Colonization Continues – France Loses Its Colony to the British, 18th and 19th Century
In 1759, British troops led by General Wolfe defeated the French and Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham. In 1763, the French ceded New France to Great Britain under the Treaty of Paris. The victorious British nonetheless permitted the French to remain on the conquered territory without fear of being deported, or to return to France with all their possessions. In the Lower St. Lawrence region, the new government had little impact on the population: colonization continued and the population remained largely Francophone.
We are in the smithy at Saint-Anaclet, a typical rural heritage building constructed around 1885.
The English Administration
After the defeat of the French, George III of Great Britain reigned over what had been New France. With his Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763, he created the Province of Quebec, which encompassed the St. Lawrence Valley and adjacent territory occupied by the Canadians.
The Proclamation also affected Indigenous peoples, to whom it guaranteed protection of the lands they lived on:
“And We do further declare it to be Our Royal Will and Pleasure, for the present as aforesaid, to reserve under our Sovereignty, Protection, and Dominion, for the use of the said Indians, all the Lands and Territories not included within the Limits of Our said Three new Governments, or within the Limits of the Territory granted to the Hudson’s Bay Company, as also all the Lands and Territories lying to the Westward of the Sources of the Rivers which fall into the Sea from the West and North West as aforesaid. And We do hereby strictly forbid, on Pain of our Displeasure, all our loving Subjects from making any Purchases or Settlements whatever, or taking Possession of any of the Lands above reserved, without our special leave and Licence for that Purpose first obtained.”
According to historian Marcel Trudel, the Royal Proclamation did not significantly transform Canadians’ lifestyles:
“ … Even with the incursion of a very small English minority, the society remained fundamentally unchanged, similar to that of the French regime and with no official voices other than those of the seigneurs and the clergy. The free possession of property ensured by treaties included the maintenance of the seigneurial regime … ”
It is true that Francophone settlers were now barred from the public service unless they renounced their religion (a measure that would be rescinded by the Quebec Act of 1774), but British assimilationist policies were quickly abandoned because of the conflicts with the Canadian clergy that they provoked. In addition, the parliament created by the Constitutional Act of 1791 assembled at Québec in 1793, in the chapel of what had been the Episcopal Palace, to debate the status to be accorded to the French language in the colonial government. French was decided to have official status, conjointly with English, for parliamentary debates, governmental communications and the drafting of laws.
Impacts on Indigenous People as Discussed in History Books
In works discussing the post-Conquest period, the Indigenous peoples often seem to take a back seat. Attention is almost entirely focused on the impacts experienced by the Canadians. However, the arrival of the British brought its share of effects on the Indigenous peoples living on the territory. Among other factors, the development of certain industries, such as the lumber trade with Great Britain, put heavy pressure on the traditional hunting grounds of the First Nations in the St. Lawrence Valley, forcing them to change their ways of life.
The First Nations population plummeted following initial contact with Europeans, approximately by a factor of ten. The exact impact of epidemics on Indigenous demographics in the Lower St. Lawrence region is not known.
In addition to the new germs that Indigenous peoples had to contend with following contact with the Europeans, war and even slavery contributed to this steep population decline.
The most significant impact that First Nations were subjected to with the development of the fur trade was that of epidemics brought by French settlers. In the St. Lawrence Valley, the Algonquian populations were affected by these diseases starting in the 1630s, to such an extent that their overall population rapidly dropped.
Indigenous peoples had no immunity against several diseases to which Europeans had become accustomed for millennia, including smallpox, influenza, and typhus. When an epidemic broke out in a community (generally following contact with an infected European), the number of deaths could be extremely high, amounting to as much as 25–30% of the population within a year. This was one reason the French sought new trading partners to supply them with furs, venturing ever westward and northward, into the Great Lakes and Mississippi regions, and even up to Hudson’s Bay.
Wars, Alliances and Slavery
Tensions and rivalries between European powers were quickly transposed to the North American continent along with the settlers. These countries sought to use their colonial possessions to increase their power and limit that of their enemies, resulting in frequent clashes.
In North America, each power developed alliances with Indigenous partners, thus dragging them into conflicts and aggravating existing tensions. It was a traditional practice among most First Nations to capture defeated enemies, some of whom were then integrated into the victorious community. With the development of intercolonial conflict, this practice was transformed: Indigenous captives were more often enslaved and traded to the French for money or goods.
Traces of sales of enslaved Indigenous people can be found in notarized documents from the 17th and 18th centuries, with the proceeds going to wealthy settlers. Historian Marcel Trudel estimated the number of enslaved people in New France at 4,000, of which two-thirds were Indigenous and one-third Black. These enslaved people were largely in Montréal, with a few in Québec. No written record of enslaved people in the Lower St. Lawrence region has been found.
