Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Count Frontenac
Chapter I Canada before Frontenac, 1608 to 1632

When Count Frontenac landed in Quebec in the month of September 1672, to administer the government of Canada or, as it was then more generally called, New France, the country had been for a period of a little over sixty years under continuous French rule. The period may, indeed, be limited to exactly sixty years if we take as the starting-point the commission issued to Samuel de Champlain on the 15th of October 1612 as "Commander in New France," under the authority of the Count de Soissons, who had been appointed by the queen regent, Marie de Medicis, as - lieutenant-general of that territory. What had been accomplished during those sixty odd years ? How had the country developed, and what were the elements of the situation which confronted Frontenac on his arrival ? Answers to these questions may be gathered, it is hoped, from the following brief introductory narrative.

The territorial claims of France in the gulf and valley of the St. Lawrence were founded on the discoveries made in the name of the French king, Francis I, by that brave Breton mariner, Jacques Cartier, in the celebrated voyages undertaken by him in the years 1534 and 1535. An attempt at colonization made in the latter year, the site chosen being the left bank of the St. Charles near Quebec, failed miserably; nor were the similar attempts made in 1541 by Cartier and in 1542 by Roberval any more successful. Cartier did not again return to Canada, and all efforts in the direction of colonization were suspended for sixty years, though French fishermen continued to visit the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In the year 1603 a notable figure appears upon the scene, Samuel Champlain, the true founder of French power on the continent of America. A few years previously a certain naval captain named Chauvin, who enjoyed considerable influence at court, had applied for and obtained from King Henry IV a patent granting him exclusive trading privileges in the St. Lawrence. This he had done at the instance of one Pontgrave, a leading merchant of St. Halo, well acquainted with the St. Lawrence trade, whose business instinct had led him to see that the fur trade alone of that region might be a source of vast wealth to any single company controlling it. One condition of the grant was that not less than five hundred persons should be settled in the country, and another that provision should be made for the religious instruction both of the settlers and of the natives. Having obtained the patent, neither Chauvin nor Pontgrave,. whom he appointed as his lieutenant, seems to have thought of anything but the conversion of their privilege into money. They sailed to the St. Lawrence, but proceeded no further than Tadousac, where they set up a trading establishment. At the end of the first summer season they returned to France, leaving some sixteen men behind them so ill provided for that eleven died during the winter of disease and hardship. The rest would have died of starvation had not friendly Indians supplied them with food. Chauvin made two more trips to the St. Lawrence without doing anything to redeem his engagements, and in the year 1601 he died.

The death of Chauvin having voided his patent, the king was moved to constitute Knight Commander de Chastes, Governor of Dieppe, his representative in the western world. A company was formed, and an expedition was organized and placed under the command of Pontgrave, as a man having special knowledge of the St. Lawrence navigation. By request of de Chastes, Cham-plain was associated with him. At this time Champlain was thirty-six years of age, and had already distinguished himself as soldier, sailor, explorer, and geographer. His chief work in the two latter characters had been done in connection with a voyage which he had made to the West Indies and Mexico in one of the vessels of the King of Spain. On his return he described the places he had visited in a work, still extant, illustrated by curious maps and pictures of his own drawing. Champlain had higher views than mere money making and no more valuable man could have been assigned to the expedition. Setting sail with Pontgrave from Honfleur on the 15th March 1603, he arrived at Tadousac on the 24th May. How earnestly he was bent on carrying the Catholic faith into the wilds of Canada is shown by a conversation he reports having had with an Algonquin chief, into whose mind he was trying to instil correct views as to the origin of things, and particularly of the human race. The Algonquin had been under the impression that the Creator had placed arrows in the ground, and then turned them into men. Champlain assured him that this was an error, man having been made in the first place out of clay, and woman from a rib taken from his side while he slept. He dwelt somewhat also on the propriety and duty of the invocation of saints, with a view, as the Abbe Faillon hints,1 to counteracting any prejudice against that doctrine which Chauvin and his companions, who were Calvinists, might have endeavoured to create in the savage mind. Judging, however, by the Algonquin's replies to Champlain's catechising, his mental attitude was one of admirable neutrality, securely founded on nescience, regarding any or all of the doctrines in debate between Rome and Geneva. Chauvin had attended strictly to business.

