The Seigneurs of Old Canada: - A Chronicle of New-World Feudalism
by William Bennett Munro
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When the Carignans stepped ashore at Quebec in 1665 one of their officers was Olivier Morel de la Durantaye, a captain in the regiment of Campelle, but attached to the Carignan-Salieres for its Canadian expedition. In the first expedition against the Mohawks he commanded the advance guard, and he was one of the small band who spent the terrible winter of 1666-67 at Fort Ste Anne near the head of Lake Champlain, subsisting on salt pork and a scant supply of mouldy flour. Several casks of reputedly good brandy, as Dollier de Casson records, had been sent to the fort, but to the chagrin of the diminutive garrison they turned out to contain salt water, the sailors having drunk the contents and refilled the casks on their way out from France. Warlike operations continued to engross Durantaye's attentions for a year or two longer, but when this work was finished he returned with some of his brother officers to France, while others remained in the colony, having taken up lands in accordance with Talon's plans. In 1670, however, he was back at Quebec again, and having married a daughter of the colony, applied at once for the grant of a seigneury. This was given to him in the form of a large tract, two leagues square, on the south shore of the lower St Lawrence, between the seigneury of Beaumont des Islets and the Bellechasse channel. To this fief of La Durantaye adjoining lands were subsequently added by new grants, and in 1674 the seigneur also obtained the fief of Kamouraska. His entire estate comprised about seventy thousand arpents, making him one of the largest landowners in the colony.

Durantaye began his work in a leisurely way, and the census of 1681 gives us the outcome of his ten years of effort. He himself had not taken up his abode on the land nor, so far as can be ascertained, had he spent any time or money in clearing its acreage. With his wife and four children he resided at Quebec, but from time to time he made visits to his holding and brought new settlers with him. Twelve families had built their homes within the spacious borders of his seigneury. Their whitewashed cottages were strung along a short stretch of the river bank side by side, separated by a few arpents. Men, women, and children, the population of La Durantaye numbered only fifty-eight; sixty-four arpents had been cleared; and twenty-eight horned cattle were reported among the possessions of the habitants. Rather significantly this colonial Domesday of 1681 mentions that the sixteen able-bodied men of the seigneury possessed 'seven muskets' among them. From its situation, however, the settlement was not badly exposed to Indian assault.

In the way of cleared lands and population the fief of La Durantaye had made very modest progress. Its nearest neighbour, Bellechasse, contained two hundred and twenty-seven persons, living upon three hundred and twenty arpents of cultivable land. With an arsenal of sixty-two muskets it was better equipped for self-defence. The census everywhere took more careful count of muskets than of ploughs; and this is not surprising, for it was the design of the authorities to build up a 'powerful military colony' which would stand on its own feet without support from home. They did not seem to realize that in the long run even military prowess must rest with that land which most assiduously devotes itself to the arts of peace.

Ten years later the fief of Durantaye made a somewhat better showing. The census of 1692 gave it a marked increase in population, in lands made arable, and in herds of domestic cattle. A house had been built for the seigneur, whose family occupied it at times, but showed a preference for the more attractive life at Quebec. Durantaye was not one of the most prosperous seigneuries, neither was it among those making the slowest progress. As Catalogne phrased the situation in 1712, its lands were 'yielding moderate harvests of grain and vegetables.' Fruit-trees had been brought to maturity in various parts of the seigneury and were bearing well. Much of the land was well wooded with oak and pine, a good deal of which had been already, in 1712, cut down and marketed at Quebec.

Morel de la Durantaye could not resign himself to the prosaic life of a cultivator. He did not become a coureur de bois like many of his friends and associates, but like them he had a taste for the wild woods, and he pursued a career not far removed from theirs. In 1684 he was in command of the fortified trading-post at Michilimackinac, and he had a share in Denonville's expedition against the Onondagas three years later. On that occasion he mustered a band of traders who, with a contingent of friendly Indians, followed him down to the lakes to join the punitive force. In 1690 he was at Montreal, lending his aid in the defence of that part of the colony against raiding bands of Iroquois which were once again proving a menace. At Boucherville, in 1694, one historian tells us with characteristic hyperbole, Durantaye killed ten Iroquois with his own hand. Mohawks were not, as a rule, so easy to catch or kill. Two years later he commanded a detachment of troops and militiamen in operations against his old-time foes, and in 1698 he was given a royal pension of six hundred livres per year in recognition of his services. Having been so largely engaged in these military affrays, little time had been available for the development of his seigneury. His income from the annual dues of its habitants was accordingly small, and the royal gratuity was no doubt a welcome addition. The royal bounty never went begging in New France. No one was too proud to dip his hand into the king's purse when the chance presented itself.

In June 1703 Durantaye received the signal honour of an appointment to the Superior Council at Quebec, and this post gave him additional remuneration. For the remaining twenty-four years of his life the soldier-seigneur lived partly at Quebec and partly at the manor-house of his seigneurial estate. At the time of his death, in 1727, these landed holdings had greatly increased in population, in cleared acreage, and in value, although it cannot be said that this progress had been in any direct way due to the seigneur's active interest or efforts. He had a family of six sons and three daughters, quite enough to provide for with his limited income, but not a large family as households went in those days. Durantaye was not among the most effective of the seigneurs; but little is to be gained by placing the various leaders among the landed men of New France in sharp contrast, comparing their respective contributions one with another. The colony had work for all to do, each in his own way.

Among those who came to Montreal in 1641, when the foundations of the city were being laid, was the son of a Dieppe innkeeper, Charles Le Moyne by name. Born in 1624, he was only seventeen when he set out to seek his fortune in the New World. The lure of the fur trade promptly overcame him, as it did so many others, and the first few years of his life in Canada were spent among the Hurons in the regions round Georgian Bay. On becoming of age, however, he obtained a grant of lands on the south shore of the St Lawrence, opposite Montreal, and at once began the work of clearing it. This area, of fifty lineal arpents in frontage by one hundred in depth, was granted to Le Moyne by M. de Lauzon [Footnote: Jean de Lauzon, at this time president of the Company of One Hundred Associates, which, as we have seen, had the feudal suzerainty of Canada. Lauzon was afterwards governor of New France, 1651-56.] as a seigneury on September 24, 1647.

Despite the fact that his holding was directly in the path of Indian attacks, Le Moyne made steady progress in clearing it; he built himself a house, and in 1654, at the age of twenty-eight, married Mademoiselle Catherine Primot, formerly of Rouen. The governor of Montreal, M. de Maisonneuve, showed his good will by a wedding gift of ninety additional arpents. But Le Moyne's ambition to provide for a rapidly growing family led him to petition the intendant for an enlargement of his holdings, and in 1672 the intendant Talon gave him the land which lay between the seigneuries of Varennes and La Prairie de la Magdelaine. This with his other tract was united to form the seigneury of Longueuil. Already the king had recognized Le Moyne's progressive spirit by giving him rank in the noblesse, the letters-patent having been issued in 1668. On this seigneury the first of the Le Moynes de Longueuil lived and worked until his death in 1685.

Charles Le Moyne had a family of eleven sons, of whom ten grew to manhood and became figures of prominence in the later history of New France. From Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico their exploits covered every field of activity on land and sea. [Footnote: These sons were: (1) Charles Le Moyne de Longueuil, born 1656, who succeeded his father as seigneur and became the first Baron de Longueuil, later served as lieutenant-governor of Montreal, and was killed in action at Saratoga on June 8, 1729; (2) Jacques Le Moyne de Ste Helene, born 1659, who fell at the siege of Quebec in 1690; (3) Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, born in 1661, voyageur to Hudson Bay and the Spanish Main, died at Havana in 1706; (4) Paul Le Moyne de Maricourt, born 1663, captain in the marine, died in 1704 from hardships during an expedition against the Iroquois; (5) Francois Le Moyne de Bienville, born 1666, intrepid young border-warrior, killed by the Iroquois in 1691; (6) Joseph Le Moyne de Serigny, born 1668, served as a youth in the expeditions of his brother to Hudson Bay, died in 1687; (7) Louis Le Moyne de Chateauguay, born 1676, his young life ended in action at Fort Bourbon (Nelson or York Factory) on Hudson Bay in 1694; (8) Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, born 1680, founder of New Orleans, governor of Louisiana, died in Paris, 1767; (9) Gabriel Le Moyne d'Assigny, born 1681, died of yellow fever at San Domingo in 1701; (10) Antoine Le Moyne de Chateauguay, born 1683, governor of French Guiana.] What scions of a stout race they were! The strain of the old Norse rover was in them all. Each one a soldier, they built forts, founded cities, governed colonies, and gave their king full measure of valiant service.

The eldest, who bore his father's name and possessed many of his traits, inherited the seigneury. Soon he made it one of the most valuable properties in the whole colony. The old manor-house gave way to a pretentious chateau flanked by four imposing towers of solid masonry. Its dimensions were, as such things went in the colony, stupendously large, the structure being about two hundred feet in length by one hundred and seventy in breadth. The great towers or bastions were loopholed in such way as to permit a flanking fire in the event of an armed assault; and the whole building, when viewed from the river, presented an impressive facade. The grim Frontenac, who was not over-given to eulogy, praised it in one of his dispatches and said that it reminded him of the embattled chateaux of old Normandy. Speaking from the point of view of the other seigneurs, the cost of this manorial abode of the Longueuils must have represented a fortune. The structure was so well built that it remained fit for occupancy during nearly a full century, or until 1782, when it was badly damaged by fire. A century later still, in 1882, the walls remained; but a few years afterwards they were removed to make room for the new parish church of Longueuil.

