Chronicles of America 

Industry in New France

Of colonial industry, however, not as much can be said as of agriculture. Down to about 1663 it had given scarcely a single token of existence. The colony, until that date, manufactured nothing. Everything in the way of furnishings, utensils, apparel, and ornament was brought in the company's ships from France, and no one seemed to look upon this procedure as at all unusual. On the coming of Talon in 1665, however, the idea of fostering home industries in the colony took active shape. By persuasion and by promise of reward, the "Colbert of New France" interested the prominent citizens of Quebec in modest industrial enterprises of every sort.

But the outcome soon belied the intendant's airy hopes. It was easy enough to make a brave start in these things, especially with the aid of an initial subsidy from the treasury; but to keep the wheels of industry moving year after year without a subvention was an altogether different thing. A colony numbering less than ten thousand souls did not furnish an adequate market for the products of varied industries, and the high cost of transportation made it difficult to export manufactured wares to France or to the West Indies with any hope of profit. A change of tone, moreover, soon became noticeable in Colbert's dispatches with reference to industrial development. In 1665, when giving his first instructions to Talon, the minister had dilated upon his desire that Canada should become self-sustaining in the matter of clothing, shoes, and the simpler house-furnishings. But within a couple of years Colbert's mind seems to have taken a different shift, and we find him advising Talon that, after all, it might be better if the people of New France would devote their energies to agriculture and thus to raise enough grain wherewith to buy manufactured wares from France. So, for one reason or another, the infant industries languished, and, after Talon was gone, they gradually dropped out of existence.

Another of Talon's ventures was to send prospectors in search of minerals. The use of malleable copper by the Indians had been noted by the French for many years and various rumors concerning the source of supply had filtered through to Quebec. Some of Talon's agents, including Jean Pere, went as far as the upper lakes, returning with samples of copper ore. But the distance from Quebec was too great for profitable transportation and, although Pere Dablon in 1670 sent down an accurate description of the great masses of ore in the Lake Superior region, many generations were to pass before any serious attempt could be made to develop this source of wealth. Nearer at hand some titaniferous iron ore was discovered, at Baie St. Paul below Quebec, but it was not utilized, although on being tested it was found to be good in quality. Then the intendant sent agents to verify reports as to rich coal deposits in Isle Royale (Cape Breton), and they returned with glowing accounts which, subsequent industrial history has entirely justified. Shipments of this coal were brought to Quebec for consumption. A little later the intendant reported to Colbert that a vein of coal had been actually uncovered at the foot of the great rock which frowns upon the Lower Town at Quebec, adding that the vein could not be followed for fear of toppling over the Chateau which stood above. No one has ever since found any trace of Talon's coal deposit, and the geologists of today are quite certain that the intendant had more imagination than accuracy of statement or even of elementary mineralogical knowledge.

Above the settlement at Three Rivers some excellent deposits of bog iron ore were found in 1668, but it was not until five decades later that the first forges were established there. These were successfully operated throughout the remainder of the Old Regime, and much of the colony's iron came from them to supply the blacksmiths. From time to time rumors of other mineral discoveries came to the ears of the people. A find of lead was reported from the Gaspe peninsula, but an investigation proved it to be a hoax. Copper was actually found in a dozen places within the settled ranges of the colony, but not in paying quantities. Every one was always on the "qui vive" for a vein of gold or silver, but no part of New France ever gave the slightest hint of an El Dorado. Prospecting engaged the energies of many colonists in every generation, but most of those who thus spent their years at it got nothing but a princely dividend of chagrin.

Mention should also be made of the brewing industry which Talon set upon its feet during his brief intendancy but which, like all the rest of his schemes, did not long survive his departure. In establishing a brewery at Quebec the paternal intendant had two ends in mind: first, to reduce the large consumption of "eau-de-vie" by providing a cheaper and more wholesome substitute; and second, to furnish the farmers of the colony with a profitable home market for their grain. In 1671 Talon reported to the French authorities that the Quebec brewery was capable of turning out four thousand hogsheads of beer per annum, and thus of creating a demand for many thousand bushels of malt. Hops were also needed and were expensive when brought from France, so that the people were encouraged to grow hop-vines in the colony. But even with grain and hops at hand, the brewing industry did not thrive, and before many years Talon's enterprise closed its doors. The building was finally remodeled and became the headquarters of the later intendants.

