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Birth Of Canada

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The Founding of New France

Throughout the rest of the 16th century the European fishing fleets continued to make almost annual visits to the eastern shores of Canada. Chiefly as a sideline of the fishing industry, there continued an unorganized traffic in furs. At home in Europe new methods of processing furs were developed and beaver hats in particular grew very fashionable. Thus new encouragement was given to the infant fur trade in Canada. In 1598 Troilus de Mesgouez, marquis de la Roche, set out for Canada armed with a new kind of authority--a royal monopoly which gave him the exclusive right to trade in furs.

La Roche established a small colony on Sable Island, an isolated Atlantic sandbar southeast of Nova Scotia. The settlement, which proved a dismal failure, was the first of a series of efforts by France to persuade various leaders to set up colonies in Canada in return for an official monopoly of the fur trade. Pierre Chauvin in 1600 established a trading post at Tadoussac, on the St. Lawrence River. This post survived for about three years.

In 1604 the fur monopoly was granted to Pierre du Guast, sieur de Monts. He led his first colonizing expedition to an island located near the mouth of the St. Croix River. This in time was to mark the international boundary between the province of New Brunswick and the state of Maine. Among his lieutenants was a geographer named Samuel de Champlain, who promptly carried out a major exploration of the northeastern coastline of what is now the United States . In the spring the St. Croix settlement was moved to a new site across the Bay of Fundy, on the shore of the Annapolis Basin, an inlet in western Nova Scotia.

Here at Port Royal in 1605 a settlement Champlain described as the Habitation was established. It was France's most successful colony to date. The land came to be known as Acadia .

The Father of New France

The cancellation of De Monts's fur monopoly in 1607 brought the Port Royal settlement to a temporary end. Champlain persuaded his leader to allow him to take colonists and "go and settle on the great River St. Lawrence, with which I was familiar through a voyage that I had made there." In 1608 he founded France's first permanent Canadian colony. It was at Quebec, at the foot of a great rocky cape on the north shore, which formed a natural fortress barring the way upstream to the interior.

The early years of the Quebec colony were hard, and the population grew slowly. Champlain administered its affairs and took personal charge of an organized exploration of the unknown interior. Where he did not actually travel himself, he sent other men. One was Etienne Brule, the first white man to cross Pennsylvania and later the first to see Lake Superior. Champlain himself discovered Lake Champlain (1609); and in 1615 he journeyed by canoe up the Ottawa, through Lake Nipissing, and down Georgian Bay to the heart of the Huron country, near Lake Simcoe. During these journeys Champlain aided the Hurons in battles against the Iroquois Confederacy. As a result, the Iroquois became mortal enemies of the French.

In 1629 Champlain suffered the humiliation of having to surrender his almost starving garrison to an English fleet that appeared before Quebec. He was taken to England as a prisoner. Peace, however, had been declared between England and France before the surrender, and New France was accordingly restored to the French. Champlain returned from Europe to spend his few remaining years. He became governor of New France in 1633.

For the Glory of God

New France continued to grow slowly. The fur trade served both to keep alive an interest in the territory and at the same time to discourage the development of agriculture, the surest foundation of a colony in the New World. Settlers founded Trois-Rivieres, farther up the St. Lawrence, in 1634.

The most distant outpost for many years was Montreal, founded by Paul de Chomedy, sieur de Maisonneuve, on May 18, 1642. First known as Ville-Marie, this settlement, one day to become Canada's largest city, was begun as a mission post. One of the most famous of the leaders who accompanied Maisonneuve was Jeanne Mance, founder of the Hotel-Dieu, the first hospital at Ville-Marie.

The establishing of Montreal was part of a large Canadian missionary movement which was based in France. The work and self-sacrifice of the Christian missionaries in the young colony and in the wilds that lay beyond it is one of the most stirring chapters in the history of New France. During the 40 years following the founding of Quebec, a dozen mission posts were built in the Huron country south of Georgian Bay.