Le Moyne did more than build an imposing house. He had the stones gathered from the lands and used in building houses for his people. The seigneur's mill was one of the best. A fine church raised its cross-crowned spire near by. A brewery, built of stone, was in full operation. The land was fertile and produced abundant harvests. When Catalogne visited Longueuil in 1712 he noted that the habitants were living in comfortable circumstances, by reason of the large expenditures which the seigneur had made to improve the land and the means of communication. Whatever Charles Le Moyne could gather together was not spent in riotous living, as was the case with so many of his contemporaries, but was invested in productive improvements. That is the way in which he became the owner of a model seigneury.

A seigneur so progressive and successful could not escape the attention of the king. In 1698 the governor and the intendant joined in bringing Le Moyne's services to the favourable notice of the minister, with the suggestion that it should receive suitable acknowledgment. Two years later this recognition came in the form of a royal decree which elevated the seigneury of Longueuil to the dignity of a barony, and made its owner the Baron de Longueuil. In recounting the services rendered to the colony by the new baron the patent mentioned that 'he has already erected at his own cost a fort supported by four strong towers of stone and masonry, with a guard-house, several large dwellings, a fine church bearing all the insignia of nobility, a spacious farmyard in which there is a barn, a stable, a sheep-pen, a dovecote, and other buildings, all of which are within the area of the said fort; next to which stands a banal mill, a fine brewery of masonry, together with a large retinue of servants, horses, and equipages, the cost of which buildings amount to sixty thousand livres; so much so that this seigneury is one of the most valuable in the whole country.' The population of Longueuil, in the census returns of 1698, is placed at two hundred and twenty-three.

The new honour spurred its recipient to even greater efforts; he became one of the first gentlemen of the colony, served a term as lieutenant-governor at Montreal, and, going into battle once more, was killed in action near Saratoga in the expedition of 1729. The barony thereupon passed to his son, the third Charles Le Moyne, born in 1687, who lived until 1755, and was for a time administrator of the colony. His son, the third baron, was killed during the Seven Years' War in the operations round Lake George, and the title passed, in the absence of direct male heirs, to his only daughter, Marie Le Moyne de Longueuil who, in 1781, married Captain David Alexander Grant of the 94th British regiment. Thus the old dispensation linked itself with the new. The eldest son of this marriage became fifth Baron de Longueuil in 1841. Since that date the title has been borne by successive generations in the same family.

Of all the titles of honour, great and small, which the French crown granted to the seigneurs of Old Canada, that of the Baron de Longueuil is the only one now legally recognized in the Dominion. After the conquest the descendants of Charles Le Moyne maintained that, having promised to respect the ancient land tenures, the new British suzerains were under obligation to recognize Longueuil as a barony. It was not, however, until 1880 that a formal request for recognition was made to Her Majesty Queen Victoria. The matter was, of course, submitted to the law officers of the crown, and their decision ruled the claim to be well grounded. By royal proclamation, accordingly, the rank and title of Charles Colmore Grant, seventh Baron de Longueuil, were formally recognized. [Footnote: The royal recognition was officially promulgated as follows: 'The Queen has been graciously pleased to recognize the right of Charles Colmore Grant, Esquire, to the title of Baron de Longueuil, of Longueuil, in the province of Quebec, Canada. This title was conferred on his ancestor, Charles Le Moyne, by letters-patent of nobility signed by King Louis XIV in the year 1700.'- (London Gazette, December 7, 1880.)]

The barony of Longueuil at one time included an area of about one hundred and fifty square miles, much of it heavily timbered and almost all fit for cultivation. The thriving towns of Longueuil and St Johns grew up within its limits in the century following the conquest. As population increased, much of the land was sold into freehold; and when the seigneurial system was abolished in 1854 what had not been sold was entailed. An entailed estate, though not now of exceeding great value, it still remains.

No family of New France maintained more steadily its favourable place in the public view than the house of Longueuil. The sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons of the Dieppe innkeeper's boy were leaders of action in their respective generations. Soldiers, administrators, and captains of industry, they contributed their full share to the sum of French achievement, alike in war and peace. By intermarriage also the Le Moynes of Longueuil connected themselves with other prominent families of French Canada, notably those of Beaujeu, Lanaudiere, and Gaspe. Unlike most of the colonial noblesse, they were well-to-do from the start, and the barony of Longueuil may be rightly regarded as a good illustration of what the seigneurial system could accomplish at its best.

These three seigneurs, Hebert, La Durantaye, and Le Moyne, represent three different, yet not so very dissimilar types of landed pioneer. Hebert, the man of humble birth and limited attainments, made his way to success by unremitting personal labour under great discouragements. He lived and died a plain citizen. He had less to show for his life-work than the others, perhaps; but in those swaddling days of the colony's history his task was greater. Morel de la Durantaye, the man-at-arms, well born and bred, took his seigneurial rank as a matter of course, and his duties without much seriousness. His seigneury had his attention only when opportunities for some more exciting field of action failed to present themselves. Interesting figure though he was—an excellent type of a hundred others—it was well for the colony that not all its seigneurs were like him in temperament and ways. Le Moyne, the nearest Canadian approach to the seigneur of Old France in the days before the Revolution, combined the best qualities of the other two. There was plenty of red blood in his veins, and to some of his progeny went more of it than was good for them. He was ready with his sword when the occasion called. An arm shot off by an Iroquois flintlock in 1687 gave him through life a grim reminder of his combative habits in early days. But warfare was only an avocation; the first fruits of the land absorbed his main interest throughout the larger part of his days. Each of these men had others like him, and the peculiar circumstances of the colony found places for them all. The seigneurs of Old Canada did not form a homogeneous class; men of widely differing tastes and attainments were included among them. There were workers and drones; there were men who made a signal success as seigneurs, and others who made an utter failure. But taken as a group there was nothing very commonplace about them, and it is to her two hundred seigneurs or thereabouts that New France owes much of the glamour that marks her tragic history.



In its attitude toward the seigneurs the crown was always generous. The seigneuries were large, and from the seigneurs the king asked no more than that they should help to colonize their grants with settlers. It was expected, in turn, that the seigneurs would show a like spirit in all dealings with their dependants. Many of them did; but some did not. On the whole, however, the habitants who took farms within the seigneuries fared pretty well in the matter of the feudal dues and services demanded from them. Compared with the seigneurial tenantry of Old France their obligations were few in number, and imposed almost no burden at all.

This is a matter upon which a great deal of nonsense has been written by English writers on the early history of Canada, most of whom have been able to see nothing but the spectre of paternalism in every domain of colonial life. It is quite true, as Tocqueville tells us, that the physiognomy of a government can be best judged in its colonies, for there its merits and faults appear as through a microscope. But in Canada it was the merits rather than the faults of French feudalism which came to the front in bold relief. There it was that seigneurial polity put its best foot forward. It showed that so long as defence was of more importance than opulence the institution could fully justify its existence. Against the seigneurial system as such no element in the population of New France ever raised, so far as the records attest, one word of protest during the entire period of French dominion. The habitants, as every shred of reliable contemporary evidence goes to prove, were altogether contented with the terms upon which they held their lands, and thought only of the great measure of freedom from burdens which they enjoyed as compared with their friends at home. To speak of them as 'slaves to the corvees and unpaid military service, debarred from education and crammed with gross fictions as an aid to their docility and their value as food for powder,' [Footnote: A. G. Bradley, The fight with France for North America (London, 1905, p. 388).] is to display a rare combination of hopeless bigotry and crass ignorance. The habitant of the old regime in Canada was neither a slave nor a serf; neither down-trodden nor maltreated; neither was he docile and spineless when his own rights were at issue. So often has all this been shown that it is high time an end were made of these fictions concerning the woes of Canadian folk-life in the days before the conquest.

We have ample testimony concerning the relations of seigneur and habitant in early Canada, and it comes from many quarters. First of all there are the title-deeds of lands, thousands of which have been preserved in the various notarial archives. It ought to be explained, in passing, that when a seigneur wished to make a grant of land the services of a notary were enlisted. Notaries were plentiful; the census of 1681 enumerated twenty-four of them in a population of less than ten thousand. The notary made his documents in the presence of the parties, had them signed, witnessed, and sealed with due formality. The seigneur kept one copy, the habitant another, and the notary kept the original. In the course of time, therefore, each notary accumulated quite a collection or cadastre of legal records which he kept carefully. At his death they were passed over to the general registry, or office of the greffier, at Quebec. In general the notaries were men of rather meagre education; their work on deeds and marriage settlements was too often very poorly done, and lawsuits were all the more common in consequence. But the colony managed to get along with this system of conveyancing, crude and undependable as it was.

