Did you know that both Hilary Clinton and Angelina Jolie are descendants of young women sent to New France (now the Canadian province of Quebec) in the 1600’s by King Louis XIV? Both the American Secretary of State and the Hollywood actress have mothers with French Canadian family roots.
I just finished reading the book Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers. It tells the story of The King’s Daughters or ‘fille du roi’, young women sent from Paris to New France at the request of governor or intendant Jean Talon. Talon wanted to turn a struggling colony of fur traders and ex-military men into an agricultural settlement. The fact that the colony contained only 45 females for every 1000 males posed a major obstacle to Talon’s plans. He asked Louis XIV to provide financial incentives to encourage young Paris women to come to New France, marry and settle down and raise families. Nearly 1000 young women many of them orphaned or homeless came to Canada between 1663 and 1673.
Desrochers’ book gives us an authentic, gritty portrait of these women quite different than the elegant paintings done by many artists. The ocean voyage was brutal. A good number of the brides died from fevers and malnutrition, the others arrived in New France dirty, sick and disillusioned. Even the bonuses offered by the king for getting married and having at least ten babies was not enough to make some women follow through and stay in the colony once they got a taste of the mosquitoes, harsh winter weather and the threat of attack by the Iroquois.
In Desrochers’ book. We meet Laure, an accomplished seamstress and inmate at a Paris institution for homeless and abandoned women who dreams of setting up her own business someday. Instead she angers her superior and is sent to New France as a punishment. Laure is spirited, independent and self sufficient. She marries a ‘lily-livered’ fur trader and then somewhat unrealistically I think, has a relationship with an Iroquois man. The romance is not portrayed in any kind of fairy-tale way however.
This book arose out of research for the author’s masters thesis and she includes plenty of historical details and background material. You learn a lot about the settlement in New France and the fille de roi but in a way that is interesting and rarely detracts from the plot.
After reading Bride of New France I realized these women played a key role in the founding of my country. 737 of the fille de roi stayed in Canada, married and raised large families who established a strong, vibrant agricultural and commercial settlement.
On Mother’s Day it is particularly fitting I think to pay tribute to these adventurous, brave women who came to Canada to raise families and in turn helped build our nation.
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