The King of France, François I, chose him to find certaines îles et pays où l'on dit qu'il se doit trouver grande quantité d'or et autres riches choses ("certain islands and lands where it is said there are great quantities of gold and other riches"). In 1534 he set sail looking for a western passage to Asia. He explored parts of what are now Newfoundland (starting on May 10 of that year) and the Canadian Maritimes and where he learned of a river further west (the St. Lawrence River) that he believed might be the much searched-for northwest passage. During this trip he kidnapped Chief Donnacona's 2 sons, Domagaya and Taignoagny and took them back to Europe.
Cartier set sail for a second voyage on May 19 of the following year with 3 ships, 110 men, and the abducted boys (whom were returned to the chief). He sailed upriver to the Huron village of Stadacona (at the location of present-day Quebec City) and Hochelaga (Montreal) and arrived on October 2, 1535. He heard of a country further north, called Saguenay, that was said to be full of gold and other treasures.
On May 23, 1541 he departed St-Malo on his third voyage. This time he was looking for Saguenay; however, he again did not get further than Hochelaga. After a fierce winter spent in Canada, he returned to France the next year. Cartier spent the rest of his life in Saint-Malo and his nearby estate, and died in 1557.