In the title-deeds of lands granted by the seigneurs to the habitants the situation and area are first set forth. The grants were of all shapes and sizes. As a rule, however, they were in the form of a parallelogram, with the shorter end fronting the river and the longer side extending inland. The usual river frontage was from five to ten lineal arpents, and the depth ranged from ten to eighty arpents. It should be explained that the arpen de Paris, in terms of which colonial land measurements were invariably expressed, served both as a unit of length and as a unit of area. The lineal arpent was the equivalent of one hundred and ninety-two English feet. The superficial arpent, or arpent of area, contained about five-sixths of an acre. The habitant's customary frontage on the river was, accordingly, from about a thousand to two thousand feet, while his farm extended rearwards a distance of anywhere from under a half-mile to three miles.

This rather peculiar configuration of the farms arose wholly from the way in which the colony was first settled. For over a century after the French came to the St Lawrence all the seigneuries were situated directly on the shores of the river. This was only natural, for the great waterway formed the colony's carotid artery, supplying the life-blood of all New France so far as communications were concerned. From seigneury to seigneury men traversed it in canoes or bateaux in summer, and over its frozen surface they drove by carriole during the long winters. Every one wanted to be in contact with this main highway, so that the demand for farms which should have some river frontage, however small, was brisk from the outset. Near the river the habitant began his clearing and built his house. Farther inland, as the lands rose from the shore, was the pasture; and behind this again lay the still uncleared woodland. When the colony built its first road, this thoroughfare skirted the north shore of the St Lawrence, and so placed an even greater premium on farms contiguous to the river. It was only after all the best lands with river frontage had been taken up that settlers resorted to what was called 'the second range' farther inland.

Now it happened that in thus adapting the shape of grants to the immediate convenience and caprice of the habitants a curious handicap was in the long run placed upon agricultural progress. By the terms of the Custom of Paris, which was the common law of the colony, all the children of a habitant's family, male and female, inherited equal shares of his lands. When, therefore, a farm was to be divided at its owner's decease each participant in the division wanted a share in the river frontage. With large families the rule, it can easily be seen that this demand could only be met by shredding the farm into mere ribbons of land with a frontage of only fifty or a hundred feet and a depth of a mile or more. That was the usual course pursued; each child had his strip, and either undertook to get a living out of it or sold his land to an adjoining heir. In any case, the houses and barns of the one who came into ownership of these thin oblongs were always situated at or near the water-front, so that the work of farming the land necessitated a great deal of travelling back and forth. Too many of the habitants, accordingly, got into the habit of spending all their time on the fields nearest the house and letting the rear grow wild. The situation militated against proper rotation of crops, and in many ways proved an obstacle to progress. The trouble was not that the farms were too small to afford the family a living. In point of area they were large enough; but their abnormal shape rendered it difficult for the habitant to get from them their full productive power with the rather short season of cultivation that the climate allowed.

So important a handicap did this situation place upon the progress of agriculture that in 1744 the governor and the intendant drew the attention of the home authorities to it, and urged that some remedy be provided. With simple faith in the healing power of a royal edict, the king promptly responded with a decree which ordered that no habitant should thenceforth build his house and barn on any plot of land which did not have at least one and one-half lineal arpents of frontage (about three hundred feet). Any buildings so erected were to be demolished. What a crude method of dealing with a problem which had its roots deep down in the very law and geography of the colony! But this royal remedy for the ills of New France went the way of many others. The authorities saw that it would work no cure, and only one attempt was ever made to punish those habitants who showed defiance. The intendant Bigot, in 1748, ordered that some houses which various habitants had erected at L'Ange-Gardien should be pulled down, but there was a great hue and cry from the owners, and the order remained unenforced. The practice of parcelling lands in the old way continued, and in time these cotes, as the habitants termed each line of houses along the river, stretched all the way from Quebec to Montreal. From the St Lawrence the whole colony looked like one unending, straggling village-street.

But let us outline the dues and services which the habitant, by the terms of his title-deed, must render to his seigneur. First among these were the annual payments commonly known as the cens et rentes. To the habitant this was a sort of annual rental, although it was really made up of two separate dues, each of which had a different origin and nature. The cens was a money payment and merely nominal in amount. Back in the early days of feudalism it was very probably a greater burden; in Canada it never exceeded a few sous for a whole farm. The rate of cens was not uniform: each seigneur was entitled to what he and the habitant might agree upon, but it never amounted to more than the merest pittance, nor could it ever by any stretch of the imagination be deemed a burden. With the cens went the rentes, the latter being fixed in terms of money, poultry, or produce, or all three combined. 'One fat fowl of the brood of the month of May or twenty sols (sous) for each lineal arpent of frontage'; or 'one minot of sound wheat or twenty sols for each arpent of frontage' is the way in which the obligation finds record in some title-deeds which are typical of all the rest. The seigneur had the right to say whether he wanted his rentes in money or in kind, and he naturally chose the former when prices were low and the latter when prices were high.

It is a little difficult to estimate just what the ordinary habitant paid each year by way of cens et rentes to his seigneur, but under ordinary conditions the rental would amount to about ten or twelve sous and a half-dozen chickens or a bushel of grain for the average farm. Not a very onerous annual payment for fifty or sixty acres of land! Yet this was the only annual emolument which the seigneur of Old Canada drew each year from his tenantry. With twenty-five allotments in his seigneury the yearly income would be perhaps thirty or forty livres if translated into money, that is to say, six or eight dollars in our currency. Allowing for changes in the purchasing power of money during the last two hundred years, a fair idea of the burden placed on the habitant by his payment of the cens et rentes may be given by estimating it, in terms of present-day agricultural rentals, at, say, fifty cents yearly per acre. This is, of course, a rough estimate, but it conveys an idea that is approximately correct and, indeed, about as near the mark as one can come after a study of the seigneurial system in all its phases. The payment constituted a burden, and the habitants doubtless would have welcomed its abolition; but it was not a heavy tax upon their energies; it was less than the Church demanded from them; and they made no serious complaints regarding its imposition.

The cens et rentes were paid each year on St Martin's Day, early in November. By that time the harvest had been flailed and safely stowed away; the poultry had fattened among the fields of stubble. One and all, the habitants came to the manor-house to give the seigneur his annual tribute. Carrioles and celeches filled his yard. Women and children were brought along, and the occasion became a neighbourhood holiday. The manor-house was a lively place throughout the day, the seigneur busily checking off his lists as the habitants, one after another, drove in with their grain, their poultry, and their wallets of copper coins. The men smoked assiduously; so did the women sometimes. Not infrequently, as the November air was damp and chill, the seigneur passed his flagon of brandy among the thirsty brotherhood, and few there were who allowed this token of hospitality to pass them by. With their tongues thus loosened, men and women glibly retailed the neighbourhood gossip and the latest tidings which had filtered through from Quebec or Montreal. There was an incessant clatter all day long, to which the captive fowls, with their feet bundled together but with throats at full liberty, contributed their noisy share. As dusk drew near there was a general handshaking, and the carrioles scurried off along the highway. Every one called his neighbour a friend, and the people of each seigneury were as one great family.

The cens et rentes made up the only payment which the seigneur received each year, but there was another which became due at intervals. This was the payment known as the lods et ventes, a mutation fine which the seigneur had the right to demand whenever a farm changed hands by sale or by descent, except to direct heirs. One-twelfth of the value was the seigneur's share, but it was his custom to rebate one-third of this amount. Lands changed hands rather infrequently, and in any case the seigneur's fine was very small. From this source he received but little revenue and it came irregularly. Only in the days after the conquest, when land rose in value and transfers became more frequent, could the lods et ventes be counted among real sources of seigneurial income.

Then there were the so-termed banalites. In France their name was legion; no one but a seigneur could own a grist-mill, wine-press, slaughter-house, or even a dovecot. The peasant, when he wanted his grain made into flour or his grapes made into wine, was required to use his seigneur's mill, or press, and to pay the toll demanded. This toll was often exorbitant and the service poor. In Canada, however, there was only one droit de banalite—the grist-mill right. The Canadian seigneur had the exclusive milling privilege; his habitants were bound by their title-deed to bring their grist to his mill, and his legal toll was one-fourteenth of their grain. This obligation did not bear heavily on the people of the seigneuries; most of the complaints concerning it came rather from the seigneurs, who claimed that the toll was too small and did not suffice, in the average seigneury, to pay the wages of the miller. Many seigneurs declined to build mills until the royal authorities stepped in with a decree commanding that those who did not do so should lose their banal right for all time. Then they bestirred themselves.

The seigneurial mills were not very efficient, from all accounts. Crude, clumsy, poorly built affairs, they sometimes did little more than crack the wheat into coarse meal—it could hardly be called flour. The bakers of Quebec complained that the product was often unfit to use. The mills were commonly built in tower-like fashion, and were at times loop-holed in order that they might be used if necessary in the defence of seigneuries against Indian attack. The mill of the Seminary of St Sulpice at Montreal, for example, was a veritable stronghold, rightly counted upon as a place of sure refuge for the settlers in time of need. Racked and decayed by the ravages of time, some of those old walls still stand in their loneliness, bearing to an age of smoke-belching industry their message of more modest achievement in earlier days. Most of these banal mills were fitted with clumsy wind-wheels, somewhat after the Dutch fashion. But nature would not always hearken to the miller's command, and often for days the habitants stood around with their grist waiting in patience for the wind to come up and be harnessed.

