The French were the first European settlers to come to the Niagara region. In the early 17th century the French sent Roman Catholic Missionaries and traders to the area. One of the first French explorers Samuel de Champlain came to the Niagara region in 1615. They believed that they could learn a great deal about the land from the Natives, and they were quick to realize its enormous potential, as a rich source of furs and resources. During this time furs were coveted in Europe and Champlain recommended that the French government establish French settlements in Canada, in order to gain control of the riches found in the new land and in particular the burgeoning fur trade in the Great Lakes region.

The French also realized that the waterways, in particular the Great Lakes, were the key to exploring and conquering new regions in the country. They soon realized that who ever had control of the waterways would have control over the entire North American continent.  At the time canoe travel was the only means of transportation in the area, and the Native people not only shared their knowledge of the waterways, but also taught them how to canoe. The Native peoples also introduced the French to snowshoeing and tobogganing, which gave the French year-round access to the interior.

There are accounts of other European explorers coming to the area and seeing majestic Niagara Falls, however, the first European to record his recollections about the Falls, was a French missionary named Father Louis Hennepin. In 1678 the priest travelled to Niagara with the French explorer LaSalle to locate a spot where Rene-Robert Cavellier could build a baraque. Hennepin was overwhelmed by the falls, describing them as “frightful”. In his early writings he wrote that he could not look at the falls “without a shutter”. Hennepin’s writings were widely read and when he returned back to Europe his views on the falls would eventually become the predominant view of many Europeans.

The British soon followed the French, wanting to establish good trading partnerships with the Natives. Each nation was in competition for control of this land, and each wanted a monopoly on the burgeoning fur trade, which would be the source of many British and French feuds for years to come.

The Indians soon began establishing trade relationships with the European settlers, trading fur pelts for the European’s modern metal pots, wool blankets, iron axes, knives and muskets, as well as cloth. These items would make their lives much easier, however, they became more and more dependent on these modern items, and would eventually stop making their own traditional objects. The Indians were soon dependent on the fur trade and the Europeans in order to sustain their new found life. They began to travel further in search of denser populations of beaver, uprooting their communities. As the demand for fur grew so did the competition between the tribes, and as a result many conflicts emerged pitting tribe against tribe, each seeking greater control of the area.

Along with their new goods, the Europeans also brought with them their diseases, measles, small pox, scarlet fever and influenza grew rampantly and resulted in many deaths in Native communities. With no immunity to these new diseases many thousands of Natives perished and some tribes were almost completely wiped out. By the 1600s almost half the Native population had died from these new diseases.

In time the Europeans began to outnumber the Indian peoples, and gradually appropriated the majority of their land. As more and more immigrated to Ontario, a push for a change in values and beliefs soon came about, as a greater awareness of the differences between them emerged. The Europeans believed that the Native peoples were primitive and savage, and they would eventually pressure them to give up their way of life and become more like them. They encouraged the Natives to change their spiritual beliefs in favour of the predominant Catholic religion. The introduction to these new beliefs caused friction within the tribes themselves, as some choose to adopt the new belief systems while others remained loyal to their heritage.

The French worked tirelessly to establish good relations with the Seneca Indians in the hopes of taking control of the area, and by 1719 they succeeded. They built a large storehouse at the mouth of the river, called “Magazine Royal”. It was used as a barracks for French officers. It was also used as a trading post. In 1726 they built Fort Niagara to defend the entrance to the Niagara River, which laid passage to the Upper Lakes. The Fort was built to resemble a French chateau, to try to dispel the concerns of the Indians. Fort Niagara was one of the biggest and most modern Forts of its time. It could hold over 1,000 men and was built using the local resources in the area. The French built many more forts spanning from the St. Lawrence Seaway in Quebec to the mouth of the Mississippi.

The area would remain in the control of the French for over 80 years, however, the British also wanted supremacy over the fur trade, and a battle between the two countries for domination of this lucrative commodity would last over a century, before England would emerge victorious. The English along with the Iroquois, banded together out of their quest to rid the region of the French. The two forces combined greatly outnumbered the French troops, and a battle broke out at Fort Niagara. Many of the French soldiers lost their lives and on July 25, 1759 the French’s stronghold over the area came to an end when the British took control of Fort Niagara. This marked the end of French control in the region and in Canada.