Louisbourg Lighthouse, 1733 FR CAOM COL C11B 39 110

Louisbourg Lighthouse
FR CAOM COL C11B 39 no 100

The early efforts at colonization in New France were modest: the French had to cope with the harshness of the climate and of nature, the hostility of the Aboriginal inhabitants, the distance separating them from the homeland and the difficulty of obtaining supplies. The first rudimentary buildings were small forts surrounded by a wooden palisade. Serving as trading posts and sometimes missions, they were most often located at the confluence of the St. Lawrence River and one of its tributaries. Only a few settlements, such as Québec, Montréal and Trois-Rivières, grew in size and population. In the 18th century, there was an attempt at urban development, with plans for street grids, lots and public squares and parade grounds. These plans were drawn up by renowned royal engineers Robert de Villeneuve, Josué Dubois Berthelot de Beaucours, Jacques Levasseur de Neré and Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry. Urban planning remained largely a military concern: the towns had a fort, a fortress, one or more batteries, redoubts, and an enclosure. However, the lack of maintenance of the fortifications and the vacillations of the court and the administration in their decisions to construct solid, fortified enclosures often precipitated the surrender of towns and forts at the close of the French period.


North America by Franquelin

Carte de l’Amérique du Nord, par Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin, 1699 FR Service historique de la Marine Collection des 71 recueils recueil 66 carte no 20

Carte de l’Amérique du Nord
FR Service historique de la Marine Collection des 71 recueils recueil 66 carte no 20

This map, representing New France as it was known at the time, shows the various trading posts and settlements created by the French. It also includes an idealized and monumental view of Québec city, and a slice of Native life. On the map borders, the cartographer has drawn the shores of the St.Lawrence River, from Lake Ontario to Tadoussac.

  North America by Franquelin Document 1PDF Version 0.89 Mb



Champlain's Habitation was a simple, wooden fortress-trading post. Québec went on to become the most important cities in Canada, of which it formed the administrative, civil and religious centre. According to Pehr Kalm, a Swedish traveller, in 1749, most of the merchants lived in the Lower Town, while the elite lived in the Upper Town. Québec had the colony's most important buildings: Château Saint-Louis, the Intendant's residence, the Jesuit college and the seminary, Hôtel-Dieu, the general hospital and various convents and churches. In 1754, Québec's population stood at 8,000. Between 1691 and 1709, the king's engineer Josué Dubois Berthelot de Beaucourt had batteries and redoubts built and had the city surrounded with ramparts of stone and earth. In the early 18th century, the authorities decided to put a wall around the city, but work was suspended in 1720 because of the great cost. Louisbourg and Montréal were considered key elements in the territory's plan of defence; Québec however seemed beyond the enemy's reach. After the surrender of Louisbourg in 1745, Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry supervised the completion of the wall and the destruction of the old stone enclosure. After a three-month siege and intense bombardment, Québec surrendered on September 18, 1759.

Built in 1687-1688 on the site of Champlain's Habitation and the King's storehouse, which had been destroyed by fire a few years earlier, the church was dedicated to Our Lady of Victory in 1690, to commemorate the defeat of Admiral William Phips at Québec. In 1711, after the sinking of much of Admiral Hovenden Walker's fleet, the church was named Our Lady of Victories.

Map of Fort Saint-Louis, Québec
Plan of the harbour of Québec
True plan of Québec as it is in the year 1664
Cross-section along line A, B, C marked on the plan of Québec
Plans and elevations of Château Saint-Louis
Plan of the city of Québec
Plan and elevation of the Church of Our Lady of Victories

  Québec Document 1PDF Version 0.82 Mb


Veue de la ville des Trois-Rivières en Canada, Nouvelle-France, 1721.  FR CAOM 3DFC 464C

Veue de la ville des Trois-Rivières en Canada

At the request of Samuel de Champlain, the town of Trois-Rivières was founded by La Violette in 1634, at the point where the Saint-Maurice River flows into the St. Lawrence. It was a traditional meeting place for the fur trade, hence the hostility of the Iroquois, who attacked the settlement repeatedly throughout the 17th century. The town was the seat of a local government, like Montréal. In 1721, it had 800 inhabitants.



