A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘new france

[AH] What if French Canada survived past 1763?

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Detail, The Death of General Wolfe (1770)

Early in January, before my trip to Montréal, I went to the Royal Ontario Museum where I saw–among other things–the museum’s copy of Benjamin Wolfe’s painting The Death of General Wolfe. This famous tableau’s depiction of the death of James Wolfe, the commander of the victorious British forces in 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham that saw the fall of French Canada and the end of New France but who barely lived to see the end of the battle himself, is literally iconic. This moment marks the end of one empire and the expansion of another.

Was the end of New France inevitable? Quite a few fans of alternate history suggest that it was. In perhaps the classic few, the value of France to colonize its North American territories nearly as thoroughly as England (and later the United Kingdom) did theirs ensured that, ultimately, New France would be overwhelmed by the colonists. Some even go so far as to argue that New France was a failing colony, that the failure to expand French colonization much beyond the Saint Lawrence valley demonstrates a fundamental lack of French interest. The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was irrelevant.

I’m not sure that I buy this. Conceivably there could have been more French settlement in New France, perhaps with a bigger push under Louis XIV, but it isn’t clear to me that France in America was a failure. New France’s economy was built substantially on trade with indigenous peoples and not on (for instance) the plantation colony of many British colonies, making increased French settlement irrelevant at best and potentially harmful at worst. As it was, French Canada was actually a dynamic society, the St. Lawrence valley becoming home of a colonial offshoot of France with outposts stretching far west into the basin of the Great Lakes and, not incidentally, managing to hold off conquest by the British for nearly a century and a half. New France was not nearly as populous as the Thirteen Colonies, but that no more proves that New France was a failure than (say) the fact that Spain’s Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata was less populous than Portuguese Brazil means that the Spanish colony was a failure. At most, there was underexploited potential. If French Canada has since largely contracted to the frontiers of modern Québec, it is because successive British administrations have taken care to hem it in.

Had the Battle of the Plains of Abraham gone even slightly differently, there could have been a French victory. The end of the Seven Years War could have seen the French flag continue to fly in Canada. Even if Canada had fallen, that it would be kept by Britain was by no means preordained: Had Britain preferred to keep the valuable French sugar island of Guadeloupe, or had the French government different priorities, Canada might have been restored to France in the peace.

What would this surviving French Canada have been like?

It’s certainly possible that a continued French presence in Canada would have helped discourage the Thirteen Colonies from rebelling against the British Empire, especially if it was perceived as a threat. It’s not clear to me that this would automatically be the case, especially if New France had been weakened in the conflict, demilitarized and/or territorially diminished. Perhaps, in this timeline, the Americans might revolt against Britain in anger that their interests were neglected in the settlement of the final peace. We might not see a conflict like the War of American Independence, but then again we might. If this war, or another great power Anglo-French war does come about, then France will face the same cascade of dysfunctional public financies than in our history triggered the revolution.

What will become of Canada in all this? I can imagine that it might, or might not, receive more attention from France. I suppose that, if history runs along the lines we are familiar with up to the French Revolution, Canada might be in an interesting position versus the metropole. (A French kingdom in exile?) It is imaginable that a populous French Canada might stay French, especially if the Americans are allies and Britain has interest elsewhere. The case can be made that French Canada could survive, within borders not wildly different from that of modern Canada, into the 19th century.

Here, I’m stymied. It is not easy to imagine the development of French Canada as a French territory for the simple reason that France had no colonies of settlement like (for instance) Britain had Canada. French Algeria eventually became a destination for European immigration, but most of these immigrants came from elsewhere in the western Mediterranean (Spain and Italy particularly) and they arrived in a territory that never stopped being overwhelmingly Arab-Berber and Muslim in nature. New Caledonia, in the South Pacific, also received substantial numbers of settlers relative to the native population, but the absolute numbers were low. There is no close parallel, not in the second French colonial empire, to a colony like Canada, a vast semi-continent with a substantial population mostly descended from French colonists.

I do think France could certainly colonize Canada as thoroughly as Britain later did, especially if France enjoys stability and peace. Franco-Canadian relations were broken by the Conquest and only began to pick up again a century later, as the French became dimly aware that the Canadiens survived. In a timeline where the relationship between France and Canada was never disrupted, Franco-Canadian relations would be far more intense. Trade and investment flows aside, we might see well see substantial amounts of French immigration to a prosperous Canada, and more immigrants coming from outside France, just as in the case of Algeria. The details depend critically on the borders of this Canada and its relationship to its neighbours, but I see no reason why French Canada could not be successful.

Even if–a big if–French history remains largely unchanged up to the mid-19th century, the existence of a large, populous, and growing French Canada will eventually change the French polity rapidly. How will the millions of Canadiens be represented in French political life? A populous American branch of the French empire will have very substantial consequences.

What do you think?

