Go to content
Société rimouskoise du patrimoineImages de drone haute précisionCube NoirL'ALT Numérique DesjardinsDigital Museums Canada

Chapter 7

Colonization and the Establishment of Seigneuries – Maison Lamontagne, 17th and 18th Centuries

In this sphere, we find ourselves in a seigneurial home, known today as the Maison Lamontagne. It was built in 1744. The framing of this house, half hewn-log (pièce-sur-pièce) and half using a stone-filled frame technique, attests to the advance of colonization in eastern Quebec.

Colonization of the Lower St. Lawrence and Côte-Nord regions happened very slowly in the 17th century. While Tadoussac was the site of the first trading post in New France, it would take several decades before French settlers built a presence in these regions. The distance from major centres like Montréal and Québec, in addition to the harsh climate, made the long cold winter months especially difficult for them. In this context, established Indigenous families who knew the region would support these newly arrived settlers. They taught them how to use fur to make winter clothing and shared their knowledge of plants used to treat scurvy.

Indigenous Presence in the Area

The mouths of rivers and the portage networks were still frequented by Indigenous peoples, who would come to take advantage of marine resources and trade with Europeans.

Missionaries and Colonization

Interest in New France wasn’t limited to explorers and merchants. The Jesuits, Récollets, and a sizeable number of Catholic missionaries were among the voyagers who arrived in New France on merchant ships. Some of these missionaries settled in small villages and accompanied settlers in their new lives, but others went to Indigenous communities with the goal of converting them to Catholicism.

During the winter of 1645, for example, the Jesuit Paul Lejeune stayed in the Lower St. Lawrence region with several Innu families who were hunting moose in the hinterland of what later became Rimouski and Trois-Pistoles. In the 1670s, a Jesuit mission called Bon Pasteur was established at Rivière-du-Loup. From the early 18th century, new French settlers to the area were served once or twice a year by travelling Récollet missionaries, who came in as celebrants for short periods.

Use of the Term Sauvage

Missionaries, like most French observers and early settlers, generally used the term sauvages (literally, “savages”) to identify and describe all First Nations, contrary to the English, who were more likely to use the term “Indians.”

But one should not imagine that this term was being used in that era in the same way it is today, as an appalling and demeaning slur against Indigenous peoples. In fact, the word sauvage was derived from the Latin silvaticus, meaning “forest people.” It was not closely connected to the ideas of “ferocity,” “animality,” or “cruelty,” which would have been evoked by words such as ferina or feritas, used to describe undomesticated animals. As several historians have shown, this latter meaning of the term entered common parlance in the 20th century, while in New France it had other meanings. Most commonly, it was used in a relatively neutral sense to refer to any Indigenous person, as contrasted with French settlers. However, the term did sometimes have a pejorative connotation; to wit, that Indigenous peoples had not yet reached the same level of “civility” as had French or European peoples. On the other hand, it could also take on positive connotation, highlighting the “purity” of Indigenous peoples living in the forest, in comparison with the “corrupted” social mores of some Europeans.

The Seigneurial System

The seigneurial system was implemented in New France in 1627, with the founding of the Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France (also called the Compagnie des Cent Associés) to administer the distribution and occupation of land. Until the 1800s, 80% of the population lived in rural areas. In theory, the seigneur (lord) was obligated to give a parcel of land to any family that requested one, in exchange for annual charges (referred to as cens et rentes). Families on this land practiced subsistence agriculture, providing for their own basic food, heating, and housing needs. This system encouraged a steady flow of settlers and served to organize and regulate the population. Dividing the land into long rectangular parcels ensured that the largest possible number of settlers had access to the river, facilitating relationships between neighbours. The parcels were large enough to afford families a certain level of comfort.

The Crown gave each of the most important figures in the colony, whether nobles or commoners, a piece of land for them to develop. This land was granted in the form of fiefs, or seigneuries, which were then portioned up and redistributed to tenants known as censitaires. The system was governed by a set of rules, whereas the relationships between seigneurs and their tenants were governed by notarized contracts. Seigneurs had both duties (droits onéreux) and honours (droits honorifiques). They could establish a court of justice, erect mills, and organize governance. They could collect various fees from tenants: the cens, a modest amount symbolizing the subordination of the tenant to the seigneur; the rente, an amount varying according to parcel size and payable in money or crops (e.g., wheat); and banalités, or a percentage of the grain that the tenant was obligated to have ground at the seigneur’s mill. Seigneurs could also choose to issue hunting, fishing, and logging rights to their tenants.

Seigneury Development in the Lower St. Lawrence region

Most seigneurs chose to settle on the shores of the St. Lawrence, close to navigable tributaries for access to the hinterlands. This was an attempt to attract Indigenous peoples to come trade with them. In eastern Quebec, on both shores of the river, seigneuries were also established at strategic locations for fishing and seal hunting.

It wasn’t until 1653 that the first seigneurie was granted in the Lower St. Lawrence region: the Seigneurie de l’Île-Verte, granted by the Governor General of New France to his son, Jean de Lauson. This land grant was at first motivated by interest in the fur trade, but it would later be developed for seal hunting. The Seigneurie du Bic followed in 1675, and the Seigneurie de Rimouski in 1688. By the end of the 17th century, there were 17 seigneuries between La Pocatière and Matane.