Ville-Marie was founded in 1642, where the waters of the St. Lawrence are at their navigable limit, by a lay missionary organization, the Société de Notre-Dame de Montréal, on the initiative of Jérôme Le Royer de La Dauversière. Although Montréal began as a mission for the evangelization of the Aboriginal inhabitants, its commercial role soon overtook its religious vocation. The town became the trading centre for furs and other goods. It was a supply centre for the posts in the interior of the colony and a departure point for offensive expeditions. From the time of its founding, many defensive enclaves were built as protection against the Iroquois. A palisade was erected between 1687 and 1689; it was replaced by a masonry enclosure, built between 1717 and 1744 according to the plans of Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry. The town's extensive perimeter was in the form of an elongated rectangle. With the Treaty of Utrecht, Montréal's military role was strengthened. The surrender of New France, signed in Montréal on September 8, 1760, put an end to the war on the American continent. At that time, the town had 4,000 inhabitants.

Governor of Montréal (1698-1703) and then of New France (1703-1725), Philippe Rigaud de Vaudreuil chose Montréal as his main residence. A royal grant issued in his name guaranteed that he and his heirs would possess a large tract of land in the heart of the town, fronting on the St. Lawrence River. He had a house built that conformed to the architectural norms of France: on either side of a central main section devoted to the owner's social activities were symmetrical projecting wings for his private and domestic life. The residence had the latest conveniences: a lavatory, latrines for both master and servants, cold storage, plus the added charm of three gardens that combined the practical (an orchard and a vegetable garden) with pure pleasure (French-style flowerbeds).

In 1535, Jacques Cartier visited the Iroquois village of Hochelaga, the future site of Montréal, and described it in the account of his second voyage. This woodcut, published in Venice, is the first printed plan of an urban area in North America.

Plan of the residence of Philippe de Rigaud
The land of Hochelaga in New France
Ville-Marie on the island of Montréal
Map of the island of Montréal and surrounding area
Plan of Montréal

  Montréal Document 1PDF Version 0.24 Mb


The founding of Detroit dates to July 24, 1701, when Antoine Laumet called de Lamothe Cadillac established Fort Ponchartrain du Détroit, between Lake Erie and Lake St. Claire, in order to strengthen French control over the Great Lakes region, while slowing down the English expansion. The Huron, Outaouais and Miami settled near the fort. The new settlement was located on the edge of Iroquois hunting grounds. Cadillac monopolized the fur trade, and the outpost declined until his departure for Louisiana in 1710. That year, only six families were left on the land and eleven in the fort. In 1749, the new Governor of New France, Roland-Michel Barrin de La Galissonière, impressed by the post's strategic importance, made an effort to attract more settlers. In 1760, Detroit had 825 inhabitants.

Plan of Fort Detroit
Map of the strait and part of Lake Erie and Lake St. Claire


After Newfoundland and Acadia were ceded to England by the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), France decided to fortify Cape Breton Island in order to protect Canada, maintain its position on the Atlantic and ensure the exploitation of the abundant fisheries off the coast of Newfoundland. Cape Breton Island became Île Royale. The Secretary of State for the Marine decided to erect a fortress at Louisbourg. The fortified town was designed by military engineers under the direction of Jean-François Verville, according to the fortification theories of the commissary general of fortifications, Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban. The main defence works were carried out under Étienne Verrier. A large sector was given over to defensive functions. However, since the area's steeply embanked shoreline and the marshes surrounding the fortress were thought sufficient to preclude any attack, the land was not fortified. Beyond its defensive role, Louisbourg soon became an important port, and the hub of exchange for France, the West Indies and Canada. The fortified town included half the population of Île Royale, about 4,000 in 1750, and a large proportion of soldiers were quartered there in barracks. The English took control of Louisbourg in 1745, but Île Royale was given back in 1748. It fell permanently to the English in 1758.

Plan and façades of Porte Dauphine
Plan of part of the Princesse bastion and the Cap Noir battery
Plan of Louisbourg
Plan and elevation of the King's Battery
Map of the Port of Louisbourg and its surroundings

The Forts

More than 200 forts were built during the French period. Some played a military role; others served as trading and fishing posts, missions or true settlements. All were meeting places and transit points. The forts had to withstand bad weather and enemy attacks from the Aboriginal inhabitants and the English. Most were made of wood, but some, particularly in the east, were made of stone. Their shapes varied widely. The first structures to be built were the storage rooms for dry goods and provisions, then the fort commander's lodgings and various buildings for military use: a smithy, a powder magazine, the men's quarters, the stables and, according to the size of the fort, a chapel or church. The climate inflicted severe damage to these structures, particularly when a fort was abandoned. Fought over by the French and the English, burned and demolished, few forts have survived to the present.

