Primary Resource: Canada in the 1660s

In 1664, Pierre Boucher published (in French) A True and Genuine Description of New France, Commonly Called Canada, and of the Manners and Customs and Productions of that Country. Boucher’s history of Canada was translated into English and re-published by Edward Louis Montizambert in 1883 for all of us non-French speakers to read.

Pierre Boucher.  Photocredit: Wikipedia

Pierre Boucher. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Pierre Boucher emigrated to Canada with his father as a teenager in the 1630s and rose to become a prominent public figure.  His 1664 history, which he published while Governor of Trois-Rivieres, described European settlements in New France — and the land, trees, animals, birds, fish, grains, and natives — around them.  His book intended to further encourage the settlement of New France but he did admit to four inconveniences in the new world: Iroquois aggression, mosquitos, long winters, and rattlesnakes.

As you read through Boucher’s history you can pick up a lot about what life must have been like for seventeenth century habitants.  For example:

Having mentioned the winters, I shall say a few words of the seasons. Properly speaking, there are only two to be reckoned here, for we pass suddenly from great heat to great cold; therefore, we speak only of Winter and Summer.  Winter begins immediately after All Saints Day [November 1]; that is to say, frosts begin then, and some time after comes the snow, which lies on the ground until about the fifteenth of April, in ordinary years, and later than that in others; but usually it is about the sixteenth that the ground becomes free from snow, and in a state to put forth plants and to be ploughed.

While much of this information might be unsurprising to a modern Canadian, I am intrigued by how his words speak to the priorities of his world.  From the passage I quoted above, I love the way both faith and pragmatism informed Boucher’s knowledge of local farming.

For those of you who are curious to read more descriptions of early Canada, you can gain access to the translated version of Boucher’s history for free through Google books.

For those of you tracing the lives of early Canadian ancestors, it is important to note that Boucher (though well-traveled) spent most of his life about 80 miles west of Quebec.  Still, Boucher was sensitive to the variations of Canadian experience so there is much to glean in his book about what it was like to live in 1660s New France.

And for those of you who share ancestors with me, it is also curious to note that Pierre is probably a relative.  His father, Gaspard, is thought to be the brother or cousin of another famous founding settler, Marin Boucher.  And Marin Boucher was the brother of Jeanne Boucher who married Thomas Hayot, and whose daughter, Anne, married the first Canadian Boisvert, Etienne.  From my generation looking back, Pierre Boucher is reputed to be a first or second cousin 10x removed.

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Greg Rogers’ academic paper, “Eden with Iroquois,” puts Boucher’s history into its context (and therefore might help you distinquish fact from seventeenth century bias when reading Boucher.) Roger’s paper can be found here.

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