Our French Canadian Heritage

The Two Branches

The surname Boisvert is a French topographic moniker. It is attributed to someone who lived in a dense forest or perhaps a copse of evergreens. From Old French, bois ‘wood’ + vert ‘green’. This name is sometimes translated as Greenwood.

Although there are Boisvert family lines with countless spelling variations currently located in France, the inception of the Boisvert name in North America can be traced back to the beginnings of French colonization during the 17th century.

In the late 1600’s along the St. Lawrence River, between the towns of Trois Riveries and Quebec lived two unrelated men. Perhaps inspired by the brilliance of the greenery which surrounded them, a merchant named Etienne De Never sieur de Brantigy and a farmer named Jean Joubin decided independently to adopt the alternate surname of Boisvert.

At the time and for many years, the families continued to use both names. Etienne’s full name would have been Etienne De Never dit Boisvert. (Pronounced: Ay-tyen De-Navay deet Bwa-vere).

Jean would have called himself Jean Joubin dit Boisvert. (Pronounced: Zh-own Zhu-ban deet Bwa-vere).

Over the course of centuries, generations would alter their last name. Some would drop the “Boisvert” moniker and revert back to their original name. Others would only use the Boisvert surname, still others would change the spelling or upon reaching America, anglicize their name. It is not uncommon to see all three name alternatives within the same family group.

To complicate the task of the researcher, the families of Etienne De Never and Jean Joubin lived practically side by side or across the St. Lawrence River and their children were nearly the same age. Oft times, DeNever dit Boisvert married Joubin dit Boisvert.

With all the messing around with the Boisvert last name, one would think it impossible to find accurate infomation. Luckily the Boisvert surname is rare. As of the year 2012 there is an estimated 6,000 Boisverts living in the United States. In Quebec, only 1.6% of the population uses the name. That ranks 65th in popularity. In France, the surname Boisvert does not rank in the top 500.

It also can be stated that the Boisvert surname is a pure North American creation, it’s birth on the riverbank of the St. Lawrence can be clearly identified.

Since there is documented creation of the name Boisvert in Canada and small amount of Boisvert’s in North America, it is not far fethced to assume a fellow Boisvert is a distant relative. The only question that needs asking is,

“Are you a Joubin or a De Never?”

 

Boisvert Coat of Arms

A Boisvert family coat of arms was developed and adopted by the Boisvert Families Association in 1988. The European crests have no relation to the French Canadian Boisverts who descended from Jean Joubin and Etienne De Never sieur de Brantigy. Thus a new coat of arms was created that would accurately illustrate the proud lineage of the North American Boisverts.

On the left side, the RED portion: The color represents Languedoc, the ancestral home of the Joubins known as Boisvert. It also represents attachment to the earth of these families who put down roots in the Portneuf area, specifically in Grondines, Quebec.

At the top, the cross of Toulouse, an essential part of the coat-of-arms of Languedoc, symbolized the French origin of these families.

The axe reminds us of the tools used by the colonists to clear the land. The wheat sheaves represent the attachment to the earth of the numerous farmers who settled there.

On the right side, the Blue portion: This is the predominant color of the coat-of-arms of Champagne, the ancestral home of De Nevers known as Boisvert. This color also reminds us of the water, boats and fishing activities associated with these families.

At the top, the cotices are from the arms of Champagne, the place of origin of their families. The scales represent the professionals among the original family. Among Etienne De Nevers sons were a notary and a surgeon.

The mid-portion of wavy silver represents the St. Lawrence River flowing between Grondines (home of the Joubin families) on the north shore, and Lotbiniere (home of the De Nevers families) on the south shore. The pale also unites both families so that there will be no distinction between them. We all belong to the large Boisvert family. This large family is united by the uprooted tree. The roots illustrate our heritage, and the “B” is for Boisvert.

