The first European settlers in Montréal

By Karine Bellerose Caldwell

On May 17, 1642, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, Jeanne Mance and a group of settlers founded Ville-Marie on land granted by the Compagnie des Cent-Associés, despite attempts by Governor Charles Huault de Montmagny to convince them to choose Île d’Orléans. Their settlement, known today as Pointe‑à‑Callière, had a specific purpose: Maisonneuve and his companions, members of the Société Notre-Dame de Montréal for the conversion of “savages” in New France, wanted to convert the Indigenous peoples to Catholicism and to live piously in the new colony.

As elsewhere in New France, it was difficult to settle Ville-Marie, because of climatic and geographic challenges, fear of Iroquois attack, and low numbers of settlers arriving in the colony. A decade after the arrival of the Société Notre-Dame de Montréal, the total population was only around 50. To compensate for the lack of settlers and maintain a French presence on the island, Maisonneuve returned to France in 1651 hoping to recruit people prepared to follow him to that distant island. He went back to Ville-Marie two years later with some 100 colonists. While those settlers substantially increased the population of the colony, it was only near the end of the 17th century, after the arrival of the Filles du roi and the Carignan-Salières Regiment, that the population of Ville-Marie grew significantly, as was the trend across New France. To mark the 375th anniversary of the founding of Montréal, Library and Archives Canada is sharing a small collection of original documents that tell the story of colonization attempts on the island of Montréal in the first decade after the arrival of the Société Notre-Dame de Montréal. One of the documents shows the names of individuals who played a key role in establishing the colony. The list includes Jean Saint-Pierre, the first clerk and notary in Ville-Marie; Gilbert Barbier, surveyor and churchwarden for Ville-Marie; and Lambert Closse, merchant, lord and interim governor of Ville-Marie. The three declared in writing that the Compagnie de Montréal was free of any obligations to them, in return for concessions granted and specific promises by Maisonneuve.


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Visit the new webpage dedicated to the Carignan-Salières Regiment

Hear ye! Hear ye! Interested in the history of New France? Visit our new webpage dedicated to the Carignan-Salières Regiment, where you can access all of our resources related to this important unit in the history of New France.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Jean-François Lozier, Curator of French North American history at the Canadian Museum of History, and ask him some questions about the regiment. You can listen to the audio recording of his responses.

The Carignan-Salières Regiment

The colony of New France was in a precarious situation when France’s King Louis XIV acceded to the throne in 1661. The population and safety of the colony were a priority for him. In order to increase the population, the first contingent of the Filles du roi (“King’s daughters”) was sent there in 1663. Two years later, in 1665, the Carignan-Salières Regiment disembarked in New France to ensure the safety of the colony and, more specifically, to deal with the Iroquois threat.

A pen and watercolour sketch depicting an officer in the Carignan-Salières Regiment in profile. He is holding a lance in his right hand and wearing a sheathed sword on his left hip.

Officer of the Carignan-Salières Regiment, 1666 (MIKAN 2896020)

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Jean Talon, Intendant of New France, 1665–1672

In the early 1660s, New France was facing many challenges. It had been weakened by 20 years of fighting against the Iroquois and the far-reaching powers of the governor. It was time to reorganize New France, and so Louis XIV, along with Jean-Baptiste Colbert, his minister responsible for the colonies, decided to take action. In 1663, New France became royal property. The governor’s powers were reduced, and the colony was reorganized administratively. An important role was given to the Intendant, as representative of the King, in the administration of justice, police and finances.

On March 23, 1665, Louis XIV appointed Jean Talon to the position of Intendant. Almost 40 years old at the time, Jean Talon had been educated by the Jesuits in Paris, and he had an excellent reputation as an administrator. He had held various administrative positions in the French military and had become the Intendant of the County of Hainaut in 1655.

Jean Talon held the position of Intendant from 1665 to 1668 and from 1670 to 1672, putting in place many initiatives that greatly improved conditions in the colony. First, he worked to increase the population by promoting immigration, encouraging and supporting large families, urging single people to marry, bringing over the filles du roi, motivating soldiers to settle in the colony after their military service, etc.

A watercolour of a domestic scene. A group of people are standing around a central character (Jean Talon). In the background we see a fireplace where a kettle is heating over an open fire, and a woman with a baby is seated next to it. An old man is sitting on a bench in the foreground.

Jean Talon visiting settlers, painted by Lawrence Batchelor in 1931 (MIKAN 2896077)

Talon encouraged people to settle permanently by making it easier to access land, but also by forcing them to live on the land. Added to concession contracts were specific clauses requiring settlers to clear the land and “keep hearth and home” within 12 months, and prohibiting them from selling the land until there was a house built on it and two acres had been cleared.

