A Source-Book of Canadian History: Selected Documents and Personal Papers

By J. H. Stewart Reid; Kenneth McNaught et al. | Go to book overview

PART TWO The French in
Canada,
1604-1763

Very early the French attempted to establish permanent settlements in the lands to which the voyages of Verrazzano and Cartier had given them a claim. Jacques Cartier himself and his employer, the Sieur de Roberval, attempted to found a colony at Quebec, but after two miserable years the would-be colonists, most of whom had been picked out of French jails, decided that they had had enough. In 1543 Roberval led the last of them home.

For sixty years little was done towards colonizing the St. Lawrence valley. Newfoundland, however, still remained of great importance, for the fish from its waters were becoming more and more important in the French economy, and by 1578 Breton and Basque fishermen were flocking to the Newfoundland banks in very large numbers.

Towards the end of the sixteenth century, with peace restored in France following the long decades of religious strife, schemes for the colonization of the new lands once more were practicable. Several projects were planned, but no one made any very serious attempt at actual settlement until 1603 when a royal monopoly was granted to the Sieur de Chastes for the establishment of a colony in New France. A year later this monopoly was transferred to a company headed by the Sieur de Monts. Among de Monts's associates was the 'Father of New France', Samuel de Champlain.

The first settlement of the new French company was at St. Croix Island in the Bay of Fundy. After a terrible winter of cold and privation the settlement was moved across to the mainland shore at Port Royal. Conditions were better for the settlers, but the affairs of the company in France had become hopelessly involved. In 1607 the company was dissolved and the settlers reluctantly had to abandon their new homes and return to France. Champlain, however, and others with him, were convinced that permanent settlement of New France was not only possible but attractive. In 1608, Champlain and his merchant backer, Pontgravé, were in the St. Lawrence, and were busy at the site of Cartier's village of Stadacona laying the foundations of what was to be the first permanent settlement in New France.

The infant colony had to struggle hard for its life. Winter cold, inadequate provisions, geographic isolation, and the lack of interest on the part of the home government combined against it, so that in 1627 its total population was still less than fifty. That year, however, a new charter was granted to the famous Company of New France. The new proprietors were met

-14-

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