In New France, adolescence, as we know it today, did not exist!

Even though they began working and having responsibilities at quite a young age, boys and girls still enjoyed time to socialize and prepare for adulthood.

At what age did they get married?
How did they learn a trade?
How many children did young couples have?
What were the daily tasks of young women and men?

To find out, read the following texts. You will learn about the life of an adolescent in New France.

Would you have liked to live in those times…?!

The Life of a Teenager

A hard, hard life…

In France, people are so poor that many children, whether they are orphans or not, have to beg to survive, especially in the cities.

In general, the poor in New France have better living conditions than in France. People do not beg for money but rather for food. Beggars are often widows left with a large family to care for, or elderly people. Abandoned children are often sent to an institute run by a religious community.

Because of difficult living conditions, barely 60% of the children in New France live to the age of 15. It is a bit better than in France where only one in two children will live beyond their 15th birthday.

Did you say “young”?

In the XVIIth and XVIIIth century, childhood ends at 12, 13 or 15 years of age. Youth, which today we would probably call adolescence, begins at this age and ends at marriage. Like today, it is the period when young boys and girls prepare for adulthood.

Childhood and youth, both in New France and in Europe, are not particularly easy. At home and at school, young people are subject to strict principles of authority and tocorporal punishment, but this does not prevent parents from showing affection for their children.

These methods of education run counter to Amerindian culture. In fact, native children enjoy greater tolerance and complete freedom up until puberty. In addition, everything they learn is passed down to them from the elders of their nation.


School: becoming better Christians!

In New France, as in France, many boys and girls do not go to school and do not know how to read or write. Even if there is time for fun and laughter, work is the priority. It is a matter of survival!

Around the age of 12, young people go to Sunday school to prepare for First Communion and Confirmation and thus become responsible for the salvation of their soul.

When setting up the stable-school, Marguerite Bourgeoys asks the children and youth, in order to make them feel involved in their education, to help clean and prepare their future school. In addition, Sister Bourgeoys thinks that school must be a place that the children like returning to and that they should to be treated with respect and kindness.

Educating future mothers

To keep house and be a good wife and mother, young women must know how to cook, preserve food, sew, mend clothes, do odd jobs, plan, save and keep accounts... in addition to learning good manners.


A shortage of women!

In 1663, in New France, there is only one marriageable woman for every six men. Thus, young women are recruited in France. By 1673, more than 770 young women, most of them orphans under 25 years of age, have travelled to the colony at the king’s expense. They are provided with a dowry to encourage their marriage, which is how they come to be known as the “Daughters of the King”.

These young “Filles du Roy” (King’s ward) are often urbanites ill prepared for the rigours of their new country! Fortunately, Marguerite Bourgeoys and her companions provide them with the advice and knowledge they need to establish themselves in their new environment and to raise a family.

Courses in sexual education do not exist in these times because sexuality is a taboosubject. Nevertheless, because of the proximity in which members of the family live, the girls and boys are likely to notice sexual activity. In fact, the parent’s lovemaking cannot always go unobserved… In addition, on the farm, it is often possible to see animals mating.

Mother... or Woman Religious?

Of course, long before having their own children, girls help their mothers take care of younger brothers and sisters.

When they become mothers, they need to know not only how to raise their children, but also how to educate them and ground them in the faith.

Some young girls opt for religious life, joining in cloistered or uncloistered congregations, the Congrégation de Notre-Dame among them.


A man’s life… it’s quite a job!

To make a living in the XVIIth, XVIIIth and XIXth centuries, young men have to learn a trade useful to the development of the colony.

In the country, in addition to working on the family farm, boys have to clear and plough the nearby land that their father has acquired for them. Once the fields are ready to be sown and cultivated and, ideally, a small house is built, they can begin thinking about getting married.

In the city, young men spend 3 to 5 years as an apprentice with their father or with a master craftsman who will share with them his experience and knowledge.

They become: surveyors, carpenters, joiners, masons, wheelwrights, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, weavers, potters, sculptors, goldsmiths, etc.

Some young men opt for religious life and become priests.


Some young men are attracted to the fur trade. They adopt the free lifestyle of a “coureur des bois” (wood-runner), which they prefer to sedentary life on the farm.

Most unmarried men engage in fur trading on a temporary basis, only making one or two trips before getting married. In general, settled and married men only do this a few months out of the year. The fur trade can be very lucrative. However, the establishment of a seigneurial system encourages the colonists to become farmers.