The scroll contains the motto:

• Fierte: Pride in our origins
• Esperance: Hope to be all united some day, and for the color of hope born by our name
• Egalite: Equality so that the two families may be equally represented in one unit.

“dit” Boisvert

The “dit” names have an interesting origin. The English translation of “dit” is “said”. The colonist of Nouvelle France (New France) added “dit” as distinguishers. A settler might have wanted to differentiate their family from their siblings by taking a “dit” name that described the locale to which they relocated or their current profession.

French colonialists followed the customs of the French feudal system, in which land was divided amongst the first born sons (primogeniture). Soon there was not enough land to divide any further. Possibly an adventurous younger son, (i.e. our ancestor) would decide to establish himself, with or without family, in another area… say a fertile piece of land covered in maple and pine.  He would add “dit Boisvert” to distinguish himself from his brothers

The seigneural or feudal system

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the territory of New France, legally named the Dominion, was owned by the Crown. The King of France (or his representatives) distributed parts of land either to nobles, or to rich merchants or professionals, or to people deserving from the State like army officers, for example. These lands were called “seigneuries” or “fiefs”, the owner was called a “seigneur” (landlord). The landlord had to build and maintain a manor, distribute lands, declare faith and honor to the King, produce the census required, pay a right called “droit de Quint” in some cases or the revenue of one year in others, build a flour mill, reserve oak wood and mines to the King, reserve some space for roads.

A part of the seigneurie remained the domain of the landlord as a whole or as multiple pieces of land. The rest was divided in lots and distributed to habitants. These habitants had to build and maintain a house, clear the land, build a fence, pay multiple rights to the landlord, keep part of the lot for a road, reserve some quantities of building or heating wood for the landlord, pay hunting and fishing rights, perform communal work, etc. The seigneurie could also contain a communal land where the habitant could send his animals in pasture, while paying a right to the landlord to do so.

The landlord could redistribute part of his seigneurie in sub-fief. The owner of this sub-fief became landlord on his own, had the same rights but remained a vassal of the main landlord. It was even possible to redistribute anew a part of the sub-fief as a sub-sub-fief using the same method.

Following sales or inheritance, the seigneuries might have many co-landlords. Most of the time, the seigneurie itself remained undivided and only the income generated was divided between the co-landlords.

The lots were distributed or groups along the River or along a smaller watercourse, or in rangs (ranks) in the interior of the land. The name rang was extended to designate the road giving access to the lots. The road giving access to the interior lands was called a montée.

The seigneuries did not correspond to the territory of the parishes. One seigneurie could contain many parishes. Or it could be only a part of a parish territory.

Land was measured in french leagues. A french league was the equivalent of 2,280 toises. A toise was the equivalent of 6 pieds du roi (slightly longer than the foot). The lieue was a little less than 2.75 miles. Land was also measured in arpents, a unit for areas slightly bigger than an acre. One linear arpent was the equivalent of 10 perches. A perche was equal to 20 pieds du roi. One arpent was about 213 feet.

One of the frustrating things about genealogy is that no matter home much research is done, we will never truly know the full story. A juicy, well documented family melodrama is rarely ever found.

Not all hope is lost. Although we will never know what our ancestor Jean Joubin was thinking when he first stepped foot in North America, we can document the social, economically and political environments during his time. In turn, by wrapping a cocoon of outside influences around our ancestors, we can get a glimpse of how they thought and who they were.

The information shown is from The Virtual Museum of New France (www.civilization.ca). It focuses on the French Inhabitant lifestyles during 1600 and 1700’s. This timeline corresponds with our early ancestors, Jean Joubin dit Boisvert, Alexis Joubin dit Boisvert, Charles Boisvert, and Louis Diuedonné Boisvert.

 

The Importance of The Family

As a general rule, Canada’s population married late in life. Given the colony’s economic situation, young people could not start a family earlier, just like their counterparts in France. Men married for the first time around the age of 27, and women, between the ages of 20 and 24. People usually married a neighbor, but the wealthiest inhabitants of rural areas did not hesitate to go farther afield to find a spouse whose fortune was comparable to theirs.