Fort Frontenac was erected in 1673 by René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle, at the mouth of the Cataracoui River on a point of land projecting into Lake Ontario. The objective was to make it a command post for the control of the fur trade, but also to contain the Iroquois from expanding their territory to the south. La Salle used it as a departure point for his explorations of the Mississippi. By 1685, the site also included many dwellings, an Indian village, a convent and a church. The French abandoned the whole outpost in 1688, and destroyed the fort, which they rebuilt in 1695 to house another small garrison. The fort was taken by the English in August 1758.

Fort Pentagouet, in Acadia, was built in 1625 by Charles Turgis de Saint-Étienne de La Tour, at the head of the Pentagouet River, which empties into the Atlantic. It was mainly a fortified trading post and a fishing station. It fell to the English in 1626 and was retaken by Charles Menou d'Aulnay in 1635. The Compagnie de la Nouvelle-France granted the seigneury of Pentagouet to Claude de La Tour in 1636.

Fort Pontchartrain, this small fort, located on Baie des Esquimaux, not far from the Saint-Augustin River, was built in 1707 by Augustin Le Gardeur de Courtemanche, who obtained a land grant in 1702 that extended from the Kegaska River to the Kessessakiou River, along the Strait of Belle Isle. This grant gave him exclusive fur-trading rights for seal hunting and permission to hunt whale and fish for cod. Courtemanche lived on good terms with the Montagnais, who worked for him as trappers and hunters. He also had a mission to approach the Inuit, who were sometimes hostile toward the French.

The Fort of La Présentation was built by Michel Barrin de La Galissonière, Governor General of New France, on the St. Lawrence River, between Montréal and Lake Ontario. In the same period, La Présentation, an Iroquois mission called Soegatsi by the Aboriginal people, was founded in 1749 by the Sulpician Abbot François Picquet.

Fort Frontenac or Kataracouy
Plan of Fort Pentagouet
Plan and elevation of Fort Pontchartrain on the coast of Labrador
Map of the confluence of the Katarakoui and Choeuketfy rivers

Richelieu River Forts

In the mid-17th century, New France was seriously threatened by the Iroquois. In 1665, to repel the Aboriginal peoples and restore the settlers' confidence, Louis XIV sent over the Carignan-Salières Regiment. They built a number of forts on the Richelieu River in order to prevent the Iroquois from using the waterway to attack the settlements of the St. Lawrence Valley. One of the first forts was Fort Chambly, erected in 1665 by Jacques de Chambly, captain of the Carignan-Salières Regiment. It was situated below the rapids, where the Richelieu River forms a basin. The fort was reinforced in 1710-1711. Because of its position, this uniform, fortified stone structure of equal angles blocked access to the navigable part of the Richelieu in the direction of the St. Lawrence, and stood between the enemy and Montréal. In 1665, the Carignan-Salières Regiment also built Fort Richelieu at the mouth of the Richelieu River. It was erected on the site of an earlier fort built by Charles Huault de Montmagny, first Governor and Lieutenant-Governor of New France, and destroyed by the Iroquois in 1647.

Plan, longitudinal sections and elevations of Fort Chambly in Canada
Map of the forts made by the Carignan-Salières Regiment
Plan of Fort Richelieu

  Richelieu River Forts Document 1PDF Version 0.55 Mb

The Missions

In the 18th century, missionaries concentrated their efforts in the St. Lawrence Valley, where they attempted to induce the Aboriginal inhabitants to adopt a sedentary way of life. What was known as the mission of the sauvages du Sault [savages of the Rapids], previously on the Island of Montréal, was transferred, at the request of the Sulpicians, to an area northwest of Lac des Deux Montagnes. The land was granted by the Intendant and the Governor General in 1717 on the condition that the mission be established at the expense of the religious community and that they build a church and fort made of stone. The goal was not just to convert the Aboriginal peoples (the Algonquin, the Nipissing, and the Iroquois), but also to protect the Island of Montréal from Iroquois incursions.

Plan of the fort and the Lac des Deux Montagnes Mission
Plan of the Lac des Deux Montagnes Mission
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