Friday, March 29, 2024

Quebec - Strife During the Early Years


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European fishermen had long traveled to the west chasing the codfish, which were in high demand in Catholic Europe, especially during Lent. In the course of these sea voyages, they'd long been in contact with the Iroquoian speaking people of Maritime Canada, such as the Mi'Kmaq, and the Wendat, more familiarly called "Huron," or Algonquin. These people lived from the mouth of the St. Lawrence  westward, and, in those days, around the shores of the Great Lakes. These voyaging fishermen--Basques, Portuguese, English-- soon realized that great stores of high quality furs could obtained here, and fur--especially beaver, almost extinct in Europe--quickly became more important than their original  quarry. 

In the 16th Century, when Jacques Cartier sailed down the St. Lawrence, he saw many thriving Huron palisaded villages. By the time of Champlain, these sites had been abandoned and the plains beside the river were empty, except for the seasonal hunting of neighboring tribes and war parties. Perhaps the long war between the Algonquin the Iroquois was the reason that these sites were abandoned, but I believe the real reason was smallpox and the other "new" infectious diseases contact with Europeans brought, which were fatal to these town-dwelling Indians. Cartier treated the native people brutally, even kidnapping prominent members of the same tribes that had had peaceful dealings with him and carrying them back to France. None of these men survived to return. 

Champlain was a wiser man who managed to plant permanent French settlements along the river and to make treaties with the people of Huronia. "Champlain's Dream,"a biography by noted historian David Hackett Fischer, builds a case for this explorer's decent reputation. He, almost alone among "Discoverers,"believed that the native peoples and the French could live together in peace in this land.

His original aim was defeated by practical politics. In order for the French settlers to survive, they were forced to make alliances with his closest neighbors--the Huron and Algonquin. This immediately put him in conflict with the Iroquois, their southern neighbors, and he, and his new weapons became part of ongoing war between these tribes. 

As with all early European settlements, Champlain's ability to supply his colonies was constantly thwarted by the turbulence of European politics. First, there was the Counter-Reformation, which pitted Catholics against Protestants--in this case French Huguenots, who would be massacred and driven out. Second, there was the vicious struggle for power and over royal succession that had wracked the French Court for hundreds years. 

The funding problem accelerated after Henry IV, a believer in religious tolerence and Champlain's patron, was assassinated by a Catholic fanatic. No sooner would a few settlers arrive in this hostile place, too cold for most familiar European crops, than funding and supplies would again dry up, leaving the settlers left to struggle through best they could, all while in the midst of a neverending Indian war.  

Next, another European war got underway. It would take pages to describe who, what, where, and why, but the English tried to seize the St. Lawrence valley and the fisheries on what are now called Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, islands just beyond the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. 

When Quebec was attacked in 1629 by English privateers named Kirke (licensed to do so by Charles I) the colony, already beleaguered and depending upon friendly Indians for food, was forced to surrender. Champlain got the best terms possible for the citizens of Quebec, but had neither the food nor the gunpowder, shot, and fuses needed to defend the town. (I call these Englishmen privateers, but they behaved like pirates, allowing their men to torture and kill a family of farmers (and their animals!) they found at Cape Tourmente, and to destroy every other small undefended settlement they saw along the Gulf of St. Lawrence.)  

In the end, this English conquest didn't last long as peace was declared between England and France. It took months for the news to reach the New World, but, in the end, Champlain managed to free himself from his captors. He returned in 1633 with three ships and 150 settlers. The year after, four ships with 200 colonists arrived, and in 1635, three hundred immigrants came, although eventually almost half of them returned to France. Still, some of these new Habitants stayed, increased and multiplied, and those determined families are the foundation of French Canada. 

Champlain died in Quebec that winter, on Christmas day in the aftermath of a stroke, but the colony continued to hang on and against all odds--Indian wars, and more periods of dire neglect by the French. Despite everything, Quebec survived. There would be many more twists and turns in the fortunes of French Canada, but the English would not make their final return until the end of the Seven Years War (aka The French & Indian War) in 1763.  

~~Juliet Waldron

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  1. Interesting facts. Thanks, teacher. Enjoy learning new things I never thought to research

  2. Early Canadian history is absolutely fascinating. Thanks for sharing, Juliet.

    1. Quite amazing to me--a world of things I didn't know! Thanks, J.C.!


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