Progression of Settlement and the Emerging Logging Industry – Church of Saint-Gabriel, 19th Century and Early 20th Century
Throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th—the period covered by this chapter—economic activity developed in the Lower St. Lawrence region, especially the logging and agricultural industries. The entire length of the shore was quickly occupied by a population of European descent, with inhabited land now stretching to the highlands of the Appalachian plateau. By the early 1900s, the entire Lower St. Lawrence region had been colonized and was being intensively exploited. In this colonial society, the clergy had a powerful influence on all aspects of individuals’ lives.
We find ourselves in the church of Saint-Gabriel, a small village about forty kilometres southeast of Rimouski. Built entirely of wood in 1903, this church replaced the first chapel, dating from 1872.
Starting in the early 1800s, the importance of the fur trade in the Canadian economy declined greatly, although it never completely disappeared. A key moment took place in 1821, when the Hudson’s Bay Company absorbed its great rival, the North West Company. From that point on, shareholders in London became the prime beneficiaries of the fur trade, absorbing most of the profit. Logging and agriculture became the primary drivers of the region’s economic vibrancy. The logging industry took advantage of the strong demand for lumber in England. After Napoleon’s Continental Blockade of 1806, the British were unable to import French or European lumber to build the ships that they needed to unify the immense empire “on which the sun never set.” Agriculture, for its part, took advantage of improvements in transportation with the clearing of colonization roads (Chemin Kempt, Chemin Matapédia, Chemin du Témiscouata, Chemin Taché) and rail development. Between 1830 and 1890, settlers put down roots throughout inland Quebec, where they cleared forests for farmland.
Villages as Hubs of Activity
The arrival of new settlers and the high birth rate contributed to a rapid population increase in the Lower St. Lawrence region. This context led to the construction of new villages on lands located behind the seigneuries. In the late 19th century, sites were usually chosen based on the presence of infrastructure such as a dock, mill, or church. History shows, in fact, that several churches were moved so that they could be placed in the centre of nascent villages. Or, if a village was built around a sawmill, the sawmill naturally became the hub of activity, and the place around which residences would be concentrated. As a village grew, so did the variety of occupations present within it. Flour mills, docks, shipyards, and sawmills cropped up, along with shops that sold and repaired materials and tools, and stores that sold imported foods. The villages of Saint-Antonin, Témiscouata-sur-le-Lac, Saint-Michel-du-Squatec, Saint-Donat, Saint-Gabriel, Saint-Narcisse-de-Rimouski, Sainte-Blandine, Sayabec, Amqui, and others were all settled during this period.
Expropriation of Indigenous Peoples’ Ancestral Lands
The logging and clearing of new regions for colonization took place to the detriment of Indigenous populations, whose territories had held little interest for settler populations until that point. Indigenous populations were especially affected by the logging industry, which deprived them of access to their ancestral hunting grounds and destroyed the habitat of flora and fauna. In a few decades, sawmills were erected across the province and vast swaths of coniferous forest disappeared. The Indigenous population had no way to fight the exploitation of lands they had occupied for millennia. Neither the Quebec nor the Canadian government recognized Indigenous land rights, in contrast to Ontario, where treaties were signed with First Nations groups to acquire their land.
Log Driving and Indigenous Peoples
Indigenous ways of life were also affected by how loggers used rivers to transport wood from logging sites to sawmills for processing. The floating logs clogged rivers and their mouths, polluting fish habitats and depriving Indigenous people of the ability to fish as they had before. This pushed them further inland, upstream of the logging sites.
Integration and Adaptation Strategies of Indigenous Peoples
The steady progress of colonization and transformations related to logging and log driving forced Indigenous populations to modify their traditional ways of life and adapt to a new economic, social, and environmental reality. However, the government’s refusal to grant Indigenous peoples the same rights held by a majority of citizens and to compensate them for the loss of their land and their fishing and hunting rights meant that their integration into this new society faced serious challenges. Some individuals were able to find work on logging sites, others chose to hunt and trap to feed the logging camps, while still others were hired as hunting or fishing guides by rich American and Canadian tourists visiting the region, or by prospectors and scientists searching for new resources to exploit. Yet for the majority, being Indigenous made it harder to find work, especially work that was compatible with their traditional seasonal lifestyle built around hunting and fishing.
One strategy used by Indigenous peoples to adapt to this new socioeconomic reality was the development of traditional crafts, which came to account for an increasingly large share of their economic activity. In the Lower St. Lawrence region and on the Gaspé Peninsula, the Wolastoqiyik and Mi’kmaq specialized in basketry: the production of woven baskets from natural fibres. They often used the splint technique based on fine strips of wood or splints, especially from the ash tree. The Mi’kmaq commercialized this knowledge quite early on. Their baskets met with high demand from farmers who appreciated their solidity when harvesting fruits and vegetables, such as potatoes. While these baskets had utilitarian origins, some were refined into decorative or creative objects. In 1830, Mi’kmaq baskets and boxes were being exported to England. The Wolastoqiyik also took advantage of the high demand for baskets generated by agricultural development in the region and even opened points of sale, at Rimouski, Rivière-du-Loup, Kamouraska, Cacouna, and elsewhere. Development of the transportation system (roadways and railways), and of the tourism that it made possible, increased their ability to profit from this economic activity. Traditionally, only women made baskets and other woven decorative objects, while men made snowshoes and moccasins. However, as artisanal production became an increasingly important economic activity for Indigenous families, men began to take on activities that had previously been reserved for women.
