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Talon's Administration Ends

In the survey of Talon's first term of office mention was made of the many enterprises he set on foot for the internal progress of the colony. One of these was shipbuilding. During his second term a stronger impulse was given to this industry. One of the intendant's first official acts after his arrival in 1670 was to issue a decree for the conservation of the forests suitable for shipbuilding purposes--to prohibit the felling of oak, elm, beech, and cherry trees until the skilled carpenters sent by the king should have inspected them and made their choice. It is interesting, too, to find that in all grants of land Talon inserted a clause reserving these trees. Shipbuilding in Canada was to be encouraged and promoted. Had not Colbert given forty thousand livres for the purpose? A shipyard was set up on the banks of the St Charles river. Many ships were built there; at first only small ones, but the industry gradually developed. In 1672 a ship of over four hundred tons was launched, and preparations had been made for another of eight hundred tons. Seven years earlier only nineteen out of 2378 vessels in the French mercantile marine had exceeded four hundred tons. The infant shipyard at Quebec was doing well.

Agriculture and industry were flourishing in New France. Hemp was being grown successfully, and a larger quantity of wool was made available by increasing flocks of sheep. The intendant insisted that women and girls should be taught to spin. He distributed looms to encourage the practice of weaving, and after a time the colony had home-made carpets and table-covers of drugget, and serges and buntings. The great number of cattle ensured an abundance of raw hides. Accordingly the intendant established a tannery, and this in turn led to the preparation of leather and the making of shoes; so that in 1671 Talon could write to the king: 'I am now clothed from foot to head with home-made articles.' Tobacco was grown to some extent, but Colbert did not wish to encourage its cultivation by the Canadian farmers. The minister was better pleased when the intendant wrote concerning potash and tar. A Sieur Nicolas Follin undertook to make potash out of wood ashes, and was granted a privilege with a bounty of ten sous per ton and free entry into France for his product. The potash proved excellent. In the meantime an expert on tar named Arnould Alix came from France and found that the Canadian trees were eminently fit for the production of that article, so necessary in shipbuilding; indeed at this time Colbert was doing his best to manufacture it in France so that the shipyards of the kingdom might use French tar instead of the foreign product. The news that it could be made in Canada was very welcome to the minister.

The intendant continued his search for mines, but without substantial results. There had been much talk of iron ore at Baie Saint-Paul and also in the region of Three Rivers. The Sieur de la Potardiere was sent to examine these ores; but, although his report was favorable and Colbert seemed highly interested and began to speak of casting cannon on the shores of the Saint-Maurice, for some reason nothing was done, and sixty years were to elapse before the establishment of the Saint-Maurice forges.

In another chapter we saw that Talon was always ready to help the religious institutions and that he was very friendly towards the Hotel-Dieu at Quebec. This hospital had become too small for the requirements of the growing population. At his own expense the intendant had a substantial wing erected, superintending the work himself and at the same time securing for the institution an abundant supply of water. The Ursulines also received ample evidence of his goodwill and friendship. He was greatly pleased with their Seminaire Sauvage (Indian seminary), where they displayed an unceasing zeal for the instruction and civilization of the little red-skinned girls. The Jesuit Relation of 1671 mentions the baptism of an Indian girl with her mother. Talon wished to be godfather and asked Madame d'Ailleboust to act as godmother. Laval officiated. In 1671 the Ursulines had fifty Indian girls in their Seminaire Sauvage, and in Montreal the Sulpicians and the Sisters of the Congregation, as already narrated, were devoting themselves to the Indian children. In this good work the intendant was greatly interested. He rejoiced in educational progress, as is shown by the following from one of his letters to the king:

The Canadian youth are improving their knowledge. They take to schools for sciences, arts, handicrafts, and especially navigation; and if the movement is sustained there is every reason to hope that this country will produce mariners, fishermen, seamen, and skilled workmen; for the youth here are naturally inclined to these pursuits. The Sieur de Saint-Martin (a lay brother at the Jesuits), who knows enough mathematics, is going to give lessons at my request.

