Early in the 17th century the French began to explore the rivers draining into the St Lawrence valley. Usually they gathered geographical information from natives, set objectives for exploration based on these accounts, and, when opportunity arose, travelled with native guides. Verbal accounts, maps, and journals transmitted the French discoveries. By the early 1680s officials in Quebec were responsible for compiling and sending maps to the Ministére de la Marine in Paris where authorized personnel had access to them.
The search for a route across the continent was a continuing motive for exploration throughout the French regime, but usually was set within more limited objectives. Fur traders sought Indian suppliers; missionaries sought Indian converts. Territorial claims and the search for minerals were sometimes important motives for exploration. Occasionally military expeditions yielded new geographical knowledge.
The direction and speed of exploration varied with motives and opportunities. By helping natives in their wars Champlain was able to explore much of the eastern Great Lakes basin; by expanding their missions Recollet, Jesuit, and Sulpician priests obtained new geographical information (Settlements and Missionaries, 1615-1650, Vol I, pl 34). After 1681, when the interior trade was legalized, French traders explored well beyond the Great Lakes (Expansion of French Trade, 1667-1696, Vol I, pl 38). In the 18th century westward exploration accelerated under the pressure of British competition from Hudson Bay and the Ohio valley.