Montreal, May 20, 2008 - An art installation, Riverbeds, highlights the singular nature of the populating of New France. Using miniature box beds, the installation is a representation of the pioneer couples that lived and took root in the Saint Lawrence Valley between 1608 and 1700.
Through an analysis of several ancient documents carried out by the Université de Montréal’s historical demographics research programme, we now know that in the 17th century, close to 3,450 pioneer couples — 3,200 formed here, and 250 who came from France — settled in Canada, in the Saint Lawrence Valley. We even know the identities of these pioneer couples, and it is they, along with their descendants, who made a significant contribution to the establishment of the French fact in North America.
The installation illustrates the main demographic data that is known, and the fact that it is essentially couples that were formed here that are at the origin of North America’s francophone population, rather than families that existed in France prior to emigration.
The make-up of the pioneer couples, which include at least one French immigrant, is represented by box beds of different colours that — following the example of Breton or Auvergne box beds — offered the couples intimacy and warmth. A true haven for a couple, the cabin bed of the era successively welcomed acts of love, children waiting to be born, and the deceased in their final rest. The bed is therefore an eloquent symbol that illustrates the different types of pioneer couples in New France.
Types of couples
Only 8% of the 3,450 pioneer couples were formed in France: 3% (90) of the couples married in France arrived here as a family with more than one child, while 5% (160) came from France without children or only one child, for a total of 250 couples. For the majority of couples, the reproductive stage of their lives would take place in New France.
Of this number, let us mention Louise Garnier and Pierre Goguet, who came to Canada from Poitou in 1659 with their first daughter; they later had six more children born in Montréal. Or Marie Rollet who married Louis Hébert, both from Paris, in 1602; they later came to Canada with their three children.
No less than 92% of pioneer couples — 3,200 couples — formed here, in New France. The couples can be broken down in the following manner: 46% (1,600) pioneer couples were made up of French men who married French women. Between 1663 and 1675, a veritable baby boom got underway with the arrival of 700 “Filles du roi” who gave birth to some 4,445 children. For example, in 1672, Catherine Ducharme, a 15-year old Fille du roi, married Pierre Roy from Larochelle, in Montréal; they went on to have 18 children.
In addition, 44% (1,506) of the pioneer couples were formed here through the marriage of Canadian women to French men. The couples in this group brought together single French immigrant men and young Canadian girls. Finally, approximately 2% (81) of the pioneer unions in the Saint Lawrence Valley were made up of a French woman and a Canadian man or, on rare occasions, one half of the couple was an Amerindian. In 1656, for example, Geneviève Drouin, a 12-year old girl from Québec, married Romain Trépanier, a 29-year old from Dieppe in France; they had 12 children. Or, in 1668, 32-year old Fille du roi Louise Faure married 21-year old Canadian Pierre Gagné; they had seven children.
Thanks to the remarkable fertility of these couples formed in New France, the francophone population rose quite rapidly. And in 1680, there were enough people here to ensure the colony’s self-sustaining growth. As of 1700, the population, made up mostly of Canadian men and women, numbered just under 20,000 people; by 1760, the number had grown to 70,000.
Finally, it was in 1660 that the first marriage between two Canadians took place: Charles Amiot, born in Québec in 1636, married Marie Geneviève DeChavigny, also born in Québec in 1645. Demographic historian Bertrand Desjardins specifies that, as of that point in time, it took another 33 years, until 1693, for marriages between Canadians to become the most frequent type in the colony.
Thus, Canadian women and men also played a key role in the establishment of the French fact in North America. France, at the time, did not have a political will to encourage the populating of North America — few families and individuals having crossed the Atlantic with a goal of settling here. Nevertheless, New France developed and rapidly became an autonomous entity in which the culture, language, and history of France have continued to live on to this day.
The France, New France. Birth of a French people in North America exhibition is co-produced by Pointe-à-Callière, the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History, and the Musée d'histoire de Nantes/Château des ducs de Bretagne.
The exhibition benefits from the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage, under the following programs: : the Museums Assistance Program, the Atlantic Canada Cultural and Economic Partnership Program of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and the Canada-France Agreement on Museum Cooperation and Exchanges. The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade also provided support through its Canada-France 2004 Program.
Pointe-à-Callière thanks its valuable partners: the Ministère de la culture et de la communication de France, the Direction des musées de France, the Mairie de Nantes, Air Canada, Tourisme Montréal, Le Centre Sheraton Montreal Hotel, Historia, La Presse, and The Gazette. The exhibition is accredited by the Société du 400e anniversaire de Québec.
The Museum is subsidized by the city of Montréal.