New France at this time was prosperous and happy. 'Peace reigns within as well as without the colony,' wrote Talon at the end of the year 1671. There was work and activity on all sides. New settlements were opened, new families were founded, new industries were born. No wonder that Talon, when he reflected on what had been achieved in seven years, should have written: 'This portion of the French monarchy is going to become something great.'

Unfortunately his activities and service in Canada were nearing their end. His health was breaking down. Louis XIV had promised that he should be relieved from his arduous task in two years. Talon reminded his royal master of this promise, and on May 17, 1672, the king was pleased to give him permission to come home. Courcelle had asked for his own recall; his request was also granted and the Comte de Frontenac was named in his stead. No intendant was appointed to fill Talon's place. At the beginning of September 1672, while Talon had still two months to serve, Frontenac arrived in Quebec to take up his duties as the sole executive head of the colony.1

One of Talon's last official acts was the allotment, under authority of a decree of the King's Council of State, of a large number of seigneuries--a matter of the highest importance for the development of the colony. He set himself to the task with his usual activity and earnestness. From October 10 to November 8 he authorized about sixty seigneurial concessions to officers and others desirous of forming settlements. In one day alone (November 3) he made thirty-one grants. The autumn of 1672, during which all these seigneuries were created, should be remembered in the history of New France. Before Talon, it is true, seigneurial grants had been made in Canada, but only intermittently and without any preconceived plan or well-defined object. Now it was quite different. The grants made by Talon, and the way in which they were made, show clearly the execution of a well thought-out scheme. If Talon was not the founder he was the organizer of the seigneurial institution in Canada. The object was twofold--to protect and to colonize the country. By his concessions to Sorel, Chambly, Varennes, Saint-Ours, Contrecoeur--all officers of the Carignan regiment--he created so many little military colonies whose population would be composed chiefly of disbanded soldiers. These, being warriors as well as farmers, would be a strong barrier against possible Iroquois incursions. His second object, to stimulate colonization in general, was anticipated by a provision--inserted in each grant--that the seigneurs should live on their domains, and that their tenants should do the same; this would mean the planting of many new settlements on both shores of the St Lawrence. It was a sound policy. For over a century the seigneurial system was to Canada a source of strength and progress. [Footnote: This view is fully sustained by Prof. W. B. Munro of Harvard University, who has made an exhaustive study of the subject. The reader is referred to the narrative of The Seigneurs of Old Canada in the present Series, written by him.] Its organization was the crowning work of the intendant Talon in New France.

Talon's task was over. He had happily fulfilled his mission. He had set government and justice upon a foundation which was to last until the fall of the old regime. He had given a mighty impulse to agriculture, colonization, trade, industry, naval construction. He had encouraged educational and charitable institutions, created new centers of population, strengthened the frontiers of Canada, and, with admirable forethought, had prepared the way for the future extension and growth of the colony. He has had his critics. The word paternalism has been used to describe the system carried out by him and by Colbert. He has been accused of having too willingly substituted governmental action for individual activity. But, taking into consideration the time and circumstances, such criticism is not justified. When Talon came to Canada, the colony was dying. A policy of ensuring protection, of liberal and continuous subvention, of intelligent state initiative, was a necessity of the hour. Everywhere ground had to be broken, and the government alone could do it. The policy of Colbert and Talon saved the colony.

The great intendant left Canada in November 1672. It was a mournful day for New France. In recognition of his services the king had made a barony of his estate, 'des Islets,' and had created him Baron des Islets. Later on he became Comte d'Orsainville. He had previously been appointed Captain of the Mariemont Castle.

Talon never came back to Canada. Louis XIV and Colbert received him with expressions of the greatest satisfaction. After a time he became premier valet de la garde-robe du roi (first valet of the king's wardrobe), and finally he attained the coveted office of secretary of the king's cabinet. He died on November 24, 1694, at the age of about sixty-nine years, twenty-two years after his departure from Canada.

Jean Talon is one of the great names in Canadian history--the name of one of the makers of Canada.


1 Another volume of this Series, The Fighting Governor, tells of what happened in New France in Frontenac's time.]


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Chronicles of Canada, The Great Intendant, A Chronicle of Jean Talon in Canada 1665-1672, 1915

 

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