Talon also oversaw the reorganization of the legal system; he reduced the number of trials by fostering accommodations, promoting out-of-court settlements and asking that cases at the first level be brought before him directly.

In terms of the economy, Talon was a visionary: he dreamed of factories in New France producing textiles, rope, tar, potash, soap, etc. He conducted mineral exploration around Trois-Rivières, a prelude to the Forges du Saint-Maurice in the 18th century, worked toward creating a network of alliances for the fur trade, and built a brewery in Quebec City to produce local beer. By the time he left, the face of New France had changed dramatically!

Library and Archives Canada holds copies of many historical documents written by Jean Talon, including his memoirs and observations on the state of the colony, correspondence, and the censuses held in 1666 and 1667.

Notarial Records

Would you like to know more about the daily lives of your New France and Quebec ancestors? Then you might be interested in looking at notarial records, where you can find a wealth of information about your ancestors’ goods and properties, and any transactions they may have entered into with others. The oldest known notarial record dates back to 1635.

A notarial record is a private agreement written by a notary in the form of a contract. Some of the most common ones are marriage contracts, wills, estate inventories, leases, and sales contracts.

Notarial records are held by the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ), but Library and Archives Canada holds copies of some records in the collection, Fonds des greffes de notaires du Québec. You can also use the advanced archives search to look up the name of an individual or a notary.

Sale made by Nicolas Réaume and Charles-Noël Réaume to their brother Alexis. Notary F. Le Guay, May 9, 1781. Library and Archives Canada, MG18, H-44, vol. 8, 4 pages.

Sale made by Nicolas Réaume and Charles-Noël Réaume to their brother Alexis. Notary F. Le Guay, May 9, 1781. Library and Archives Canada, MG18, H-44, vol. 8, 4 pages. (MIKAN 2313614)

How to search for notarial records

You can use a variety of tools to search for notarial records. For the oldest records from 1635 to 1784, consult the Parchemin database, developed by the Archiv-Histo historical research society (French only), which provides an abstract of each notarial record (date of the record, name of the notary, names of the parties, etc.). Parchemin is available at BAnQ, and in some public libraries, and archives.

You can also consult several name indexes (French only) for various regions in Quebec. Through a large-scale digitization project, you also have access to online directories and indexes of notaries from all regions of Quebec up to 1933 through BAnQ’s Archives des notaires du Québec (French only).

Once you have found a reference, you can consult the original record on paper or on microfilm. You may even be able to consult it online as BAnQ, in collaboration with FamilySearch, will eventually have all the records available online.

A paradise for genealogists: Quebec’s civil registers

As any genealogist will tell you, researchers whose ancestors lived in Quebec are fortunate. The sheer volume of surviving civil registers and the manner in which both Catholic and Protestant registers were kept make them a valuable resource. In fact, Quebec has been called “a genealogist’s paradise!”

The careful recording of vital statistics in Quebec is largely due to a series of religious and civil ordinances and regulations originating under French rule.

The historical influence of France

The year 2014 marks the 475th anniversary of the Ordonnance de Villers-Cotterêts [Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts] (in French only), signed in August 1539 by the King of France, Francis I, in what is now the department of Aisne. Under this edict, priests were required to register baptisms and burials. In 1579, another ordinance signed at Blois required that marriages be registered.

With the Council of Trent (1545–1563) and the publication of the Rituale Romanum de 1614, [Roman Ritual of 1614], the Roman Catholic Church further emphasized the importance of civil registration, specifying how to record the names of the godfather and godmother, witnesses, parents, etc.

Finally, in 1667, the Ordonnance de Saint-Germain-en-Laye [Ordinance of Saint-Germain-en-Laye] introduced the practice of keeping duplicate copies; one copy was kept by the priest and the second was filed with civil authorities at the end of the year. This ensured the preservation of innumerable registers that could have been destroyed or lost forever had only one copy existed.

Applications in New France and modern Quebec

These regulations took effect in New France in 1621 and were enforced by local authorities. Following the Conquest of 1760, the British authorities chose to retain it, recognizing the value of this system.

In Quebec, civil status registers have the following characteristics:

  • There are three types of acts: baptism, marriage and burial.
  • The acts are drawn up by parish priests.
  • They are presented chronologically, usually within a single register.
  • They are subject to two separate regulations: ecclesiastical and civil.

See Vital Statistics: Births, Marriages and Deaths to learn more about these documents and how to consult them.

Happy searching!

