The cure for scurvy first came to European attention in a dramatic incident during the second of three voyages to Canada made by the French explorer Jacques Cartier (1491-1557) for Francis I. In November 1535, after visiting the Huron town of Hochelaga, which later became the site of Montreal, Cartier's ships became frozen in the St. Lawrence River. Cartier ordered his men ashore to build a small fortification in which to await the spring thaw. He traded provisions with local Indians, but he soon forbade the Indians to enter the fort because they showed signs of scurvy, and he did not want his men to catch this disease. Even then the Indians knew scurvy was not communicable. As the winter months slowly passed, scurvy soon began to stalk his men. They grew listless and weak. Their gums grew spongy and began to bleed, ugly splotches erupted on their skin, and they emitted a wretched stink. Of the 110 men, only ten showed no signs of the disease by February, and one by one the men died until twenty-five of his men were gone.
Cartier busily concealed the disease from the Indians for fear that they might attack the weakened men. Gradually, however, Cartier realized that the Indians who developed scurvy did not die but recovered their full health. He inquired cautiously about a cure, and the Indians readily showed him how to make a tonic from the bark and needles of an evergreen tree that the Hurons called onneddo and was probably a hemlock or pine. This distasteful concoction carried a massive dose of vitamin C, the only cure for scurvy, and every man who took it recovered within eight days. Cartier dutifully recorded in his log that no amount of drugs from Europe or Africa could have done what the Huron drugs did in a week. In appreciation Cartier kidnapped the Indian chief Donnaconna and the other Indians in hopes that they could lead him to mountains of gold.