Canada: Peeps at History - Beatrice Home

Canada as a Royal Province

For a hundred years Canada was under the direct control of the French Kings, being what we should now call a Crown Colony. From the year 1663 to the Peace of Paris, a century later, she enjoyed the fostering care of the monarchs and ministers of the Mother-country. Sometimes, it is true, she was forgotten in the interests of European policy, but, on the whole, the Bourbon Kings were generous in supplies and benevolent in intention to their subjects in New France. Indeed, if the settlers therein had been left more dependent upon their own resources, as were the English in America, they would have developed more self-reliance. As it was, they looked to France to supply their means of defence and all their other needs.

The Government of Canada under the royal direction, consisted of a Governor, an Intendant, and a Sovereign Council. The Governor represented the King, and commanded all the military forces. Though holding a slightly subordinate position, the Intendant had really the greater power. He was at the head of all civil affairs, managing the finance and supplies, giving an account of his stewardship direct to the King. Being a civilian, with, in most cases, a legal training, he was better qualified than the Governor to write long letters to the Colonial Minister in France, explaining his actions. This division of authority led to much trouble, Governor and Intendant each throwing the blame upon the other.

The citizens of Canada had no voice in the Government. The Council was composed of the Governor, the Intendant, the Bishop, and twelve members, appointed by the King. The Bishop naturally represented the Church, which was all-powerful. A large proportion of the inhabitants being priests, and a great part of the land belonging to the Church, the Bishop's authority was often above that of Governor or Intendant.

When royal rule began the French population in Canada consisted of about 2,000, but, under the encouragement of the Crown, it increased rapidly, almost doubling itself in ten years. Colonists were sent out in great numbers. Many of them were women, destined to become the wives of settlers. These women were carefully chosen, all of them being strong enough to bear the hardships of life in a new country.

[Illustration] from Peeps at History - Canada by Beatrice Home


Among the old institutions transplanted into Canada was the feudal system, though it was no longer upon a military basis. Its main purpose was to keep the settlers on the soil, and prevent them from wandering. Two classes were created, the Seigneurs  and the Habitants. The Seigneurs obtained their land from the King, on the condition that they kept it under cultivation. Such land as they were unable to cultivate themselves, they granted to other settlers, who became their vassals, owning the land through them. The Habitant was bound to cultivate his land, to bring his corn to be ground at the Seigneur's mill, to pay a rent in money or kind, and to deliver up a tenth of all the fish he caught.

As the St. Lawrence was the only highway in those days, all the seigneuries fronted it. In this way the land became divided into narrow strips, running up from the river far into the forest, which served as a hunting-ground and a source of timber.

Beside the two classes of Seigneurs and Habitants, there were a number of men, known as Coureurs des Bois, or Runners of the Woods. They were Frenchmen who had left the ordered life of the towns to enjoy the wild free life of the Indians—roaming among the forests, discovering new lands, and carrying on the fur-trade.

In 1665 the Marquis de Tracy arrived as Viceroy, amid great rejoicing, in Quebec. His duty was to put the colony in order and prepare the way for the new constitution.

Canada was fortunate in her first Governor and Intendant, who both arrived the same year as De Tracy. De Courcelles, the Governor, was a capable soldier, and the Intendant, Talon, spent all his energies on promoting the welfare of the colony. In order to obtain freedom from the ceaseless attacks of the Indians, an expedition was led by De Courcelles into the heart of the Iroquois country. He started in January, 1666, and, after traversing the Richelieu, Lake Champlain, and Lake George, a continuation of the great lake, he reached the Hudson River. Here, by a mistake, he found himself among the Dutch settlements instead of the Iroquois villages. Unwelcome news greeted him, for the Dutch informed him that he was invading English territory, Charles II. having captured the Dutch colony two years before. De Courcelles was obliged to lead his men back to Quebec, having done nothing.

But the Iroquois did not triumph long, for the following September a force of 1,300 men left Quebec to attack the Mohawks. It was commanded by De Tracy, but De Courcelles also accompanied it. This time no blunder was made in the direction of the troops, who marched straight through the Mohawk country. The haughty Indians fled before so imposing an array, leaving their villages undefended. When all the villages were burnt and the stores of corn destroyed, the French turned back, having given the Iroquois a lesson they did not soon forget. After this demonstration of strength the Iroquois sought for peace, which was maintained for nearly twenty years.

New France began to enjoy a time of settled prosperity. The first dance recorded in Quebec was held in February, 1667. Louis XIV. showed a paternal interest in the royal province, and was lavish in sending out stores and settlers, for which he paid out of his own private purse.

When De Courcelles returned to France in 1672, his place was taken by one of the great figures or Canadian history, Count Frontenac. He had been brought up in the most brilliant Court in Europe, and had very early in life obtained a distinguished reputation in the service of what was then the finest army of the world. Yet he left it all at the age of fifty-two, to become the Governor of New France.

Though possessed of an overbearing, but not unkindly disposition, he proved himself an excellent ruler. During his administration he never allowed the Indians to gain the upper hand, always showing a firmness which quelled any attempt at insurrection. He had what is so necessary for rulers of new lands, a belief in the great destiny of the country.

Now that the Iroquois were no longer scouring the forests on the war-path, the French began to reach out to the west beyond the lower St. Lawrence, which had hitherto been the scene of their energies. A fort was built on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, on the site of the present town of Kingston, and was named after the Governor. This fort, erected in 1673, was the first link in a chain of outposts placed along the great lakes.

