If Norumbega really existed, the expedition of Jacques Cartier in 1535 seemed likely to find it. He had made a voyage the year before with two ships and a hundred and twenty men, of whom Maclou had been one. Not being prepared to remain through the winter, they had been obliged to turn back before they had done more than discover a magnificent bay which Cartier named the Bay of Chaleur on account of the July heat, and a squarish body of water west of Cape Breton which seemed to be marked out on their map as the Square Gulf. Now the veteran of Saint Malo had instructions to explore this gulf and see whether any strait existed beyond it which might lead to Cathay. On general principles he was to find out how great and of what nature the country was. The maps of the New World were fairly complete in their outline of the southern continent and islands discovered by Spain; it was hoped that this expedition might give an equally definite outline to the northern coast. Cartier had on his previous voyage caught two young Indians who had come from far inland to fish, and brought them back to France. They had since learned enough Breton to make themselves understood, and from what they said it seemed to Cartier that there might be a far greater land west of the fisheries than the mapmakers had supposed. The King, on the other hand, was inclined to hope that the lands already found were islands, among which might be the coveted route to Cathay. Maclou bent his brows over the map and pondered. If Norumbega were found it would be the key to the situation, for the people of a great inland city would know, as the people of Mexico did, all about their country. Did it exist, or was it a fairy tale, born of mirage or a lying brain?
On Whitsunday the sixteenth of May, Carrier and his men went in solemn procession to the Cathedral Church of Saint Malo, confessed themselves, received the sacrament, and were blessed by the Bishop in his robes of state, standing in the choir of the ancient sanctuary. On the following Wednesday they set sail with three ships and one hundred and ten men. Cartier had been careful to explain to the King that it would be of no use to send an expedition to those northern shores unless it could live through the winter on its own supplies. The summer was brief, the winter severe, and there was no possibility of living on the country while exploring it. As such voyages went, the three ships were well provisioned. Late in July they came through the Strait of Belle Isle, and on Saint Laurence’s Day, August 10, found themselves in a small bay which Cartier named for that saint. Rounding the western point of a great island the little fleet came into a great salt water bay.