Prior to the mid-18th century, the most populous portions of the territory were found in La Pocatière, Rivière-Ouelle and Kamouraska. The lack of a road beyond Kamouraska slowed the development and settlement of the eastern Lower St. Lawrence region.

The Manor

The seigneur’s residence, also known as the manor, betrayed its European origins through its building materials: fieldstone, jointed with good mortar. The manor was a one-story building with many windows to let in the sunlight. It contained a large room, where the family generally spent their time, as well as a living room, a dining room, and the seigneur’s bedroom. The kitchen was generally found in a separate building attached to the manor house. Other family members and the servants had their rooms in the attic. Manors were generally built about 50 feet from the road, with two rows of trees bordering the entry path, giving them a stately character. Alongside the manor were several small buildings: the oven and dairies, the barn, etc. The church and the mill were always built in close proximity to the manor.

Economic Development

During the 1670s, a trading post was established on the south shore of the St. Lawrence at the Rivière du Loup, in the seigneurie of Charles Aubert de La Chesnaye, the richest fur merchant in New France. Other trading posts followed, including the one at Bic in the 1680s. On the north shore, the fur trade was subject to a monopoly referred to as the traite de Tadoussac or the domaine du roi. Only workers hired by the monopoly holders and living in the trading posts were permitted to live on this territory, which stretched from Murray Bay to Sept-Îles.

In the Lower St. Lawrence region, far from larger centres like Québec, Trois-Rivières and Montréal, families earned their living from the fur trade, hunting and fishing. Much like the Indigenous peoples, early settlers took advantage of the abundant animal life. They fished for salmon, eel, herring, shad, and cod, and harvested molluscs on the shores of the river and in the coves. The forest gave them access to game, including moose and caribou.

In addition to hunting and fishing, these early settlers also farmed. They cleared and worked the land, sowing wheat and oats for breadmaking, and growing vegetables in their gardens. Those who lived close to rivers would build small rafts allowing them to cross and increase their commercial activities. Some seigneuries were equipped with their own flour mills. The first of these, built in the 1600s, were windmills, such as the one found at Rivière-Ouelle. Starting in the 18th century, a marked preference was seen for water mills. Settlers also built churches and even presbyteries to house missionaries.

Slowly, the fur trade began to diminish, replaced by beluga whaling and harbour porpoise hunting. In the early 1700s, enterprises were formed and settlers rendered porpoise blubber into lamp oil. Later in the 18th century, the logging industry would also develop.


Dickason, O. P. (1993). Le mythe du sauvage [The myth of the savage]. Septentrion.

Fortin, J.-C., Lechasseur, A., Morin, Y., Harvey, F., Lemay, J., & Tremblay, Y. (1993). Histoire du Bas-Saint-Laurent [History of the Lower St. Lawrence]. Institut québécois de recherche sur la culture.

Galluci, J. A. (2012). Décrire les “Sauvages”: Réflexion sur les manières de désigner les autochtones dans le latin des Relations [Describing the “savages”: Thoughts on the manner of designating Indigenous peoples in the latin of the Relations]. Tangence, 99, 19–34. https://doi.org/10.7202/1015111ar

Lacoursière, J. (2017). Histoire populaire de la Nouvelle-France, tome 1: Des origines à la Grande Paix de 1701 [A popular history of New France, vol. 1: From the origins to the Great Peace of 1701]. Bibliothèque québécoise.

Lacoursière, J. (2017). Histoire populaire de la Nouvelle-France, tome 2: De 1701 à la Conquête [A popular history of New France, vol. 2: From 1701 to the British Conquest]. Bibliothèque québécoise.

Lunn, A. J. E. (n.d.). Vitré, Charles Denys de. In Dictionnaire biographique du Canada. Retrieved from http://www.biographi.ca/fr/bio/denys_de_vitre_charles_2F.html

Mathieu, J. (2013, August 25). Régime seigneurial. In L’Encyclopédie canadienne. Retrieved from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/fr/article/regime-seigneurial

Monet, J. (n.d.). Lauson, Jean de. In Dictionnaire biographique du Canada. Retrieved from http://www.biographi.ca/fr/bio/lauson_jean_de_1661_1F.html

Peace, T. G. M. (2006). Deconstructing the Sauvage/Savage in the Writing of Samuel de Champlain and Captain John Smith. French Colonial History, 7, 1–20.

Ruralys. (2007, December). La conservation intégrée du patrimoine archéologique euro québécois dans le développement régional: Le territoire du Bas-Saint-Laurent [The integrated preservation of Quebec’s european archaeological heritage into regional development: Lower St. Lawrence territory]. Ministère de la Culture, des Communications et de la Condition féminine.

Turgeon, L. (1982). Pêches basques en Atlantique Nord (XVIIe–XVIIIe siècle): étude d’économie maritime [Basque fishing in the North Atlantic (17th–18th centuries)] [Doctoral thesis, Université de Bordeaux].

Histoire du Québec. (n.d.). Manoir seigneurial en Nouvelle-France [Seigneurial manors in New France]. Retrieved from https://histoire-du-quebec.ca/manoir-seigneurial/

Illustration: Chapter 7