Historical Information

An Overview of the History of New France (Quebec)

This is a overview of the history of New France, which is called Quebec today. Many people can show a direct link in their genealogy to many of the first inhabitants of Canada.

The first inhabitants of Canada were native Indians, primarily the Inuit (Eskimo). The Norse explorer Leif Erikson probably reached the shores of Canada (Labrador or Nova Scotia) in A.D.1000, but the history of the white man in the country actually began in 1497, when John Cabot, an Italian in the service of Henry VII of England, reached Newfoundland or Nova Scotia. He was the first  explorer to leave written traces of his journey in North America. No proof of the exact place where he berthed was ever found, but some say he would have stopped somewhere between Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.

In the early 16th, century France became the model for all Europe. In an expanding awareness of leadership, the New World exploration became a challenge. Along the eastern seaboard of  this New America there was  New France, New England, New Holland, and New Spain.

In 1534 and 1535, Jacques Cartier made the first voyage to New France. He took possession of the territory in the name of the King of France.  He then put up a cross in Gaspe’ , which you can still see today. He is the first known explorer to have travelled along the St. Lawrence River and to have encountered natives.  During his second Journey in 1535, Jacques Cartier went to Stadacona (Quebec City), Hochelaga (Montreal), and he stopped in  Trois-Rivers. This trip was of a great benefit to the King of France, since Cartier discovered numerous rivers he thought were leading to Asia, which encouraged the king to invest more money into his  exploration travels.

Samuel de Champlain was the next explorer to come to Quebec in 1603 to explore the territory, and he returned in 1608  to officially establish a colony in Quebec City. That year, 28 people settled for winter, but only 8 people survived. Champlain also explore the St. Lawrence River all the way  to Ottawa, as well as the great lakes  Huron and Ontario and the north-east coast of the United States. In 1609 , at the border of Quebec and the United States, he discovered a lake to which he gave his name, Lake Champlain. In 1612, he gave Ile Sainte-Helene the name of his wife.

The actual settlement of New France, as it was then called, began in 1604 at Port Royal in what is now Nova Scotia.

Plans for developing New France (Quebec)  fell far short of the objectives of the Company of New France, which would become the Habitants’ Company. Samuel D. Champlain made over  twenty voyages to France in order to encourage immigration to the New France. Fearful of the depopulating of France, the King was reluctant to encourage his subjects to migrate.

In 1617, Champlain brought the first true migrant, Louis Hebert and his family to New France.

In 1634,  Laviolette founded Trois-Riveres, thinking that the site would be suitable fur trading. He was right since the St Maurice River, located in the north-south axis, would facilitated  the trappers’ job, who needed to go up north for hunting. They could then easily take the furs back to Trois Riveres by the same route.  Once the fur trade was developed, it attracted migrants, both noble and commoner from France. A few years later, the first female religious community settled in Quebec in 1639.  The Ursulines founded schools for young girls, to whom they taught for several years.

Paul Comeney, Sieur de Maisonneuve founded Montreal  in 1642, with the help of Jeanne Mance, who helped  with the colony’s survival. The religious communities played an important role in the establishment of different colonies on the territory. They helped educate new comers and inhabitants, as well as natives. Some communities founded hospitals to cure the sick.

In 1643, 109 years after the first landings by Cartier, there were only about 300 people in Quebec and 500 in 1663. France finally gave land incentives  for 2,000 migrants  over the next decade.  Early marriages were encouraged in New France, and youths of 18 took 14 year old girls for their wives. (See the Les Filles’ du roi below)

The pleas of the colonists of New France for assistance in their struggle with the Iroquois Indians were answered in 1665 with the arrival of the first French Regular troops in Canada, known as the Carignan-Salieres Regiment. Between June and September 1665, some 1200 soldiers and their officers arrived in Quebec, under the leadership of Lt. General Alexander de Prouville, Sieur de Tracy.

Francois Chagnon was the first known Chagnon to settle in New France (Quebec). He came as a Carignan-Saliere Soldier to help defend the new colonists from the Iroquois Indians and then permanently settled there.

Most persons of French Canadian descent can claim one or more of these brave soldiers as ancestors. In addition to the list of soldiers and officers on the official “roll” of the Regiment, there were many others who participated in the successful campaign against the Iroquois, including many militiamen who resided in the colony

A series of forts established by the Regiment along the Richelieu River, along with the success of its second campaign into the land of the Mohawk Indians, led to a long period of peace for the colony, which permitted it to prosper.  King Louis XIV’s plan for  a  permanent settlement of many of the soldiers and officers in Canada and over 450 of these troops remained in the colony, many of whom married the newly arrived filles du roi.

In 1759, a major battle took place on the field that is known today as the Plains of Abraham. The English were well organized and defeated the French, who were less in number and less organized. The French then had to live under the rules of the English, and most of all use their language that many  of New France inhabitants did  not understand. In 1774, luckily, the Quebec Act was signed. This  law gave Quebec its current territory and, among other things, restored the French civil law in the province.

Throughout the years, the inhabitants lived under the seigniorial regime, and large estates were built. Religion took more and more power in the province, but in the 1960s, the revolution tranquille (quiet revolution)   changed a great many things. Several  social, political and economical changes happened in Quebec, which gave birth to today’s culture in Quebec.

Today, Quebec is a united province, but its inhabitants also have a distinctive culture that is different from the rest of Canada because of their French origins as well as the French language.

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