Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization

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Beginning of a colony




Overtaking the New France


The French were allied with the Montagnais, Huron and Algonquin, and they fought against the Iroquois, who were allies of the Dutch and the British.


Colonial authorities wanted the habitant population to be concentrated in the St. Lawrence Valley settlements, but that was not practical. To protect the fur trade from Dutch and British competition, the French explored new territories, building trading posts farther inland, and spreading their forces more thinly.


Explorers, missionaries and voyageurs followed their Aboriginal allies to the Great Lakes. Church missions, trading posts and forts soon dotted the main waterways. Effective defense depended on alliances with Aboriginal peoples, not flimsy wooden forts. Conflict with the Iroquois came to a peak in 1665 when 1,400 soldiers of the Carignan-Saliàres regiment, allied with Huron and Algonquin, imposed a peace agreement allowing more colonial settlement in the St. Lawrence Valley.



Whatever their social class, nearly all the inhabitants of New France engaged in trade and wanted to become wealthy.


By 1600, the fur trade was already the dominant commercial activity. A century later, merchants, colonial officials and even soldiers stationed in remote forts were sills making their fortunes from this business.


Sons of farmers, artisans and merchants obtained permission from the governor of New France to trade their imported goods for fur from the Indians. They then left for their trading post in the Great Lakes region, their canoes filled with axes, knives, copper pots, tools and blankets, as well as casks of wine and eau-de-vie (an alcoholic beverage).


Throughout the summer, they worked from sunrise to sunset, breaking camp, paddling on rivers and lakes, portaging around dangerous rapids and making camp at nightfall. Their diet consisted mainly of fish, game, maize, wine and eau-de-vie.


By the 18th century, Montreal had become the commercial hub of the colony. Furs such as beaver, otter, marten, deer and moose were sent to France. In some years, fur accounted for almost all exports and the trade continued to attract young men to the Aboriginal territories.


Seigneurs and habitants, on the other hand, made their living from agriculture. They often became grain, vegetable or lumber merchants. They bought and sold products in the town markets; some even supplied the merchants and ships that traveled to Louisbourg, the Caribbean and France.


Aboriginal trade routes had operated for centuries before the arrival of Europeans, so that some traded objects had already circulated across the continent. The Indian's first priority was to trade for useful items. On average, 60% of the trade goods they received were fabrics, 25% were weapons and tools, 6% alcohol, 3% trade jewelry and 2% tobacco.


The fur trade could not have existed without the Indians who imposed their trading practices and commercial requirements on the Europeans. Smoking the calumet (ceremonial pipe) and exchanging wampum before commencement of trade was an ancient Indian tradition. Europeans had to submit to the custom as well in order to maintain the fur trade.


When the Europeans came, their merchandise penetrated to the heart of North America. Interpreters and missionaries traveled inland before the arrival of French with Aboriginal people along the major rivers.


Radisson, La Salle and La Vérendrye were among those who pushed back the frontiers. Alliances were made with Aboriginal nations and trading posts sprang up farther and farther afield, where furs were exchanged for manufactured goods and alcohol.

In the 18th century, the intendant Gilles Hockquart, which we see beside, began to promote exploitation of forest resources and iron deposits.


Despite a French trade policy that discouraged colonial industrial initiatives. Hocquart provided incentives for shipbuilding and ironworks. Threats of war led to the construction of ships and the manufacture of cannons and cannon balls. Individuals set up small industries to supply lumber, tar, hemp, rope and nails.


These initiatives faced challenges. Skilled labour had to be imported from France because of local shortages. Winter was also difficult, as the cold and ice could damage water mills and iron forge furnaces.



Hiring of a servant aged four, 1703.

Being reduced to extreme poverty and the father of four young children, René Favreau (widow of Elisabeth Boissonneau), an habitant of the seigneurie of Beaumont, engages his daughter, Marie Françoise, aged four for her advancement, as a servant to Antoine Fortier, captain of a small craft in the parish of Saint-Laurent, Ïle d'Orléans. Mr. Fortier undertakes to treat her humanely, to see to her bed, board and laundry, to instruct her with all things necessary for her salvation. He further undertakes to pay her wages, in the amount of 150 pounds, to be paid the day of her marriage if she has reached the age of 20. Should she take a husband at the age of 17, she would receive a lesser amount, set at 75 pounds, and at 18 or 19, an amount set at 120 pounds. From the records of Louis Chamballon, October 9th 1703.


In New France, black African and Aboriginal slaves worked mainly as domestics. In Acadia, Louisbourg and Canada, the slaves generally lived with their owners and had access to legal, medical and religious services. Slaves in Louisiana had more difficult living conditions; many toiled on the tobacco and indigo plantation, but some also learned a trade.


In all cases, slaves were treated like property that could be acquired or sold.


Sale of a slave, 1724. Jean Gauthier also known as Landreville, an habitant dwelling on Ïle Ste Théràse, sells to Louis-Hector Piot de Langloiserie, seigneur of ÃŽle Ste Théràse, a Pawnee Indian named Jacques Nichououe17 years of age, who left him sex months ago but whom he promises to locate. The sale is granted for the amount of 200 pounds. Since Jean Gauthier owes that same amount to Seigneur Piot, he will finally be quit of his debt, providing of course that he succeeds in finding Jacques Nichououe. Deed made and signed in Ville-Marie in the presence of Joseph Gamelin and Joseph Philippeaux, who have signed with Seigneur Langloiserie and Jean Gauthier. Records of Jacques David, Montreal, May 16th 1724, no.879.


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