The Hurons lived under constant threat of attack by the other Iroquois tribes dwelling south and east of Lake Ontario. Suddenly, in 1648, the Iroquois launched their final invasion of Huronia. Several brave Jesuit priests died as martyrs, and within a year both the Hurons and the missionaries had been either wiped out or driven elsewhere.

The Iroquois menace continued as one of the great obstacles to the expansion of settlement. The history of New France contains many accounts of heroism on the part of soldiers, settlers, and missionaries during this long guerrilla warfare on the outskirts of the colony. In 1660 Adam Dollard des Ormeaux led a small band of men in a stand to the death against an Iroquois war party which was on its way to destroy the settlement at Montreal. When they had counted the losses they suffered at the hands of so few Frenchmen, the Indians abandoned their plans. As late as 1692, 14-year-old Marie-Madeleine de Vercheres with only five companions defended her father's fort for two days against marauding Iroquois until help arrived.

Seigneur and Habitant

The feudal system of landholding, which had long been established in France, was adopted in the colony. The nobles, in this case the seigneurs, were granted lands and titles by the king in return for their oath of loyalty and promise to support him in time of war. The seigneur in turn granted rights to work farm plots on his land to his vassals, or habitants. In exchange, the habitants were required to pay certain feudal dues each year, to work for the seigneur for a given number of days annually, and to have their grain ground in the seigneurial mill.

In underpopulated New France the habitants welcomed the fact that the seigneur was obligated to build a mill. They had no military duties to perform except their common defense against the Indians. There was little money and not much use for it; and so the taxes took the form of payments in chickens, geese, or other farm products. These obligations were hardly burdensome. The seigneurs were anxious that their habitants should wish to stay farmers, and there was as much land as anyone could till.

Governor, Intendant, and Bishop

As in France, there was nothing resembling a democratic system of government in the colony. The senior official was the governor, appointed by the king. In the exercise of his almost absolute power he felt more responsible to the king in France than to the people he governed.

Another post of French officialdom was established in Canada in 1665 with the appointment of an intendant, whose chief duties concerned finance and the administration of justice. However, there was sufficient overlapping of authority between governor and intendant to breed more jealousy than cooperation between the two offices.

Jean Talon, who had come to New France as intendant in 1665, brought about a rapid expansion of the colony. He encouraged agriculture, business, crafts, and exploration and stimulated immigration. Under his direction, a census of New France was taken in 1666, which showed a population of 3,215. By that time the English controlled ten colonies on the Atlantic coast to the south, and they had greatly exceeded New France in population and self-sufficiency.

In 1672 Count Louis de Frontenac arrived in the colony as governor (see Frontenac). He built a fort at Cataraqui, near present-day Kingston, and brought the Iroquois into an enforced peace. He directed a series of major exploratory voyages to the interior. Among the greatest explorations were those made by Louis Jolliet, Father Jacques Marquette, and Rene Cavelier, sieur de La Salle. By 1682, however, the troubles between Frontenac and the intendant, Jacques Duchesneau, had become so serious that the king recalled both governor and intendant. (See also Jolliet; La Salle; Marquette.)

Frontenac was sent out as governor again in 1689, just after a new war had broken out between France and England. He carried the fighting right into the English colonies, dispatching expeditions overland against the settlements to the south in the dead of winter. When Sir William Phips led a British fleet upstream to Quebec in 1690, the fiery old French governor haughtily refused the demand for surrender, saying to the emissary of the English commander, "I will answer your general by the mouths of my cannon!"

In 1674, with the elevation of the vicar apostolic, Francois Xavier de Laval-Montmorency, to the rank of bishop, a new and powerful office was created at the head of the clergy in New France. Laval organized the parish system in the colony, gave encouragement to the missionaries, and founded Quebec Seminary for the training of young men for the priesthood. He resigned his office in 1684 but spent the last 20 years of his life in the seminary he had established in Quebec.


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