Families had nine children on average, but only five of them lived to adulthood. Rural families were generally very close-knit, and its members helped one another at various times, especially when there was work to be done. Families produced just about everything they needed, thanks to this spirit of collaboration. Farm surpluses were sold to allow families to buy the goods and equipment that were essential to their operations, since families were a veritable production unit. The family was also the place where children learned to work, and received moral, religious and civic instruction

The death of a spouse was a source of instability in the family. In the eighteenth century, close to half the children under the age of 18 lost a parent. People remarried quickly because it was difficult to raise a family alone, and almost impossible to cultivate land, especially if the children were young. Remarriage explains why natural population growth was so high in the colony.

 

The Habitants’ Character

To the administrators of New France, habitants never complied sufficiently with the law, and to the clergy, they were never religious enough. The colony’s first habitants were neither angels nor demons. As was the case in Europe, habitants, nobles and the middle class turned to the courts to settle acreage disputes and contract violations, and to deal with violations of moral standards.

Whether the offenses were serious or minor, those guilty were taken to court and punished, although, on the whole, less severely than in France. Many of the cases heard by the legal authorities concerned habitants’ insubordination towards authority, as well as verbal or physical violence between neighbors due to “boundary disputes”.

More often than not, the punishment for such misdemeanors was a fine. The habitants’ refusal to comply with fur trade regulations, pay the tithe or participate in the compulsory corvées has led some to claim that Canadians were disobedient and rebellious.

 

Swearing and Blasphemy

Generally speaking, swearing in New France reflected the value assigned to the sense of honor of men and women.  If you wished to insult a man you would call into question his honesty using such terms as fripon, voleur, geux, or cartouche. Women were reviled for their extramarital sexual activity as in putain (whore), and its various synonyms, marcrelle, garce, coureuses de garcons. The wife of an army officer was superlatively reproached in 1728 for being “plus putain qu’une cavale,” a cavale being a mare whose primary purpose was to produce other horses.

 

Agricultural activities

The habitants’ work was closely linked to the cycle of the seasons. In the winter, habitants looked after their livestock, which usually consisted of two to four dairy cows, one or two teams of oxen, at least one breeding boar, several sows, about a dozen hens, a few sheep and perhaps a horse. They also cut down trees to clear land for cultivation and chopped wood for the fire. In the spring, they spent a few days finishing the ploughing begun in the fall.

At the beginning of May, they sent their animals into the fields or the commune’s common grazing lands, and at the end of the month, they began broadcasting their wheat and, sometimes, a bit of oats, barley and rye. The sowing took about three weeks. During that time, the farmer’s wife and children looked after the kitchen garden. After weeding it, they planted carrots, lettuce, onions, turnips and cabbage, as well as pumpkins and melons, which Aboriginal people introduced them to. In early June, as summer approached, habitants began to do maintenance on their buildings. At Saint-Jean-Baptiste time (feast day celebrated on June 24), they had a short break, for they would begin haying at the end of July, and that lasted about three weeks. Used to feed the animals, the hay was stacked and placed under shelter for the winter. The wheat, a staple food in the colony, was harvested at the end of August. It was cut with a sickle and stored in sheaves in the barns. It would be threshed with a flail at the end of the season, sometimes as late as December.

If other grains were cultivated, they were harvested afterwards. Peas, consumed by both people and animals, were harvested last. Right after — in late September and early October — habitants ploughed their land once again and prepared for another winter. They brought their livestock indoors, placed their firewood under shelter, and stored meat and other foodstuffs in the attic or the cellar.