Some Canadian seigneurs laid claim to the oven right (droit de four banal) as well. But the intendant, ever the tribune of his people, sternly set his foot on this pretension. In France the seigneur insisted that the peasantry should bake their bread in the great oven of the seigneury, paying the customary toll for its use. But in Canada, as the intendant explained, this arrangement was utterly impracticable. Through the long months of winter some of the habitants would have to bring their dough a half-dozen miles, and it would be frozen on the way. Each was therefore permitted to have a bake-oven of his own, and there was, of course, plenty of wood near by to keep it blazing.

Many allusions have been made, in writings on the old regime, to the habitant's corvee or obligation to give his seigneur so many days of free labour in each year. In France this incident of seigneurial tenure cloaked some dire abuses. Peasants were harried from their farms and forced to spend weeks on the lord's domain, while their own grain rotted in the fields. But there was nothing of this sort in Canada. Six days of corvee per year was all that the seigneur could demand; and he usually asked for only three, that is to say, one day each in the seasons of ploughing, seedtime, and harvest. And when the habitant worked for his seigneur in this way the latter had to furnish him with both food and tools, a requirement which greatly impaired the value of corvee labour from the seigneur's point of view. So far as a painstaking study of the records can disclose, the corvee obligation was never looked upon as an imposition of any moment. It was apparently no more generally resented than is the so-termed statute-labour obligation which exists among the farming communities of some Canadian provinces at the present day.

As for the other services which the habitant had to render his seigneur, they were of little importance. When he caught fish, one fish in every eleven belonged to his chief. But the seigneur seldom claimed this share, and received it even less often. The seigneur was entitled to take stone, sand, and firewood from the land of any one within his estate; but when he did this it was customary to give the habitant something of equal value in return. Few seigneurs of New France ever insisted on their full pound of flesh in these matters; a generous spirit of give and take marked most of their dealings with the men who worked the land.

Then there was the maypole obligation, quaintest among seigneurial claims. By the terms of their tenure the habitants of the seigneury were required to appear each May Day before the main door of the manor-house, and there to plant a pole in the seigneur's honour.

Le premier jour de mai, Labourez, J'm'en fus planter un mai, Labourez, A la porte a ma mie.

Bright and early in the morning, as Gaspe tells us, the whole neighbourhood appeared, decked out fantastically, and greeted the manor-house with a salvo of blank musketry. With them they bore a tall fir-tree, its branches cut and its bark peeled to within a few feet of the top. There the tuft of greenery remained. The pole, having been gaudily embellished, was majestically reared aloft and planted firmly in the ground. Round it the men and maidens danced, while the seigneur and his family, enthroned in chairs brought from the manor-house, looked on with approval. Then came a rattling feu de joie with shouts of 'Long live the King!' and 'Long live our seigneur!' This over, the seigneur invited the whole gathering to refreshments indoors. Brandy and cakes disappeared with great celerity before appetites whetted by an hour's exercise in the clear spring air. They drank to the seigneur's health, and to the health of all his kin. At intervals some guest would rush out and fire his musket once again at the maypole, returning for more hospitality with a sense of duty well performed. Before noon the merry company, with the usual round of handshaking, went away again, leaving the blackened pole behind. The echoes of more musket-shots came back through the valleys as they passed out of sight and hearing. The seigneur was more than a mere landlord, as the occasion testified.



The seigneurs of New France were not a privileged order. Between them and the habitants there was no great gulf fixed, no social impasse such as existed between the two classes in France. The seigneur often lived and worked like a habitant; his home was not a great deal better than theirs; his daily fare was much the same. The habitant, on the other hand, might himself become a seigneur by saving a little money, and this is what frequently happened. By becoming a seigneur, however, he did not change his mode of life, but continued to work as he had done before. There were some, of course, who took their social rank with great seriousness, and proved ready to pay out good money for letters-patent giving them minor titles of nobility. Thus Jacques Le Ber, a bourgeois of Montreal who made a comfortable fortune out of the fur trade, bought a seigneury and then acquired the rank of gentilhomme by paying six thousand livres for it. But the possession of an empty title, acquired by purchase or through the influence of official friends at Quebec, did not make much impression on the masses of the people. The first citizens in the hearts of the community were the men of personal courage, talent, and worldly virtues.

Sur cette terre encor sauvage Les vieux titres sont inconnus; La noblesse est dans le courage, Dans les talents, dans les vertus.

Nevertheless, to be a seigneur was always an honour, for the manor-house was the recognized social centre of every neighbourhood.

The manor-house was not a mansion. Built sometimes of rough-hewn timber, but more commonly of stone, it was roomy and comfortable, although not much more pretentious than the homes of well-to-do habitants. Three or four rooms on the ground floor with a spacious attic made up the living quarters. The furniture often came from France, and its quality gave the whole interior an air of distinction. As for the habitants, their homes were also of stone or timber—long and rather narrow structures, heavily built, and low. They were whitewashed on the outside with religious punctuality each spring. The eaves projected over the walls, and high-peaked little dormer windows thrust themselves from the roof here and there. The houses stood very near the roadway, with scarcely ever a grass plot or single shade tree before them. In midsummer the sun beat furiously upon them; in winter they stood in all their bleakness full-square to the blasts that drove across the river.

Behind the house was a storeroom built in 'lean-to' fashion, and not far away stood the barn and stable, made usually of timbers laid one upon the other with chinks securely mortared. Somewhat aloof was the root-house, half dug in the ground, banked generously with earth round about and overhead. Within convenient distance of the house, likewise, was the bake-oven, built of boulders, mortar, and earth, with the wood-pile near by. Here with roaring fires once or twice each week the family baking was done. Round the various buildings ran some sort of fence, whether of piled stones or rails, and in a corner of the enclosed plot was the habitant's garden. Viewed by the traveller who passed along the river this straggling line of whitewashed structures stood out in bold relief against the towering background of green hills beyond. The whole colony formed one long rambling village, each habitant touching elbows with his neighbour on either side.

Within the habitant's abode there were usually not more than three regular rooms. The front door opened into a capacious living room with its great open fireplace and hearth. This served as dining-room as well. A gaily coloured woollen carpet or rug, made in the colony, usually decked the floor. There was a table and a couch; there were chairs made of pine with seats of woven underbark, all more or less comfortable. Often a huge side-board rose from the floor to the low, open-beamed ceiling. Pictures of saints adorned the walls. A spinning-wheel stood in the corner, sharing place perhaps with a musket set on the floor stock downward, but primed for ready use. Adjoining this room was the kitchen with its fireplace for cooking, its array of pots and dishes, its cupboards, shelves, and other furnishings. All of these latter the habitant and his sons made for themselves. The economic isolation of the parish made its people versatile after their own crude fashion. The habitant was a handy man, getting pretty good results from the use of rough material and tools. Even at the present day his descendants retain much of this facility. At the opposite end of the house was a bedroom. Upstairs was the attic, so low that one could scarcely stand upright in any part of it, but running the full length and breadth of the house. Here the children, often a round dozen of them, were stowed at night. A shallow iron bowl of tallow with a wick protruding gave its dingy light. Candles were not unknown, but they were a luxury. Every one went to bed when darkness came on, for there was nothing else to do. Windows were few, and to keep out the cold they were tightly battened down. The air within must have been stifling; but, as one writer has suggested, the habitant and his family got along without fresh air in his dwelling just as his descendant of to-day manages to get along without baths.

For the most part the people of Old Canada were comfortably clothed and well fed. Warm cloth of drugget—etoffe du pays, as it was called—came from the hand-looms of every parish. It was all wool and stood unending wear. It was cheap, and the women of the household fashioned it into clothes. Men, women, and children alike wore it in everyday use; but on occasions of festivity they liked to appear in their brighter plumage of garments brought from France. In the summer the children went nearly unclothed and bare-footed always. A single garment without sleeves and reaching to the knees was all that covered their nakedness. In winter every one wore furs outdoors. Beaver skins were nearly as cheap as cloth, and the wife of the poorest habitant could have a winter wardrobe that it would nowadays cost a small fortune to provide. Heavy clogs made of hide—the bottes sauvages as they were called—or moccasins of tanned and oiled skins, impervious to the wet, were the popular footwear in winter and to some extent in summer as well. They were laced high up above the ankles, and with a liberal supply of coarse-knitted woollen socks the people managed to trudge anywhere without discomfort even in very cold weather. Plaited straw hats were made by the women for ordinary summer use, but hats of beaver, made in the fashion of the day, were always worn on dress occasions. Every man wore one to Mass each Sunday morning. In winter the knitted cap or toque was the favourite. Made in double folds of woollen yarn with all the colours of the rainbow, it could be drawn down over the ears as a protection from the cold; with its tassel swinging to and fro this toque was worn by everybody, men, women, and children alike. Attached to the coat was often a hood, known as a capuchin, which might be pulled over the toque as an additional head-covering on a journey through the storm. Knitted woollen gloves were also made at home, likewise mitts of sheepskin with the wool left inside. The apparel of the people was thus adapted to their environment, and besides being somewhat picturesque it was thoroughly comfortable.