Before returning to France, Champlain explored the river St. Lawrence as far as the Lachine Rapids. On the way up he anchored before Quebec, the situation of which he describes; doubtless he recognized it as the place near which Jacques Cartier and his men had spent their terrible winter. In passing Three Rivers he noticed how advantageously it was situated both for trade and for defence. He explored the country in the vicinity of the Lachine Rapids sufficiently to recognize that the land to his right, as he ascended, was an island (Montreal). Of the rapids themselves he says that never had he seen a torrent rushing with such impetuosity. Returning to Tadousac he proceeded down the river to Gaspe and Percd and entered the Baie des Chaleurs. After making, according to his custom, as many observations and inquiries as possible in regard to the character and outlines of the country, he returned to Tadousac, and, gathering his party, which had meanwhile been doing some profitable trading with the natives, set sail for France, where he arrived on the 20th September. M. de Chastes, under whose authority he and Pontgrave were acting, had died in the month of May. Champlain, therefore, went alone to court, exhibited to the king a map he had made of the country, and gave such information as to its resources and capabilities as he had personally gathered. The king was much interested; and, desiring that the work so well begun should be vigorously prosecuted, he issued a patent to a Huguenot gentleman, PierreDugas, Sieurde Monts and Governor of Pons conferring upon him exclusive trading privileges for a period of ten years not only in Canada, but in Acadia. The essential condition of this grant, it has been said, was the establishment in the countries mentioned of the "Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman faith"; but, if such was the case, the terms of the document seem a little lacking in precision, as they speak only of instructing the natives in the principles of Christianity and the knowledge of God, and thus bringing them to the light of faith and the practice of the Christian religion. As de Monts was a Huguenot the generality of these terms may not have been without significance.

De Monts had been in Canada before, having accompanied Chauvin on one or two of his voyages to Tadousac. He had also some knowledge of Acadia, and had conceived a preference for that region, as being more favourably situated and milder in climate than Canada so far as he knew it. To that quarter, therefore, he directed the expedition, which left Havre under his command in March 1604. The result was complete failure owing to causes into which it is impossible in this hasty narrative to enter. Suffice it to say that, opposition having been raised to the privileges enjoyed by de Monts, the king, who was an accomplished politician—it was he who had thought Paris "well worth a mass "—cancelled his patent, and thus destroyed all the expectations which he and his business associates, who had incurred great expense in equipping the expedition, had founded thereon. Some progress had been made in settlement at Port Royal, and excellent relations had been established with the natives, when in the fall of 1607 the whole colony was recalled to France. Champlain, who had accompanied this expedition, turned it to good account in increasing his stores of geographical knowledge. In the following year, 1608, de Monts succeeded in obtaining a renewal of his patent for one year. After consultation with Champlain he decided that Quebec would be the best place at which to attempt a settlement. He accordingly equipped two vessels for the enterprise, and placed them under the command of Champlain, whom he appointed as his lieutenant with full powers of control over the whole expedition. He himself remained behind in Paris to watch over his interests, which were subject at every moment to attack. His lieutenant sailed from Honfleur on the 13th April 1608, and arrived at Tadousac on the 3rd of June, and at Quebec on the 3rd of July. Having disembarked his men, Champlain set them to work at once to clear the level piece of land at the base of the rock, erect a storehouse and dwellings, and surround the whole with a palisade and ditch. Thus in the summer of 1608 was the city of Quebec founded, and the power of France formally established on the North American continent.