The agricultural implements used by habitants were simple but comparable in every respect to those found elsewhere in North America and Europe. Picks, spades, garden hoes, sickles and scythes were made of iron, and two- or three-pronged forks, shovels and winnowing baskets were made of wood. In addition to these basic tools, some habitants also had axes, billhooks, a manure hook, all-purpose chains and a few carpenter’s tools. As for ploughs, not all habitants had the means to purchase them, but they could rent them, as well as draft animals.

As soon as they received free land from the seigneur, Habitants had several duties to fulfill. Their primary duty was to cultivate the land and “have hearth and home” on it, that is, live there. If the land was not under cultivation within a year, the seigneur had the right to repossess it (the droit de réunion). Habitants also agreed to pay the seigneur various taxes. First, there was the cens, an annual imprescriptible tax that was more symbolic that lucrative because it varied from two to six sols. Then there was the rente, which was set at 20 sols per arpent of frontage and had to be paid every year. If censitaires sold their land, they paid the seigneur the lods et ventes, a tax equivalent to one-twelfth of the sale price. In addition, habitants had to grind their wheat at the seigneurial mill and pay a milling fee by giving the seigneur the fourteenth minot (14 minots for every 200 minots of wheat). If they fished, they agreed to give the seigneur one-thirteenth of the product of the fishery. Finally, they were obligated to do one to four days of compulsory work, called corvées, each year during the sowing, haying or harvesting season.

 

Diet

In the colony as in France, bread was a dietary staple. In New France, bread represented from 60 to 85% of the total daily food intake. In towns and in rural areas alike, bread was known to be of good quality: of pure wheat, it was just as beautiful and white as in France and it took the form of an oblong cob-shaped loaf. The less bran the flour contained, the more nourishing and flavorful the bread was considered to be. Bread that was not purged of bran, or “brown bread,” was considered unfit for human consumption according to 18th century concepts of nutrition. Wheat bread had such an important place in diet that corn was rejected as a cereal suitable for bread making, contrary to both Aboriginal custom and that of the English colonies in New England.

The oblong cob-shaped loaf was eaten morning, noon and evening. Dipped in brandy at breakfast, it could also be eaten with slices of onion. Bread was also appreciated with soup that was prepared without meat.The settlers had a soft spot for cucumbers, which they prepared with sweet or sour cream or in a fricassee. Vegetable accompaniments were limited in variety; the most common were onions and cabbage. People could always rely on soup, made from all of the most common vegetables, such as peas, cabbage or onions. Apparently, onion soup delighted everyone’s palate.

Cattle were usually slaughtered young, as frequent shortages of fodder forced the colonists to keep their livestock for as short a time as possible. Bone analyses confirm that they were often slaughtered before the age of four years. Beef was more easily available than was pork, and it was sold for 10 to 15% less.

Just as cattle were the most common stock animal, beef was the favorite meat, followed by pork; mutton was somewhat less appreciated. However, during the wars of the mid-18th century, sheep livestock became more important.

The farmyard typically contained hens, roosters, capons and turkeys. There were a few geese, but ducks were not kept as domestic birds. The poultry population declined during winter, as the cold interrupted nesting and the hatching of eggs. A portion of the poultry thus wound up in the cauldron before the winter cold set in.

Low milk production resulted in a limited production of butter. Since fat is essential in cooking, people had to turn to other sources. Lard or animal fat was much more available and much less costly than imported olive oil. In households from Québec through the Richelieu Valley to Montréal, the consumption rate for lard was five times that of butter. It was so much in demand for enhancing the flavor of meals that a family consumed about 88 pounds per year. The colonists raised pigs more for the fat than the meat, but this did not prevent them from savoring cutlets and other fresh cuts during the main butchering season.

Less important than lard, butter was nevertheless appreciated in cooking. It was usually eaten salted, during winter and on fasting days, when it could substitute for lard. Cheese was not a common food in New France. Small quantities were made at Île d’Orléans, another variety came from the Repentigny region and there was also some “country cheese,” of unspecified origin and composition.

