The Organization of New France

The King's Engineers And Military And Civil Construction

Engineering and Naval Construction

Careening in the mid-eighteenth century

Caption: Careening in the mid-eighteenth century

A remarkable naval tradition developed in New France. Small ships were built in Quebec City as early as the mid-seventeenth century. The ports of Louisbourg and Quebec were equipped to repair warships. Beginning in 1717, the Admiralty gave courses to officers so that they would be able to settle disputes in the area of maritime law.

Since Canada contained many kinds of trees that were becoming scarce in Europe, as well as deposits of iron ore, various plans were developed to construct a shipyard in Quebec City for the royal navy. A plan was finally adopted in 1738, and a yard built the next year for the construction of warships. The Ministry of the Navy first ordered a ship to transport soldiers and equipment, according to plans drawn up by naval engineers in Rochefort. One of them, René-Nicolas Levasseur, was sent to Quebec to supervise the work and take charge of the shipbuilding yard. About ten warships were built. The first of these were the Canada, a 500-tonne store ship able to carry 40 cannons and a crew of 120, which was begun on September 22, 1739 and launched on June 4, 1742; the Caribou, a 700-tonne store ship able to carry up to 45 cannons and 150 crew members, which was started in 1742 and launched on May 13, 1744; the Castor, a 26-gun frigate with a crew of 200, begun in July 1744 and launched on May 16, 1745; the Carcajou, a 12-gun corvette weighing 70 to 80 tonnes and built in 1744-45. It was the first naval corvette built in Canada and the ancestor, so to speak, of the numerous Royal Canadian Navy corvettes that served so valiantly during the two world wars of our century. The remaining five ships were the Martre, a 22-gun frigate laid down in May 1745 and launched on June 6, 1746; the Saint-Laurent, a 60-gun vessel weighing 1,100 tons, started on September 1746 and launched on June 13, 1748; the Orignal, a 60-gun vessel weighing 1,100 tons, which was laid down in October 1748 but sank when launched on September 2, 1750; the Algonquin, a 72-gun ship begun in October 1750 and launched in June 1753; and finally the Abénaquise, a 30-gun frigate weighing 946 tonnes, laid down in the summer of 1753 and launched in the spring of 1756.

Another 30-gun frigate, the Quebec, was begun in 1756 but not completed. During the ensuing Seven Years' War, the Quebec naval yard encountered difficulty, partially as a result of various financial and technical complications, but mostly because of a lack of specialized workers from France. Attempts were made at the Forges du Saint-Maurice to cast cannons for the ships under construction at the Quebec yard, but they failed due to the lack of experience of the master casters in this specialized work. Nevertheless, cannons were sent out from France and ships of the line, veritable "storehouses of cannon balls" with all their artillery, were produced by the royal shipyard in its heyday.

The construction of warships in New France was unusual for both the French and British colonies, because naval construction was almost always undertaken in the mother country. The royal shipyard in Quebec City was therefore remarkable for its era.

Additional Images

Frigate under construction, around the mid-eighteenth century
Interior view of the Navy warehouses, around the mid­eighteenth century