Did The Kingdom Of Saguenay Actually Exist?

In the 1530s, a French explorer named Jacques Cartier made his second expedition to modern-day Canada, looking for gold and the elusive northwest passage that supposedly connected North America to Asia (via History). As he sailed down the St. Lawrence, Cartier's Iroquois guards began discussing the Kingdom of Saguenay to the north, supposedly rich in spices, jewels, and furs, populated by blond, pale, bearded men. Though many of the stories were clearly myths, including tales of a race of one-legged people, Cartier brought a chief named Donnacona back to France to tell tales about this land rich in goods — and Cartier was already planning to plunder.

Saguenay became a sort of North American El Dorado for the French in the centuries to come, as many explorers braved the cold of northern Canada in search of the elusive kingdom. No archeological evidence was ever recovered, nor any trace of its fair-skinned inhabitants, leading many historians to dismiss the kingdom as just a local myth. However, while the kingdom as described may not have existed, the tales were possibly inspired by some true locations. Some historians believe the Iroquois were referring to the large copper deposits in the area, while others even believe they could be referencing the remnants of a Viking outpost from ages past.

Saguenay may have been a prank

The nature of the relationship between Cartier and the Iroquois is slightly mysterious due to a lack of primary sources, but from what we do know, it wasn't pleasant (via Owlcations). Cartier had a habit of kidnapping and hostility, and it's very possible that Donnacona was kidnapped when he was brought to France. Cartier was supposed to have found Asia, and bringing the natives along was his version of proof. Donnacona gave the French king more details about this northern paradise, and although tales of Saguenay piqued the monarch's interest, France was too busy funding wars to send another expedition. 

By the time Cartier was able to go on his third expedition to France, the Iroquois had turned hostile against the French. The expedition was short-lived and largely unsuccessful, though future journeys into Canada by French explorers eventually helped the country establish a presence in the land of modern-day Quebec. While there is evidence that Vikings landed and briefly settled in North America, a more likely theory is that the Iroquois were simply messing with Cartier. The explorer had previously kidnapped two of their tribe, possibly Donnacona's sons, and though they were happy to help the stricken Frenchmen survive the harsh winter, it's quite possible Saguenay was merely an invention to distract Cartier and encourage the French to explore the harsh north — away from their lands.