Settlers were fond of beef stew as a main dish. In fall, they might serve goose roasted with apples or roasted barded poultry. Fat was used but in moderation. Fish was eaten at noon or in the evening. Although documents explain the preparation, they are silent about the ingredients used in fish dishes. Turbot was seasoned with salt and herbs of “strong flavor.” Sturgeon was eaten in a sauce. Tom-cod was fried, while eel was consumed smoked, roasted or boiled. Eel was hung with its skin to be smoked in the chimney, the oil allowed to drip into the fire below

Dessert, although it is not clear how often it was enjoyed, consisted of plums, apples, fruit preserves, and in season, wild or garden berries.

 

Food preservation

Food preservation took different forms depending on the time of year, the place, or the social or occupational situation. The winter cold was an excellent way of preserving meat and fish. Both in town and in the country, the attic could be used to freeze winter food provisions; everyone hoped that mild spells would be short. Country folk could improvise cold storage near their homes by burying pieces of ice in the ground or by building something resembling an ice cellar beneath their home. Food frozen in this way kept its flavor throughout the winter. A real ice cellar was the privilege of a few, such as the governor, religious communities or the butcher.

Vegetables were preserved in underground root cellars. They kept well, although their flavor would begin to change by the end of winter. As for fruits, only apples seemed to keep well, except of course, fruits preserved in sugar. Salt was one of the most effective preservatives, and salting was frequently used for meat and fish. Smoking, the method widely used by most Aboriginal groups, was also a familiar technique in certain areas where the custom was to hang hams in the chimney. Finally, drying food did not appear to be a common practice in the colony, although some foods imported from France were shipped in dried form, such as artichokes and mushrooms.

By the end of the 17th century, as European crops and livestock became well established, the colonists abandoned the native food stuffs they had borrowed from their Aboriginal neighbors. From that time on, their diet became decidedly French: it was centrerd on bread, soup and beef. Of the local resources, only fish, small quantities of game, native berries and herbs continued to be consumed.

The British Conquest gradually changed these customs. The first item of change, the potato, was introduced in 1764, and spread to such an extent that half a century later the daily bread ration had diminished by half. A few decades later, tea became essential with its corollary, sugar, as the hot beverage was consumed very sweet, with a hint of milk, This clashed with earlier dietary customs, and explains the comparatively slow acceptance of tea by the French community. By the mid-1780s, dietary patterns began to reflect the mixing of English and French customs.

Sugar

In the colony, most types of sugar were imported, even though maple sugar was produced in the 17th century. Honey was also produced but it was not very popular. Its presence in the offices of surgeons suggests that it was used for its medicinal properties.

Sugar came from the French Antilles and was shipped via France before arriving in the St. Lawrence Valley. It appeared in the city of Québec in the form of sugar loafs, highly refined granulated sugar (white or grey), and the coarser types, known as cassonade, which came in a range of hues, from brown to white. Sugar continued to be a secondary import commodity throughout the French regime. Annual consumption of molasses, which only became somewhat popular after 1720, barely exceeded one litre per person. Imports of other kinds of sugar, although they increased somewhat between the 17th and 18thcenturies, were hardly more significant.

Beverages

Besides plenty of water, settlers drank what they called the “bouillon.” Easily made, it was accessible to everyone since it was a water-based beverage in which a ball of sourdough was fermented for a few days. A number of religious institutions and some proprietors of orchards in Québec and Montréal made cider which they sold at prices at times unaffordable for most citizens.

Two types of spirits circulated in the colony: spirits imported from France, such as cognac, armagnac and calvados, and rum from the West Indies (also called tafia or guildive). Imported beginning in the 1730s, rum did not become popular right away. French spirits were preferred by far, especially among the settlers: they consumed approximately 5.5 gallons per year, or 1.8 ounces daily, the equivalent of a shot of liquor every morning. This practice, which moreover was part of the breakfast ritual from the beginnings of the colony, is in accord with the nutritional concepts of the day, which held that it fortified the body. People also drank spirits on other occasions, particularly at celebrations and feasts.

