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Black Fur Traders in Canada

The role of Black people within the history of the fur trade is rarely considered. Black people were rarely in a position to write their own stories, so often those stories went untold. This owes to a complex set of factors including racism and limited access to literacy. Black people are also not the focus of many historical documents. However, historians have identified several Black fur traders working in different roles, and even an entire family of Black fur traders who left their mark on history.

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François Dollier de Casson

François Dollier de Casson, explorer, superior of the Sulpicians in New France (1670-74, 1678-1701), seigneur of Montréal, vicar general, historian (b in the château of Casson-sur-l'Erdre in Lower Brittany 1636; d at Montréal 27 Sept 1701).

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Samuel de Champlain

Samuel de Champlain, cartographer, explorer, colonial administrator, author (born circa 1567 in Brouage, France; died 25 December 1635 in Quebec City). Known as the “Father of New France,” Samuel de Champlain played a major role in establishing New France from 1603 to 1635. He is also credited with founding Quebec City in 1608. He explored the Atlantic coastline (in Acadia), the Canadian interior and the Great Lakes region. He also helped found French colonies in Acadia and at Trois-Rivières, and he established friendly relations and alliances with many First Nations, including the Montagnais, the Huron, the Odawa and the Nipissing. For many years, he was the chief person responsible for administrating the colony of New France. Champlain published four books as well as several maps of North America. His works are the only written account of New France at the beginning of the 17th century.

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Jacques Raudot

Jacques Raudot, intendant of New France, 1705-11 (b 1638; d at Paris, France 20 Feb 1728). He was related to the powerful Pontchartrain family and had had a distinguished legal career when he and his son Antoine-Denis Raudot were jointly appointed to the intendancy (with only Jacques salaried).

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Louis-Joseph Gaultier de La Vérendrye

Louis-Joseph Gaultier de La Vérendrye, explorer, cartographer, fur trader, military officer (born 9 November 1717 at Île aux Vaches, Quebec (New France); died at sea off the coast of Cape Breton 15 November 1761). Known by his title Chevalier, the youngest son of Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de la Vérendrye led the first European exploration across the Missouri River into the Great Plains. He served New France in the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years' War.

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Pierre Dugua de Mons

Pierre Dugua de Mons (or Du Gua de Monts), colonizer, explorer, trader (born c. 1558 in Royan, France; died 22 February1628 near Fléac-sur-Seugne, France). Pierre Dugua de Mons oversaw the founding of Port Royal, in Acadia (present-day Annapolis Royal), and Quebec City, Quebec. These two places were the first successful French settlements in North America. At a time of significant religious tension in France, there were few people involved in that kingdom’s exploration and settlement of North America that better represent the social, political and religious context of the early 17th century. Both Samuel de Champlain and Mathieu Da Costa, who are better known from this period, were de Mons’s employees and acted under his direction. De Mons’s legacy has been overshadowed by Champlain in part because Champlain wrote extensively about his work, whereas de Mons did not. In addition, in some of Champlain’s writings he replaced de Mons with himself.

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Basques

Basques were expert fishermen and sailors from the southeast corner of the Bay of Biscay. With the Portuguese, they were early arrivals to Newfoundland's Grand Banks.

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Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil de Cavagnial

Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil de Cavagnial, Marquis de Vaudreuil, (sometimes Vaudreuil-Cavagnial), officer, last governor general of New France 1755–1760 (born in Québec, New-France on 22 November 1698; died in Paris, France 4 August 1778). He was the governor of New France during the Seven Years’ War and the British Conquest of New France. Following the capture of Quebec by British forces, Vaudreuil signed the capitulation of Montreal and New France in 1760.

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Louis Jolliet

Louis Jolliet, explorer, cartographer, king’s hydrographer, fur trader, seigneur, organist, teacher (baptized 21 September 1645 in Québec City; died between 4 May and 18 Oct 1700 likely near Île d'Anticosti).

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Charles de Beauharnois de La Boische, Marquis de Beauharnois

Charles de Beauharnois de La Boische Beauharnois, Marquis de Beauharnois, (baptized 12 October 1671 in La Chaussaye, near Orléans, France; died 12 July 1749 in Paris, France). Beauharnois was a naval officer in the wars of Louis XIV. From 1726 to 1747, he was the governor of New France. He initially built upon Indigenous alliances and defended New France from British incursions. However, the loss of Louisbourg in 1745 and the subsequent deterioration of relationships with Indigenous allies both occurred under Beauharnois and contributed to the eventual conquest of New France.

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Voyageurs

Voyageurs were independent contractors, workers or minor partners in companies involved in the fur trade. They were licensed to transport goods to trading posts and were usually forbidden to do any trading of their own. The fur trade changed over the years, as did the groups of men working in it. In the 17th century, voyageurs were often coureurs des bois — unlicensed traders responsible for delivering trade goods from suppliers to Indigenous peoples. The implementation of the trading licence system in 1681 set voyageurs apart from coureurs des bois, who were then considered outlaws of sorts. Today, the word voyageur, like the term coureur des bois, evokes the romantic image of men canoeing across the continent in search of furs. Their life was full of perilous adventure, gruelling work and cheerful camaraderie.

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Claude de Ramezay

Claude de Ramezay, (born 15 June 1659 in La Gesse, France; died 31 July 1724 in Quebec City). Claude de Ramezay came to New France as an officer in the troupes de la marine. He served as governor of Trois-Rivières (1690–99), commander of Canadian troops (1699–1704), governor of Montreal (1704–24), and as acting governor general of New France (1714–16). Throughout his time in New France, he pursued fur trade and lumber interests. He is also remembered for his home, Château Ramezay. Built in 1705, it is now a museum and one of Montreal’s landmark historical buildings.

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François-Gaston de Lévis

François-Gaston, Duc de Lévis, French army officer (born 20 August 1719 near Limoux, France; died 26 November 1787 in Arras, France). Born into an impoverished branch of the French nobility, he rose through the military hierarchy thanks to his family connections, his sangfroid and his bravery on the battlefield. Deployed to New France during the Seven Years’ War, he was named second-in-command to Marquis Louis-Joseph de Montcalm. On 28 April 1760, he won the Battle of Ste-Foy against the British garrison in Quebec City commanded by James Murray.

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Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm

Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm, Lieutenant General in the French forces in New France (born 28 February 1712 near Nîmes, France; died 14 September 1759 in Quebec City, Canada). A career soldier, he served in many campaigns in Europe before coming to fight in North America during the Seven Years’ War. He directed the defence of Quebec City in the summer of 1759 during the siege by British Major General James Wolfe, which culminated in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham