Short Essay Assignment
Critical Analyses of: “Canada before 1760”
The account of “Canada before 1760,”1 illustrates how life in Canada is often misinterpreted before this time. Misinterpretation often occurs due to the biased portrayal, as well as debates, on such topics as frontierism vs. metropolitanism, decapitation theory vs. changing masters theory, the significance of the roles played by the natives vs. the European colonists, and also the power religion had or did not have over the native peoples. Although, the opening sentence, in the account of Canada before 1760, is a reflection of the decapitation theory2, what follows does not support the theory and is an example of how misinterpretations are often made. The author states that “Here, as in France, the clergy and the great landlords dominated the lives of the habitants totally, the former dictating to them a moral code in which entrepreneurship was a vice, and both groups picking their pockets without restraint.” 3The author describes the social structure of New France as “similar” 4 to that of the Feudal system of Europe at the time, however; the only similarity was the basic structure of the system. The foundation of New France’ social structure was based on the European feudal system however; the whole essence of the new society was very different. 7 The true heart of the society in New France was far from the Master-Slave type structure of the motherland. The system that developed needed to be much more enticing than that of the motherland, and the reason for this was that, it was a new land with very few inhabitants and cooperation was vital in order to survive. In addition, survival depended on new immigrants, and in order to acquire and maintain the immigrants New France needed to be as enticing as possible. In both countries land was distributed to the peasants by a landlord who was appointed by the Crown, they did not, however, receive equal amounts. In France the average amount of acreage distributed was rarely more then two acres, in New France amounts as much as 840 acres were given. In France, the peasant’s were often given the poorest of land and the yield would often not cover the needs of a single family, and supplementing by fishing or hunting on the Landlords land could often mean execution. 8 In contrast, New France’ habitants were allowed to hunt and fish on the nobles land and, if this did not produce enough food the landlord would supplement the habitant families with part of his crop. 9 The misinterpretations continue throughout the account in this statement “as for the great land lords picking their pockets.”10 Since, the landlords in France had their own personal contracts with the peasants they could do as they pleased, and take from the peasants as they wished. On the other hand, in New France, legislation protected the habitant as long as he paid his rent; the landlord had no power over him. Eventhough the clergy may have “dictated a moral code in which entrepreneurship was a vice”11 the habitants, with their large fertile plots were able to provide for their own families as well as other families in the near-by towns. 12 Because of this self-sufficiency, the habitants rarely needed to participate in the fur trade or for that matter needed it as “an escape”13 as mentioned in the account “Canada before 1760.”14 Although, the account describes the metropolis as the main control in New France and that “Only the fur trade offered an escape” “free from the reach of the ruling elites of France, ”15the habitants were free in many ways from the ruling elites of France. They were not forced to pay taxes to the motherland, and any new laws that came from France usually did not take effect due to the long process of negotiation between the two countries.16 The isolation from the motherland also enabled the people to live free from the rules and laws of the motherland, it would seem then, that...
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