Wine

Wine was more accessible in urban centres than in rural areas. In the city it was mainly found in the dwellings of the wealthiest and those who sold it, such as merchants, innkeepers and tavern keepers. Ordinary people could get wines and other alcoholic beverages in public places, but wine was not part of their daily diet. In the country, we know from the accounts of contemporary inhabitants of the era that wine was mainly used for medicinal purposes. This was most likely also true for most city dwellers. Moreover, wine was used on occasion in the hospitals of Québec and Montréal.

Health

The transmission of disease transformed the continent to a greater extent than the transmission of medical knowledge. The people and animals that came over from Europe to America at the end of the 15th century brought with them infectious disease strains to which the Native populations had never been exposed: cholera, influenza, measles, scarlet fever, smallpox, tuberculosis, typhoid fever and yellow fever. The impact of these diseases on the continent’s First Peoples proved to be catastrophic. Scholars estimate that as much as 90% of the Aboriginal population died.

Although settlers were less severely affected than their Native counterparts, they nevertheless suffered the effects of widespread contagious diseases. These had been relatively absent before 1680, but they then appeared regularly among the French population. In Canada, the first major epidemic was referred to as the “fièvre pourpre” (purple fever), and was probably a strain of typhus. This deadly disease struck in 1687 and recurred regularly afterwards. Doctor Jean-François Gaultier died of it in 1756, while treating patients new to the continent. However, the epidemic that recurred most often and with the most vigour in Canada during the 18th century was smallpox, or variola. The first occurrence in 1702 and 1703 killed 1,000 to 1,200 people, amounting to  8 per cent of the Canadian population. In 1733, 1755 and 1757, it again reached epidemic proportions.

The St. Lawrence River valley had a cold, temperate climate. The long frigid  winters limited the outbreak and propagation of many diseases. Witness accounts of that period insist on a healthy climate that was conducive to good health among the population. Pierre Boucher de Boucherville, officer and seigneur, wrote that

“the air [of Canada]  is extremely healthy at all times, but mostly in winter; one rarely sees diseases in these countries.” 

For his part, Pierre-François-Xavier Charlevoix, a Jesuit historian, wrote:

“We do not, in the whole world, know of a healthier climate. There are no particular diseases.”

Poor hygiene

In the 17th and 18th centuries, lack of hygiene was the main cause of the outbreak and transmission of disease. In fact, bodily hygiene was nearly non-existent at the time. The morals of that era encouraged modesty and condemned nudity, thus discouraging thorough washing. Also, medical theories claimed that the air was filled with “miasmas,” that is to say microbes that penetrated the body through the skin and provoked illness. Water, especially hot water, was considered to be harmful because it opened the pores of the skin, thus making the body more vulnerable.

Water, therefore, was reserved for rare and brief washings of the hands and face, as well as for rinsing the mouth. To reduce the dangers of contagion, one might add a bit of vinegar or perfume to the water. Believing that baths could cause illnesses, people preferred “dry” baths.

Wealthier people used cosmetics: perfumes and toilet water served as disinfectants and covered bad odours, while powder was used to dry greasy hair. To give themselves an appearance of cleanliness, people resorted to various artifices such as wigs. Among ordinary people, bodily hygiene was even more minimal. The habitants and artisans were content to change the long shirt they wore as underwear a few times each month and to perform a quick wash of their hands, face and neck with cold water

Public health measures were as deficient as personal hygiene habits. New France’s low population density helped limit the destructive effects of diseases. Nevertheless, whether in the colonies or metropole, cities were sources of contagion. In the major centres—Québec, Montréal, and Trois-Rivières streets were not paved. Domestic animals wandered freely and animals raised for meat were slaughtered in front of shops.There were no sewers, and citizens threw all kinds of garbage in public places.