The 375th anniversary of the arrival of the Ursulines in Quebec City

Quebec City is celebrating a number of significant anniversaries in 2014, including the 350th anniversary of the founding of the parish of Notre-Dame de Québec, and the 375th anniversary of the arrival of the Ursuline Sisters—pioneers in education in Quebec — and the Augustinian Sisters.

The origins of the Ursulines in Europe

The Company of St. Ursula was founded by Angela Merici in 1535, at Brescia, Italy, to promote Christian values within the family, society and the Church. After the Council of Trent, the Company was restructured to become a cloistered order, devoted primarily to educating young girls. Ursuline convents soon sprang up across Europe, in particular throughout France.

The establishment of the Ursulines in New France

In 1639, Madame de La Peltrie financed the founding of a convent and the first school for girls in New France. She left France aboard the St. Joseph with three nuns from the Ursuline convent at Tours: Marie (Guyart) de l’Incarnation, who was canonized by Pope Francis in 2014, Marie de Saint-Joseph and Cécile de Sainte-Croix. They, along with a group of Augustinian nuns, endured an arduous crossing that took three months.

Earliest Ursuline sisters with Amerindian pupils at Quebec City

Earliest Ursuline sisters with Amerindian pupils at Quebec City. (MIKAN 2895625)

The first Ursuline school, established in Quebec City’s Lower Town, received about 18 French and Amerindian boarders. Like their Augustinian counterparts, the Ursuline Sisters moved to the Upper Town in 1642, to a site their order still occupies today. The Ursulines provided accommodation for the Filles du Roi when they first landed in Quebec City, as well as for English captives in the early 18th century. One of those captives was Esther Wheelwright, who would eventually become the community’s superior. From Quebec City, the Ursulines expanded to found convents and schools around Quebec and New Brunswick, as well as in Japan and Peru.

To learn more

Library and Archives Canada has a number historical documents on the Ursuline community, mainly in the Fonds de la Congrégation de Sainte-Ursule and the Marie de l’Incarnation Fonds. You can also do an archives search to find other documents or images. For a definitive history of the Ursulines (in French only), we recommend Les Ursulines de Québec 1639–1953, by Dom Guy-Marie Oury.

The 375th anniversary of the arrival of the Augustinians in Quebec City

Quebec City is celebrating a number of significant anniversaries in 2014, including the 350th anniversary of the founding of the parish of Notre-Dame de Québec, and the 375th anniversary of the arrival of the Augustinian Sisters (in French only)—pioneers in health care in Quebec—and the Ursuline Sisters.

The establishment of a hospital in New France

In 1637, the Duchess of Aiguillon, niece of Cardinal Richelieu, agreed to finance the founding of a hospital in Quebec City to care for the Aboriginal population and the colonists. On August 1, 1639, the first three Augustinian Hospitaller Sisters arrived in Quebec City after a long and arduous three-month crossing on board the Saint-Joseph. Those three Sisters were Marie Guenet de Saint-Ignace, who was the first superior of the community, Anne Lecointe de Saint-Bernard and Marie Forestier de Saint-Bonaventure-de-Jésus.

They founded a first hospital in Sillery, on the outskirts of Quebec City, near the Jesuits. However, with the Iroquois threat, the Sisters felt it best to remain within the walls of the city, and opened the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec in 1646, in Quebec City’s Upper Town. The Augustinian Sisters not only took care of the sick at the hospital, they also took in abandoned children between 1800 and 1850, and welcomed and cared for immigrants upon their arrival at the port of Quebec City.

Among the women who joined the order was the first nun of Canadian birth, Marie-Françoise Giffard (daughter of seigneur Robert Giffard), and Marie-Catherine de Saint-Augustin (beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1989).

Hôtel-Dieu, Quebec City, ca. 1822–1832

Hôtel-Dieu, Quebec City, ca. 1822–1832. (MIKAN 2898815)

The Augustinians today

The work of the Augustinians forms the basis of today’s health care system in Quebec. The nuns founded a total of 12 monastery hospitals throughout Quebec, acting as administrators, nurses and pharmacists. Today, all of those hospitals form part of Quebec’s public health network and are still in operation.

To learn more

Library and Archives Canada has a number of records relating to the Augustinian community and their first hospital, in particular the Fonds de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec. You can also do an archives search to find other documents or images. For a definitive history of the Augustinians, we recommend La croix et le scalpel : histoire des Augustines et de l’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec, 1639–1989 (in French only), by François Rousseau.