The daily fare of New France was not of limitless variety, but it was nourishing and adequate. Bread made from wheat flour and cakes made from ground maize were plentiful. Meat and fish were within the reach of all. Both were cured by smoke after the Indian fashion and could be kept through the winter without difficulty. Vegetables of various kinds were grown, but peas were the great staple. Peas were to the French what maize was to the redskin. In every rural home soupe aux pois came daily to the table. Whole families were reared to vigorous manhood on it. Even to-day the French Canadian has not by any means lost his liking for this nourishing and palatable food. Beans, too, were a favourite vegetable in the old days; not the tender haricots of the modern menu, but the feves or large, tough-fibred beans that grew in Normandy and were brought by its people to the New World. There were potatoes, of course, and they were patates, not pommes de terre. Cucumbers were plentiful, indeed they were being grown by the Indians when the French first came to the St Lawrence. As they were not indigenous to that region it is for others than the student of history to explain how they first came there. Fruits there were also, such as apples, plums, cherries, and French gooseberries, but not in abundance. Few habitants had orchards, but most of them had one or two fruit-trees grown from seedlings which came from France. Wild fruits, especially raspberries, cranberries, and grapes, were to be had for the picking, and the younger members of each family gathered them all in season. Even in the humbler homes of the land there was no need for any one to go hungry. More than one visitor to the colony, indeed, was impressed by the rude comfort in which the habitants lived. 'The boors of these manours,' wrote the voluble La Hontan, [Footnote: Louis Armand, Baron La Hontan, came to Canada in 1683, and lived for some time among the habitants of Beaupre, below Quebec, and afterwards in the neighbourhood of Montreal. He also journeyed in the Far West and wrote a fantastic account of his travels, of which an English edition was published in 1703.] 'live with greater comfort than an infinity of the gentry in France.' And for once he was probably right.

As for drink, there were both tea and coffee to be had from the traders; but they were costly and not in very general use. Milk was cheap and plentiful. Brandy and wine came from France in shiploads, but brandy was largely used in the Indian trade, and wine appeared only on the tables of the well-to-do; the ordinary habitant could not afford it save on state occasions. Cheap beer, brewed in the colony, was within easier range of his purse. There were several breweries in the colony, although they do not appear to have been very profitable to their owners. Home-brewed ale was much in use. When duly aged it made a fine beverage, although insidious in its effects sometimes. But no guest ever came to any colonial home without a proffer of something to drink. Hospitality demanded it. The habitant, as a rule, was very fond of the flagon. Very often, as the records of the day lead us to believe, he drank not wisely but too well. Idleness had a hand in the development of this trait, for in the long winters the habitant had little to do but visit his neighbours.

The men of New France smoked a great deal, and the women sometimes followed their example. Children learned to smoke before they learned to read or write. Tobacco was grown in the colony, and every habitant had a patch of it in his garden; and then as now this tabac canadien was fierce stuff with an odour that scented the whole seigneury. The art of smoking a pipe was one of the first lessons which the Frenchman acquired from his Indian friends, and this became the national solace through the long spells of idleness. Such as it was, the tobacco of the colony was no luxury, for every one could grow enough and to spare to serve his wants. The leaves were set in the sun to cure, and were then put away till needed.

As to the methods of farming, neither the contemporary records nor the narratives of travel tell us much. But it is beyond doubt that the habitant was not a very scientific cultivator. Catalogne remarks in his valuable report that if the fields of France were cultivated like the farms of Canada three-fourths of the people would starve. Fertilization of the land was rare. All that was usually done in this direction was to burn the stubble in the spring before the land went under the plough. Rotation of crops was practically unknown. A portion of each farm was allowed to lie fallow once in a while, but as these fallow fields were rarely ploughed and weeds might grow without restraint, the rest from cultivation was of little value. Even the cultivated fields were ploughed but once a year and rather poorly at that, for the land was ploughed in ridges and there was a good deal of waste between the furrows. When Peter Kalm, the famous Scandinavian naturalist and traveller, paid his visit to the colony in 1748 he found 'white wheat most commonly in the fields.' But oats, rye, and barley were also grown. Some of the habitants grew maize in great quantities, while nearly all raised vegetables of various sorts, chiefly cabbages, pumpkins, and coarse melons. Some gave special attention to the cultivation of flax and hemp. The meadows of the St Lawrence valley were very fertile, and far superior, in Kalm's opinion, to those of the New England colonies; they furnished fodder in abundance. Wild hay could be had for the cutting, and every habitant had his conical stack of it on the river marshes. Hence the raising of cattle and horses became an important branch of colonial husbandry. The cattle and sheep were of inferior breed, undersized, and not very well cared for. The horses were much better. The habitant had a particular fondness for horses; even the poorest tried to keep two or three. This, as Catalogne pointed out, was a gross extravagance, for there was no work for the horses to do during nearly half the year.

The implements of agriculture were as crude as the methods. Most of them were made in the colony out of inferior materials and with poor workmanship. Kalm saw no drains in any part of the colony, although, as he naively remarked, 'they seemed to be much needed in places.' The fields were seldom fenced, and the cattle often made their way among the growing grain. The women usually worked with the men, especially at harvest time, for extra labour was scarce. Even the wife and daughters of the seigneur might be seen in the fields during the busy season. Each habitant had a clumsy, wooden-wheeled cart or wagon for workaday use. In this he trundled his produce to town once or twice a year. For pleasure there was the celeche and the carriole. The celeche was a quaint two-wheeled vehicle with its seat set high in the air on springs of generous girth; the carriole, a low-set sleigh on solid wooden runners, with a high back to give protection from the cold. Both are still used in various parts of Quebec to-day. The habitant made his own harness, often decorating it gaily and taking great pride in his workmanship.

The feudal folk of New France did not spend all their time or energies in toil. They had numerous holidays and times of recreation. Loyal to his Church, the habitant kept every jour de fete with religious precision. These days came frequently, so much so, according to Catalogne's report, that during the whole agricultural season from May to October, only ninety clear days were left for labour. On these numerous holidays were held the various festivals, religious or secular. Sunday, also, was a day of general rendezvous. Every one came to Mass, whatever the weather. After the service various announcements were made at the church door by the local capitaine de la milice, who represented the civil government in the parish. Then the rest of the day was given over to visiting and recreation. There was plenty of time, moreover, for hunting and fishing; and the average habitant did both to his heart's content. In the winter there was a great deal of visiting back and forth among neighbours, even on week-days. Dancing was a favourite diversion and card-playing also. Gambling at cards was more common among the people than suited either the priests or the civil authorities, as the records often attest. Less objectionable amusements were afforded by the corvees recreatives or gatherings at a habitant's home for some combination of work and play. The corn-husking corvee, for reasons which do not need elucidation, was of course the most popular of these. Of study or reading there was very little, for only a very small percentage of the people could read. Save for a few manuals of devotion there were no books in the home, and very few anywhere in the colony.

Two or three chroniclers of the day have left us pen- pictures of the French Canadians as they were before the English came. As a race, Giles Hocquart says, they were physically strong, well set-up, with plenty of stamina. They impressed La Hontan also as vigorous and untiring at anything that happened to gain their interest. They were fond of honours and sensitive to the slightest affront. This in part accounts for their tendency to litigiousness, which various intendants mentioned with regret. The habitant went to law with his neighbour at every opportunity. His attitude toward questions of public policy was one of rare self-control; but when anything touched his own personal interests he always waxed warm immediately. Pretexts for squabbling there were in plenty. With lands unfenced and cattle wandering about, with most deeds and other legal documents loosely drawn, with too much time on their hands during the winter, it is not surprising that the people were continually falling out and rushing to the nearest royal court. The intendant Raudot suggested that this propensity should be curbed, otherwise there would soon be more lawsuits than settlers in the colony.

On the whole, however, the habitant was well behaved and gave the authorities very little trouble. To the Church of his fathers he gave ungrudging devotion, attending its services and paying its tithes with exemplary care. The Church was a great deal to the habitant; it was his school, his hospital, his newspaper, his philosopher telling of things present and things to come. From a religious point of view the whole colony was a unit. 'Thank God,' wrote one governor, 'there are no heretics here.' The Church, needing to spend no time or thought in crushing its enemies, could give all its attention to its friends. As for offences against the laws of the land these were conspicuously few. The banks of the St Lawrence, when once the redskin danger was put out of the way, were quite safe for men to live upon. The hand of justice was swift and sure, but its intervention was not very often needed. New France was as law-abiding as New England; her people were quite as submissive to their leaders in both Church and State.

The people were fond of music, and seem to have obtained great enjoyment from their rasping, home-made violins. Every parish had its fiddler. But the popular repertoire was not very extensive. The Norman airs and folk-songs of the day were easy to learn, simple and melodious. They have remained in the hearts and on the lips of all French Canada for over two centuries. The shantyman of Three Rivers still goes off to the woods chanting the Malbrouck s'en va-t-en guerre which his ancestors sang in the days of Blenheim and Oudenarde. Many other traits of the race have been borne to the present time with little change. Then as now the habitant was a voluble talker, a teller of great stories about his own feats and experiences. Hocquart was impressed with the scant popular regard for the truth in such things, and well he may have been. Even to-day this trait has not wholly disappeared.

Unlike his prototype, the censitaire of Old France, the habitant never became dispirited; even when things went wrong he retained his bonhomie. Taking too little thought for the morrow, he liked, as Charlevoix remarks, 'to get the fun out of his money, and scarcely anybody amused himself by hoarding it.' He was light-hearted even to frivolousness, and this gave the austere Church fathers many serious misgivings. He was courteous always, but boastful, and regarded his race as the salt of the earth. A Norman in every bone of his body, he used, as his descendants still do, quaint Norman idioms and forms of speech. He was proud of his ancestry. Stories that went back to the days when 'twenty thousand thieves landed at Hastings' were passed along from father to son, gaining in terms of prodigious valour as they went. His versatility gained him the friendship and confidence of the Indian, an advantage which his English brother to the south was rarely able to secure.