Flour-making and lumbering were the two industries which made most consistent progress in the colony. Flour-mills were established both in and near Quebec at an early date, and in course of time there were scores of them scattered throughout the colony, most of them built and operated as "banal" mills by the seigneurs. The majority were windmills after the Dutch fashion, but some were water-driven. On the whole, they were not very efficient and turned out flour of such indifferent grade that the bakers of Quebec complained loudly on more than one occasion. In response to a request from the intendant, the King sent out some fanning-mills which were distributed to various seigneuries, but even this benefaction did not seem to make any great improvement in the quality of the product. Yet in some years the colony had flour of sufficiently good quality for export, and sent small cargoes both to France and to the French West Indies.

The sawing of lumber was carried on in various parts of the colony, particularly at Malbaie and at Baie St. Paul. Beam-timbers, planks, staves, and shingles were made in large quantities both for use in the colony and for export to France, where the timbers and planks were in demand at the royal shipyards. Wherever lands were granted by the Crown, a provision was inserted in the title-deed reserving all oak timber and all pine of various species suitable for mastings. Though such timber was not to be cut without official permission, the people did not always respect this reservation. Yet the quantity of timber shipped to France was very large, and next to furs it formed the leading item in the cargoes of outgoing ships. For staves there was a good market at Quebec where barrels were being made for the packing of salted fish and eels.

The various handicrafts or small industries, such as blacksmithing, cabinet-making, pottery, brick-making, were regulated quite as strictly in Canada as in France. The artisans of the towns were organized into "jures" or guilds, and elected a master for each trade. These masters were responsible to the civil authorities for the proper quality of the work done and for the observance of all the regulations which were promulgated by the intendant or the council from time to time.

This relative proficiency in home industry accounts in part for the tardy progress of the colony in the matter of large industrial establishments. But there were other handicaps. For one thing, the Paris authorities were not anxious to see the colony become industrially self-sustaining. Colbert in his earliest instructions to Talon wrote as though this were the royal policy, but no other minister ever hinted at such a desire. Rather it was thought best that the colony should confine itself to the production of raw materials, leaving it to France to supply manufactured wares in return. The mercantilist doctrine that a colony existed for the benefit of the mother country was gospel at Fontainebleau. Even Montcalm, a man of liberal inclinations, expressed this idea with undiminished vigor in a day when its evil results must have been apparent to the naked eye. "Let us beware," he wrote, "how we allow the establishment of industries in Canada or she will become proud and mutinous like the English colonies. So long as France is a nursery to Canada, let not the Canadians be allowed to trade but kept to their laborious life and military services."

The exclusion of the Huguenots from Canada was another industrial misfortune. A few Huguenot artisans came to Quebec from Rochelle at an early date, and had they been welcomed, more would soon have followed. But they were promptly deported. From an economic standpoint this was an unfortunate policy. The Huguenots were resourceful workmen, skilled in many trades. They would have supplied the colony with a vigorous and enterprising stock. But the interests of orthodoxy in religion were paramount with the authorities, and they kept from Canada the one class of settlers which most desired to come. Many of those same Huguenots went to England, and every student of economic history knows how greatly they contributed to the upbuilding of England's later supremacy in the textile and related industries.

If we turn to the field of commerce, the spirit of restriction appears as prominently as in the domain of industry. The Company of One Hundred Associates, during its thirty years of control, allowed no one to proceed to Quebec except on its own vessels, and nothing could be imported except through its storehouses. Its successor, the Company of the West Indies, which dominated colonial commerce from 1664 to 1669, was not a whit more liberal. Even under the system of royal government, the consistent keynotes of commercial policy were regulation, paternalism, and monopoly.

This is in no sense surprising. Spain had first given to the world this policy of commercial constraint and the great enrichment of the Spanish monarchy was everywhere held to be its outcome. France, by reason of her similar political and administrative system, found it easy to drift into the wake of the Spanish example. The official classes in England and Holland would fain have had these countries do likewise, but private initiative and enterprise proved too strong in the end. As for New France, there were spells during which the grip of the trading monopolies relaxed, but these lucid intervals were never very long. When the Company of the West Indies became bankrupt in 1669, the trade between New France and Old was ostensibly thrown open to the traders of both countries, and for the moment this freedom gave Colbert and his Canadian apostle, Talon, an opportunity to carry out their ideas of commercial upbuilding.