The first event of note in the annals of the new colony was certainly not an auspicious one: a plot that was formed by some of the men of the expedition against the life of their commander. Had the designs of the conspirators not been brought to light in time, the course of Canadian history, as we know it, might have been seriously turned aside. Four men were found guilty, and sentenced to death; the ringleader only, a Norman named Jean Duval, was executed, the others were sent to France where their sentences were commuted. Lescarbot, a contemporary writer, to whom we are indebted for much information respecting the events of the period, states that the men were dissatisfied with their food; but from Champlain's own narrative it appears that the plot was formed, if not before the expedition left France, at least before it reached Quebec, and that the whole motive of the conspirators was gain, their intention being to deliver over all Champlain's goods to the Basques and Spaniards fishing and trading at Tadousac, and to escape on their vessels with the proceeds of their treason. This danger, however, having been happily averted, work was proceeded with on what Champlain in his narrative calls the "habitation," and by the time winter set in the dwellings were in readiness. The winter was destined to be a most unhappy one. As before, when Cartier took up his quarters on the banks of the St. Charles in the winter of 1535-6, scurvy broke out, and twenty men out of a company of twenty-eight died.

In the spring of 1609 a reinforcement for the shrunken colony was brought out by Pontgrave It was in the summer of that year that Champlain, with little thought of the consequences his action would entail, carried out a promise previously made to the Algonquins and Hurons to assist them in their feud with the Iroquois. Taking eleven Frenchmen with him in a ship's boat, and accompanied by about three hundred savages in their canoes, he proceeded as far as the mouth of the Richelieu River. There most of the savages changed their minds, and deserted the party. Finding that the boat was not suited to the navigation of the Richelieu River up which the route to the enemy's country lay, Champlain sent it back to Quebec and nine men with it. He with two Frenchmen and sixty Indians proceeded in canoes, and on the 30th of July a band of Iroquois on the war-path was encountered on the shore of what has since been known as Lake Champlain. The story is briefly told. Champlain, who had loaded his arquebus with four balls, brought down at the first shot three Iroquois chiefs, two instantly killed, and the third mortally wounded. His men did further execution. The Iroquois, astounded at such swift death, turned and fled. In the pursuit others were killed. Commenting on .this campaign, and a somewhat similar one of the year following, the Abbe Faillon observes that if Champlain, instead of siding with the Algonquins and Hurons against the Iroquois, had declared himself the friend of all the tribes, he would not only have done more honour to the French name, but would have gained access for himself and for the missionaries who were to follow him to all the Indian communities.

By the course he actually followed he inspired the most powerful and best organized of the Indian tribes with a hatred for the French race and for the religion they professed, which during a long series of years wreaked itself in countless deeds of blood, and more than once brought the colony of New France to the verge of extinction. The massacre of Lachine (1689) was a late harvest of the blood sown on the shores of Lake Champlain eighty years before.

The vessels which brought out recruits brought also the news that the exclusive privilege of trade granted to de Monts had been cancelled, or at least had not been renewed, though de Monts still retained his position as the king's lieutenant in New France. Champlain was therefore obliged to return to France in the autumn and discuss matters. Leaving Quebec on the 5th September he reached Honfleur on the 14th October. He saw the king, reported progress, and showed him some of the products of the country. De Monts renewed his efforts to be reinstated in his privileges, but without success. In the end it was arranged that Champlain should return to Canada, which he did, leaving Honfleur on the 8th April 1610, and arriving at Quebec early in May. We pass over the second attack on the Iroquois, made in the month of June of this year, in which Champlain was slightly wounded. It is interesting, however, to learn that, on returning from his campaign, he found a piece of land near his "habitation" at Quebec, which he had brought under cultivation, yielding good crops of vegetables, Indian corn, wheat, rye, and barley. He had been much annoyed on reaching Quebec in the spring to find that no care had been taken of some grape vines that he had carefully laid down the previous fall. This was but one example of an indolent neglect only too characteristic, unhappily, of the Quebec colonists in after years.

Towards the end of this summer grave news arrived. The king, Henry IV, had fallen under the dagger of an assassin. Champlain and Pontgrav£ both thought it desirable to return to France without delay, as it was impossible to say how their interests might be affected by the change of government. The only incident of importance, so far as is known, which happened during Champlain's stay in France on this occasion, was his marriage to a Protestant young lady named Helen Boulle, whom, on account of her tender years—she was only twelve years old—he left to grow up under her father's roof, but who brought him as her dowry a much needed subsidy of six thousand francs. Thus financially reinforced he sailed again for Canada in the spring of 1611. He had an appointment to keep, made the previous year, with certain Indians to meet them at the Grand Saut (Lachine Rapids) to discuss matters of trade and war. He arrived there on the 28th May, a few days later than he had said, but found no Indians. Not being a man to waste time he employed himself while waiting in prospecting the Island of Montreal and erecting a wall, as the commencement of a fort, almost on the very spot selected thirty-one years afterwards by Maisonneuve for the same purpose. It has been conjectured that, if Champlain had known all the advantages possessed by Montreal, as compared with Quebec, before he began to construct buildings at the latter place, Montreal would probably have been the first capital of New France. This, however, seems hardly probable. It was important that the capital should be a place naturally strong in a military point of view—"natura fortis," as the motto of the city of Quebec has it—and of comparatively easy access from the sea; and these obvious advantages Quebec possessed in a much higher degree than Montreal.

