John Cabot (a.k.a. Giovanni Caboto), merchant, explorer (born before 1450 in Italy, died at an unknown place and date). In 1496, King Henry VII of England granted Cabot the right to sail in search of a westward trade route to Asia and lands unclaimed by Christian monarchs. Cabot mounted three voyages, the second of which, in 1497, was the most successful. During this journey Cabot coasted the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador, possibly sighted the Beothuk or Innu people of the region, and famously noted that the waters teemed with cod. At the time, the land Cabot saw was thought to be the eastern shore of Asia, the fabled island of Brasil, or the equally fabled Isle of Seven Cities. Cabot and his crew were the second group of Europeans to reach what would become Canada, following Norse explorers around 1000 CE. Despite not yielding the trade route Cabot hoped for, the 1497 voyage provided England with a claim to North America and knowledge of an enormous new fishery.1
Giovanni da Verrazzano, explorer (born in or near Florence circa 1485; died in the West Indies circa 1528). Verrazzano explored North America’s eastern coastline on behalf of France, while searching for a westward route to China. His explorations demonstrated to Europeans that the coast from Florida to Cape Breton was continuous. He also provided Europeans with the first ethnographic account of Indigenous people north of Mexico.
Bjarni Herjolfsson, Norse explorer (dates of birth and death unknown; lived in the 10th century). Herjolfsson was likely the first European to sight the east coast of North America. While sailing from Iceland to Greenland in 986 CE, Herjolfsson sighted lands that were later determined to be Baffin Island, Labrador and Newfoundland. Although Herjolfsson never set foot in North America, Leif Ericsson later retraced his voyage, establishing a settlement at what he called Vinland.