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Canada

The lot of the favored guest of an Indian camp or village is idleness without repose, for he is never left alone, with the repletion of incessant and inevitable feasts. Tired of this inane routine, Champlain, with some of his Frenchmen, set forth on a tour of observation. Journeying at their ease by the Indian trails, they visited, in three days, five palisaded villages. The country delighted them, with its meadows, its deep woods, its pine and cedar thickets, full of hares and partridges, its wild grapes and plums, cherries, crab-apples, nuts, and raspberries.

Nearly all that was distinctive in the life of old Canada links itself in one way or another with the Catholic religion. From first to last in the history of New France the most pervading trait was the loyalty of its people to the church of their fathers. Intendants might come and go; governors abode their destined hour and went their way; but the apostles of the ancient faith never for one moment released their grip upon the hearts and minds of the Canadians.

From the beginning of the colony there ran in the minds of French officialdom the idea that the social order should rest upon a seigneurial basis. Historians have commonly attributed to Richelieu the genesis of New World feudalism, but without good reason, for its beginnings antedated the time of the great minister.

The center and soul of the economic system in New France was the traffic in furs. Even before the colony contained more than a handful of settlers, the profit-making possibilities of this trade were recognized. It grew rapidly even in the early days, and for more than a hundred and fifty years furnished New France with its sinews of war and peace. Beginning on the St. Lawrence, this trade moved westward along the Great Lakes, until toward the end of the seventeenth century it passed to the headwaters of the Mississippi.

It was the royal desire that New France should some day become a powerful and prosperous agricultural colony, providing the motherland with an acceptable addition to its food supply. To this end large tracts of land were granted upon most liberal terms to incoming settlers, and every effort was made to get these acres cultivated. Encouragement and coercion were alike given a trial. Settlers who did well were given official recognition, sometimes even to the extent of rank in the noblesse.

In New France there were no privileged orders. This, indeed, was the most marked difference between the social organization of the home land and that of the colony. There were social distinctions in Canada, to be sure, but the boundaries between different elements of the population were not rigid; there were no privileges based upon the laws of the land, and no impenetrable barrier separated one class from another.

A Chronicle of the Fleur-de-Lis in the Wilderness

by William Bennett Munro

France, when she undertook the creation of a Bourbon empire beyond the seas, was the first nation of Europe. Her population was larger than that of Spain, and three times that of England. Her army in the days of Louis Quatorze, numbering nearly a half-million in all ranks, was larger than that of Rome at the height of the imperial power. No nation since the fall of Roman supremacy had possessed such resources for conquering and colonizing new lands.

The closing quarter of the fifteenth century in Europe has usually been regarded by historians as marking the end of the Middle Ages. The era of feudal chaos had drawn to a close and states were being welded together under the leadership of strong dynasties. With this consolidation came the desire for expansion, for acquiring new lands, and for opening up new channels of influence. Spain, Portugal, and England were first in the field of active exploration, searching for stores of precious metals and for new routes to the coasts of Ormuz and of India.

In the closing years of the sixteenth century the spirit of French expansion, which had remained so strangely inactive for nearly three generations, once again began to manifest itself. The Sieur de La Roche, another Breton nobleman, the merchant traders, Pontgrave of St. Malo and Chauvin of Honfleur, came forward one after the other with plans for colonizing the unknown land. Unhappily these plans were not easily matured into stern realities. The ambitious project of La Roche came to grief on the barren sands of Sable Island.

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