In time of hardship, make the best of things!In time of hardship, make the best of things!

Military conflicts can often lead farmers to leave their land to fight the enemy. Given the small population of New France, all must, in fact, take part. However, each fight impedes the development of the colony.

The Family

What if we get married?

In New France, the ideal age for getting married is 12 years old for girls and 14 years old for boys! Nevertheless, girls generally get married around 20 years of age and boys around 27. Between 18 and 20, they can, at times, set out on their own. However, thefinancial dependence of these young people on their parents can continue until they are married.

In the XVIIth century, Minister Colbert and Intendant Jean Talon implement measures to promote population growth. To promote early marriages, the Intendant offers a "present from the King": a sum of 20 livres to be paid, on the day of their wedding, to men 20 years old or younger and to women 16 or younger.

Marriages do not only stem from incentives, but also from intimidation: “fathers who do not marry their children off young enough — before 20 for boys and before 16 for girls — are required to explain their reasons to the Intendant, and can even face fines. As for confirmed spinsters and bachelors, they might see their rights to hunt, fish and trade with Native peoples suspended or revoked.”

And love?

In France, as in New France, marrying for love also exists. It is especially possible for peasantry and other lower classes of society. For the nobles and bourgeois, marriages are more often arranged according to social and economic motives. But love always manages to find its place!

Have many children

Not long after the marriage, babies are born and major responsibilities are taken on very early… Families have several children, many of which die at a very young age.

Jean Talon also implements a birth promotion policy. Families with ten living, legitimate children able to marry receive an annual "family allocation" of 300 livres. The allocation is increased to 400 livres for families with twelve or more children.

“Although it was often difficult for a settler's son to establish himself before the age of 20, the Intendant's matrimonial and birth policies soon began to bear fruit. Between 1664 and 1674, the average number of births tripled, compared to rates during the previous ten years and the population of New France grew from 3,200 in 1666 to 6,700 by 1672.” Source : Canadian Museum of Civilization


Get to work!

Young people with wealthy parents have access to higher education (especially boys) and some even go to study in France.

As for the others, education is limited. They begin to work and to take on certain responsibilities at 10 or 12 years of age. When they are 15, they work just as hard, if not harder, than their parents. After all, they are young, strong and in great shape!

Young people between 15 and 25 years of age make up the majority of the workforce of the colony and are essential to its development and its economy. Their work contributes to the operation of the family farm and is just as valuable as that of the adults.

Despite all this work, young people still find time for leisure activities, especially during slack periods, and also time to party.

Working at individual tasks – as a team

In addition to learning domestic chores at home and taking care of the children, girls tend to the farmyard animals and do other outdoor work.

In New France, the vast majority of the population lives in the country on farms. Due to the merciless climate and other dangers, from a very young age men and women must lend a hand and collaborate.

A wife is just as involved as her husband in the running of the farm; she is able to take care of it during his absence or if he dies.

Marguerite Bourgeoys, prefect of the Congrégation externe de Notre-Dame

Marguerite Bourgeoys, prefect of the Congrégation externe de Notre-Dame

Troyes, Grand Est, France, [164-].
Amerindian camp (detail)

Amerindian camp (detail)

Island of Montreal, Middle Early Woodland.
Marguerite Bourgeoys working at the stable-school during a visit by Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve and Bénigne Basset

Marguerite Bourgeoys working at the stable-school during a visit by Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve and Bénigne Basset

Ville-Marie (Montreal), New France (Quebec), 1658.
Class at the end XVIIIth century

Class at the end XVIIIth century

Montreal, Province of Quebec (Quebec), [after 1783].
Catherine Crolo, the farmhands and little girls at the farm

Catherine Crolo, the farmhands and little girls at the farm

Pointe Saint-Charles (Montreal), New France (Quebec), [ca. 1675].
Boy with scythe and girl with sickle

Boy with scythe and girl with sickle

Ville-Marie (Montreal), New France (Quebec), 1600.
Young mother

Young mother

Ville-Marie (Montreal), New France (Quebec), 1600.
Farm work on Île Saint-Paul at the end of the XVIIIth century

Farm work on Île Saint-Paul at the end of the XVIIIth century

Montreal, Province of Quebec (Quebec), [after 1769].