Daily Life in New France

Soldiers

Chasing Women

The gallantry of soldiers is legendary, and many a young woman was attracted to them. After all, soldiers were healthy, bright-eyed young men. Canonnier-bombardier Bonin relates that his seductive Parisian comrade liked to break the hearts of women, "whom he studiously deceived." 97

It is not surprising to hear that these youths, drunk on wine, women and song, occasionally grew noisy and caused some commotion. When the public peace was disturbed, the morality of the time condemned all their activities as "licentious." One particularly ill-humoured governor general noted that some of his soldiers led "shameless lives with all sorts of libertines who make them unfit for service." He continued, "You find them at night, drunk and running around the streets." 98 Reveille at dawn caught many of his soldiers still pretty groggy, and he therefore recommended that barracks be constructed in order to raise moral standards - a rather illusory response to the exuberance of young soldiers, as we are still discovering today!

We can hardly overlook paid erotic adventures as well. In Europe, prostitutes followed in the wake of armies, but in New France there were no clear counterparts for these mobile brothels. Military raids were carried out under conditions that were far too difficult for accompanying filles de joie. However, brothels whose clients were mostly soldiers and sailors existed in towns where troops were often posted for long periods of time. For instance, there was "a house of women and girls to commit the crime of indecent acts" 99 in Montreal after 1667, when part of the Carignan regiment was in town. In 1686 Captain Crisafy attempted, without success, to prevent his men from frequenting the house "of ill repute" run by Marie Brunet, called Belhumeur, in Montreal. Some prostitutes did not have any particular place to practise their trade, such as the one who spent a summer's night with three soldiers near the ramparts in Quebec in 1696, or the Montreal girl found in the company of two soldiers, "sleeping all together" 100 in an abandoned house in 1754.

Île Royale posed a particular problem because there was little for soldiers to do in their spare time except drink. They could play games, of course, but soon tired of cards and skittles. There were very few women, and prostitutes charged high rates, while the soldiers had little money and were often in debt. Finding themselves isolated in this difficult, foggy climate, many of them grew dispirited and took refuge in alcohol. The taverns in town were very busy, and every day soldiers slipped away from the shipyards to go and drink in the surrounding woods.