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Canada in the 17th and 18th century


Cape Breton Island
Cape Breton Island

In the 1680s New France was again at war with the Iroquois, partly over control of the fur trade but also as an offshoot of war between France and England. The English and their Iroquois allies attacked the settlements on the St. Lawrence in King William’s War (1689-1697), but New France now had a permanent garrison and could strike back. New France’s soldiers, notably Pierre Le Moyne, sieur d’Iberville, raided the frontiers of New York and New England with their indigenous allies and seized most of the English trading posts on Hudson Bay. After almost a decade of guerrilla warfare, the Treaty of Ryswick (1697) merely confirmed each country’s possessions before the war, even returning Acadia, which the English had captured, to the French. In 1701 the Iroquois made a comprehensive peace with New France and sought to remain neutral in future conflicts between the two countries.

In 1702 a new war, Queen Anne’s War, broke out between France and Great Britain (a new union of three countries headed by England).

By the Peace of Utrecht that ended the war, France was compelled to yield its land in Newfoundland, although it kept seasonal fishing rights on the north side (the French Shore), and its claims to Hudson Bay. The Acadian mainland was also ceded to Britain. However, the French kept their forts and trading posts on the north side of the Bay of Fundy, maintaining that this was Mi’kmaq land that had never become part of Acadia. The Acadians who lived under British rule became the neutral French, tied to neither the French nor the British, but always distrusted by the British. They and the Mi’kmaq were the only people living in the colony, which the British called Nova Scotia, until the seaport of Halifax was founded in 1749.

France kept Cape Breton Island and Île Saint Jean (now Prince Edward Island), organizing them as the colony of Isle Royale.

After 1713 the French fishing industry focused on Cape Breton Island, where the fortified town of Louisbourg was founded that year. Louisbourg soon became a successful fishing and trading port as well as a military base. In the peaceful decades that followed, New France continued to grow and prosper, from 18,000 people in 1713 to 40,000 in 1737 and 55,000 in 1755. Most of these people lived in the long-established farming communities of the St. Lawrence valley, the heartland of New France.

Fur trade forts dotted the continent, and Montréal’s merchants continued to control the lion’s share of the fur trade, which grew and spread westward. The French approached the fur trade differently than the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC).

The French went into the back country to collect furs, but the HBC generally preferred to establish posts at shipping ports and let the indigenous trappers bring their furs to the posts. Although the HBC made a generous profit, its trade was often intercepted upstream by Montréalers who met the trappers on their home ground and bought the best of their furs.

The French fur trade operations were extended far to the west by military officer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye, and his sons. They explored almost to the Rocky Mountains in the 1730s and 1740s and established a string of fur trading forts. The fur traders who followed them established routes along the Saskatchewan and Missouri rivers. The French forged alliances, based on the trade, with the indigenous peoples of the west, and this meant that French soldiers, traders, and missionaries could move with relative ease across the continent. But since the indigenous nations trapped and traded the pelts and European hatters processed them, the fur trade never provided work for more than a few hundred French colonists. "Canada" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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