1700-1762 - The End of a Regime 

Turbulent Years

The promise of peace with which the 18th century opened did not last long. In 1702, the War of the Spanish Succession once more involved New France in conflict, as the fate of a continent hung on European dynastic and imperial ambitions. Conditions imposed by the Peace of Utrecht that brought the war to an end in 1713-1714 would have serious consequences for the future of the French settlements along the Saint Lawrence: France ceded Acadia, Newfoundland and the northern forts desired by the Hudson’s Bay Company to England. These losses would endanger both communication with the motherland and the development of the furtrade.

There followed, however, about thirty years of relative peace. Though the fur trade was still the main source of wealth, Gilles Hocquart, the Intendant of that time, encouraged the development of ship-building, lumbering, fishing and the manufacture of goods needed in the colony. During these years the population expanded rapidly, from fewer than 19,000 to 50,000 by 1744. Unfortunately for New France, these developments were overshadowed by those in the English colonies. Their population doubled every twenty-five years; the population of New York alone exceeded that of New France. This expanding population felt an urgent need for territory into which it could expand and felt hemmed in by the French claims in the New World. Conflict over the fur trade in the mid-west increased.

By the late 1740s the country was plunging ever more deeply into the hostilities that became part of the Seven Years War. Like their families, their pupils and the rest of their contemporaries, the sisters of the Congregation lived and suffered through a war that changed the destiny of North America. Like them and with them they now faced the uncertainties and adaptations of life under a new regime.

Old copy of the manuscript written in 1701 by Charles de Glandelet entitled "Le Vray Esprit de Marguerite Bourgeoys et de l’Institut des Sœurs Séculières de la Congrégation de Notre-Dame établi à Ville-Marie en l’Isle de Montréal en Canada"

Old copy of a manuscript by Charles de Glandelet

Montreal, New France (Quebec), [17-?].

Caught in the Struggles of Empire

Almost from the time of his arrival in New France Bishop Jean-Baptiste La Croix de Chevrières de Saint Vallier wanted to see an establishment of the Congregation at Port-Royal in Acadia. When Acadia was lost to the English by the Treaty of Utrecht, he turned instead to Cape Breton Island. Despite many difficulties the first sister of the Congregation reached the new fortress in 1727 and by December of that year had twenty-two boarders in her school. By 1734 there were six Congregation Sisters in Louisbourg receiving both day pupils and boarders. Because of the great distance from Montreal they even had permission to receive novices there. In 1745, after a harrowing siege of several weeks, the fortress fell to a land attack by New England militia supported by an English naval squadron. In contravention of the terms of capitulation the residents were treated with considerable harshness, driven from what remained of their homes, their women abused, the town looted. The sisters and their pupils were herded onto a ship and sent to France.

The fortress was handed back to France in 1748 and the surviving sisters returned to Louisbourg in 1749 to find their house in ruins. The following years were filled with almost insurmountable difficulties until, in July 1757, Louisbourg was again in the hands of the English and the Sisters and their pupils on another ship to France. The surviving sisters continued to teach their pupils in an orphanage where they were placed in La Rochelle. The sisters and their students faced dangerous and difficult situations in other places in the final phases of this war but the consequences were most serious for the sisters deported from Louisbourg. Though all of them had been born in Canada they would never see their native land again.

British attack during the second siege

British attack during the second siege

Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, 1758.

Meeting the Needs of a Growing Population

The rapid growth of the French population in the Saint Lawrence Valley in the first part of the 18thcentury was not due primarily to immigration but rather to natural increase supported by a very low infant mortality rate. This, of course, meant that there were many more children and, consequently, the need for more teachers. The Congregation grew to meet that demand until in 1747 Bishop Henri-Marie Dubreuil de Pontbriand limited their number to eighty. Although most of these women were the descendants of the French colonists, some continued to be of English and Amerindian heritage chiefly through the continuance of the work of the Mountain Mission at the Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes.

Work also continued or was resumed at other missions established in the 17thcentury. The Mother House at Montreal was enlarged particularly through the building of the boarding school Notre-Dame-des-Anges. An endowment from Jeanne Le Ber, the heiress and recluse, enabled the community to receive there a certain number of poor students free of charge. The sisters continued to teach at Quebec and at the Île d’Orléans. The mission at Lachine was re-opened in 1702, that at Champlain in 1703 and that at Prairie de la Madeleine in 1705. New missions were established at Pointe-aux-Trembles, Quebec in 1715, at Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island in 1727 and at Saint Laurent, Montreal in 1732. Plans to make a foundation at Detroit in the 1740s had to be abandoned because of increasing tensions in the area. Work also continued in the village schools.

In 1721, Pierre-François-Xavier Charlevoix, paid tribute to the work of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame after a visit to New France. He wrote that through the efforts of the sisters he had seen in Canada: “Women in the very depth of indigence and want perfectly instructed in their religion, ignorant of nothing that they should know to employ themselves usefully in their families, and who, by their manners, their manner of expressing themselves and their politeness, are not inferior to the most carefully educated among us.”

Third Mother House

Third Mother House

Ville-Marie (Montreal), New France (Quebec), [17-].