In the 18th century, administrators created laws to impose basic health measures in urban environments. In 1706, the Superior Council ruled that the houses of Quebec had to have latrines and private toilets to avoid infection and foul smells. Rather than throw garbage out the window, people now had to bring it to the river. Waterways running through the cities quickly became dirty and unfit for drinking. It is therefore not surprising that diseases ran rampant.

Everyday ailments

In the early 1740s, the docteur du roy or royal doctor, Jean-François Gaultier, left a record of the most common illnesses in the St. Lawrence  colony. He describes as “putrid,” “malignant” and “poisonous” the various fevers brought over by ship. These were often the most deadly, but he also lists other types of fevers that did not cause serious problems.

Respiratory diseases such as sore throats, whooping cough, angina pectoris, inflammation of the lungs, pneumonia, pleurisy and common colds were prominent in winter but usually not fatal. Canadians also suffered from scrofula (a tubericulous infection of the skin), jaundice, mumps, toothaches, diarrhea (which sometimes degenerated into dysentery), rheumatism, hernias, gout and worms.

The analysis of death registers is revealing of infant mortality in New France. In Canada, for the period between 1608 and 1760, historical demographers report an infant mortality rate of 225 per 1,000, fewer than in France.

The most critical stage was from one to two years of age, probably due to inadequate feeding. Bone analyses indicate a serious deficiency of vitamin D that caused rickets, as well as a severe lack of iron, which causes anemia.

Life expectancy increased after childhood but did not generally exceed 40 years of age. Only a fraction of the population reached 60 or 70 years old, and a few rare persons lived to 80 and even 100. Since a higher population density increased the risks of contagion, mortality rates were higher in the 18th than in the 17th century and were also higher in cities than in villages. Life expectancy did not increase significantly until the end of the 19th century, thanks in part to improved nutrition and  public and personal hygiene.

For the Catholic Church, illness was an expression of divine power, that is a warning, not to say a punishment. God “sends afflictions to exercise His sovereign power and to exercise His justice in punishing our sins.” During epidemics, the Church did not hesitate to remind people of these beliefs. Since illness came from God, it was the Christian’s duty to support it with patience, even joy. To heal, one had to nurse one’s soul through prayers, processions, penitence and pilgrimages

Blood-letting, Purges and Enemas

According to the beliefs of the time, there were three factors that contributed to human health: food, drink and fresh air. Blood-letting, purges and enemas were the three most common remedies. It was believed there was nothing better to combat disease than to evacuate all negative humours through abundant blood-letting, which the doctor, or more often the surgeon, would undertake with a lancet. Blood-letting was used to treat just about everything, and everyone, from babies to the elderly, was apt to undergo such a treatment.

Purges consisted of giving patients vomiting or laxative medication, always with the intention of evacuating harmful humours. The “clyster” designated the enema itself as well as the instrument that was used to administer it. The operation consisted of introducing into the anus a syringe filled with water and vinegar, and injecting this substance in the intestines.

Medication

The basic components of medicines came mainly from so-called “simple” medicinal plants. These were mostly flowers, leaves, resins, roots, bark, fruits, seeds and ground flours. Products from animal sources were also used (eggs, milk, butter and honey, but also horse manure and crab’s eyes), as well as minerals (sea salt, alum, antimony, sulphur, mercury, lead, amber and coral). The apothecary transformed these various elements with the help of mortars and pestles, ovens and stills.

Communications

In New France, the energy of wind and currents, draught animals, or human beings working oars was the only way of providing means of travel for people, goods and information.

To send a letter from Versailles to Detroit, for example, first it had to be sent by horse or carriage to the ports of La Rochelle or Bordeaux. Then followed the long trans-Atlantic voyage aboard sailing ships. On arriving at Québec, the missive was placed in a smaller craft, or in winter, a sleigh: no rideable road linked the capital with Montréal before the end of the 1730s. Upstream of Montréal, the canoe became the favored mode of transportation when the river was ice free.