The Viger Reserve
The Viger reserve, created in 1827, was one of the first Indigenous reserves established in Quebec. Located behind L’Isle-Verte near Saint-Épiphane in the Rivière-du-Loup region, this reserve was created as a pilot project by the Canadian government, with the goal of sedentarizing Indigenous populations and encouraging them to become farmers. This reserve was intended for a community known as the Maliseet of Viger, highly nomadic people who regularly travelled through the Trois-Rivières and Lower St. Lawrence regions as well as New Brunswick. This way of life caused the number of residents to fluctuate wildly from one year or season to the next. The reserve became more of a home base than a permanent residence for these people. After only 43 years of existence, in 1869, the reserve was bought back by the government in response to pressure from the neighbouring population, who wanted to farm its arable land and log its forests. With the closure of Viger, the group dispersed and was discreetly absorbed into the provincial population.
In 1876, the federal government purchased a 160-hectare (399-acre) parcel of land from the government of Quebec for the Maliseet. Located about thirty kilometres south of Rivière-du-Loup, this land became the Whitworth reserve (now called Kataskomiq). Another, much smaller reserve (only a half-acre, or 0.2 ha) was created at Cacouna in 1891, after the Department of Indian Affairs purchased a piece of land along the river from a certain Timothé Lebel.
In August 2019, a general assembly of the Maliseet de Viger First Nation decide to readopt its original name and became the Wolastoqiyik Wahipekuk. The name “Maliseet,” derived from a Mi’kmaq word, had been given to this nation by European settlers.
The Catholic Church
The Catholic clergy, in addition to providing settlers with moral support, gave itself the mission of converting the Indigenous peoples. It was able to do this with relative success in the Lower St. Lawrence region and on the Gaspé Peninsula, where many Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik, and Abenaki became fervent Catholics. The church’s influence extended as cities and villages developed. In New France, the Church was largely represented by missionaries, who would visit the largest villages in a region on their annual pilgrimages to Indigenous missions on the Gaspé Peninsula and in New Brunswick, or by a few rare parish priests. In 1820, there were only four priests for the entire region from Rivière-du-Loup to Gaspé.
In addition to their religious agenda, the clergy had temporal responsibilities. Bishops, priests, and both male and female religious orders played an important role in providing services to society. The Catholic Church not only constructed buildings for eucharistic celebrations (mass) but was also involved in building schools, missions, orphanages, hospices, hospitals, and colleges. Classical colleges were institutions of higher learning that sought to train the “French-Canadian elite” and encourage religious vocations. Numerous church representatives worked as teachers, caregivers and administrators. Throughout the 19th century and up until the 1950s, female religious orders were found throughout the territory, even in the most remote parishes.
This assiduous presence allowed the Church to uphold its values and to regulate societal norms. By playing a strategic role in land development and management, bishops, priests, monks, and nuns retained control over public mores and harped on the religious duties of each citizen. In schools, religious education took priority over other subjects. It was important that children learn their catechism and make their first communion. Within families, this influence was significant: women were strongly urged to have many children in order to contribute to settlement. Woe betide a couple who decided against getting “in the family way”! In regions undergoing colonization, priests made sure that new settlers followed social codes, and in this they worked with governments to manage budgets and allocate land.
Early missionaries received a royal subsidy to participate in colonization efforts. From the 1600s onward, landowners and farmers were obligated to pay tithes to the parish priest. While tithes in France were set at one-tenth of annual grain harvests, in Quebec they were more modest—between one-thirteenth and one-twenty-sixth of the harvest. Tithes were a mandatory contribution to maintaining parish services and providing for the priest. In some villages, as in Sainte-Flavie, priests stored grains in addition to other agricultural products that they received from parishioners—potatoes, hay, maple syrup, wood—in a barn designated for this purpose. By the late 19th century, tithes had been extended to all parishioners, who increasingly paid these amounts in cash.
As was the case for any fiscal obligation, tithes occasionally met with resistance. Farmers long complained about being the only ones who had to pay. Tithes were generally not enough to support priests. Other sources of revenue existed, such as the casuel, or fees associated with the celebration of baptisms, weddings, funerals, and collections. Nonetheless, parishioners still sometimes questioned the amounts they were asked to pay, especially when the sacraments were not available all year round, as was the case when priests were not residents and had to visit several parishes in rotation.
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