Landing of Marquis de Tracy


At last trouble began to brew again among the Iroquois, stirred up by the English. Colonel Dongan, the Governor of New York, was anxious to deflect the fur-trade from the St. Lawrence to the Hudson River, and thence to the English settlements. He therefore tried to break the peace between the Five Nations and the French. Owing to the murder of a chief of the Senecas by one of the Illinois Indians, the Iroquois vowed they would exterminate the whole tribe. Frontenac invited them to a conference to discuss the matter, but, under the influence of Dongan, the Iroquois had become insolent, and said that Frontenac must come to them. Their bold front, however, soon vanished when the resolute Onontio, as they called the Governor of Canada, sent them a command not to touch any of the western tribes. They dreaded the arrival of his soldiers into their villages, and at once did as they were told.

Unfortunately, Count Frontenac had met a will as strong as his own in the city of Quebec. Bishop Laval, the first Bishop of Canada, had arrived at Quebec in 1659, and ever since had been engaged in incessant quarrels with the Governors. He was a narrow-minded man, resolute in his determination to make the Church above all earthly dignitaries. This point of view naturally brought him into conflict with the Governors, but otherwise he lived a life of extreme self-denial and of great charity to the poor. Owing to his influence Count Frontenac was recalled to France, and La Barre, an old soldier, was sent out to take his place.

Count Frontenac


The Iroquois, realizing that the strong hand of Frontenac had been removed, instantly became troublesome, and swore that they would wipe out the Illinois. Instead of imitating the firmness of his predecessor, La Barre weakly gave way, allowing the Senecas to wreak their vengeance on the Illinois, on condition that they did not attack the Hurons and Ottawas. In obtaining protection for the northern tribes the Governor was getting safety for the fur-trade, on whose profits he was rapidly growing wealthy. When the Senecas captured his fur-traders in Illinois, the greedy Governor became indignant and led an army into their land.

He encamped his force of 900 on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, and apparently waited there helplessly until his men had nearly all sickened with fever. The Iroquois surrounded the French in great numbers, and could, had they been so pleased, have utterly destroyed them, and with them the whole power of France in Canada. But, realizing that if they crushed the French the English would then become all-powerful, the sagacious warriors merely imposed shameful terms of peace. For this conduct La Barre was recalled, and was succeeded by the Marquis de Denonville.

The new Governor was a much stronger and more capable man than La Barre. By using the same kind of methods as the Iroquois, he was able, by a deed of great treachery, to obtain a victory over the Senecas. He determined to build a fort at Niagara, a position commanding the trade of the West. As this fort was in the land of the Senecas, he invited all the chiefs to a conference at Fort Frontenac. The unfortunate Indians, led into a trap, were captured, and sent to France as prisoners. With their most important men gone the Senecas proved an easy conquest, and Fort Niagara was erected.

As might have been expected, the Iroquois vowed vengeance. Avoiding anything in the nature of a pitched battle, where they might have been defeated, they moved about rapidly in small parties, slaying and burning wherever they appeared. They struck where they were least expected, leaving desolation behind them.

Massacre of Lachine


The greatest and most horrible outrage ever committed by the Five Nations took place on a summer's night in 1689. A horde of savage warriors burst, under the cover of a storm, upon the sleeping settlement of Lachine, a village at the upper end of the Island of Montreal. Awakened suddenly from sleep, the colonists were unable to make any resistance. Dragged from their beds, they were burned at stakes and tortured by their pitiless foes. Leaving two hundred slain among the charred ruins of the villages, the Iroquois carried off a hundred and twenty captives to be slowly tortured in their lodges.

All this time no rescue was attempted from Montreal. A paralyzing panic had robbed the French of all courage. The triumphant savages paraded their victims within sight of Montreal, whose defenders were forbidden by their leaders to make any attack.

At this moment of peril Frontenac returned, at the advanced age of seventy, to save Canada. Courage and hope again returned to the French, but the Iroquois remained unfriendly. Indeed, Frontenac found that, unless he took prompt measures, the Canadian Indians would make common cause with the Iroquois and join the English. To show once more the power of the French, Frontenac determined to strike a blow at the English settlements. Three raiding-parties of Canadians were sent out from Montreal, Three Rivers, and Quebec. With the unexpectedness of Indians, they attacked two villages in New England and Schenectady, a village on the Hudson. Wholesale massacres took place, the Christian Indians among the French being allowed to butcher the captives. Frontenac, by these successful raids, obtained once more the respect of the Iroquois, but roused a spirit of revenge in the English.

New England became active in her wrath against the French. Sir William Phipps, an adventurous sailor, captured Port Royal in 1690, and then, with a fleet of thirty-two vessels, started on the much greater task of taking Quebec. The land-force, which at the same time marched towards Montreal, never reached its destination, owing to a series of misfortunes. Phipps brought his fleet up the St. Lawrence, and, undaunted by the formidable strength of the rock-crowned city, sent a messenger to demand its immediate surrender. Frontenac replied curtly, "Tell your General that I will answer him only by the mouths of my cannon." After this mutual defiance the attack began. But the guns of the New Englanders made no effect on Quebec's strong walls, and the troops, in spite of valiant efforts, were unable to cross the St. Charles to get to the rear of the city. Phipps was obliged to retire, leaving Quebec to celebrate the victory with great rejoicings.

In 1698 Frontenac died. His stern measures with the Iroquois had saved Canada from their sudden and murdering attacks. Instead of lying humbled under savages, he left New France in the proud position of having repulsed the English, and brought the Iroquois to sue for peace.

A year before his death, the Treaty of Ryswick put an end to the war in Europe between Louis XIV. and William III. of England. Louis had been forced to acknowledge William's claim to the throne of Great Britain.