Illustration of fur traders, missionaries, and Iroquoian people with canoes at the shoreline

Wealth from the fur trade benefited the French Empire and those who helped them. The need for resources eventually drew the Europeans inland from the east coast to the St. Lawrence Valley and Great Lakes. It also led to the formation of alliances and to territorial conflicts over resources.

Artist: Ivan Kocsis

ROM2005_5700_15
© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.


The lives of the early French colonizers were marked by many hardships and challenges. Until the colony was well established, many faced extreme cold, near starvation, and death.

Those who survived and endured were helped by First Peoples like the Mi’kmaq, who shared their techniques for survival with the new arrivals. For example, the French learned to boil birch bark and drink the liquid as a defence against scurvy.

During this time period, there were some key figures who made history. Membertou was the Grand Chief of the Mi’kmaq, and Samuel de Champlain was the French cartographer and colonizer. The Frenchman forged alliances not only with the Mi’kmaq but also with the Maliseet, Innu, and Wendat peoples (also referred to as Huron). These alliances helped with the expansion of the fur trade and defence.

For the French newcomers, this period of history was marked by hardship. Eventually, through the fur trade and settlement, there was also prosperity.

For the First Peoples of Atlantic Canada many changes followed the arrival of the Europeans. The Mi'kmaq First People, unlike their neighbours, the Beothuk, enga Read More
The lives of the early French colonizers were marked by many hardships and challenges. Until the colony was well established, many faced extreme cold, near starvation, and death.

Those who survived and endured were helped by First Peoples like the Mi’kmaq, who shared their techniques for survival with the new arrivals. For example, the French learned to boil birch bark and drink the liquid as a defence against scurvy.

During this time period, there were some key figures who made history. Membertou was the Grand Chief of the Mi’kmaq, and Samuel de Champlain was the French cartographer and colonizer. The Frenchman forged alliances not only with the Mi’kmaq but also with the Maliseet, Innu, and Wendat peoples (also referred to as Huron). These alliances helped with the expansion of the fur trade and defence.

For the French newcomers, this period of history was marked by hardship. Eventually, through the fur trade and settlement, there was also prosperity.

For the First Peoples of Atlantic Canada many changes followed the arrival of the Europeans. The Mi'kmaq First People, unlike their neighbours, the Beothuk, engaged directly with the newcomers as military allies, as trading partners, and as converts to the teachings of Roman Catholic missionaries. Their adaptability ensured their survival as a people, but not all changes proved beneficial. For example, changes in diet, such as an increased use of trade foods, led to health problems ranging from malnutrition to lung and intestinal disorders.

The interaction between the First Peoples and the French changed everyone’s lives.
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© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.

Period painting of a large group of people gathered for a dance

Few paintings exist that record entertainments in this country from such an early date. The artist took an interest in costume, local customs, and social context. A windowless interior is lighted by a single, rather smoky oil-wick chandelier. There is a crowd of on-lookers which include pipe-smoking farmers, well-upholstered merchants, a mother and two children, two men of African descent, and assorted dandies. The artist sketched a range of social types: some figures are caricatured while some are portraits; the Redcoats represent British officers. The music is provided by a fiddler and two tambourine players. The style of dress is everyday rather than high fashion, and there are even fancy beaver hats of a kind that some voyageurs favoured.

Artist: E. George Hariot
c. 1801
996.124.1
© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Wooden treble viol with decorative carving of a face on the end

This viol was originally imported from France to Quebec City, probably in the early 1700s, for use in a convent choir. The convent was called the Hospitalières de Québec. We know that this instrument was played there because there are records that show the purchase of strings and a replacement bow. The viol was also taught to school girls at a convent called the Ursulines. The most accomplished pupil who learned this instrument was an aboriginal girl named Agnès Chabdikouechich.

Maker: Nicolas Bertrand, a famous 17th-century luthier (instrument-maker) based in Paris. France
Gift of R.S. Williams & Sons Co. Ltd.
17th Century
913.4.6
© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.


This viol was originally imported from France to Quebec City, probably in the early 1700s.

This viol was originally imported from France to Quebec City, probably in the early 1700s, for use in a convent choir. The convent was called the Hospitalières de Québec. We know that this instrument was played there because there are records that show the purchase of strings and a replacement bow. The viol was also taught to school girls at a convent called the Ursulines. The most accomplished pupil who learned this instrument was an aboriginal girl named Agnès Chabdikouechich.

Maker: Nicolas Bertrand, a famous 17th-century luthier (instrument-maker) based in Paris. France
Gift of R.S. Williams & Sons Co. Ltd.
17th Century
© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.


The treble viol and much of the music in the colony originally came from France.

At that time, the viol and other stringed instruments were owned mostly by the aristocracy. They were both taught and played in New France. The viol is an ancestor of the violin and the viola. The treble viol was one of the most prestigious of the bowed string instruments.

After the Seven Years War, when the British took control of New France, most of the French nobility went back to Europe, taking with them all of their prized possessions such as paintings and musical instruments.

Although this viol would have been considered a prized possession, it was somehow left behind.

Most of the habitants (farmers) and voyageurs (fur-traders) also stayed in Canada. Together they greatly contributed to the musical traditions not only of Lower Canada (now Quebec) but of all of Canada.

Out of the musical culture of New France was born the music and lyrics of our national anthem ‘Oh Canada’. The music was written by Calixa Lavalée, and Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier wrote the original French lyrics. Both men were born in Lower Canada.
Read More
The treble viol and much of the music in the colony originally came from France.

At that time, the viol and other stringed instruments were owned mostly by the aristocracy. They were both taught and played in New France. The viol is an ancestor of the violin and the viola. The treble viol was one of the most prestigious of the bowed string instruments.

After the Seven Years War, when the British took control of New France, most of the French nobility went back to Europe, taking with them all of their prized possessions such as paintings and musical instruments.

Although this viol would have been considered a prized possession, it was somehow left behind.

Most of the habitants (farmers) and voyageurs (fur-traders) also stayed in Canada. Together they greatly contributed to the musical traditions not only of Lower Canada (now Quebec) but of all of Canada.

Out of the musical culture of New France was born the music and lyrics of our national anthem ‘Oh Canada’. The music was written by Calixa Lavalée, and Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier wrote the original French lyrics. Both men were born in Lower Canada.

More information about this ROM artifact:

Small viols like this one sit in the musician’s lap; larger ones are held between the knees like a cello.

The viol has several distinguishing characteristics, the most important being the flat back, rounded belly, and frets on the fingerboard.

In 1860, ten viols were found in an underground basement in Quebec where they had been stored and forgotten. Five of them were in good condition. They are the only French instruments to have survived from this period of history in Canada. Of those five, one was given to a blind girl who traded it for a small violin. This viol passed through many other hands until 1913, when Roch Lyonnais sold it to Williams & Sons (music merchants in Toronto). This is the treble viol that is now at the ROM.

Three of the other four viols are now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
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© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.

Gilded wood statue of St. Roch, standing with a small dog at his feet.

Saint Roch was born and died in Montpellier, France (1295-1327). For the inhabitants of New France, St. Roch was very popular and important. St. Roch was seen as a protector. He is known as San Rocco in Italy and San Roque in Spain. His feast day is August 16th.

Maker: unidentified sculptor, probably in France
c. 1700
936.18.1
© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Many of the French who colonized New France would have brought a statue of St. Roch with them.

St. Roch, much like the Buddha, was born into nobility and had a privileged life, which he chose to leave behind in order to go on a pilgrimage. He is usually depicted wearing simple and almost tattered clothes. This indicates that he lived in poverty.

While he was traveling, he tended the sick in public hospitals. It is said that he cured countless people with prayer, with the sign of the cross, and with the touch of his hand.

In Piacenza, Italy, when he became sick with the plague, he went into a forest in order to die in isolation. During this time he was befriended by a dog, which brought him food throughout his illness. The dog is also said to have licked his wounds until Roch was cured. For this reason, the statues or paintings of St. Roch always include a dog, seen carrying bread in his mouth.

When he returned to his hometown of Montpellier, in France, Roch was mistaken for a spy and put in jail by the governor. On August 16th in 1327 he died in jail, after five years of imprisonment.

