Étienne Brûlé and Samuel de Champlain were the first Europeans to travel through the Mattawa area. Étienne Brûlé arrived in 1610 and Samuel de Champlain followed in 1615.
The French came to present-day Ontario as early as 1610, and Canadiens (descendants of French colonists) were established in three areas by 1840. The story began with a First Nation alliance and a Roman Catholic mission, developed with official exploration and the fur trade, and continued with agriculture and permanent settlement.
When Champlain established his Quebec habitation, he formed a military alliance with the Wendat (Hurons) of Georgian Bay. An employee of a fur trade monopoly, Champlain needed their support to maintain a steady supply of furs. He sent Étienne Brûlé to their villages in 1610 to gather information and learn their language.
The French depended on the fur trade. With a dwindled supply after the turmoil created by the Confederacy, they developed a new strategy: travelling to the up-country to obtain furs.
In 1659-60, Pierre-Esprit Radisson and his brother-in-law successfully ventured to Lake Superior. Callously treated by the authorities, they went to England where their know-how led to the creation of the Hudson's Bay Company. The company's posts on James Bay and Hudson Bay were captured by expeditions from Quebec. Recovered by the English and captured again by the French, the posts were finally surrendered to the English in 1713.
Increased interest in the Great Lakes area also resulted in expeditions to take possession of the region for the French king. Military officers allied with First Nations and built posts around the lakes.
Detroit was transferred to the United States in 1783, but the settlement on the British side of the Detroit River became part of Upper Canada on its creation in 1791.
When Upper and Lower Canada formed a united Canada in 1841, Canadiens were solidly established in three areas of Upper Canada: south of Lake St. Clair in the Assomption area, southeast of Georgian Bay in the Penetanguishene area, and south of the Ottawa Valley in the Bytown area.
Battles of the War of 1812, waged on the Detroit frontier, had a significant impact on the lives of the predominantly French settlers of the area. When Britain surrendered Michigan to the United States in 1796, the Detroit River became a border between Upper Canada and what would be known by 1805 as Michigan Territory.
Samuel de Champlain led the first colonizing mission to a region known to the French as Acadia. The Acadians were the French settlers of Atlantic Canada during the 17th and 18th centuries. They first arrived in 1604 and established the first permanent settlement at Port Royal (now Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia) in 1605.
The majority of the above excerpts were taken from the following Ontario Heritage Trust publication: Heritage Matters - Understanding the French experience in Ontario, www.heritagetrust.on.ca