Bishop Lavel
Chapter VIII The Progress of the Colony


THIS year, 1668, would have brought only consolations to Mgr: de Laval, if, unhappily, M. de Talon had not inflicted a painful blow upon the heart of the prelate: the commissioner obtained from the Sovereign Council a decree permitting the unrestricted sale of intoxicating drinks both to the savages and to the French, and only those who became intoxicated might be sentenced to a slight penalty. This was opening the way for the greatest abuses, and no later than the following year Mother Mary of the Incarnation wrote: " What does the most harm here is the traffic in wine and brandy. We preach against those who give these liquors to the savages; and yet many reconcile their consciences to the permission of this thing. They go into the woods and carry drinks to the savages in order to get their furs for nothing when they are drunk. Immorality, theft and murder ensue. . . . We had not yet seen the French commit such crimes, and we can attribute the cause of them only to the pernicious traffic in brandy."

Commissioner Talon was, however, the cleverest administrator that the colony had possessed, and the title of the "Canadian Colbert" which Bibaud confers upon him is well deserved. Mother Incarnation summed up his merits well in the following terms: "M. Talon is leaving us," said she, "and returning to France, to the great regret of everybody and to the loss of all Canada, for since he has been here in the capacity of commissioner the country has progressed and its business prospered more than they had done since the French occupation." Talon worked with all his might in developing the resources of the colony, by exploiting the mines, by encouraging the fisheries, agriculture, the exportation of timber, and general commerce, and especially by inducing, through the gift of a few acres of ground, the majority of the soldiers of the regiment of Carignan to remain in the country. He entered every house to enquire of possible complaints; he took the first census, and laid out three villages near Quebec. His plans for the future were vaster still: he recommended the king to buy or conquer the districts of Orange and Manhattan; moreover, according to Abb£ Ferland, he dreamed of connecting Canada with the Antilles in commerce. With this purpose he had had a ship built at Quebec, and had bought another in order to begin at once. This very first year he sent to the markets of Martinique and Santo Domingo fresh and dry cod, salted salmon, eels, pease, seal and porpoise oil, clapboards and planks. He had different kinds of wood cut in order to try them, and he exported masts to La Rochelle, which he hoped to see used in the shipyards of the Royal Navy. He proposed to Colbert the establishment of a brewery, in order to utilize the barley and the wheat, which in a few years would be so abundant that the farmer could not sell them. This was, besides, a means of preventing drunkenness, and of retaining in the country the sum of one hundred thousand francs, which went out each year for the purchase of wines and brandies. M. Talon presented at the same time to the minister the observations which he had made on the French population of the country. "The people," said Talon, "are a mosaic, and though composed of colonists from different provinces of France whose temperaments do not always sympathize, they seem to me harmonious enough. There are," he added, " among these colonists people in easy circumstances, indigent people and people between these two extremes."

But he thought only of the material development of the colony; upon others, he thought, were incumbent the responsibility for and defence of spiritual interests. He was mistaken, for, although he had not in his power the direction of souls, his duties as a simple soldier of the army of Christ imposed upon him none the less the obligation of avoiding all that might contribute to the loss of even a single soul. The disorders which were the inevitable result of a free traffic in intoxicating liquors, finally assumed such proportions that the council, without going as far as the absolute prohibition of the sale of brandy to the Indians, restricted, nevertheless, this deplorable traffic; it forbade under the most severe penalties the carrying of firewater into the woods to the savages, but it continued to tolerate the sale of intoxicating liquors in the French settlements. It seems that Cavelier de la Salle himself, in his store at Lachine where he dealt with the Indians, did not scruple to sell them this fatal poison.

From 1668 to 1670, during the two years that Commissioner Talon had to spend in France, both for reasons of health and on account of family business, he did not cease to work actively at the court for his beloved Canada. M. de Bouteroue, who took his place during his absence, managed to prejudice the minds of the colonists in his favour by his exquisite urbanity and the polish of his manners.

