May 2008

France, New France. Birth of a French People in America. New temporary exhibition

For immediate release

An exhibition that offers a new look at the great adventure of French settlement on the continent.
From May 21 to October 12, 2008

Montreal, May 20, 2008 - The exhibition France, New France. Birth of a French people in North America harks back to the historic days of the founding of the first French settlements in North America, and explores the nature of French colonization of the continent.

The 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, two museums located on opposite sides of the Atlantic that developed a fruitful partnership in order to explore this fascinating adventure.

Through stirring objects and using original means of presentation, the exhibition traces the eventful stages over the course of which a francophone presence took root in North America, even before Jacques Cartier's arrival in 1534: unsuccessful first attempts, the first settlements - Île Sainte-Croix and Port-Royal in 1604 and 1605, Québec in 1608, Montréal in 1642 -, the expansion of New France, heartbreaks and new challenges...

But the exhibition is distinguished by the fact that it offers a new look at the nature of settlement in New France, lifting the veil, so to speak, on the singular and unique character of colonization on American soil. Some 150 objects - ancient ethnographic documents, and others, from founding sites - will be interspersed throughout this original exhibition.

A unique feature of colonization: the remarkable contribution of women
The different perspective that France, New France offers on the singular character of the settlement of the continent rests on an unusual fact: in the history of European immigration and colonization in North America, never was initial family-based immigration from France so scant.

Over a period of 100 years or so, beginning in 1608, the majority of the some 3,200 pioneer unions that formed the basis of the population - over 90% - were young couples who came together on Laurentian soil and were not married to each other prior to coming to America. This led to a rapid "Canadianization" of the population, and at the beginning of the 1700s, it was already possible to talk of the existence of a Canadian society. For more information on the pioneer unions, please read the press release on the Riverbeds.

The systematic forming of couples - couples that would prove to be very fertile, in large part because of their young age - rested on three remarkable contributions by women:

The great number of marriageable women sent to New France, the "Filles du roi," especially between 1663 and 1673, in an effort to ensure that single males - soldiers and volunteers who had initially come to work in America but not to settle here permanently - would remain in the colony.

Marriages at a very young age between the first "Filles du pays" - between 1680 and 1700 - and single males who continued to come to New France on a temporary basis and were still present in exceeding numbers.

The contribution of Amerindian women from the upper country - Amerindian New France - who married "Canadiens" of the St. Lawrence Valley who were involved in the fur trade.

A colony with an uncertain future
The exhibition will also reveal the motives of French monarchs, from François I to Louis XIV, for wanting to colonize the New World and lay claim to its territories. We will examine what led French subjects to leave their homeland and choose a colony with an uncertain future: the hope for a better life, the fulfilment of short-term work contracts or military service, the more or less voluntary relocation of orphans... or the simple need for adventure.

The founding of Trois-Rivières (1634) and Montréal (1642), as well as certain nerve centres in France and New France - such as Nantes, La Rochelle, Acadia, the Saint Lawrence Valley, the Great Lakes region and, finally, Louisiana - will also be examined.

The exhibition pays particular attention to the Amerindians. The survival of the colonists, political expansion and economic growth, and knowledge of the territory of New France depended largely on the essential but little-known contribution of the First Nations. It was thanks to its Native allies that New France, with a population of only one-twentieth that of New England, was able to maintain its strong position.

Five key periods
Through a human and intimate approach to history, rather than a factual one, the exhibition covers five major periods of French settlement in New France, beginning in the 1500s, with the arrival of fishermen and explorers in the "new found land" of the North-East, to the warm shores of Louisiana.

  • 1500 - 1600: Beginnings
    The 16th century saw Jacques Cartier's first voyages of exploration in 1534 and 1535, and the flood of European fishermen drawn by the rich waters off this "new found land" and the St. Lawrence Estuary. Millions of Amerindians had already been living in North America for a long time, and their first contacts with Europeans are a major part of this section of the exhibition.

  • 1600 - 1650: Roots
    The 17th century was the most decisive period for French settlement in North America. Newcomers now established what they hoped would be permanent foundations, veritable launching pads for further colonization: Île Sainte-Croix and Port-Royal (Acadia) in 1604-1605, Québec in 1608, Trois-Rivières in 1634, and Montréal in 1642.

  • 1650 - 1700: Establishment
    This is the most important part of the exhibition, the part in which we gain an understanding of just what made this settlement so unique. In particular, we will examine the role of the "Canadiennes" as pioneers, an aspect that is often disregarded in the history of New France. In 1663, France adopted a true colonial policy and began taking steps to populate the lands explored by French adventurers, over which it now intended to assert its authority. Louis XIV also sent over hundreds of marriageable young women, the "Filles du roi." These measures, and the new couples' remarkable birth rate, soon meant that the French population was here to stay.

  • 1700 - 1750: Expansion
    By this time, people born in New France made up the majority of its population. Immigration was no longer the main source of settlers but did remain important because of the type of immigrants who made their way to the colony. There was also internal migration, as members of the second generation struck out to colonize other parts of New France, including Louisiana.

  • 1750 - 1800: New beginnings
    The Seven Years' War, during which France and England fought each other through their colonies, led to vast waves of migration between New France and Europe. The deportation of the Acadians (1755) was one of the largest population upheavals during this unsettled period. Men, women and children were uprooted by force and sent to the British colonies or Europe; some eventually returned to Acadia, while others settled in Louisiana, where they were known as Cajuns.

While the British Conquest put an end to New France, North America's French colony, it did not erase the French presence that had become solidly anchored on American soil. Today, some 15 million Acadians, Quebeckers, francophones in the rest of Canada and in the United States all continue to keep French alive on this side of the Atlantic.

Thematic programming
In conjunction with this exhibition, over the course of 2008, Pointe-à-Callière is presenting a major programme of activities on the theme of France, New France. This programming includes exhibitions, lectures, cultural activities, interpretive tours, guided tour routes, and virtual encounters.

Essential reading
An ideal complement to the exhibition is the accessible and magnificently illustrated book that presents the adventure of the French settlement of America. Learn about the crucial role of Franco-Amerindian alliances in the development of New France, and about the increasing contribution of archaeology in understanding the cultural intermixing of communities. The eponymous book is co-produced by Pointe-à-Callière and the Musée d'histoire de Nantes/Château des ducs de Bretagne.

The exhibition was presented in Halifax in 2004 and in Moncton in 2005. In France, the exhibition opened at the Musée d'histoire de Nantes/Château des ducs de Bretagne in 2007. It then moved on to the Maison Champlain in Brouage and the Château-musée de Dieppe. At the beginning of 2008, it finally made a stop at the Maison de l'émigration française au Canada in Tourouve before returning to Pointe-à-Callière where a revised and enhanced version will be presented, beginning on May 21.

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.