Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization

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Beginning of a colony



Health professions were similar to those in France.  Surgeons, the most numerous, worked as general practitionners.  They bled, purged, treated wounds and tumours, extracted teeth and performed amputations.  Doctors, with a university education, were few in number.  They examined and issued prescriptions to wealthier patients.  Apothecaries (pharmacists) worked mainly in hospitals.  Midwives handled most obstetrics.


Nuns from the nursing orders (Hospitaliѐres) looked after people from all levels of society in the two types of institutions they operated.  General hospitals were managed as charitable institutions for the disabled, the elderly, prostitutes, the mentally ill and abandoned childre.  Hà´tels-Dieu, on the other hand, were real medical hospitals were nuns provided both physical and spiritual healing.


The Hà´tel-Dieu de Québec was founded in 1639 from donations received from Marie Vignerod, the Duchess of Aiguillon and niece of the powerful Cardinal Richelieu.  Portrait of the Duchess of Aiguillon painted on canvas by Paul Beaucourt.


Because of the harsh climate, chronic ailments and discomforts such as chilblains, rheumatism and respiratory problems were more common than in France.  But acute diseases were the same as in Europe, the most deadly being measles, typhus and smallpox.

Physical illness was viewed as divine punishment, but according to an ancient theory, was also thought to be caused by an imbalance in bodily fluids.  Bleeding, enemas and an arsenal of medicines were used to purge the body and restore «balance Â». If all else failed, there was always prayer.



Illustration showing Aztec Indians with smallpox around 1577.


Midwife’s oath.

I swear and promise to God…that I will assist women who are giving birth, and will never cause any harm to the mother or the child, and when I see thar there is imminent danger, I will call upon the advice and assistance of doctors, surgeons and other women I know to have experience…I also promise not to reveal the secrets of the families and the people I will assist, and not to use any illicit means, or superstition…but to do everything I possibly can to ensure the physical and spiritual hearth of both the mother and the child.   Extract from Rituel du diocѐse de Québec, by Monsignor de Saint-Vallier, 1703.




The Catholic Church undertook major initiatives to reassert its religious leadership and compete against the growth of Protestantism in Europe.  Education and religious instruction for the entire population were important pillars in its efforts.


In New France, the Church assigned this mission to the religious orders, which established small schools in the towns and sent missionaries and lay teachers to rural parishes.


These schools generally focused more on teaching religious and moral principles than on reading, writing and arithmetic.  All children were taught the catechism in preparation for their first communion, as well as the values of good citizens: respect for authority, integrity and a sense of right and wrong.



A way of acting, thinking, behaving?  A set of values, beliefs, behaviors, customs and symbols that characterize a community? Culture is all this and more.


In its broadest sense, culture is everywhere and all members of a society, regardless of their place in the hierarchy, shape it continuously.


Whether in sound (music and song), in visual production (painting and sculpture) or in writing (books and documents), the various forms of cultural expression presented here are evidence of colonial societies that ere becoming more sophisticated. 


They reflect, to some degree, French cultural traditions, the influence of the Catholic Church and a capacity to adapt to a new land and a new social environment.


The fall of Montreal in 1760 marked the end of France’s empire in North America.  The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, marked the beginning of British rule.


Since that time, developments in North American society could have wiped out this French heritage, but this did not happen.  Today, in Canada, we celebrated French culture.  It is a pillar of our society and its foundations were laid 400 years ago.




The Church ensured that religion was present everywhere: Sundays, religious holidays, numerous days of fasting and ceremonies that celebrated rites of passage (baptism, marriage and death).  The Church also encouraged the observance of the sacraments, especially penance and the Eucharist, as well as various forms of prayer: novenas, devotions, processions and participation in religious organizations.


It is difficult to say whether people participated in these religious rites because of authentic spiritual feelings or the threat of divine punishment.  This was a threat the Church did not hesitate to make.


In the New France era, Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré was already a popular site for pilgrimages.  Its first church was built in 1658.  Sainte Anne was the patron of navigators, who felt safe when they reached the coast of Beaupré after a long crossing.  People who were ill sent there hoping to be healed, as they still do today.

Third church of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, built in 1676 and demolished in 1876.


In response to the growing popularity of Protestantism in Europe, the Catholic Church of the 17th century saw the need to reform.  It wanted to strengthen the faith of Catholics and also to convert Aboriginal peoples.  It wanted religion to permeate every aspect of daily life.


Under the direction of a bishop and with the help of the colonial government, New France was organized into parishes.  Priests were sent to distant places in Acadia and Louisiana.  This gave the Church greater control over the practices and values of tis parishioners.  The Church also encouraged missionaries to travel throughout its territory and preach the Good Word to Aboriginal peoples.


The Church’s message to everyone, Europeans as well as Aboriginals, focused on a God who is the master of life and death and on the fear of eternal damnation.


The Jesuits.  In 1639, Jérà´me Lalemant, a Jesuit priest, initiated the construction of a fortified mission near Georgian Bay.  Sainte-Marie among the Huron was the first European settlement in the Canadian hinterland.  The mission had a chapel, a hospital, stables and accommodation for the French and the Huron converts.


The Jesuits were intellectuals with a background in theology and science.  They had difficulty converting the Huron and were often bewildered and horrified by their customs.  Placing themselves in the hands of God, the Jesuits faced cruel wars, devastating epidemics and the violence generated by the clash of two civilizations.


The Huron became the main partners of the French in the fur trade.  However, the Jesuits and their assistants unwittingly spread new diseases against which the Huron had no immunity.  Smallpox and measles decimated the Aboriginal population.


From 1645 to 1655, the powerful Five Nations Iroquois confederacy waged a war that destroyed rival Iroquoian nations.  Weakened by disease and torn apart by internal strife, the Huron were defeated in 1648 and 1649.  The conflict soon reached the French colonies in the St. Lawrence Valley.




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Beginning of a colony

Moving around



Land Distribution


Overtaking the New France


First industries




Road to the U.S


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