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La Belle Province is living testimony of its French heritage. Montreal, the commercial and cultural center, is the largest French-speaking city outside Paris. Sharing the spotlight is the city of Québec, the only walled city north of Mexico. Because of Québec's once-strong cultural and linguistic ties to France, eighty percent of the residents use French as their first language. Old Wolrd charm and traditions abound throughout the province, giving Quebec a truly unique atmostphere.

Jacques Cartier and Native Canadians

In 1534, Jacques Cartier sailed from France, landed on the Gaspé Peninsula and claimed the territory for France. Explorer Samuel de Champlain initiated Quebec's first settlement in 1608, but it was not until 1663 that the chartering of a fur trade provided a royal government and a name La Nouvelle France. Coastal towns like Bonaventure soon became a refuge for Acadian families British Canada, and within a century more than 100 parishes and a well-developed agricultural society had been established.

The Founding of New France

Jacques Cartier’s first voyage to what would become New France in 1534 was little more than a reconnaisance. He left St. Malo on April 20, 1534, with two ships, each of about 60 tons and with a company of 61 men. They sailed across to Newfoundland waters in three weeks and passed through the Strait of Belle Isle and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. There was nothing unusual in all of this since for a whole generation fishermen of four nations had already been flocking to these grounds to fish. Cartier himself - after he passed the straight - met a large ship from Rochelle that was looking for anchorage. But his design was to continue westward beyong the familiar coastal fishing ground and to find the passage to Asia.

Cartier followed the north shore of the Gulf a little way westward from the strait. He found it empty and desolate. I believe that this was the land that God allotted to Cain he wrote in his narrative. He really meant this entry

he had written. He left this shore in disgust, turned south along Newfoundland, then struck out westward across the Gulf past the Magdalenes and along the west end of Prince Edward Island. Here was a different country indeed,

a land of delight. It is the fairest land that could possibly be seen - full of goodly meadows and trees he said. He skirted the New Brunswick coast and beyond it, on the Gaspé Peninsula, set up a tall wooden cross, thirty feet high, carrying a shield and three fleurs-de-lis and at the top the legend VIVE LE ROI DE FRANCE.

Here and there the explorers saw Indians, especially on the warm waters that Cartier named Baie-des-Chaleurs on Gaspé. They were friendly, frightened people, half naked and so destitute that Cartier thought they must be the poorest in the world.

Cartier crossed to Anticosti, rounded the east end of the island and made his way westward along the north shore. Where the island ends, rough winds and adverse currents blocked his advance. But in turning back he at least felt sure that he had found a westward passage. His homeward voyage was through the Strait of Belle Isle for as yet he knew no other way out of the Gulf. In spite of terrific storms from the east that delayed him in mid-ocean he reached St. Malo (September 15) one month after sailing from the north shore.

Cartier wrote a narrative report of his first voyage in a manuscript now lost. It was not printed during his lifetime, though printing was beginning to blossom. However, the report nonetheless gained for Cartier ample royal support for a new voyage.

Again sailing on orders from King Francis in 1535, Cartier crossed Belle Isle for the second time and then sailed up the St. Lawrence River, which he named on this occasion, as far as the Native American village of Stadacona, where modern Québec stands. He later proceeded up the river to the Native American village of Hochelaga and climbed the hill behind the village to observe the Ottawa River and Lachine Rapids. Cartier called the hill Mont Réal (Mount Royal), from which the name of the city of Montréal is derived. After spending the winter in Stadacona, Cartier sailed for France on a course south of Newfoundland, and for the first time passed through what is now called Cabot Strait.

Beginning his third voyage in 1541, Cartier again sailed up the St. Lawrence, this time as far as Lachine Rapids. His purpose was to establish a colony in Canada, but the mission was not successful. He returned to France the following year. He settled in St.-Malo and wrote an account of his expeditions that was published in 1545.

1775 - Québec Besieged

The walled city of Québec was a major prize in the French- British struggle for dominion in Canada. After a long campaign, British general James Wolfe drew his French rival General Louis de Montcalm out of the city and defeated him on the Plains of Abraham in one of the most important battles of the French and Indian Wars. The final treaty in 1763 gave the province and other French holdings to Great Britain.

In 1775, Québec was besieged, this time by American forces under generals Richard Montgomery and Benedict Arnold. Montgomery was killed and Arnold fled, abandoning hopes of conquering Québec during the American Revolution.

The 18th century also saw Québec as a springboard for western exploration. Soldiers, missionaries and fur traders set out from Montreal and Québec to travel up the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes, then on to the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Following byways charted by Robert Cavelier de La Salle, Samuel de Champlain, Louis Joliet and others, the pioneers opened the middle of the continent.

By the Constitutional Act of 1791, Québec became Lower Canada. the 1840 Act of Union joined Lower and Upper Canada (Ontario), and a stable, responsible government was instituted. Quebec entered the Canadian confederation as a province in 1867, providing that the language and code of law be retained. This loyalty is still evident in politics, education, religion and general outlook.

© Lucie LeBlanc Consentino
Acadian & French Canadian Ancestral Home
1998 - Present

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