Samuel de Champlain’s General Maps of New France

In the fall of 1612, Samuel de Champlain had an engraving of his first detailed map of New France made in Paris. The map contained new geographic information, based on his own explorations from 1603 onward. The site of Montreal is clearly identified. Using information obtained from Aboriginal peoples, he was able to include previously uncharted areas, such as Lake Ontario and Niagara Falls. He also made use of other maps to depict certain regions, including Newfoundland. Although the engraving was made in 1612, the map was not published until the following year as an appendix to Voyages, Champlain’s 1613 account of his journeys.

Carte geographique de la Nouvelle Franse faictte par le sieur de Champlain Saint Tongois cappitaine ordinaire pour le roy en la marine. Faict len 1612.

Carte geographique de la Nouvelle Franse faictte par le sieur de Champlain Saint Tongois cappitaine ordinaire pour le roy en la marine. Faict len 1612. Source

While back in France in the summer of 1613, Champlain had an engraving made of a second version of a general map that he had begun the previous year, which he also published in his 1613 book. In that map, he incorporated his most recent geographic findings, including the Ottawa River, which he was the first to depict. His depiction of Hudson Bay was deliberately inspired by a map of Henry Hudson’s voyages (source: MIKAN 4145717).

Carte geographique de la Nouvelle Franse en son vray meridiein. Faictte par le Sr Champlain, Cappine. por le Roy en la marine – 1613.

Carte geographique de la Nouvelle Franse en son vray meridiein. Faictte par le Sr Champlain, Cappine. por le Roy en la marine – 1613. Source

An incomplete general map by Champlain also exists. The engraving was made in 1616, although the map was never published. The only known copy is held by the John Carter Brown Library.

In 1632, Champlain published his last major map of New France, which was included in his final book, Les Voyages de la Nouvelle France occidentale, dicte Canada. He had been living in France for nearly three years, having been driven out of Quebec by the Kirke brothers in 1629. This updated map contains little new information verified by Champlain himself, as his own explorations came to an end in 1616. He based the revised version on the invaluable information conveyed to him by others, chief among them Étienne Brûlé. Nevertheless, this map represents an important milestone in the history of North American cartography and was widely used by other mapmakers. There are two versions of this map. Among the differences between them are the representation of Bras d’Or Lake or a chain of mountains on Cape Breton Island. Both versions of the map are held by Library and Archives Canada. The first can be seen here:

Carte de la Nouvelle France, augmentée depuis la derniere, servant a la navigation faicte en son vray meridien, 1632.

Carte de la Nouvelle France, augmentée depuis la derniere, servant a la navigation faicte en son vray meridien, 1632. Source

Suggested reading to learn more about this subject: Conrad E. Heidenreich and Edward H. Dahl, “Samuel de Champlain’s Cartography, 1603-32”, in Raymonde Litalien and Denis Vaugeois, eds., Champlain: The Birth of French America. Sillery: Les éditions du Septentrion; and Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004, pp. 312-332.

The “Filles du roi” (1663-1673)

Summer 2013 marks the 350th anniversary of the arrival in New France of the first contingent of the “Filles du roi” (“King’s daughters”), young women who became the ancestors of numerous French-Canadian families. A variety of celebrations are planned throughout Quebec, culminating in the New France Festival (Fêtes de la Nouvelle-France) in Quebec City from August 7 to 11, 2013.

Between 1663 and 1673, King Louis XIV supported the emigration of these young women, many of them orphans. Their passage to the colony was paid and they received an average dowry of 50 livres, along with a small hope chest containing clothing and sewing materials. In exchange, the women agreed to marry on their arrival in New France, to start a family and to help their husbands work the land. These women were instrumental in helping to populate and develop the colony.

The first contingent of 36 “Filles du roi” landed in 1663. Over the next ten years, an estimated 800 young women settled in New France under the same program.

If you would like to know whether one of your ancestors was a “Fille du roi,” there are many genealogical publications and reviews you can consult. However, the most valuable reference work is Yves Landry’s Les Filles du roi au XVIIe siècle, orphelines en France, pionnières au Canada (AMICUS 11402134), which was published in 1992 and which includes biographical notes. You can also visit the website of the Société d’histoire des Filles du roy.

Library and Archives Canada has several historical documents in its collection pertaining to this wave of immigration, including correspondence between the Governor General of New France, Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac; Intendant Jean Talon; and the Secretary of State for the Navy, Jean-Baptiste Colbert. Of particular note are a letter dated October 27, 1667 (MIKAN 3037238), and a memorandum written on November 10, 1670 (MIKAN 3037252).

Painting depicting the arrival in Quebec City of intended brides for French-Canadian farmers in 1667.

Arrival of the Brides. Source