It will not be out of place, we think, to give here some details of the state of the country and its resources at this period. Since the first companies in charge of Canada were formed principally of merchants of Rouen, of La Rochelle and of St. Malo, it is not astonishing that the first colonists should have come largely from Normandy and Perche. It was only about 1660 that fine and vigorous offspring increased a population which up to that time was renewed only through immigration; in the early days, in fact, the colonists lost all their children, but they found in this only a new reason for hope in the future. " Since God takes the first fruits," said they, "He will save us the rest." The wise and far-seeing mind of Cardinal Richelieu had understood that agricultural development was the first condition of success for a young colony, and his efforts in this direction had been admirably seconded both by Commissioner Talon and Mgr. de Laval at Quebec, and by the Company of Montreal, which had not hesitated at any sacrifice in order to establish at Ville-Marie a healthy and industrious population. If the reader doubts this, let him read the letters of Talon, of Mother Mary of the Incarnation, of Fathers Le Clercq and Charlevoix, of M. Aubert and many others. " Great care had been exercised," says Charlevoix, "in the selection of candidates who had presented themselves for the colonization of New France. ... As to the girls who were sent out to be married to the new inhabitants, care was always taken to enquire of their conduct before they embarked, and their subsequent behaviour was a proof of the success of this system. During the following years the same care was exercised, and we soon saw in this part of America a generation of true Christians growing up, among whom prevailed the simplicity of the first centuries of the Church, and whose posterity has not yet lost sight of the great examples set by their ancestors. . . . In justice to the colony of New France we must admit that the source of almost all the families which still survive there to-day is pure and free from those stains which opulence can hardly efface; this is because the,first settlers were either artisans always occupied in useful labour, or persons of good family who came there with the sole intention of living there more tranquilly and preserving their religion in greater security. I fear the less contradiction upon this head since I have lived with some of these first colonists, all people still more respectable by reason of their honesty, their frankness and the firm piety which they profess than by their white hair and the memory of the services which they rendered to the colony."

M. Aubert says, on his part: " The French of Canada are well built, nimble and vigorous, enjoying perfect health, capable of enduring all sorts of fatigue, and warlike; which is the reason why, during the last war, French-Canadians received a fourth more pay than the French of Europe. All these advantageous physical qualities of the French-Canadians arise from the fact that they have been born in a good climate, and nourished by good and abundant food, that they are at liberty to engage from childhood in fishing, hunting, and journeying in canoes, in which there is much exercise. As to bravery, even if it were not born with them as Frenchmen, the manner of warfare of the Iroquois and other savages of this continent, who burn alive almost all their prisoners with incredible cruelty, caused the French to face ordinary death in battle as a boon rather than be taken alive ; so that they fight desperately and with great indifference to life." The consequence of this judicious method of peopling a colony was that, the trunk of the tree being healthy and vigorous, the branches were so likewise. " It was astonishing," wrote Mother Mary of the Incarnation, "to see the great number of beautiful and well-made children, without any corporeal deformity unless through accident. A poor man will have eight or more children, who in the winter go barefooted and bareheaded, with a little shirt upon their back, and who live only on eels and bread, and nevertheless are plump and large."

Property was feudal, as in France, and this constitution was maintained even after the conquest of the country by the English. Vast stretches of land were granted to those who seemed, thanks to their state of fortune, fit to form centres of population, and these seigneurs granted in their turn parts of these lands to the immigrants for a rent of from one to three cents per acre, according to the value of the land, besides a tribute in grain and poultry. The indirect taxation consisted of the obligation of maintaining the necessary roads, one day's compulsory labour per year, convertible into a payment of forty cents, the right of mouture, consisting of a pound of flour on every fourteen from the common mill, finally the payment of a twelfth in case of transfer and sale (stamp and registration). This seigniorial tenure was burdensome, we must admit, though it was less crushing than that which weighed upon husbandry in France before the Revolution. The farmers of Canada uttered a long sigh of relief when it was abolished by the legislature in 1867.