Much of the success which marked French diplomacy with the tribes was due to this versatility. Beneath an ungainly exterior the habitant often concealed a surprising ability in certain lines of action. He was a master of blandishment when he had an end thereby to gain. Dealings which required duplicity, provided the outcome appeared to be desirable, did not rudely shock his conscience. He had no Puritan scruples in his dealings with men of another race and religion. But in many things he had a high sense of honour, and nothing roused his ire so readily as to question it. Unstable as water, however, he did not excel in tasks that took patience. He wanted to plough one day and hunt the next, so that in the long run he rarely did anything well. This spirit of independence was very pronounced. The habitant felt himself to be a free man. This is why he spurned the name 'censitaire.' As Charlevoix puts it, 'he breathed from his birth the air of liberty,' and showed it in the way he carried his head. A singular type, when all is said, and worthy of more study than it has received.



Church and State had a common aim in early Canada. Both sought success, not for themselves, but for 'the greater glory of God.' From beginning to end, therefore, the Catholic Church was a staunch ally of the civil authorities in all things which made for real and permanent colonial progress. There were many occasions, of course, when these two powers came almost to blows, for each had its own interpretation of what constituted the colony's best interests. But historians have given too much prominence to these rather brief intervals of antagonism, and have thereby created a misleading impression. The civil and religious authorities of New France were not normally at variance. They clashed fiercely now and then, it is quite true; but during the far greater portion of two centuries they supported each other firmly and worked hand in hand.

Now the root of all trouble, when these two interests came into ill-tempered controversy, was the conduct of the coureurs de bois. These roving traders taught the savages all the vices of French civilization in its most degenerate days. They debauched the Indian with brandy, swindled him out of his furs, and entered into illicit relations with the women of the tribes. They managed in general to convince the aborigines that all Frenchmen were dishonest and licentious. That the representatives of the Most Christian King should tolerate such conduct could not be regarded by the Church as anything other than plain malfeasance in office.

The Church in New France was militant, and in its vanguard of warriors was the Jesuit missionary. Members of the Society of Jesus first came to Quebec in 1625; others followed year by year and were sent off to establish their outposts of religion in the wilderness. They were men of great physical endurance and unconquerable will. The Jesuit went where no others dared to go; he often went alone, and always without armed protection.

Behold him on his way; his breviary Which from his girdle hangs, his only shield. That well-known habit is his panoply, That Cross the only weapon he will wield; By day he bears it for his staff afield, By night it is the pillow of his bed. No other lodging these wild woods can yield Than Earth's hard lap, and rustling overhead A canopy of deep and tangled boughs far spread.

It is not strange that the Jesuit father should have disliked the traders. A single visit from these rough and lawless men would undo the spiritual labour of years. How could the missionary enforce his lessons of righteousness when men of his own race so readily gave the lie to all his teachings? The missionaries accordingly complained to their superiors in poignant terms, and these in turn hurled their thunderbolts of excommunication against all who offended. But the trade was profitable, and Mammon continued, as in all ages, to retain his corps of ardent disciples. Religion and trade never became friendly in New France, nor could they ever become friendly so long as the Church stood firmly by its ancient tradition as a friend of law and order.

With agriculture, however, religion was on better terms. Men who stayed on their farms and tilled the soil might be grouped into parishes, their lands could be made to yield the tithe, their spiritual needs might readily be ministered unto. Hence it became the policy of the Church to support the civil authorities in getting lands cleared for settlement, in improving the methods of cultivation, and in strengthening the seigneurial system at every point. This support the hierarchy gave in various ways, by providing cures for outlying seigneuries, by helping to bring peasant farmers from France, by using its influence to promote early marriages, and above all by setting an example before the people in having progressive agriculture on Church lands.

Both directly and through its dependent organizations the Catholic Church became the largest single landholder of New France. As early as 1626 the Jesuits received their first grant of land, the concession of Notre-Dame des Anges, near Quebec; and from that date forward the order received at intervals large tracts in various parts of the colony. Before the close of French dominion in Canada it had acquired a dozen estates, comprising almost a million arpents of land. This was about one-eighth of the entire area given out in seigneuries. Its two largest seigneurial estates were Batiscan and Cap de la Magdelaine; but Notre-Dame des Anges and Sillery, though smaller in area, were from their closeness to Quebec of much greater value. The king appreciated the work of the Jesuits in Canada, and would gladly have contributed from the royal funds to its furtherance. But as the civil projects of the colony took a great deal of money, he was constrained, for the most part, to show his appreciation of religious enterprise by grants of land. As land was plentiful his bounty was lavish—sometimes a hundred thousand arpents at a time.

Next to the Jesuits as sharers of the royal generosity came the bishop and the Quebec seminary, with a patrimony of nearly seven hundred thousand arpents, an accumulation which was largely the work of Francois de Laval, first bishop of Quebec and founder of the seminary. The Sulpicians had, at the time the colony passed into English hands, an estate of about a quarter of a million arpents, including the most valuable seigneury of New France, on the island of Montreal. The Ursulines of Quebec and of Three Rivers possessed about seventy-five thousand arpents, while other orders and institutions, a half-dozen in all, had estates of varying acreage. Directly under its control the Church had thus acquired in mortmain over two million arpents, while the lay landowners of the colony had secured only about three times as much. It held about one-quarter of all the granted lands, so that its position in Canada was relatively much stronger than in France.

These lands came from the king or his colonial representatives by royal patent. They were given sometimes in frankalmoigne or sometimes as ordinary seigneuries. The distinction was of little account however, for when land once went into the 'dead hand' it was likely to stay there for all time. The Church and its institutions, as seigneurs of the land, granted farms to habitants on the usual terms, gave them their deeds duly executed by a notary, received their annual dues, and assumed all the responsibilities of a lay seigneur. And as a rule the Church made a good seigneur. Settlers were brought out from France, and a great deal of care was taken in selecting them. They were aided, encouraged, and supported through the trying years of pioneering. As early as 1667 Laval was able to point with pride to the fact that his seigneuries of Beaupre and Isle d'Orleans contained over eleven hundred persons—more than one-quarter of the colony's entire population. These ecclesiastical seigneuries, moreover, were among the best in point of intelligent cultivation. With funds and knowledge at its disposal, the Church was better able than the ordinary lay seigneur to provide banal mills and means of communication. These seigneuries were therefore kept in the front rank of agricultural progress, and the example which they set before the eyes of the people must have been of great value.

The seigneurial system was also strengthened by the fact that the boundaries of seigneuries and parishes were usually the same. The chief reason for this is that the parish system was not created until most of the seigneuries had been settled. There were parishes, so-termed, in the colony from the very first; but not until 1722 was the entire colony set off into parish divisions. Forty-one parishes were created in the Quebec district; thirteen in the district of Three Rivers; and twenty-eight in the region round Montreal. These eighty-two parishes were roughly coterminous with the existing seigneuries, but not always so. Some few seigneuries had six or eight parishes within their bounds. In other cases, two or three seigneuries were merged into a single great parish. In the main, however, the two units of civil and spiritual power were alike.

From this identification of the parish and seigneury came some interesting results. The seigneurial church became the parish church; where no church had been provided the manor-house was commonly used as a place of worship. Not infrequently the parish cure took up his abode in the seigneur's home and the two grew to be firm friends, each aiding the other with the weight of his own special authority and influence. The whole system of neighbourhood government, as the late Abbe Casgrain once pointed out, was based upon the authority of two men, the cure and the seigneur, 'who walked side by side and extended mutual help to each other. The censitaire, who was at the same time parishioner, had his two rallying-points—the church and the manor-house. The interests of the two were identical.' From this close alliance with the parish the seigneurial system naturally derived a great deal of its strong hold upon the people, for their fidelity to the priest was reflected in loyalty to the seigneur who ranked as his chief local patron and protector.

The people of the seigneuries paid a tithe or ecclesiastical tax for the support of their parish church. In origin, as its name implies, this payment amounted to one-tenth of the land's annual produce; but in New France the tithe was first fixed in 1663 at one-thirteenth, but in 1679 this was reduced to one twenty-sixth. At this figure it has remained to the present day. Tithes were at the outset levied on every product of the soil or of the handiwork of man; but in practice they were collected on grain crops only. When the habitants of New France began to raise flax, hemp, and tobacco some of the priests insisted that these products should yield tithes also; but the Superior Council at Quebec ruled against this claim, and the king, on appeal, confirmed the council's decision. The Church collected its dues with strictness; the cures frequently went into the fields and estimated the total crop of each farm, so that they might later judge whether any habitant had held back the Church's due portion. Tithes were usually paid at Michaelmas, everything being delivered to the cure at his own place of abode. When he lived with the seigneur the tithes and seigneurial dues were paid together. But the total of the tithes collected during any year of the old regime was not large. In 1700 they amounted in value to about five thousand livres, a sum which did not support one-tenth of the colony's body of priests. By far the larger part of the necessary funds had to be provided by generous friends of the Church in France.