De Monts was at last convinced that, under existing conditions, there was no money in the enterprise to which he was committed. Others could engage in the fur trade as freely as he, without having any establishments in Canada to keep up; so he willingly resigned his empty honours as lieutenant-general, in order to see what he could do as a private trader, or private member of a trading company. The office of lieutenant-general passed into the hands of a more powerful person, the Duke of Conde, who wisely made Champlain his lieutenant, and under whose auspices a powerful company was formed, consisting of all the traders of Rouen and St. Malo who wished to join it. The merchants of La Rochelle had also been invited to take a share in the enterprise, but they held off, and were consequently left out of the arrangement. Champlain had returned to France in September 1611, and the difficulties and oppositions of one kind and another to which the organization of the new company gave rise kept him there till the spring of 1613, when, again setting sail for Canada, he arrived at Quebec about the 1st of May. It was in the early summer of this year that he made his celebrated trip up the Ottawa River as far as Allumette Island, about one hundred miles above the city of Ottawa, after which he again returned to France.

Up to this time nothing had been done by the various trading companies that had been formed towards the evangelization of the native tribes, nor even for meeting the spiritual necessities of the Europeans settled or trading in New France. Champlain, who remained in France during the whole of the following year (1614), thought it time to take the matter in hand. He therefore arranged with the Provincial of the Récollet Fathers, a suborder of the Franciscans, that six of their members should go out to New France as missionaries, their maintenance and lodging to be provided by the company. Four of the fathers sailed with him from France in the ship St. Etienne of three hundred and fifty tons, on the 24th April 1615, and arrived at Quebec about the 1st of June. They were received with many tokens of satisfaction, but the good fathers were not long in discovering that there was very little zeal for religion in the colony, and that their work was going to be beset with the most serious difficulties and discouragements. A Rd-collet writer, Thdodat Sagard, who came to Canada a year or two later, and who wrote a most interesting record of his experiences, says that the French themselves, who were supposed to be Christians, were by their scandalous lives the greatest impediment to the conversion of the Indians. We gather from Champlain's narrative that the first celebration of the mass took place at Rivi&re des Prairies, a few miles below Montreal, before a few French and a large number of Indians, "who were full of admiration at the ceremonies practised, and the ornaments used, the latter in particular seeming to them, unaccustomed as they were to such things, very beautiful and interesting."

Champlain himself was present on this solemn occasion, and it is a cause of regret to know that he was at the moment under a promise to join the Huron Indians in another attack on the Iroquois. It was in connection with this expedition that some of his most interesting geographical discoveries were made. The point of rendezvous for the warriors was a Huron village to the west of Lake Simcoe called Cahiagud. To reach it Champlain's Indian guides took the route by the Ottawa River to Lake Nipissing, thence by the French River into the Georgian Bay, and down through the clustering islands on its eastern coast to some point not far from Penetanguishene. Beyond Allumette Island on the Ottawa all was new to Champlain. He now saw for the first time Lake Simcoe, Sturgeon Lake, Rice Lake, and finally Lake Ontario. He describes the country he passed through as most beautiful. The expedition, however, was fated to be unsuccessful, and came very near to proving most disastrous. The attack made on a fortified position of the enemy was repelled; Champlain himself received two painful arrow wounds; and if the Iroquois had only sent a party to capture and destroy the canoes of the Hurons, the whole invading force might easily have been annihilated. It was about the middle of October that the fight took place. Champlain, as soon as his wounds were healed, was anxious to be conducted back to the Grand Saut, whence he might make his way to Quebec; but his allies pleaded the impossibility of sparing men and canoes for the purpose, and he was consequently obliged to spend the winter with them. Not unnaturally the French at Quebec had almost given him up for lost, when he made his appearance among them some time in the month of June 1616.