The habits of this population were remarkably simple; the costume of some of our present out-of-door clubs gives an accurate idea of the dress of that time, which was the same for all: the garment of wool, the cloak, the belt of arrow pattern, and the woollen cap, called tuque, formed the national costume. And not only did the colonists dress without the slightest affectation, but they even made their clothes themselves. "The growing of hemp," says the Abb£ Ferland, "was encouraged, and succeeded wonderfully. They used the nettle to make strong cloths; looms set up in each house in the village furnished drugget, bolting cloth, serge and ordinary cloth. The leathers of the country sufficed for a great portion of the needs of the population. Accordingly, after enumerating the advances in agriculture and industry, Talon announced to Colbert with just satisfaction, that he could clothe himself from head to foot in Canadian products, and that in a short time the colony, if it were well administered, would draw from Old France only a few objects of prime need."

The interior of the dwellings was not less simple, and we find still in our country districts a goodly number of these old French houses; they had only one single room, in which the whole family ate, lived and slept, and received the light through three windows. At the back of the room was the bed of the parents, supported by the wall, in another corner a couch, used as a seat during the day and as a bed for the children during the night, for the top was lifted off as one lifts the cover of a box. Built into the wall, generally at the right of the entrance, was the stone chimney, whose top projected a little above the roof; the stewpan, in which the food was cooked, was hung in the fireplace from a hook. Near the hearth a staircase, or rather a ladder, led to the loft, which was lighted by two windows cut in the sides, and which held the grain. Finally a table, a few chairs or benches completed these primitive furnishings, though we must not forget to mention the old gun hung above the bed to be within reach of the hand in case of a night surprise from the dreaded Iroquois.

In peaceful times, too, the musket had its service, for at this period every Canadian was born a % disciple of St. Hubert. We must confess that this great saint did not refuse his protection in this country, where, with a single shot, a hunter killed, in 1663, a hundred and thirty wild pigeons. These birds were so tame that one might kill them with an oar on the bank of the river, and so numerous that the colonists, after having gathered and salted enough for their winter's provision, abandoned the rest to the dogs and pigs. How many hunters of our day would have displayed their skill in these fortunate times! This abundance of pigeons at a period when our ancestors were not favoured in the matter of food as we are to-day, recalls at once to our memory the quail that Providence sent to the Jews in the desert; and it is a fact worthy of mention that as soon as our forefathers could dispense with this superabundance of game, the wild pigeons disappeared so totally and suddenly that the most experienced hunters cannot explain this sudden disappearance. There were found also about Ville-Marie many partridge and duck, and since the colonists could not go out after game in the woods, where they would have been exposed to the ambuscades of the Iroquois, the friendly Indians brought to market the bear, the elk, the deer, the buffalo, the caribou, the beaver and the muskrat. On fast days the Canadians did not lack for fish; eels were sold at five francs a hundred, and in June, 1649, more than three hundred sturgeons were caught at Montreal within a fortnight. The shad, the pike, the wall-eyed pike, the carp, the brill, the maskinonge were plentiful, and there was besides, more particularly at Quebec, good herring and salmon fishing, while at Malbaie (Murray Bay) codfish, and at Three Rivers white fish were abundant.

At first, food, clothing and property were all paid for by exchange of goods. Men bartered, for example, a lot of ground for two cows and a pair of stockings; a more considerable piece of land was to be had for two oxen, a cow and a little money.

"Poverty," says Bossuet, speaking of other nations, "was not an evil; on the contrary, they looked upon it as a means of keeping their liberty more intact, there being nothing freer or more independent than a man who knows how to live on little, and who, without expecting anything from the protection or the largess of others, relies for his livelihood only on his industry and labour." Voltaire has said with equal justice: "It is not the scarcity of money, but that of men and talent, which makes an empire weak."

On the arrival of the royal troops coin became less rare. "Money is now common," wrote Mother Incarnation, " these gentlemen having brought much of it. They pay cash for all they buy, both food and other necessaries." Money was worth a fourth more than in France, thus fifteen cents were worth twenty. As a natural consequence, two currencies were established in New France, and the Uvre tournois (French franc) was distinguished from the franc of the country. The Indians were dealt with by exchanges, and one might see them traversing the streets of Quebec, Montreal or Three Rivers, offering from house to house rich furs, which they bartered for blankets, powder, lead, but above all, for that accursed firewater which caused such havoc among them, and such interminable disputes between the civil and the religious power. Intoxicating liquors were the source of many disorders, and we cannot too much regret that this stain rested upon the glory of New France. Yet such a society, situated in what was undeniably a difficult position, could not be expected to escape every imperfection.

