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Themes:
Constitutional History
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Aboriginals
1608 - 1759
1749 - 1759
1759 - 1763
1763 - 1774
1774 - 1791
1791 - 1837 (1)
1791 - 1837 (2)
1837 - 1839
1839 - 1850
1850 - 1867
1867 - 1931 (1)
1867 - 1931 (2)
1931 - 1982
1982 - 2002
Documents

Aboriginals: Treaties & Relations
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Pionniers et Immigrants
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Watercolour: Champlain in an Indian Canoe, 1603 - NAC/ANC C-013320
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1608 - 1759: New France

The Constitution of Canada was shaped partly by the government of New France. Elements such as civil law continue to the present day. In addition, efforts of French Canadians to preserve the distinctness of the province today have their roots in the friction caused by the interaction of the British and French Canadian cultures.

Topics in this section:

Early New France
Compagnie des Cent-Associés
A Royal Province is Created
Relationships of Authority in New France
Justice in New France
Other Interesting or Important Documents

Early New France
Government in New France began with private companies formed to exploit the natural resources of the new colony. Samuel de Champlain was the first real governor.

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Commission de Commandant en la Nouvelle France, du 15e Octobre, 1612…en faveur du Sieur Champlain

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Commission de Commandant en la Nouvelle France, du 15e Février, 1625… en faveur du Sieur Champlain
(Documents appointing Champlain as governor.)

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Drawing: Arrival of Champlain at Québec in 1608 - NAC/ANC C-011015
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Did you know?

Samuel de Champlain, the father of New France, founded Québec in 1608. In his efforts to support his local allies, the Huron, in their war with the Iroquois, Samuel de Champlain made the Iroquois the enemy of New France for 90 years.

Compagnie des Cent-Associés
In 1627 the Compagnie des Cent-Associés (Company of a Hundred Associates), was founded by Cardinal Richelieu to replace other companies and form a monopoly. It was his hope that the stability created by the monopoly of this chartered company would lead to the settlement of New France.

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Acte pour l'établissement de la Compagnie des cent Associés…, 29 Avril, 1629

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The Cent-Associés held administrative, judicial and lawmaking powers over New France, as well as broad trading privileges. This charter was granted with the provision that the company would promote settlement and create a colony. Conflicts with English freebooters proved too costly for the company, however.

In 1645 the company sublet its charter to the Communauté des habitants, another company concerned primarily with the fur trade. This also failed - this time because of war with the Mohawk - and on September 24, 1663, the Louis XIV intervened and the colony of New France became a royal province.

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Arrêt par lequel sa Majesté approuve la délibération de la Compagnie de la Nouvelle France…, 6 Mars, 1645
(Act approving takeover of charter by the Communauté des habitants.)

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Acceptation du Roi de la demission de la Compagnie de la Nouvelle France, 24 Mars, 1663
(Act by which Louis XIV took control of New France.)

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A Royal Province is Created
Louis XIV and his leading minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, created the structure for the new province almost as an experiment.

All authority stemmed from the king and went through an appointed viceroy. The viceroys did not play an active role in government.

Copperplate engraving: A View of the Intendant's Palace, 1761 - NAC/ANC C-000360
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After New France became a province, government gradually evolved to one in which there were four main sources of authority, each with distinct areas of responsibility:

  • A gouverneur (governor) controlled military and external affairs (including relations with Aboriginal groups) and reported to the Ministère de la Marine (Ministry of the Navy). The king appointed the gouverneur.

  • The Bishop of Québec was responsible for the missionary efforts, as well as hospitals and schools in the colony. He was chosen by the king and confirmed by the Pope.

  • An intendant. Although technically subordinate to the governor and bishop, the intendant had much wider and more influential powers. The product of the centralisation of power under the monarch, every French province had an intendant to ensure that the king's decisions were implemented. He controlled the three departments of the interior: justice, civil administration, and finance. This included areas such as fisheries, agriculture, settlement, public order, economic development taxes, the building of public works, and more. The king appointed this position.

  • A Conseil Souverain (Sovereign Council, renamed Superior Council in 1703), which acted as a court of appeal for civil and criminal cases. The gouverneur and the bishop appointed council members until 1675. The king later made these appointments.

New France also had local governments in Louisiana, Acadia, Québec, Trois-Rivières and Montreal, each with a local governor and intendant's sub-delegate.

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Edit de Création du Conseil Superieur de Québec, Avril, 1663
(Edict creating the Sovereign Council.)

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Commission pour Mr. Talon, 23me Mares, 1665
(Commission appointing Jean Talon as the first intendant.)

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Painting: Reception of the Marquis de Tracy and the Intendant Talon by Mgr. Laval, 1665 - NAC/ANC C-010621
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Relationships of Authority in New France
New France was, like France, absolutist in nature. In practice, however, neither the king nor his appointed gouverneurs ruled arbitrarily or capriciously. Authority was shared and distributed down the social ladder.

Chain of authority in New France

In practice, there was some competition between different officials, which resulted in a less authoritarian form of government than the hierarchy suggests.

Justice in New France
Law in New France was the same civil law as used in France. The Coutume de Paris (customary law of Paris or Custom of Paris) formed the basis of laws in the province, as was decreed in section 3 of the act establishing the Compagnie des Indes Occidentales. It underwent changes in 1667, 1678 and 1685.

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Proces Verbal contenant les modifications faites par le Conseil Supérieur à l'Ordonnance ou Code Civile de 1667, avec dite Ordonnance, 7 Novembre, 1678
(The civil code of 1667, with notes for changes.)

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Justice was administered using the traditional inquisitorial method of France. This gave a great deal of power to the judge, but was inexpensive and quick.

To learn more about the history of New France:

Other Interesting or Important Documents

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