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Aboriginals: Treaties & Relations
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Pionniers et Immigrants

1497 - 1760
1608 - 1763
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Canoe Manned by Voyageurs - National Archives of Canada / C-002771
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New France (1608 - 1763)

While France was quickly able to establish a new colony called New France along the St. Lawrence River - a colony mainly fueled by farming and the trading of furs with the Aboriginals - the settlement of this region wasn't always peaceful. It came with costly wars and conflicts, first with the Aboriginals, later the British.

Topics in this section:

New France (1608 - 1763)
Aboriginal-French European Alliances
Aboriginal Wars
The Seigneurial System (1627 - 1854)
Coureurs de Bois
Filles du roi
Other Important or Interesting Documents

New France (1608 - 1763)

In 1608, Samuel de Champlain created the first truly permanent French settlement in the area around where Québec City stands today. It was a small settlement - no more than 60 colonists lived here by 1620. It remained a small fur trading post for the first 50 years of its existence.

In 1663, New France suddenly undertook a period of extensive expansionism. Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a leading minister in France, particularly believed in compact settlements that would better protect the colony against warring Aboriginals and the British.

Did you know?

In its 150 years as a French colony, no more than 10,000 immigrated to New France. Almost 4,000 of these were engagés who came under three-year contracts as indentured servants to farmers or fur traders. Another 3,500 came from those in the military. Another 1,000 were the Filles du roi. A thousand prisoners were also sent to Québec, and another 500 came on their own. Roughly 40 per cent of these immigrants came after 1700. Almost all were French.

 

You will find more information about this topic in Constitutional History

 

Aboriginal-French European Alliances

Ursuline nuns in New France - National Archives of Canada / C-010520
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The success of New France was inevitably linked to the Aboriginal population who already inhabited the land. In 1609, Samuel de Champlain began forging a number of alliances with various Aboriginal groups - particularly the Algonquins and Huron - for the purposes of exchanging furs for European trade goods.

Did you know?

By the 1620s, the Huron were supplying the French with up to two-thirds of the furs available in their trading network.

Champlain sought to cement relationships with the Hurons by sending in priests to the colony to engage in missionary activities that would help convert these Aboriginals to a Catholic, European way of life. By 1627, Jesuits - including Jean de Brébeuf - were sent into the far-flung reaches of the colony to help meet this goal, though Récollet priests had been in French settlements by 1615 for similar purposes as well.

Furthermore, Marie de l’Incarnation (née Guyart) founded the first Ursuline convent in New France in 1639. Other such religious groups would come into the colony by the late 1630’s. These nuns would also set up a model French society for settlers similar to France's.

 

Aboriginal Wars

Champlain took sides with the Huron against the Iroquois at what is now Lake Champlain in 1609. This triggered 90 years of hostilities between the Iroquois and the French. These wars deterred immigration from France.

The wars wiped out entire settlements, like Ste. Marie Among The Hurons. Aboriginal wars were also a cause of failure for companies like the Communauté des Habitants.

These wars lasted throughout the 17th century, and didn't end until the Great Peace of 1701. Many Aboriginal nations were, by then, suffering great losses in human life due to fighting and diseases introduced by the French, like smallpox. The Great Peace meant that the Iroquois would no longer resist French expansion.

You will find more information about this topic in Aboriginals: Treaties and Relations.

The Seigneurial System (1627 - 1854)

The seigneurial system was a form of land settlement modeled on the French feudal system. It began in New France in 1627 with the formation of the Compagnie des Cent-Associés (or Company of 100 Associates), which was initially responsible for handing out land grants and seigneurial rights.

The land was divided into five by 15 kilometer plots, usually along major rivers like the St. Lawrence. They were then further subdivided into narrow, but long lots for settlement. These lots were usually long enough to be suitable for faming, and they provided everyone who lived on them with equal access to neighbouring farms and the river.

There were three main groups of people who lived off the land in this system:

Seigneurs: These were the most important colonists, as they were usually in the military or aristocracy prior to being a settler. These seigneurs then were charged with the task of subdividing large parcels of land into five by 15 kilometer concessions, then renting this land to a habitant. Under regulations set up by the French government in France, the seigneur could also set up a court of law, set up a mill on his land and organize a commune.

Habitants - National Archives of Canada / C-011224
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Habitants: This class of people was usually comprised of farmers or labourers who were initially brought over from France to live on this land. They had to pay rent and taxes to the seigneur, though they co-owned the land with the seigneur, and even had to work entirely for the benefit of the seigneur a few days each year.

Engagés: These were indentured servants who came to New France for three-year contract periods to work as farmers.

When Britain gained control of New France in 1763, they allowed some of the seigneurial system to remain in place as a favour to the French settlers living in the region. However, it was discontinued in 1854, as it was, by then, considered too cumbersome a system for encouraging economic development. (Britain had recognized French feudal law, but did not grant very many new seigneuries between 1763 and 1854. This was a boon for seigneurs since it gave them control over the land in full perpetuity, which led some at the time to feel that the system inherently and unfairly rewarded old seigneuries.) It was replaced with a law called the Seigneurial Tenures Act, 1854, that allowed tenants to claim the right to their land.

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An Act to provide for the extinction of Feudal and Seigneurial Rights in Lower Canada, 1825

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An Act to explain and amend the laws relating to land in free and common soccage in the province of Lower Canada, 1831 (Gives the King of England power of assent to Lower Canada legislation regarding land grants)

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The Seigneurial Tenures Act, 1854 (Abolishes feudal rights and duties in Lower Canada)

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Coureurs de Bois
While much of New France's economy became agriculturally based under the seigneurial system, there was still, naturally, a significant industry in the fur trade. It remained the most successful business in the economy.

The fur trade was so successful that it spurned a new class of adventurous fur traders called the coureurs de bois. These traders were considered illegitimate by the French Crown, for these traders would go deep into the interior of the colony, usually around Lake Superior, seeking out furs from Aboriginal tribes. This undercut Aboriginal middlemen who traveled to businesses in Montréal to provide them with fur pelts.

Eventually, professional "voyageurs" would be allowed by the French government to stamp out these fur traders. These voyageurs and coureurs de bois also helped the Europeans stake a claim to land further west by being among the first to explore it. However, this also meant that Aboriginal roles in the fur trade would gradually become diminished as time progressed.

Filles du roi

Filles du roi - National Archives of Canada / C-020126
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From 1663 to 1673, about 1,000 orphaned, single women were sent by King Louis XIV to redress the disproportionate amount of males versus females in New France. They were called Filles du roi - or "daughters of the King."

These women would spend an average of about two weeks living with nuns or missionaries before they could find a suitable man. In most circumstances, they would marry him right away for the sole purposes of starting a large family.

High birth rates were encouraged in New France by the French government, since it was an easier and cheaper way to settle the region than through a constant, endless stream of immigration.

France offered financial incentives to couples in the colony to marry while they were young. France also gave additional monetary bonuses to families based on the amount of children they had.

On the other hand, fathers whose adult children stayed at home without marrying risked paying hefty fines.

Did you know?

Measures by the French Crown to encourage natural reproduction worked to some extent. The population of New France grew from 3,000 in 1663 to 20,000 in 1712. It then jumped to 70,000 by 1760. Despite such efforts, almost two million British subjects were living mostly along the eastern seaboard of the Thirteen Colonies by 1763. This was thanks to the million or so people who'd emigrated from the British Isles during the 100-year period from 1663 to 1763.



For more information about the Seigneurial System, coureurs de bois and filles du roi, please visit The Canadian Encyclopedia Online.


Other Interesting or Important Documents

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