The activity and the intelligence of Mgr. de Laval made themselves felt in every beneficent and progressive work. He could not remain indifferent to the education of his flock; we find him as zealous for the progress of primary education as for the development of his two seminaries or his school at St. Joachim. Primary instruction was given first by the good R^collets at Quebec, at Tadousac and at Three Rivers. The Jesuits replaced them, and were able, thanks to the munificence of the son of the Marquis de Gamache, to add a college to their elementary school at Quebec. At Ville-Marie the Sulpicians, with never-failing abnegation, not content with the toil of their ministry, lent themselves to the arduous task of teaching; the venerable superior himself, M. Souart, took the modest title of headmaster. From a healthy bud issues a fine fruit: just as the smaller seminary of Quebec gave birth to the Laval University, so from the school of M. Souart sprang in 1733 the College of Montreal, transferred forty years later to the Chateau Vaud-reuil, on Jacques Cartier Square; then to College Street, now St. Paul Street. The college rises to-day on an admirable site on the slope of the mountain; the main seminary, which adjoins it, seems to dominate the city stretched at its feet, as the two sister sciences taught there, theology and philosophy, dominate by their importance the other branches of human knowledge.

M. de Fdnelon, who was already devoted to the conversion of the savages in the famous mission of Montreal mountain, gave the rest of his time to the training of the young Iroquois; he gathered them in a school erected by his efforts near Pointe Claire, on the Dorval Islands, which he had received from M. de Frontenac. Later on the Brothers Charron established a house at Montreal with a double purpose of charity: to care for the poor and the sick, and to train men in order to send them to open schools in the country district. This institution, in spite of the enthusiasm of its founders, did not succeed, and became extinct about the middle of the eighteenth century. Finally, in 1838, Canada greeted with joy the arrival of the sons of the blessed Jean Baptiste de la Salle, the Brothers of the Christian Doctrine, so well known throughout the world for their modesty and success in teaching.

The girls of the colony were no less well looked after than the boys ; at Quebec, the Ursuline nuns, established in that city by Madame de la Peltrie, trained them for the future irreproachable mothers of families. The attempts made to Gallicize the young savages met with no success in the case of the boys, but were better rewarded by the young Indian girls. "We have Gallicized," writes Mother Mary of the Incarnation, "a number of Indian girls, both Hurons and Algonquins, whom we subsequently married to Frenchmen, who get along with them very well. There is one among them who reads and writes to perfection, both in her native Huron tongue and in French; no one can discern or believe that she was born a savage. The 'commissioner was so delighted at this that he induced her to write for him something in the two languages, in order to take it to France and show it as an extraordinary production." Further on she adds, "It is a very difficult thing, not to say impossible, to Gallicize or civilize them. We have more experience in this than any one else, and we have observed that of a hundred who have passed through our hands we have hardly civilized one. We find in them docility and intelligence, but when we least expect it, they climb over our fence and go off to run the woods with their parents, where they find more pleasure than in all the comforts of our French houses."

At Montreal it was the venerable Marguerite Bourgeoys who began to teach in a poor hovel the rudiments of the French tongue. This humble school was transformed a little more than two centuries later into one of the most vast and imposing edifices of the city of Montreal. Fire destroyed it in 1893, but we must hope that this majestic monument of Ville-Marie will soon rise again from its ruins to become the centre of operations of the numerous educational institutions of the Congregation of Notre-Dame which cover our country. M. l'abbe Verreau, the much regretted principal of the Jacques Cartier Normal School, appreciates in these terms the services rendered to education by Mother Bourgeoys, a woman eminent from all points of view: "The Congregation of Notre-Dame," says he, "is a truly national institution, whose ramifications extend beyond the limits of Canada. Marguerite Bourgeoys took in hand the education of the women of the people, the basis of society. She taught young women to become what they ought to be, especially at this period, women full of moral force, of modesty, of courage in the face of the dangers in the midst of which they lived. If the French-Canadians have preserved a certain character of politeness and urbanity, which strangers are not slow in admitting, they owe it in a great measure to the work of Marguerite Bourgeoys."


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