Little of interest occurred in the colony, if we may call it by that name, for several years after this. In 1620 Champlain began the construction of the Chateau St. Louis on a portion of the ground now covered by Dufferin Terrace; yet at this date the whole population of Quebec did not exceed fifty persons. Amongst these there was only one who could be called a settler in the true sense of the word. This was Louis Hubert who had come to Canada in 1017 under a contract with the company, the terms of which do not give us a favourable opinion of the liberality of that corporation or of their desire to open up the country. Hebert, who was a chemist and apothecary by profession, was bound to serve the company for three years for a hundred crowns a year, his wife and children being also liable to be called upon for any help they could render. He received an allotment of land; but he could only work on it at such times as his services were not required by the company. At the end of three years he might grow crops, but he must sell his produce to the company at such prices as were current in France. Notwithstanding these restrictions, Hubert managed in the course of time to establish himself in comfort, and to become a substantial bourgeois of the new colony.

The Récollet fathers had now been five years in the country, yet the interests of religion were not flourishing. They found that they were not receiving the assistance from the company that had been promised; and, not only so, but that their influence with the natives was constantly being undermined by the company's agents and servants, whose one preoccupation was trade. In their perplexity and discouragement—for they were really making no headway at all—it occurred to them that, if they could have the assistance of a few Jesuit fathers, the situation might be materially improved, their impression being that the Jesuits, if they came, would probably have some independent means of their own, and moreover that the high credit they enjoyed in France would stand them in good stead in the colony.. They consequently sent home one of their number to conduct negotiations to that end. The result was that, in the month of June 1625, three Jesuit fathers and two coadjutors came out to Quebec, to begin that career of evangelization and of dauntless, self-sacrificing effort which has won for their order an imperishable name in the annals of French colonization in North America.

What may be called the first chapter in the history of New France was now drawing to a close. In 1621 the Duke of Conde had, with the royal approval, transferred the lieutenant-generalship to the Duke of Montmorency for a consideration of eleven thousand francs. Some changes were at the same time made in the organization of the trading company. In 1625 Montmorency in turn passed over the office to his nephew, Henri de Levis, Duke of Ventadour. These changes in no way improved the situation of the settlement at Quebec which, under all managements, was consistently starved and kept down to the level of a precarious trading-post. The French during these years were more and more losing influence with their Indian allies, the Hurons and Montagnais, whose attitude at times became very menacing, and who actually committed several murders for which it was impossible to bring them to punishment. The chief reason for the change of temper on the part of the natives was that they found they were being systematically cheated by the French traders, who beat them down to the lowest price for their furs, and charged them the highest price for commodities sold. A Récollet writer tells a story of an Indian chief which places the character of the red man in a much more favourable light than that of the civilized Europeans with whom he was dealing. The chief, at the request of some of his people, was begging one of the agents of the company to treat them with a little more fairness and humanity. The agent, after considerable discussion, offered the chief to do business with him personally on more liberal terms, but said he could not make any change as regards the other Indians. "You are insulting me then," said the chief, " for if I were to consent to such an arrangement I should deserve to be hanged by my own people. I am their captain; it is for them I am speaking, not for myself."