Written by Randy McDonald

May 16, 2017 at 11:59 pm

[PHOTO] Maisonneuve Monument, at night

Maisonneuve Monument, at night

The Maisonneuve Monument, erected in honour of Montréal’s founder Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, stands squarely at the heart of the Place d’Armes.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 27, 2017 at 8:45 am

[PHOTO] Towards Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, Montréal

The Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel is a linchpin of Vieux-Montréal, the building proper dating back to 1771, European inhabitation going back another century, and millennia of history of First Nations inhabitation before this.

Towards Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, Montréal (1)

Towards Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, Montréal (2)

Towards Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, Montréal (3)

Written by Randy McDonald

February 12, 2017 at 7:50 pm

[URBAN NOTE] The Art of Cartography, Toronto Reference Library

A mention at the Map Room Blog of The Art of Cartography, an exhibition of maps at the Toronto Reference Library in the TD Gallery. Some of the maps are quite old.

Star chart of Orion, 30 000 BCE #toronto #torontoreferencelibrary #maps #tdgallery #orion

Others date back only centuries. The Toronto Star‘s Christopher Reynolds listed some of his favourite maps. My three favourite are below. This map of New France after Samuel de Champlain caught my eye.

Carte de la Nouvelle France #toronto #torontoreferencelibrary #maps #tdgallery #samueldechamplain #newfrance

So too did this map of early 19th century Upper Canada.

From West Canada, John Rapkin #toronto #torontoreferencelibrary #maps #tdgallery #canadawest #uppercanada #ontario

I was particularly interested by this map of Toronto, highlighting how the Leslie Spit once extended to the Toronto Islands and made Toronto’s harbour accessible only from the west.

Plan of York Harbour #toronto #torontoreferencelibrary #maps #tdgallery #york #toronto #torontoharbour #torontoislands

The Art of Cartography has all kinds of maps in all kinds of formats. If you’re in Toronto, do go see it.

[URBAN NOTE] “The Beaver Wars & Toronto in the 1600s”

Spacing Toronto’s Adam Bunch looks at how the location of Toronto was drawn into the brutal Beaver Wars in the 1680s, as New France and the Iroquois came into direct conflict.

1687. A year of war and famine on the shores of Lake Ontario. That summer, on a night in early July, an army camped near the mouth of the Rouge River, at the very eastern edge of what’s now the city of Toronto. A few thousand men — professional soldiers from France, militia from Québec and their First Nations allies — feasted on venison before bed. They were tired, finally heading home at the end of a bloody campaign against the Seneca.

Their war was driven by a fashion trend. Far on the other side of the Atlantic, in the cobblestone capitals of Europe, hats made of beaver felt were all the rage. The demand had already driven European beavers to the brink of extinction. Now, the furriers turned to the Americas to feed their ravenous sartorial appetite. The competition over the slaughter of the large, aquatic rodents plunged the Great Lakes into more than a century of bloodshed and violence. By the end of the 1600s, a series of conflicts had been raging for decades on end. Thousands of warriors fought bloody battles over control of the fur trade. They called them the Beaver Wars.

This was long before the city of Toronto was founded, long before the British conquered Québec, all the way back in the days when the French still claimed the Great Lakes for themselves. As far as they were concerned, this was New France. But barely any Europeans had ever set foot on this land: only a few early explorers, fur traders and missionaries. Where skyscrapers and condo towers now reach into the clouds, there was an ancient forest of towering oak and pine, home to moose, wolves and bears. But there were plenty of people here, too — just not French ones: the First Nations and their ancestors had been living here for thousands and thousands of years.

In the late 1600s, the Seneca had two bustling villages within the borders of today’s Toronto, with dozens of longhouses surrounded by vast fields of golden maize. In the west, Teiaiagon watched over the Humber River at the spot where Baby Point is now (just a bit north of Bloor Street and Old Mill Station). In the east, Ganatsekwyagon had a commanding view over the Rouge.

They were both very important places. The Humber and the Rouge were at the southern end of a vital fur trade route: the Toronto Carrying Place trail, which gave our city its name. The rivers stretched north from Lake Ontario toward Lake Simcoe. From there, fur traders could reach the Upper Great Lakes, where the beaver population was still doing relatively well. Now that the Seneca controlled the Toronto Carrying Place, they could ship beaver pelts south into the American colonies and sell them to their British allies.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 18, 2015 at 5:43 pm

[PHOTO] Cannons of Louisbourg, Hart House Circle, Toronto

Cannons of Louisbourg, 1 #canada #toronto #louisbourg #newfrance #cannon #universityoftoronto

Cannons of Louisbourg, 2 #canada #toronto #louisbourg #newfrance #cannon #universityoftoronto

To quote from Wikimedia: “During the 1758 siege of the fortress of Louisbourg (in what is today Nova Scotia), five French ships were sunk in the harbour by the British. Twenty cannons from the sunken ships were raised in 1899. Two of these cannons were purchased by students at the University of Toronto for use as historic monuments: one cannon was purchased by the Arts Class of 1901 and the other by the Students’ Engineering Society. Both cannons were restored in 1993-4.” See also John Warkentin’s Creating Memory, and see Wikimedia for a photo of the two cannons together taken from the front.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 4, 2015 at 3:08 pm