Churches were erected in the different seigneuries by funds and labour secured in various ways. Sometimes the bishop obtained money from France, sometimes the seigneur provided it, sometimes the habitants collected it among themselves. More often a part of what was necessary came from each of these three sources. Except in the towns, however, the churches were not pretentious in their architecture, and rarely cost much money. Stone, timber, and other building materials were taken freely from the lands of the seigneury, and the work of construction was usually performed by the parishioners themselves. As a result the edifices were rather ungainly as a rule, being built of rough-hewn timber. In 1681 there were only seven stone churches in all the seigneuries, and the royal officers deplored the fact that the people did not display greater pride or taste in the architecture of their sanctuaries. Bishop Laval felt strongly that this was discreditable, and steadfastly refused to perform the ceremony of consecration in any church which had not been substantially built of stone.

Where a seigneur erected a church at his own expense it was customary to let him have the patronage, or right of naming the priest. This was an honour which the seigneurs seem to have valued highly. 'Every one here is puffed up with the greatest vanity,' wrote the intendant Duchesneau in 1681; 'there is not one but pretends to be a patron and wants the privilege of naming a cure for his lands, yet they are heavily in debt and in extreme poverty.' None of the great bishops of New France—Laval, St Vallier, or Pontbriand—had much sympathy with this seigneurial right of patronage or advowson, and each did what he could to break down the custom. In the end they succeeded; the bishop named the priest of every parish, although in many cases he sought the seigneur's counsel on such matters.

In the church of his seigneury the lord of the manor continued, however, to have various other prerogatives. For his use a special pew was always provided, and an elaborate decree, issued in 1709, set forth precisely where this pew should be. In religious processions the seigneur was entitled to precedence over all other laymen of the parish, taking his place directly behind the cure. He was the first to receive the tokens of the day on occasions of religious festival, as for example the palms on Palm Sunday. And when he died, the seigneur was entitled to interment beneath the floor of the church, a privilege accorded only to men of worldly distinction and unblemished lives. All this recognition impressed the habitants, and they in turn gave their seigneur polite deference. Along the line of travel his carriage or carriole had the right of way, and the habitant doffed his cap in salute as the seigneur drove by. Catalogne mentioned that, despite all this, the Canadian seigneurs were not as ostentatiously given tokens of the habitants' respect as were the seigneurs in France. But this did not mean that the relations between the two classes were any less cordial. It meant only that the clear social atmosphere of the colony had not yet become dimmed by the mists of court duplicity. The habitants of New France respected the horny-handed man in homespun whom they called their seigneur: the depth of this loyalty and respect could not fairly be measured by old-world standards.

As a seigneur of lands the Church had the right to hold courts and administer justice within the bounds of its great estates. Like most lay seigneurs it received its lands with full rights of high, middle, and low jurisdiction (haute, moyenne, et basse justice). In its seigneurial courts fines might be imposed or terms of imprisonment meted out. Even the death penalty might be exacted. Here was a great opportunity for abuse. A very inquisition would have been possible under the broad terms in which the king gave his grant of jurisdiction. Yet the Church in New France never to the slightest degree used its powers of civil jurisdiction to work oppression. As a matter of fact it rarely, if ever, made use of these powers at all. Troubles which arose among the habitants in the Church seigneuries were settled amicably, if possible, by the parish priest. Where the good offices of the priest did not suffice, the disputants were sent off to the nearest royal court. All this is worth comment, for in the earlier days of European feudalism the bishops and abbots held regular courts within the fiefs of the Church. And students of jurisprudence will recall that they succeeded in tincturing the old feudal customs with those principles of the canon law which all churchmen had learned and knew. While ostensibly applying crude mediaeval customs, many of these courts of the Church fiefs were virtually administering a highly developed system of jurisprudence based on the Roman law. Laval might have made history repeat itself in Canada; but he had too many other things engaging his attention.

Lay seigneurs, on the other hand, held their courts regularly. And the fact that they did so is of great historical significance, for the right of court-holding rather than the obligation of military service is the earmark which distinguishes feudalism from all other systems of land tenure. Practically every Canadian seigneur had the judicial prerogative; he could establish a court in his seigneury, appoint its judge or judges, impose penalties upon the habitants, and put the fees or costs in his own pocket. In France this was a great source of emolument, and too many seigneurs used their courts to yield income rather than to dispense even-handed justice. But in Canada, owing to the relatively small number of suitors in the seigneuries, the system could not be made to pay its way. Some seigneurs appointed judges who held court once or twice a week. Others tried to save this expense by doing the work themselves. Behind the big table in the main room of his manor-house the seigneur sat in state and meted out justice in rough-and-ready fashion. He was supposed to administer it in true accord with the Custom of Paris; he might as well have been asked to apply the Code of Hammurabi or the Capitularies of Charlemagne. But if the seigneur did not know the law, he at least knew the disputants, and his decisions were not often wide of the eternal equities. At any rate, if a suitor was not satisfied he could appeal to the royal courts. Only minor cases were dealt with in the seigneurial courts, and the appeals were not numerous.

On the whole, despite its crudeness, the administration of seigneurial justice in New France was satisfactory enough. The habitants, as far as the records show, made no complaint. Justice was prompt and inexpensive. It discouraged chicane and common barratry. Even the sarcastic La Hontan, who had little to say in general praise of the colony and its institutions, accords the judicial system a modest tribute. 'I will not say,' he writes, 'that the Goddess of Justice is more chaste here than in France, but at any rate, if she is sold, she is sold more cheaply. In Canada we do not pass through the clutches of advocates, the talons of attorneys, and the claws of clerks. These vermin do not as yet infest the land. Every one here pleads his own cause. Our Themis is prompt, and she does not bristle with fees, costs, and charges.' The testimony of others, though not so rhetorically expressed, is enough to prove that both royal and seigneurial courts did their work in fairly acceptable fashion.

The Norman habitant, as has already been pointed out, was by nature restive, impulsive, and quarrelsome. That he did not make every seigneury a hotbed of petty strife was due largely to the stern hand held over him by priest and seigneur alike, but by his priest particularly. The Church in the colony never lost, as in France, the full confidence of the masses; the higher dignitaries never lost touch with the priest, nor the latter with the people. The clergy of New France did not form a privileged order, living on the fruits of other men's labour. On the contrary, they gave the colony far more than they took from it. Although paid a mere pittance, they never complained of the great physical drudgery that their work too often required. Indeed, if labourers were ever worthy of their hire, such toilers were the spiritual pioneers of France beyond the seas. No one who does not approach their aims and achievements with sympathy can ever fully understand the history of these earlier days. No one who does not appreciate the dominating place which the Church occupied in every walk of colonial life can fully realize the great help which it gave, both by its active interest and by its example, to the agricultural policy of the civil power. The Church owed much to the seigneurial system, but not more than the system owed to it.



When the fleurs-de-lis of the Bourbons fluttered down from the ramparts of Quebec on September 18, 1759, a new era in the history of Canadian feudalism began. The new British government promptly allayed the fears of the conquered people by promising that all vested rights should be respected and that 'the lords of manors' should continue in possession of all their ancient privileges. This meant that they intended to recognize and retain the entire fabric of seigneurial tenure.

Now this step has been commonly regarded as a cardinal error on the part of the new suzerains, and on the whole the critics of British policy have had the testimony of succeeding events on their side. By 1760 the seigneurial system had fully performed for the colony all the good service it was ever likely to perform. It could easily have been abolished then and there. Had that action been taken, a great many subsequent troubles would have been avoided. But in their desire to be generous the English authorities failed to do what was prudent, and the seigneurial system remained.

Many of the seigneurs, when Canada passed under British control, sold their seigneuries and went home to France. How great this hegira was can scarcely be estimated with exactness, but it is certain that the emigres included all the military and most of the civil officials, together with a great many merchants, traders, and landowners. The colony lost those who could best afford to go; in other words, those whom it could least afford to let go. The priests, true to their traditions, stood by the colony in its hours of trial. But whatever the extent and character of the out-going, it is true that many seigneuries changed hands during the years 1763-64. Englishmen bought these lands at very low figures. Between them and the habitants there were no bonds of race, religion, language, or social sympathy. The new English seigneur looked upon his estate as an investment, and proceeded to deal with the habitants as though they were his tenantry. All this gave the seigneurial system a rude shock.

There was still another feature which caused the system to work much less smoothly after 1760 than before. The English did not retain the office of intendant. Their frame of government had no place for such an official. Yet the intendant had been the balance-wheel of the whole feudal machine in the days before the conquest. He it was who kept the seigneurial system from developing abuses; it was his praetorian power 'to order all things as may seem just and proper' that kept the seigneur's exactions within rigid bounds. The administration of New France was a government of men; that of the new regime was a government of laws. Hence it was that the British officials, although altogether well-intentioned, allowed grave wrongs to arise.

The new English judges, not unnaturally, misunderstood the seigneurial system. They stumbled readily into the error that tenure en censive was simply the old English tenure in copyhold under another name. Now the English copyholder held his land subject to the customs of the manor; his dues and services were fixed by local custom both as regards their nature and amount. What more easy, then, than to seek the local custom in Canada, and apply its rules to the decision of all controversies respecting seigneurial claims?