St. Lawrence Valley: An Extended Village 

“It could really be called a village, beginning at Montreal and ending at Quebec…for the farm houses are never above five arpents and sometimes but three asunder, a few places excepted.”

By definition, a village, even an extended village, is a place where news spreads swiftly. The scale of life is such that whatever happens becomes news that makes the rounds by word of mouth, by letter or both.

Communication at the regional and local scale was caught up in two types of social activity. First, letters were prepared and exchanged with a view to conveying a message between two parties unable to have a conversation in person. Second, communication was a public experience, a ceremony, and an informal exchange between families and neighbors.

In season, the St. Lawrence River was a liquid information highway frequented by dozens of boats and schooners. During the early 1800’s, 200 navigators resided in Québec. They were the masters of vessels and boats sailing between Montréal, Trois-Rivières, Québec, and Louisbourg. Along the St. Lawrence, craftsmen specialized in building boats and ships near the royal naval yards in Québec and elsewhere.

Along the St. Lawrence, Canadians adopted the habit of going out to meet the ships as they passed by to supply or sell refreshments. In exchange for the food and water hoisted up, news from overseas, or upriver Québec, trickled down. In addition to the tall ships, various types of smaller vessels moved people and information. Birchbark canoes and wooden dugouts were almost everywhere.

The Crown built flat-bottomed boats and wooden dugouts to ferry troops around. Housed in sheds, these bateaux were valuable assets. A 1717 ordinance called attention to the theft of the King’s boats, which were being dismantled and sold for boards and nails. Royal boats carried messages and people. In 1733, colonial authorities created the position of patron de chaloupe to carry dispatches for the Governor and the Intendant along the St. Lawrence.

Road construction in New France was a local affair. Roads might be built in the direction of the seigneurial mill or the parish church, in order to accommodate short-distance travel needs. The official in charge of road construction in New France (Grand Voyer or Chief Surveyor) found it was not always easy to persuade habitants to fulfill their road building and maintenance obligations.

The chemin du Roy or King’s Highway between Québec and Montréal was built in 1737. Ditched on both sides and 24 feet wide, it allowed for the flow of passengers, post and messengers. For the inhabitants charged with construction and upkeep, the road was a trade-off. On the one hand, it removed chunks of tillable land from farm use. On the other, it linked the rural communities in a single interlocking chain, reinforcing the pattern of the extended village.

Although not officially a post road, the chemin du Roy was used to move mail. Winter did not prevent travel or the exchange of mail along the main road of the St. Lawrence Valley. A description of one trip in 1753 shows that there were established relay stations where teams of fresh horses were kept. Drivers familiar with the best routes, which sometimes lay out across the frozen surface of the St. Lawrence River, were available for hire. Inhabitants of the parishes along the road were instructed to pack down the snow before the cortege came through. Snow packing was possibly one more royal task for inhabitants, as according to the terms of a 1726 ordinance, they were required to mark out winter roads by planting branches in the snow. In the end, making travel easier for the lordships made it easier for them to move around too.

There is no denying the social usefulness of writing. Yet, as a means of communication, it did not function in a vacuum. An outstanding feature of life along the St. Lawrence River was the ubiquity of talk and the customs and pomp and circumstance surrounding it.

Voice came truly into its own at this scale of social relationship. Everyone participated. The powerful bourgeois-gentilhommes clustered in one or other of the colony’s towns. No doubt they dined together and talked out the issues of the day (while they played cards) as did their counterparts in tidewater Virginia. The ordinary folk gathered within their rural parish constituency. In town as in country, rumour and ritual were the preeminent media of communication.

Marcus Bernard Boisvert and his decendents are related to Jean Joubin dit Boisvert. Originally from Southern France, Jean traveled to Quebec in the late 1600s. While his profession in France is unknown, he became a farmer in the new world. He settled upon a ribbon of land facing St. Lawrence River and began a new life.