In The First Seeding, Louis Hébert is described as a symbol of the entire French-speaking population of Canada. Hébert came to the New World in the early seventeenth century, looking for greater freedom. And to a certain extent those who settled in New France did find freedom. But there was also much sacrifice and uncertainty.
In 1608, the French explorer Samuel de Champlain and twenty or so journeymen arrived from France and started a settlement along the St. Lawrence River. There they built a dwelling which was called "une habitation" - a large three-storey structure that served as their living quarters. It also served to occupy the location, which eventually became the city of Québec(1).
The habitation built at Québec was also composed of wooden houses, linked in a courtyard, but with a surrounding palisade, a moat, a drawbridge and small cannon - a little fortress for any troubles ahead. The French settlement at Québec grew slowly. Twenty years after its founding, in 1628, the original fur-trade base of twenty-eight men had become a village and the capital of New France. It now had about seventy inhabitants, including women and children(2).
Champlain was considered the founder of New France, although the first efforts to establish a French colony were in Acadia. It was there, in 1605, that Sieur de Monts founded the little settlement of Port Royal on the Nova Scotian shores of the Bay of Fundy. Wooden houses holding forty people were built around a small courtyard. Fields and gardens were cleared. Indians came to trade furs. Yet Port Royal's success as a colony was qualified because its returns did not meet its costs. As a result, de Monts was advised by Champlain to move his company's base to the St. Lawrence. Port Royal was abandoned, though later re-occupied and repeatedly fought over as part of the colony of Acadia. The main attention of French colonial efforts from then on was with the St. Lawrence(3).
The bulk of Québec's small French population were traders and storekeepers, workmen and dockhands, with soldiers, seamen and some clerics. Louis Hébert arrived in 1617 and was the first farmer(as well as an apothecary or natural pharmacist), raising crops on the heights of Cape Diamond above Québec. Despite these early efforts at subsistence agriculture, the settled colony could scarcely yet feed itself and was still dependent on the supply ships from France that came to transport furs back overseas(4).
From 1608 to 1663, the colony's administration was run by commercial companies that were formed by merchants from various cities of France. These companies promised to settle and develop the French land in return for exclusive rights to its resources. The Compagnie des Cent- Associes, or the Company of One Hundred Associates, ran New France from 1623-63. But it failed to achieve the desired results. In 1663 the population numbered scarcely 3,000 people, 1,1175 of whom were Canadian born. Less than 1% of the land grant had been exploited. And of the 5.4 livres worth of possible annual resources enumerated by Champlain in 1618 - fish, mines, wood, hemp, cloth and fur - only fur yielded any substantial return(5).
Nor was religious conversion among the natives flourishing in New France, despite an explosion of missionary fervour during the first half-century. In 1634 the Jesuits renewed the mission of Ste Marie Among the Hurons in the western wilds Ville-Marie, which became Montréal, was the work of mystics and the devoted. But the missionaries managed to convert very few Indians(6).
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