The history of French emigration to Canada

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French emigration to Canada

They left from Normandy, from Aunis... Their names were Duchesne, Rivard, Tremblay, Langlois... They settled in Acadia, in Canada, in the Pays-d'en-Haut, as far as Louisiana.

By founding their families, they built a new country.


The New World and its exploration

Explored from the end of the 15th century, looking for a passage to India and China, the New World was a source of curiosity for Europeans.

They saw it as an opportunity for a new start, for wealth or adventure. Spain coveted the gold and silver of Central America, Peru and Mexico. Portugal focused on the spice trade on the Brazilian coast. The English colonised the east coast of North America. France, for its part, established a commercial empire based on the fur trade with the founding of a first trading post in Tadoussac in 1600.


New France: between dreams and realities

In 1535François 1st appoints Jacques Cartier as head of several expeditions to North America. The lands explored were full of riches (iron, quartz, etc.) but they disappointed the King who lost interest in these regions. It was mainly cod and whale fishing that attracted the French to the banks of Newfoundland and the Gulf of St Lawrence. They set up temporary facilities to salt and dry the fish. Thus, they came into contact with the Amerindians very early on. This was the origin of the fur and hide trade.

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The birth of the colony, Quebec

It was as a geographer and cartographer that the Charentais Samuel de Champlain, is invited to make the journey. On the spot, he makes an alliance with the natives. In 1608,they enabled him to establish the first French-speaking city in America: Quebec. It chooses as its location "the place where the river narrowsin the indigenous language "Kebec". The fur trade became the city's main economic activity. Then, Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, founded Ville-Marie (Montreal) in 1642 with the aim of evangelizing the Amerindian populations.

The colony developed thanks to Cardinal Richelieu (appointed by Louis XIII the 'King of France):"Grand Master and Superintendent General of Navigation and Commerce"), which established a real colonial policy by setting up in 1627, The Cents-Associés company.



The role of the Compagnie des Cents-Associés

This company had about a hundred shareholders, including Samuel de Champlain and Robert Giffard, the Percheron. Its mission was to populate the colony with "natural French Catholics" of both genders and to exploit its resources. At that time, the population did not exceed 100 people. 

The company has a monopoly on the fur trade, and in return it must send from 16284000 emigrants in 15 years.  This trade became one of the main economic activities, but carpenters, masons, labourers, farm workers, etc. were also needed. They left from many regions of France (Perche, Poitou, Charente, Normandy, etc.). They are hired for 3 years but can settle down once their contract is fulfilled.

England and France fought for control of Quebec until 1632 when the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye returned the colony to France. 

In 1660, the colony had only 3,000 inhabitants instead of the expected 4,000.

In 1663, with Louis XIV, New France became part of the royal domain and the object of a real colonisation policy.



The strenghtening of the Quebec colony

It is from 1665 onwards that we can talk about thepermanent settlement of the French colony in New France. The Carignan-Salières regiment, consisting of more than 1,000 men, was sent to counter the Iroquois supported by Great Britain. The king also paid for the crossing and the dowry of hundreds of young French women of marriageable age and to start a family: the Filles du Roi.

In 1665, there were 4000 inhabitants. 7 years later, there were 7000!

From the 1700s onwards, French settlement reached the Great Lakes region, the Mississippi River basin and Louisiana. Around 1730, the blacksmith and shipbuilding industries took off. Development took on a new dimension. 


They stayed in New France 

Less than half of the 33,500 French people who made the trip decided to settle permanently. Those who remained became the stem families and kept their names alive in contemporary Canada. Gagnon or Tremblay are the most common surnames in Quebec and come from the Perche region of France.

Most of the soldiers and administrators who arrived in the colony between 1600 and 1760 returned to France. 400 of these soldiers stayed behind.

The main founders of French America were indentured servants (colonists), merchants, clerics, as well as women who came alone, the Filles du Roi and some soldiers.


From New France to Canada

Through explorations, conflicts and treaties, New France grew to cover three quarters of North America.


France came into conflict with Great Britain for control of this vast territory. In 1713At the time of the Treaty of Utrecht, the French were outnumbered and had to give up their claims. They lost and ceded Acadia, Newfoundland, Hudson Bay and their 1700 inhabitants to Great Britain.



At first, the Acadians were allowed to remain neutral but when the 7 Years' War bursts in 1754The British demanded an oath of allegiance to the crown. Following their refusal, 12,000 Acadians (the population had grown considerably) were sent by force in small groups to various British colonies, where they were not welcome. Most of them suffered an unenviable fate, often in near slavery or in camps... This is what history calls the Great Upheaval.



Britain emerged from the war in a strong position, ending in 1763with the Treaty of Paris. This allowed France to recover Martinique, Guadeloupe, Marie-Galante and Saint Lucia, abandoning New France for good.



Franco-America today

More than 23,300,000 North Americans have a French ancestor. About 7,600,000 of them are French-speaking. They live mainly in Quebec and Acadia - Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island -, in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia. 

In the United States, they are mainly found in Louisiana but also in New England, Florida, Texas and California. In the four corners of America, millions of men and women have French origins. Many are unaware of it, some are looking for their roots.

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The fifty most common family names in Quebec.

A symbolic union: Robert Giguère of Tourouvre and Aimée Miville, of Brouage.

A concrete case that illustrates roots tourism.

Robert Giguère

This family, which straddles Normandy and Aquitaine, is the only strain of the American Giguère. It is the perfect example of the cooperation between the 3 territories on this project. Indeed, in 1680, Robert and Aimée were confirmed in Château-Richer by Monseigneur François de Laval, originally from Montigny-sur-Avre.