Development of the Backcountry and Shoreline
Outside the cities, the Catholic clergy wielded strong influence over the settlers. They also encouraged families to have many more children, so as to maintain a strong Catholic presence in the land. As a result, the French-Canadian population in the Lower St. Lawrence region quickly multiplied, despite the British victory at Québec. This situation led to rapid colonization of the land from the late 18th century onward. Initially, prospective seigneurs were especially interested in property on the shores of the St. Lawrence. Yet, as others, including Charles Aubert de La Chesnaye, noted the promise offered by inland parcels and fur trading, they settled there.
The Chemin Français connected Rivière-du-Loup with Lake Témiscouata and allowed for commercial development and trade with Indigenous peoples, as well as ties between Acadia and Canada. This path, only three feet wide when it opened in the 1740s, became a twelve-foot-wide road called the Chemin du Portage under the British regime. Along this busy road, settlers built homes and cleared and cultivated the land.
Settlement continued all along the shoreline, although not as intensely as upstream. Towards the end of the 18th century, the seigneuries between Kamouraska and Matane had a combined population of 1,250, compared to 20,000 within the much shorter stretch from Kamouraska to Beaumont.
Around 1830, the unoccupied land between seigneuries was quickly snapped up, pushing settlers inland to clear second, third, and sometimes even fourth rows of lots. It was during this period that agriculture became the primary source of subsistence for the settlers, with fishing relegated to secondary status. Agricultural production diversified, as farmers added potatoes, peas, and rye to their other crops.
In 1854, a law passed by the Parliament of Lower Canada abolished the seigneurial system. Tenants were allowed to purchase their land from the seigneurs. However, it was not until after 1950 that the last vestiges of this institution disappeared, having left a profound impact on traditional Quebec society.
Exploitation of the land intensified and the inhabitants acquired more powerful tools that required maintenance and repair. Villages swelled with new residents who needed to build homes and other agricultural or commercial buildings. To do so, they hired carpenters, joiners, and blacksmiths, who offered specialized services.
The following notarized document attests to hiring arrangements for the construction of a schooner:
“1867, January 29: Notary Joseph Garon: … Olivier Dechamplain, Michel Dechamplain and André Deschamplain, farmers … from Ste-Luce and Daniel Chouinard, mariner …
… Deschamplain promises … to make the following: A schooner measuring 22 feet wide & with a keel of 67 feet & a hold of 9 feet, the hull planked in cherry wood above the landing, in healthy grey & white spruce, red spruce for the parcintes, the deckhead in pine, the base of the windlass & masts in red spruce & for the deck white & grey spruce, the stern in pine; all the joining similar to that of Sr. Xavier Dérosier, to plane the same schooner from the landing upwards, bulwarks, ribs & aloft of the same schooner; … the great boom 50 feet long and the other booms in proportion to it; the jib mast 38 feet long, 4 breast-hooks forward & 2 others aft & the bending according to the carpenter’s judgement with the necessary curves; the wood for the frame at the carpenter’s request; to make all the heads of the clinchage; to have all the wood sawn or otherwise at the carpenter’s request which they will have to supply at their expense … and to launch her ready to receive her rigging at l’Ance aux Coqs at the 1st high tide of next August & the room will be finished only next year if the same Sr. Chouinard prefers; to make a proportional galley & all other work necessary for the same schooner, in accordance with the norms of carpentry & joining …
… Chouinard promises to provide the entrepreneurs with all irons, nails, pieces, spikes & other needed ironworks, paint, caulking & other supplies necessary to the same schooner that he obliges to have caulked, puttied, painted & sealed at his expense … for 350 Louis …
… Chouinard mortgages 2 ½ arpents X 40, 1st Rang, St-Germain parish, to the river, S/W Victor Réhel, N/E Jean-Baptiste Lepage with the buildings …
… Done at Ste-Luce, in the home of the said Michel and André Déchamplain … witnessed by Pierre Faucher, blacksmith of the said place of Ste-Luce … ”
Dionne, L., & Pelletier, G. (1997). Des forêts et des hommes, 1880–1982: Photographies du Québec [Of forests and men, 1880–1982: Photographs of Quebec]. Les Publications du Québec; Archives nationales du Québec.
George III. (1920). Proclamation royale de 1763 [Royal Proclamation of 1763]. In A. G. Doughty (ed.), Report of the Public Archives for the Year 1918 (Appendix B, pp. 322–329.
Lambert, S., & Dupont, J.-C. (1997). Les voies du passé, 1870–1965: Les transports au Québec [The ways of the past, 1870–1965: Transports in Quebec]. Les Publications du Québec; Archives nationales du Québec.
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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.
Trudel, M. (2018). Mythes et réalités dans l’histoire du Québec, tome 3 [Myths and realities in Quebec’s history, vol. 3]. Bibliothèque québécoise.
George III. (October 7, 1763). The Royal Proclamation. Yale Law School; The Avalon Project, Documents in law, History and Diplomacy.