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New France

The history of France as a colonial power in North America began during the 16th century, during the era of European exploration and fishing expeditions. At its peak, the French colony of New France stretched over a vast area from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Louisiana. The French presence was characterized by extensive trade, as well as by recurrent conflicts with the Indigenous peoples, who were established over a wide area that France sought to appropriate. Some objectives motivating the French colonization were related to evangelization and settlement. Following the British Conquest, New France was ceded to Great Britain in 1763 and became a British colony. (See Treaty of Paris 1763.)

(This article is the full version of the text regarding New France. For a plain-language summary, please see New France (Plain Language Summary).)

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New France (Plain-Language summary)

New France was a French colony in North America. By the early 1740s, France controlled what is known today as the Maritime provinces, much of modern-day Ontario and Quebec, and the Hudson Bay region. The territory also stretched from today’s Northeastern United States to the Gulf of Mexico. Quebec City was the center of culture, society and economics. The French living in New France created a distinct culture. The French population of New France were known as habitants. Many habitants had a better life in New France than peasants in France. That said, not many people from France wanted to emigrate to New France. Most people in France thought New France was too cold and very dangerous. Because there was little immigration, New France had a very small population. In 1763, approximately 70,000 French colonists lived in New France. (See Population Settlement of New France.) This small population made New France weak. It was one of the most important reasons why New France was taken over by Britain in 1763.

(This article is a plain-language summary of New France. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, New France.)

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Ministère de la Marine

The Ministère de la Marine is the section of the French government that administered Canada during its last 100 years as a French colony. The Ministère de la Marine — variously described as a ministry, department, or secretariat of state — administered France’s navy, colonies and seaborne trade.

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Compagnie des Indes occidentales

The Compagnie des Indes occidentales was a trading company that drove France’s colonial economy from 1664 to 1674. Its name translates to West Indies Company. King Louis XIV gave the company exclusive rights to trade and govern in all French colonies. Its territory extended from the Americas to the Caribbean and Western Africa. In addition to natural resources such as furs and sugar, the Compagnie traded enslaved people.

This company is not to be confused with the French trading company founded by John Law and renamed Compagnie des Indes in 1719.

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Carignan-Salières Regiment

The Carignan-Salières Regiment was a regiment of French troops who were sent to New France from 1665 to 1667 to fight the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). These professional soldiers, who had little experience with fighting in the woods, invaded the lands of the Haudenosaunee but did not succeed in defeating them. Nevertheless, the French show of force led to a peace accord in 1667. Though most of the French soldiers then went home, some stayed, married and settled in New France. Many of them married Filles du Roy and now have many descendants. Quebec municipalities such as Berthier, Chambly and Verchères still bear the names of officers of this regiment.

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Company of One Hundred Associates

The Company of New France, or Company of One Hundred Associates (Compagnie des Cent-Associés) as it was more commonly known, was formed in France in 1627. Its purpose was to increase New France’s population while enjoying a monopoly on almost all colonial trade. It took bold steps but suffered many setbacks. The company folded in 1663. It earned little return on its investment, though it helped establish New France as a viable colony.

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Playing-Card Money

Playing-card money was a type of paper money used periodically in New France from 1685 to the British Conquest in 1763. Playing cards issued by the king — later replaced with white cards cut to various shapes — held values equivalent to French livres.

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The Conquest of New France

The Conquest (La Conquête) is a term used to describe the acquisition of Canada by Great Britain during the Seven Years’ War. It also refers to the resulting conditions experienced by Canada’s 60,000 to 70,000 French-speaking inhabitants and numerous Indigenous groups. French forces at Quebec City surrendered to British forces on 18 September 1759, a few days after the crucial Battle of the Plains of Abraham. French resistance ended in 1760 with the capitulation of Montreal. In 1763, the Treaty of Paris surrendered New France to Britain. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 introduced assimilative policies that ultimately failed. They were replaced by the provisions of the Quebec Act of 1774. Although it helped spark the American Revolutionary War (1775–83), the Act also granted Canadians enviable conditions that resulted in generations of relative stability.

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Population Settlement of New France

Throughout the history of New France, soldiers and hired labourers (“engagés”) who crossed the Atlantic were the primary settlers in Canada. Those young servicemen and artisans, as well as the immigrant women who wished to get married, mainly hailed from the coastal and urban regions of France. Most of the colonists arrived before 1670 during the migratory flow which varied in times of war and prosperity. Afterwards, the population grew through Canadian births. On average, Canadian families had seven or eight children in the 17th century, and four to six children in the 18th century. As a result, the population of New France was 70,000 strong by the end of the French regime.

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Seigneurial System

The seigneurial system was an institutional form of land distribution established in New France in 1627 and officially abolished in 1854. In New France, 80 per cent of the population lived in rural areas governed by this system of land distribution and occupation.

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Treaty of Paris 1763

The Treaty of Paris was signed on 19 February 1763 and ended the Seven Years’ War between France, Britain and Spain. It marked the end of the war in North America and created the basis for the modern country of Canada. France formally ceded New France to the British, and largely withdrew from the continent.

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Gallicanism

Gallicanism is a doctrine which originated in France in the Middle Ages and sought to regulate the relationship between the Catholic Church and the state. It underlined the independence of the French Church in terms of papal authority, but also its subordination to the royal power. It thus confirmed the supremacy of the state in public life, unlike Ultramontanism, which supported the submission of the Churches and kingdoms to the papacy.

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Historiography in French

Various descriptive works and narratives dealing with Canada and published in France during the 17th and 18th centuries were entitled "histoires." Although written by Frenchmen who in many cases had only visited New France, these publications profoundly influenced French Canadian historiography.

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Battle of the Plains of Abraham (Plain-Language Summary)

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham took place on 13 September 1759. The Plains of Abraham are in Quebec City. It was fought between the French and their Indigenous allies against the British. The British won. Losing the battle was a major defeat for the French. Soon after, France lost all of Quebec. In 1763, France gave all of Canada to Britain. The era of New France was over. Until Confederation in 1867, Britain would control the colonies that became Canada. (See Confederation (Plain-Language Summary).)

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry, Battle of the Plains of Abraham.)

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Capitulation of Montreal 1760

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham and the capitulation of Quebec City in 1759 made the strategic situation of New France desperate. Despite a victory at the Battle of Sainte-Foy, the French forces found themselves isolated in Montreal by the British. The French commander, François-Gaston de Lévis, wanted to continue the fight. However, to avoid a pointless loss of life, the Governor of New France, Pierre-Rigaud de Vaudreuil, decided to surrender the city. With the capitulation of Montreal to the British forces on 8 September 1760, Great Britain completed its conquest of New France.