Canada Under France, 1663-1760

WITH the advent of Royal authority the company of New France collapsed and their successors, the French West Indian Company, formed in 1664, acquired many of their privileges and monopolies. No enterprise undertaken for private gain can ever hope to conduct its operations with the impartiality of a benevolent State ; and after a life of ten years, in which it did infinite harm, the French West Indian Company State-given monopoly ceased.

One of the difficulties which faced the rulers of the new country was the difficulty they found in keeping the colonists within the settlements. Ensnared by the spell of the forests the young men would disappear into the unknown, blazing a trail, living a primitive life, and pushing ever further into the Beyond. Penalties were even instituted to check this efflux, but without avail. The coureur du Bois, revelling in his escape from civilisation, happy in his solitude, remained the feature of the period.

Among the most noteworthy pioneers of this time must be mentioned the men of the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1670 a company of English Traders, known as ” the Honourable Company of Adventurers from England trading into Hudson’s Bay,” received from Charles II a royal licence to trade in what was known as Prince Rupert’s Land. Their first forts were built on the shores of the great Bay, and since they were only accessible to vessels from Europe during the summer months the story of the hardships encountered by the Traders is a record of the most stoical and heroic endurance. Naturally the French of the St. Lawrence Valley looked with indignation at these outposts of England, and many of the forts were destroyed by Le Moyne d’Iberville. But the forts were rebuilt and remained for many years the centres of a thriving trade. Indian trappers came from great distances to barter furs for the excellent provisions and clothing supplied by the Company.

In the north-west a company of French adventurers established themselves and explored westwards, it is said, as far as the outlying spurs of the Rocky Mountains ; but the wars between France and England came to end their enterprise, and the Hudson’s Bay Company was left for a time supreme. Later on, towards the end of the eighteenth century, a Canadian company of traders known as the North-West Company, established itself firmly, and the rivalry between the employés of the two companies often led to scenes of riot and bloodshed.

In returning to the general story of Canadian history, we come to one of the most famous names in the story of New France—the Comte de Frontenac. Appointed Governor in 1672, he ruled with an iron hand the variety of men under him. So overbearing of all restraint was he that at the end of ten years, his enemies at court triumphed, and he was recalled to France. He was replaced by La Barre, a timid and vacillating governor, whose weak policy towards the Indians sacrificed most of the prestige which Frontenac’s boldness had gained for France. He was quickly replaced by the Marquis of Denonville, an officer of Dragoons, in whose administration a successful expedition was despatched against the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fortified training posts.

At this time practically the whole trade of the Canadians was in direct barter. Very little money was in the country and the people were always poor. In 1685 and onwards a peculiar currency was introduced, called ” card-money.” Common playing-cards were used, which bore the Crown, the Fleur-de-lis, with the amount of the value, and the signature of the official who issued them. In course of time the card money became depreciated and worthless, though for nearly a hundred years no other currency existed.

During the winter of 1687 the Governor of Fort Frontenac treacherously seized a number of friendly Indians who had settled in neutral villages near by. Some he sent to mission-stations, others to the French galleys. This the Iroquois never forgave, and one dark August night of 1689 a large band descended upon the hapless village of Lachine. Two hundred men, women and children were butchered, and over a hundred were carried away as prisoners. Now, Lachine was on the Island of Montreal, under the very nose of the Governor, and it was evident that a stronger hand must take the reins. So Frontenac was recalled from his retirement and resumed with characteristic energy the difficult task of governing Canada. His problem was made doubly difficult by the growth of English power, both to the south of him in New England and to the north in Hudson’s Bay. War had been declared between France and England, and one of the schemes he first undertook was an attack on New York and Albany by land and sea. This was unsuccessful, but in 1690 he organised three expeditions against the English Colonies which were carried out with all the attendant inhumanities which in those days were peculiar to frontier warfare with Indian auxiliaries. These raids naturally led to reprisals by the English, and in the same year Port Royal was taken and other ports in Acadia were sacked. An abortive and disastrous attempt was made by Sir William Phips to take by assault the fortress of Quebec, and the settlements round Montreal were constantly harassed by the English and their Indian allies. In 1693 and the following years attacks and counter-attacks succeeded one another briskly, resulting on the whole in favour of the French ; and so matters stood at the death of the great Frontenac in 1698. In 1701 his successor Callières brought about the earnestly desired peace with the Indians, thus opening the trade routes to the west by freeing them from the interference of the Iroquois.

The war of the Spanish Succession, which broke out in 1702; was mirrored in a fresh outbreak of border warfare between New England and Canada. After nine years of desultory fighting without tangible results on either side (unless the taking of the oft-captured Port Royal be counted), a powerful fleet was sent out to attempt the conquest of Canada under the command of Sir Hovenden Walker, one of the most incapable leaders in the pages of English history. After losing eight transports and nine hundred men in a storm at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, he decided to give up the project of besieging Quebec and returned to England without striking a blow.

What was more important to Canada than all this warlike parade was the extension of French settlements inland into the valleys of the south and the west. A fort had been built opposite the French missionary station of St. Ignace on the Strait of Machillimackinac, and it was now proposed to make the French headquarters at Detroit. This gave the French the key of the great lakes and cried check to the English expansion to the north and west. Frenchmen were pushing far into the valleys of the Illinois and the Wabash. The Mississippi was well explored and settlements founded.

The Treaty of Utrecht (1713) was a sad blow to French aspirations by giving to the English possession of Acadia, Hudson’s Bay and Newfoundland (subject to French fishing rights). A clause was included providing that the French should never molest the Five Nations under the sovereignty of Great Britain.

During the years following on the Treaty of Utrecht the sovereignty of England was very lightly considered by the Home authorities. So lightly, indeed, that English colonists coming out to settle in Nova Scotia, as Acadia will in future be called, had good cause for complaint. The only evidence of English possession was the dilapidated fort at Annapolis with an insignificant garrison, whilst emissaries went about amongst the French colonists telling of the eventual recovery of the country by the French, and fostering racial hatred among the Indians. English government was formally established in 1719.

England, indeed, had her hands full. In 1739 she was fighting Spain. Then followed the war of the Austrian Succession, and neither of them brought either profit or glory to her. The French, on the other hand, were making a great parade of their strength in New France. In 1720 was begun the building of a huge fort at Louisburg on Cape Breton—the Ile Royale, as it was called—to guard the eastern approach to the St. Lawrence. For those days it was an enormous undertaking, and even on the modified plan, which had to be adopted for the sake of economy, the work cost the equivalent of 2,000,000 of modern money. The fortress occupied an area of over a hundred acres, and was finely planned for defensive purposes. Yet in the spring of 1745, an expedition of 4,000 English colonists from New England, under Colonel Pepperell, besieged, and after forty days captured Louisburg, with the assistance of a fleet of thirteen vessels under Captain Tyng. By the articles of capitulation the garrison and residents—about 2,000 persons—were deported to France. Colonel Pepperell received the first colonial baronetcy ever created by England. Governor Shirley, of Massachusetts, suggested the following up of this success by attacks on Montreal and Quebec, but the projects were abandoned for want of support at home.

Before the war ended, France made two attempts to acquire what she had lost at Cape Breton. In 1746 a fine fleet left La Rochelle but, attacked by the twin furies of storm and pestilence, it was checked at Halifax, and returned to France with a loss of two or three thousand men from disease and other casualties. A second expedition sent in the following year was met off Cape Finisterre by a superior English fleet and defeated.

In 1748 England, wearying of the struggle, made peace with France and, by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, gave back the hardly-won Island of Cape Breton in exchange for the commercial port of Madras which had been taken by the French in the West Indies. She retained, however, Nova Scotia.

At this time the French explorers were pushing west and south with amazing persistence, and fortified places had sprung up far beyond the present limits of Canada. At Detroit, Sault St. Marie and Mackinac the French held possession of the Great Lakes. They claimed exclusive rights from the St. Lawrence to the Mississippi, and hearing that enterprising Englishmen were pushing along the valley of the Ohio, Governor Galissonnière despatched an expedition under Captain Céloron to claim the valley of the Ohio and its tributaries. This he did by affixing the French arms to trees, by burying lead plates along his line of route. The English in Virginia were aghast at the French incursion into country which they had regarded as peculiarly theirs, and the building of an English fort was begun at the Fork of the Ohio. This the French captured before it was built and completed ; so that by 1755 the French dominion was complete—so far as any dominion could be reckoned complete which is merely guarded by a line of scattered forts in a more or less hostile country—from the great lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, and from the Valley of the Ohio to the Valley of the Illinois. In Louisiana they had a few towns which included New Orleans, Mobile and Biloxi, and the settle-ment was managed by the Western Company, a huge speculative enterprise whose failure ruined thousands in France.

Whilst French expansion had been going on energetically in the south and west, England had begun to wake up to the importance of her possessions in America. To remedy the diplomatic mistake that had been made in giving up Cape Breton, Governor Shirley recommended that immigration into Nova Scotia should be encouraged so as to counteract the influence of the strong French settlement there. In 1749, therefore—the year in which Louisburg was surrendered,—the city of Halifax was founded on the west side of the harbour known as Chebucto. In 1752 the Halifax Gazette, the first newspaper of Canada, was published.

By the year 1755 the condition of affairs between France and England was again nearing one of the crises which periodically led to war, and in Nova Scotia the tension was particularly acute. The position of Nova Scotia, sandwiched between Cape Breton and French Canada, was precarious, and in view of the large and unfriendly majority of French inhabitants, a decisive step was decided on. The French Acadians generally had refused to subscribe to the oath of complete allegiance to Great Britain, and this was made the excuse for Governor Lawrence’s action. Men, women and children to the number of about 6,000 were expelled from their homes and turned adrift in French Canada to find their way to food and shelter as best they could. It is quite a debatable point if it was the best method of attaining the end in view. The end, however, was attained and Nova Scotia and New Englanders slept the more peacefully when the expulsion was complete.

Next year, the smouldering embers of war burst forth once more, and France began her fight to the death for Canada.