Clearing the land for settling: arriving on a seigneury
The colony of New France was divided into long narrow strips of land perpendicular to the St Lawrence River or other waterways. The territory was organized this way to facilitate communication and because rivers were necessary for farming. If you look at how land is divided in areas of Quebec today, you may still see traces of the seigneury system.
Lands were first granted to seigneurs by the governor and the intendant. The seigneur kept an estate for himself on the seigneury where he had the land farmed and a manor house built for his family. Nearby, he reserved land for the parish church. Merchants, artisans and a notary would eventually open their shops near the church, around which a village would grow. The seigneur also built a mill where the habitants ground their wheat into flour. There was also common land, where the inhabitants of the seigneury (the censitaires) grazed their livestock.
A colonist like Nicolas Choquette had to request land from the seigneur. Nicolas received a censive (plot of land) for which he had to pay the cens (rent) every year to the seigneur.
Once he was granted land, Nicolas stayed with a neighbour for a year or two while he cleared his land and prepared it for cultivation. He had to cut down the trees and remove the stones and stumps from the soil.
After two years of hard work, Nicolas built his first house and a barn, both of which were made of wood. Several years later, he built a new barn to store his harvest and farming tools, as well as a stable where he kept livestock (cows, pigs, chickens, horses, etc.).
Author: Léon Robichaud
See also – Traces of the past:
- Québec, a well-protected town?
- Québec, the largest town in Canada
- A bird’s eye view of a seigneury
- Montréal, a fortified town