Canadians in the Making: A Social History of Canada

By Arthur R. M. Lower | Go to book overview

5: The community established:
a description of New France
about 1700

THE MOST SOLEMN MOMENT OF THE MASS HAS come, the moment of the elevation of the host. The church is crowded with neighbours and townsmen, intent on the ancient rite, with its assertion of the continuing existence of Frenchmen and Catholics in the new environment, this harsh new world where so many old ways of life have to yield to necessity.

Two hands go up, clasped together, a man's and a woman's. Eyes stray from the altar at the sacred moment and stare at them. Everyone knows to whom the hands belong and what their being raised at such a moment signifies. For a marriage has just taken place, irregular and frowned on by the clergy, but a marriage nevertheless, the well-known folk ceremony of the mariage au gaumine. There has been a church full of witnesses, but two friends close by are ready formally to attest the act. The marriage will endure. And irate parent, jilted fiancé or the bishop himself will not be able to break it. For the people hold it to be a marriage 'in the sight of God' and girls resort to it when obstacles present themselves to the regular ceremony.

By the turn of the century, 1700, New France, as the folk marriage indicates, was working out its way of life. While still very much of a colony it could consider itself there to stay.

Of one phase, very specific in nature, of the people's accommodation to the new environment, a unique account exists in the almost yearly census tabulations. These provide a record such as no other country possesses, for they begin practically at the beginning, 1666, and go on almost year by year until the last great wars. They give the population (by localities, by age, sex, and occupation) and the agricultural situation (acres cleared, amounts of the various crops, numbers of domestic animals).1 A continuous picture emerges, complete for nearly three centuries.

-40-

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