rest of North America is divided into the major regions of New France, New Britain, New England, New Amsterdam, New Holland, New Netherlands, New Sweden, Virginia, and Florida (Spanish). This seemingly diverse European presence in the New World is a bit strained when one considers that the area named "Nouveau Danemarcq" in the extreme northwest referred to Jens Munk's fleeting settlement of 1619-1620.

This map was a generous gift of Ron Dietz.

Detail of Nicolas Sanson's Canada, ou Nouvelle France
Detail from map

Full Citation:

Canada, ou Nouvelle France, &c. :Ce qui est le plus advance vers le Septentrion est tiré de diverses Relations des Anglois, Danois, &c. Vers le Midy les Costes de Virginie, Nouvlle Suede, Nouveau Pays Bas, et Nouvelle Angleterre Sont tirées de celles des Anglois, Hollandois, &c. La Grande Riviere de Canada ou de St Laurens, et tous les environs sont suivant les Relations des Francois. Par N. Sanson d’Abbeville Geographe ordinaire du Roy. A Paris. Chez Pierre Mariette Rue S. Jacque a l’Esperance Avecq Privilege du Roy pour vingt Ans, 1656.

Burden 318, Cumming 48, Kaufman 3, Encyclopedia Canadiana

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