The great minister had as his ideal the creation of a huge fleet of merchant vessels, built and operated by Frenchmen, which would ply to all quarters of the globe, bringing raw products to France and taking manufactured wares in return. It was under the inspiration of this ideal that Talon built at Quebec a small vessel and, having freighted it with lumber, fish, corn, and dried pease, sent it off to the French West Indies. After taking on board a cargo of sugar, the vessel was then to proceed to France and, exchanging the sugar for goods which were needed in the regions of the St. Lawrence, it was to return to Quebec. The intendant's plans for this triangular trade were well conceived, and in a general way they aimed at just what the English colonies along the Atlantic seaboard were beginning to do at the time. The keels of other ships were being laid at Quebec and the officials were dreaming of great maritime achievements. But as usual the enterprise never got beyond the sailing of the first vessel, for its voyage did not yield a profit.

The ostensible throwing-open of the colonial trade, moreover, did not actually change to any great extent the old system of paternalism and monopoly. Commercial companies no longer controlled the channels of transportation, it is true, but the royal government was not minded to let everything take its own course. So the trade was taxed for the benefit of the royal treasury, and the privilege of collecting the taxes, according to the custom of the old regime, was farmed out. All the commerce of the colony, imports and exports, had to pass through the hands of these farmers-of-the-revenue who levied ten per cent on all goods coming and kept for the royal treasury one-quarter of the price fixed for all skins exported. Traders as a rule were not permitted to ship their furs directly to France. They turned them in to farmers-of-the-revenue at Quebec, where they received the price as fixed by ordinance, less one-quarter. This price they usually took in bills of exchange on Paris which, they handed over to the colonial merchants in payment for goods, and which the merchants in turn sent home to France to pay for new stocks. Nor were the authorities content with the mere fixing of prices. By ordinance they also set the rate of profit which traders should have upon all imported wares brought into the colony. This rate of profit was fixed at sixty-five per cent, but the traders had no compunction in going above it whenever they saw an opportunity which was not likely to be discovered. As far as the forest trade was concerned, the regulation was, of course, absurd.

Every year, about the beginning of May, the first ships left France for the St. Lawrence with general cargoes consisting of goods for the colonists themselves and for the Indians, as well as large quantities of brandy. When they arrived at Quebec, the vessels were met by the merchants of the town and by those who had come from Three Rivers and Montreal. For a fortnight lively trading took place. Then the goods which had been bought by the merchants of Montreal and Three Rivers were loaded upon small barques and brought to these towns to be in readiness for the annual fairs when the "coureurs-de-bois" and their Indians came down to trade in the late summer. As for the vessels which had come from France, these were either loaded with timber or furs and set off directly home again, or else they departed light to Cape Breton and took cargoes of coal for the French West Indies, where the refining of sugar occasioned a demand for fuel. The last ships left in November, and for seven months the colony was cut off from Europe.

Trade at Quebec, while technically open to any one who would pay the duties and observe the regulations as to rates of profit, was actually in the hands of a few merchants who had large warehouses and who took the greater part of what the ships brought in. These men were, in turn, affiliated more or less closely with the great trading houses which sent goods from Rouen or Rochelle, so that the monopoly was nearly as ironclad as when commercial companies were in control. When an outsider broke into the charmed circle, as happened occasionally, there was usually some way of hustling him out again by means either fair or foul. The monopolists made large profits, and many of them, after they had accumulated a fortune, went home to France. "I have known twenty of these pedlars," quoth La Hontan, "that had not above a thousand crowns stock when I arrived at Quebec in the year 1683 and when I left that place had got to the tune of twelve thousand crowns."

Glancing over the whole course of agriculture, industry, and commerce in New France from the time when Champlain built his little post at the foot of Cape Diamond until the day when the fleur-de-lis fluttered down from the heights above, the historian finds that there is one word which sums up the chief cause of the colony's economic weakness. That word is "paternalism." The Administration tried to take the place of Providence. It was as omnipresent and its ways were as inscrutable. Like as a father chasteneth his children, so the King and his officials felt it their duty to chasten every show of private initiative which did not direct itself along the grooves that they had marked out for the colony to follow. By trying to order everything they eventually succeeded in ordering nothing aright.

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