Things had reached such a pass that Champlain thought it necessary to speak very plainly to the home authorities. Cardinal Richelieu, who was at this time at the head of affairs in France, and specially in charge of the maritime interests of the kingdom, determined on what he hoped would be a radical measure of reform, namely the formation of a company on a much wider basis than any preceding one, and consisting of persons of higher mark and responsibility, who should hold their powers directly from himself. The edict establishing the company, the legal name of which was the Company of New ^France, but which was afterwards more commonly known as the Company of the Hundred Associates, bore date the 29th April 1627. The preamble set forth in forcible terms the lamentable failure of all the previous trading associations to redeem their pledges in the matter of colonization; and the new associates were, by the terms of their charter, bound in the most formal and positive manner, to convey annually to the colony, beginning in the following year, 1628, from two to three hundred bona fide settlers, and in the fifteen following years to transport thither a total of not less than four thousand persons male and female. The settlers were to be maintained for three years, until they could get their land under cultivation, and then for one season till they had reaped their crops. Provision was also to be made for the maintenance of a sufficient number of clergy to meet the spiritual wants both of the settlers and of the native population. In consideration of these services all French possessions between Florida and the Arctic Circle, and from Newfoundland as far west as the company should be able to possess the land, were handed over to them in absolute sovereignty, saving only the supreme authority of the French king. They had, of course, a complete monopoly of trade, with the sole exception of the cod and whale fisheries which, as before, were to be open to all French subjects.

A most unexpected event, however, was destined to delay for some years the carrying out of the plans of the great cardinal. In the very year in which the new company was formed war broke out between France and England. The general result of the war was both disastrous and inglorious for England ; but a notable incident of it was the capture of Quebec by a small fleet of privateers under the command of Captain David Kirke, sailing under letters of marque from the English king, Charles I, authorizing him to attack the French in Canada, and drive them out of the country if possible. Kirke's first exploit was to defeat and capture, early in 1628, not far from Gasp£, a French fleet of eighteen vessels carrying a considerable number of colonists, and also a large quantity of provisions, goods of all kinds, and munitions of war for the colony of New France. To what dire extremities the loss of these supplies reduced the already feeble settlement is movingly described in Champlain's own narrative. Kirke, after his victory, stripped the vessels of the enemy of whatever they contained that was valuable, burnt the smaller ones, and took the larger ones to Newfoundland. Then, after destroying the French settlements in Acadia, he sailed for England with his prisoners and a portion of the booty. This gave the colony at Quebec a year's respite from attack; but owing to a series of misfortunes no succour was received from France during the interval. The consequence was that, when Kirke returned in the following year to the St. Lawrence, and sent two of his brothers, Louis and Thomas, with three small but well-appointed vessels—he himself remaining at Tadousac—to demand the surrender of Quebec, the only course open to Champlain, who not only had no adequate means of defence, but whose little garrison was on the point of starvation, was to make an honourable capitulation. It was agreed that the French should evacuate the place carrying with them their arms, clothing, and any furs they might individually own, and should be allowed to return to France in a vessel of their own providing. As they had difficulty in procuring a suitable vessel, Kirke in the end furnished one of two hundred and fifty tons, manned by seventy of his own sailors, and landed them, to the number of over a hundred, in England. The preliminary articles of capitulation were signed on the 19th July 1629, and two days later the English flag was raised on the Chateau St. Louis, to the accompaniment of salvos of artillery, fired both from the ships in the river and the land batteries, of which the English had now taken possession.

While all this was going on the Kirke brothers and Champlain were alike unaware that, three months previously, peace had" been signed between England and France. The disappointment and chagrin of David Kirke when he landed the Quebec garrison in England, and learned that the capture had been made in time of peace and would probably have to be restored, may be imagined. Champlain made it his business to go at once and see the French ambassador in London, in order to report what had taken place and urge the restitution of the colony to France. The matter was taken up by the French government, and Charles promised to restore Canada, but made no engagement respecting Acadia. The French king, Louis XIII, about this time had his" hands full with domestic sedition and foreign war. His own brother, Gaston de France, with the sympathy both of the queen and of the queen mother, was in revolt against him, as well as the Duke of Montmorency, former lieutenant-general of Canada. The rebellion was crushed through the vigorous action of Cardinal Richelieu, and Montmorency was brought to the block; but meantime the negotiations with England had remained in suspense. Finally they were brought to a conclusion in 1632, Charles agreeing to restore both Canada and Acadia. The probability is that had lie refused to do so the matter would not have been pressed—at least not to the point of war— and that Canada and Acadia would have remained English possessions. Never, in the course of history, did a country more distinctly stand at the parting of the ways'; and it is singular to reflect that, in all probability, it is owing to the restitution of Canada to France at that time that the Dominion of Canada is to-day a British possession.

Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.