St. Roch is the patron saint of falsely ac Read More
Many of the French who colonized New France would have brought a statue of St. Roch with them.

St. Roch, much like the Buddha, was born into nobility and had a privileged life, which he chose to leave behind in order to go on a pilgrimage. He is usually depicted wearing simple and almost tattered clothes. This indicates that he lived in poverty.

While he was traveling, he tended the sick in public hospitals. It is said that he cured countless people with prayer, with the sign of the cross, and with the touch of his hand.

In Piacenza, Italy, when he became sick with the plague, he went into a forest in order to die in isolation. During this time he was befriended by a dog, which brought him food throughout his illness. The dog is also said to have licked his wounds until Roch was cured. For this reason, the statues or paintings of St. Roch always include a dog, seen carrying bread in his mouth.

When he returned to his hometown of Montpellier, in France, Roch was mistaken for a spy and put in jail by the governor. On August 16th in 1327 he died in jail, after five years of imprisonment.

St. Roch is the patron saint of falsely accused people, plagues, epidemics, dogs, and the physically challenged.

For the inhabitants of New France, St. Roch was very popular and important. Diseases and epidemics such as cholera and dysentery, which frequently caused death, were of great concern to the people of New France. St. Roch was seen as a protector.

In New France, 18% of children died before the age of one. The Hôtel-Dieu de Québec was the first hospital in Canada. It was built in 1639. Health care in New France was run by nuns, so the founders of all the early hospitals in Canada were women.
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© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.

Lt.Gen. Roméo Dallaire, Senator talks about Canada's rich history

Roméo Dallaire served in the Canadian Forces for thirty-five years before becoming a Senator. The Hon. Roméo Dallaire, explains how Canada developed as a nation under the French and British colonial powers. He also addresses Canada's rich history.

The nation has a depth to it that often we ourselves denigrate or don’t even realize. We tend to like to look at European history and we’re often bombarded by American history. But our history is a reality also, it has seen its ups and downs and its maneuverings and it's been more or less independent even as much as the ancient régime of the French was fairly independent from France it had its sort of way of thinking and what it wanted to do. The conquest of 1759 brought a major shift in how the future structures of the nation will be. However the enlightened English presence as a colonial power, at the time, of permitting language and religion to the French Canadians and as we move though the years including the 1837 revolts of representation and, eh, not limited by language, or certainly not by religion permitted this nation to progress without having a whole bunch of barriers from the old countries being over imposing. I’m not saying they weren’t there but they were not imposing.

Royal Ontario Museum
Lt.Gen. Roméo Dallaire, Senator

© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Lt.Gen. Roméo Dallaire, Senator talks about Canada's rich history

The nation has a depth to it that often we ourselves denigrate or don’t even realize. We tend to like to look at European history and we’re often bombarded by American history. But our history is a reality also, it has seen its ups and downs and its maneuverings and it's been more or less independent even as much as the ancient régime of the French was fairly independent from France it had its sort of way of thinking and what it wanted to do. The conquest of 1759 brought a major shift in how the future structures of the nation will be. However the enlightened English presence as a colonial power, at the time, of permitting language and religion to the French Canadians and as we move though the years including the 1837 revolts of representation and, eh, not limited by language, or certainly not by religion permitted this nation to progress without having a whole bunch of barriers from the old countries being over imposing. I’m not saying they weren’t there but they were not imposing.

Royal Ontario Museum
Lt.Gen. Roméo Dallaire, Senator

© 2007, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

  • Analyzes the impact of European contact on lives of first peoples
  • Identifies the main features of life in New France
  • Examines the roots and culture of the French communities in North America

Learning Activity:

Objects like this musical instrument and this painting of a party represent the merriment and celebration of life in New France and later on in Lower Canada. Others, like this statue of St. Roch – believed to be a protector against disease and epidemics – remind us that life in New France was also dangerous and full of risk.

Imagine that you are considering immigrating to New France in the early 17th century. Decide if you are a fur trader, farmer, blacksmith, fille du roi, or any profession common to this time and place. Make a detailed list of the PROS and CONS of this new life. What choice do you think you would make?

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