Quebec was initially rejected as a site for permanent habitation. De Monts, Gravé and Champlain determined to escape the competition of traders who refused to respect the French monopoly of the St. Lawrence fur trade. They sailed south to the Maritimes where the climate was milder. While they were there they continued the search for a route to Asia which people at that time believed existed. They wintered near the mouth of the St. Croix River where nearly half of the 79 men died of scurvy. Champlain called the place Port Royal. The company settled for 3 years at Port Royal while they explored and searched for minerals. This was the actual first agricultural settlement in Canada. De Monts, realizing that he could not enforce his fur trade monopoly (80 ships had already poached on his land), decided to abandon Acadia, which then included modern-day Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
It is interesting to note that the explorers, De Monts, Gravé and Champlain were French Protestants. Champlain had converted to Roman Catholicism some years before. One of the reasons for the burgeoning population of the eastern coast of America was the lack of religious discrimination. Only Roman Catholics were permitted into New France. When the Huguenots left France, they took with them their skills and affluence. At the same time the French left Acadia, the English established their first settlement at Jamestown in Virginia and for them, there was no looking back.
In 1627, the colony of New France was pathetically small compared to its southern neigbours who had a tobacco-based economy. What did they have to sell in Quebec? There was no market for anything but fur. Richelieu, then prime minister to Louis XIII, decided to end the colony’s dependence on fur and start up the mercantile system that worked so well in France. France would supply Quebec’s needs and a market for her manufactured goods. No other country was permitted to trade or ship goods from the colony. Only French ships could carry goods to and from the colony. To that end, Richelieu established the Compagnie des Cent-Associés or Company of One Hundred Associates, of whom Champlain was a share-holder.
The company became the seigneur of all the lands France claimed in North America and had a monopoly on all commerce including the fur trade. It could also cede land to settlers in tenure. In return, France would send 4,000 French and Roman Catholic settlers and provide missions for the conversion of the natives within 15 years. This coincided with the outbreak of the French/English war. French ships bringing settlers in were captured by English privateers, the brothers Kirke. Champlain surrendered in the face of starvation. In July, 1629, he and Gravè left Quebec but Champlain still lobbied for it’s return to France. That took 3 years since Louis XIII had not paid his debt to Charles I for his sister’s dowry. As soon as that was resolved, English forces left Quebec and returned it to France. Champlain returned to build a fort at Trois-Rivieres. When he died, control of the colony passed into the hands of the Jesuits or “Black Robes.
In 1632, Cardinal Richelieu gave the Jesuits a monopoly over the Canadian mission field. They built and opened schools for the native children but encountered the same problems as the Recollet priests before them. The parents would not let the children go until they were given gifts. Many of the children became ill and died or ran away. The use of corporal punishment was not a custom of the native parent.
The Ursulines opened schools for the girls in the colony with the same measure of success. Marie l’Incarnation, founder of the Ursulines, even wrote of the problems with native girls. “We have observed that of a hundred that have passed through our hands we have scarcely civilized one. We find docility and intelligence in these girls but, when we are least expecting it, they clamber over our walls and go off to run with their kinsmen in the woods, finding more to please them there than all the amenities of our French house.”
Does this ring a bell for anyone? Pictures of residential schools start to run through my mind along with my own memories of starting school with the Sisters of Charity. So we agree this problem lies in the very roots of our culture. The Ursulines did have better luck with their hospitals though, where the natives agreed to drop their elders at the “house of death“.
I think it is worth noting too that many if not most of the nuns and priests were from the nobility in France . The Jesuits were very well educated men. Many women would enter a convent during times of trial in their lives or when they were widowed. One thing is certain, they truly believed in what they were doing in the name of Christ.