New Britain (Canada)

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New Britain was a historical term of limited usage, referring in its day to the poorly mapped lands north of 17th-century New France. The name applied primarily to today’s Nunavik and Labrador interiors, though in the 18th century this had grown to include all of the mainland shores of Hudson Bay and James Bay north of The Canadas. The district would come to be loosely divided into the territories of New South Wales, New North Wales, and Labrador. The name “Labrador” predates mention of the other names by more than a century.[1]

Early exploration[edit]

In 1612 Welsh captain Thomas Button wintered on the shores of Hudson Bay, at the mouth of the river he named the Nelson. He dubbed his encampment Port Nelson, and “the whole of the western shore New Wales.[2] Seven years later in 1619 Captain Jens Munk of Denmark would winter nearby at the mouth of the Churchill, and named those environs Nova Denmark or New Denmark.

The region would again be visited twelve years later in 1631 by Captains Thomas James and Luke Foxe. Supposedly Captain Foxe, upon discovering a cross erected by Button at Port Nelson, christened the shore north of the Nelson River as “New North Wales,” and all the lands south as “New South Wales.”[3] Another account attributes the event to Captain James, while crediting Foxe with having bestowed upon the region the since-forgotten label of New Yorkshire.[4]

• New North Wales — Mainland Kivalliq in Nunavut, and the Northern Region in Manitoba south to Port Nelson.
• New South Wales — Northern Manitoba south from Port Nelson to James Bay, including the Kenora District in Ontario.
• Labrador — The eastern coast of Hudson Bay, including Nord-du-Québec in Québec and modern Labrador in Newfoundland and Labrador. During the “New Britain” era the only European settlements in Labrador were the Moravian Church missions at Nain (1771), Okak (1776), and Hopedale (1782).

139 years later Captain James Cook would more successfully use the name “New South Wales” for the east coast of New Holland, now a state in present-day Australia.[5] By this time the North American name had begun to fall into obscurity.


  1. ^ Nelson, D. (1997). Off the Map: The Curious Histories of Place Names. New York: Kodansha International. ISBN 1-56836-174-2.
  2. ^ Miller Christy (ed.), The Voyages of Captain Luke Foxe of Hull and Captain Thomas James of Bristol, in Search of a North-west Passage, in 1631–32 London, Hakluyt Society, 1894:vol.1 p.170
  3. ^ Begg, Alexander. History of the North-west. 1894. p127
  4. ^ Miller Christy (ed.), The Voyages of Captain Luke Foxe of Hull and Captain Thomas James of Bristol, in Search of a North-west Passage, in 1631–32, London, Hakluyt Society, 1894:vol.2, p.485.
  5. ^ G.K. McCallum, “A Date with Cook”, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol.57, pt.1, March 1971, pp.1–9.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°06′39″N 75°23′30″W / 50.1107°N 75.3918°W / 50.1107; -75.3918