Friday, June 08, 2012

Epistle to Dumb Yanks - Part III - Quebec

Parts I and II are just below this one. Obviously, the reader should start with Part I to see what I'm ranting about.

You might say the Province of Quebec is what's left of New France, a European colony that lasted from the 1530s (when explorer Jacques Cartier sailed up the St. Lawrence, planting the French flag along the way) to 1763 (at the signing of the Treaty of Paris), not counting two little islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which still belong to France. At it's height, French colonial territory in North America was vast, stretching from what is now Newfoundland in the East, to portions of what is now Saskatchewan in the West and all the way South to New Orleans. There were even some territories in the Caribbean.

Everywhere, throughout its more northerly territories, France encouraged the fur trade and discouraged agricultural settlement, a strategy that eventually worked against it. The fur trade was lucrative while agricultural settlement destroyed the ecosystem needed to support the fur industry. Populations in New France remained low,  as a consequence, and the more easy to conquer.

As with every other colonial power of that day, settlement and transportation centered on rivers. In the case of New France, those rivers included the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi, both of which drained massive territories via numerous tributaries.

It was those river systems that were critical to the establishment of French settlements, both as a source of water and as transportation lanes.

What I will look at in this entry, is the establishment of French settlements along the St. Lawrence River, which, today, are within (or close to) 100 miles of the present American-Canadian boundary. At the time of their establishment, of course, no one new that they would eventually be lost to Great Britain or that some day in the future there would be a country called the United States of America. Suffice it to say that Quebec City (modern-day capital city of the Province of Quebec and one-time capital of New France) was founded in 1607, one year before the Pilgrims landed in what was soon to be known as New England.

So, to begin: Here is a list of some of the earliest settlements along the St. Lawrence River Valley, their current population, and a bit of their history:  The two most populous, of course, are Montreal, founded in 1611 as a fur trading post: (pop. 1,649,519) and Quebec City (pop. 516,622) Both of those cities were built on sites where previously Native Indian (Iroquois) communities had been built, Hochelaga, where Montreal now sits, and Stadacona, at the site where Quebec City was founded in 1608. Proximity to the river was key to human settlement for both the French and the Iroquois. Proximity to the as of yet non-existent American border had nothing to do with the establishment of these settlements.

Also sited on the shores of the Saint Lawrence, or close to it, are Laval (pop. 401,559), Trois Rivieres (pop.131.338), Shawinigan (pop. 50,060), Longueuil (pop. 231,349), Repentigny, Tadoussac, Cap-de-la-Madeline, Baie-Comeau, Hautrive, Sept-Iles. There are also Longueil, Verdun, St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, Sorel, Tracy, Becancour, Rimouski, Riviere-du-Loup, Montmagny, Lauzon, Magog, Granby, Thetford Mines, Victoria Ville. and Levis.

Along St. Lawrence tributaries are Gatineau on the Ottawa River, Sherbrooke, founded by Loyalists, in 1793, and which is very nearly on the American border, Saguenay (pop. 144,746) on the Saguenay River, Drummondville, St. George, Joliette, St. Hyacinthe and Lennoxville and on and on.

In short, Quebec's population distribution was shaped primarily by proximity to riverways,  the St. Lawrence being principal among them, with major tributaries being nearly as influential.  A not insignificant number of towns, especially south of the St. Lawrence have Loyalist roots. Many also grew up around single industries such as mining and logging.

So, my dear Dumb Yanks,  by now you must be getting the point.  The St. Lawrence River system has historically had far more influence on Quebec's population and settlement patterns than has your presence further south on the other side of the border.

So I'll move on to Ontario in Part IV, where I intend to put your cherished myth to the test, once again.

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