Unfortunately for this simple solution, there was a great and fundamental difference between these two tenures. The Canadian censitaire had a written title-deed which stated explicitly the dues and services he was bound to give his seigneur; the copyholder had nothing of the kind. The habitant, moreover, had various rights guaranteed to him by royal decrees. No custom of the manor or seigneury could prevail against written contracts and statute-law. But the judges do not seem to have grasped this distinction; when cases involving disputed obligations came before them they called in notaries to establish what the local customs were, and rendered judgment accordingly. This gave the seigneur a great advantage, for the notaries usually took their side. Moreover, the new judicial system was more expensive than the old, so that when a seigneur chose to take his claims into court the habitants often let him have judgment by default rather than incur heavy costs.

During the twenty years following the conquest the externals of the seigneurial system remained unaltered; but its spirit underwent a great change. This was amply shown during the American War of Independence, when the province was invaded by the Arnold-Montgomery expeditions. In all the years that the colony had been under French dominion a single word from any seigneur was enough to summon every one of his able-bodied habitants to arms. But now, only a dozen years after the English had assumed control, the answer made by the habitant to such appeals was of a very different nature. The authorities at Quebec, having only a small body of regular troops available for the defence of Canada against the invaders, called on the seigneurs to rally the old feudal array. The proclamation was issued on June 9, 1775. Most seigneurs responded promptly and called their habitants to armed service. But the latter, for the most part, refused to come. The seigneurs threatened that their lands would be confiscated; but even this did not move the habitants to comply. A writer of the time narrates what happened in one of the seigneuries, and it is doubtless typical of what took place in others. 'M. Deschambaud went over to his seigneury on the Richelieu,' he tells us, 'and summoned his tenants to arms; they listened patiently to what he had to say, and then peremptorily refused to accede to his demands. At this the seigneur was foolish enough to draw his sword; whereupon the habitants gave both him and a few friends who accompanied him a severe thrashing, and sent them off vowing vengeance. Fearing retaliation, the habitants armed themselves, and to the number of several hundred prepared to attack any regular forces which might be sent against them. Through the discretion of Governor Carleton, however, who hastened to send one of his officers to disavow the action of the seigneur, and to promise the habitants that if they returned quietly to their homes they would not be molested, they were persuaded to disperse.' [Footnote: Maseres, Additional Papers concerning the Province of Quebec (1776), pp. 71 et seq.]

As the eighteenth century drew to a close it became evident that the people were getting restive under the restraints which the seigneurial system imposed. Lands had risen in value so that the lods et ventes now amounted to a considerable payment when lands changed owners. With the growth of population the banal right became very valuable to the seigneurs and an equally great inconvenience to the habitants. Many seigneurs made no attempt to provide adequate milling facilities. They gave the habitants a choice between bringing their grain to the half-broken-down windmill of the seigneury or paying the seigneur a money fine for his permission to take their grist elsewhere. New seigneurial demands, unheard of in earlier days, were often put forth and enforced.

The grievances of the habitants were not mitigated, moreover, by the way in which the authorities of the province gave lands to the United Empire Loyalists. These exiles from the revolted seaboard colonies came by thousands during the years following the war, and they were given generous grants of land. And these lands were not made subject to any seigneurial dues. They were given in freehold, in free and common socage. The new owners of these lands paid no annual dues and rendered no regular services to any superior authority. Their tenure seemed to the habitants to be very attractive. Hence the influx of the Loyalists gave strength to a movement for the abolition of seigneurial tenure—a movement which may be said to have had its first real beginning about 1790.

It was in that year that the solicitor-general of the province, in response to a request of the legislative council, presented a long report on the land-tenure situation. The council, after due consideration of this report and other data submitted to it, passed a series of resolutions declaring that the seigneurial system was retarding the agricultural progress of the province and that, while its immediate abolition was not practicable, steps should be taken to get rid of it gradually. But nothing came of these resolutions. The Constitutional Act of 1791 greatly complicated the situation by its provisions relating to the so-termed 'clergy reserves,' or reservations of lands for Church endowment, and it was not until 1825 that the Canada Trade and Tenures Act opened the way for a commutation of tenures whenever the seigneur and his habitants could agree. This act was permissive only. It did not apply any compulsion to the seigneurs. Very few, accordingly, took advantage of its provisions.

This was the situation when the uprising of 1837-38 took place. The seigneurial system was not a leading cause of the rebellion, but it was one of the grievances included by the habitants in their general bill of complaint. Hence, when Lord Durham came to Quebec to investigate the causes of colonial discontent, the system came in for its share of study. In his masterly Report on the Affairs of British North America he recognized that the old system had outlived its day of usefulness, and that its continuance was unwise. But Durham outlined no plan for its abolition. He believed that if the province were given a government responsible to the masses of its own people, the problem of abolition would soon be solved. One of Durham's secretaries, Charles Buller drafted a scheme for commuting the tenures into freehold, but his plan did not find acceptance.

For nearly twenty years after Durham's investigation the question of abolishing the seigneurial tenures remained a football of Canadian politics. Legislative commissions were appointed; they made investigations; they presented reports; but none succeeded in getting any comprehensive plan of abolition on the statute-books. In 1854, however, the question was made a leading issue at the general election. A definite mandate from the people was the result, and 'An Act for the Abolition of Feudal Rights and Duties in Lower Canada' received its enactment during the same year.

The provisions of this act for changing all seigneurial tenures into freehold are long and somewhat technical. They would not interest the reader. In brief, it was arranged that the valid rights of each seigneur should be translated by special commissioners into an annual money rental, and that the habitants should pay this annual sum. The seigneur was required to pay no quit-rent to the public treasury. What he would have paid, by reason of getting his own lands into freehold, was applied pro rata to the reduction of the annual rentals payable by the habitants. It was arranged, furthermore, that any habitant might commute this yearly rental by paying his seigneur a lump sum such as would represent his rent capitalized at the rate of six per cent.

The whole undertaking was difficult and complicated. A great many perplexing questions arose, and a special court had to be created to deal with them. [Footnote: This court was constituted of four judges of the Court of the Queen's Bench and nine judges of the Superior Court of Lower Canada, as follows: Sir Louis H. La Fontaine, Chief Justice; Justices Duval, Aylwin, and Caron of the Court of the Queen's Bench; the Hon. Edward Bowen, Chief Justice; Justices Morin, Mondelet, Vanfelson, Day, Smith, Meredith, Short, and Badgley of the Superior Court.] On the whole however, the commissioners performed their tasks carefully and without causing undue friction. Class prejudice was strong, and by most of the seigneurs the whole scheme was regarded as a high-handed piece of legislative confiscation. They opposed it bitterly from first to last. Among the habitants, however, the abolition of the old tenure was popular, for it meant, in their opinion, that every one would henceforth be a real landowner. But in the long run it signified nothing of the sort. Very few of the habitants took advantage of the provision which enabled them to pay a lump sum in lieu of an annual rental. Down to the present day the great majority of them continue to pay their rente constituee as did their fathers before them. With due adherence to ancient custom they pay it each St Martin's Day, and to the man whom they still call 'the seigneur.' Seigneur he is no longer; for the act of 1854 abolished not only the emoluments, but the honours attaching to this rank. But traditions live long in isolated communities, and the habitants of the St Lawrence valley still give, along with their annual rent, a great deal of old-time deference to the man who holds the lands upon which they live.

The twilight of European feudalism was more prolonged in French Canada than in any other land. Its prolongation was unfortunate. For several decades preceding 1854 it had failed to adjust itself to the new environment, and its continuance was an obstacle to the economic progress of Canada. Its abolition was wise—a generation or two earlier it would have been even wiser. All this is not to say, however, that the seigneurial system did not serve a highly useful purpose in its day. So long as it fitted into the needs of the colony, so long as the intendancy remained to guard the people against seigneurial avarice, the system had a great deal to be said in its behalf. It helped to make New France stronger in arms than she could have become under any other plan of land tenure; and with states as with men self-preservation is the first law of nature.


In two larger books entitled 'The Selgniorial System in Canada' (New York, Longmans, Green, and Co., 1907) and 'Documents relating to the Seigniorial Tenure in Canada' (Toronto, The Champlain Society, 1908), the writer has discussed Canadian feudalism in its technical phases. The former volume contains a full bibliography of manuscript and printed materials.

The reader who desires to know more about this interesting side of early Canadian history may also be referred to Professor George M. Wrong's 'Canadian Manor and its Seigneurs' (Toronto, 1908); Philippe-Aubert De Gaspe's 'Les anciens Canadiens' (Quebec, 1863); Professor C. W. Colby's 'Canadian Types of the Old Regime' (New York, 1908), especially chapter iv; W. P. Greenough's 'Canadian Folk Life and Folk Lore' (New York, 1897); the Abbe H. R. Casgrain's 'Paroisse Canadienne au XVIIe Siecle' (Quebec, 1880); Benjamin Sulte's articles on 'La Tenure Seigneuriale' in the 'Revue Canadienne', July-August, 1882; and Leon Gerin's paper on 'L'habitant de Saint-Justin' in the 'Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada', 1898, pp. 139-216. There is a short, but very interesting chapter on 'Canadian Feudalism' in Francis Parkman's 'Old Regime in Canada' (Boston, 1893), and various phases of life in New France are admirably pictured in every one of the same author's other volumes.


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