Daily Life in New France

The Militia

Civic Affairs

Intendants often sent instructions to militia captains, frequently concerning edicts which they were expected to announce and post. This was usually done on the church steps after Mass on Sundays. If statute labour was needed, the militia captains were supposed to organize it and distribute tasks among the local people. These tasks usually consisted of constructing roads or fortifications. Militia captains were also responsible for distributing billets telling soldiers what families they would live with in the parish. They also had the thankless task of drawing up non-residency certificates, which enabled seigneurs to claim land that had been left vacant. Militia captains carried out censuses as well, because they already kept rolls indicating whether militiamen were in the parish or not.

Policing also entered the sphere of militia captains, who were sometimes asked to help the Maréchaussée capture fleeing criminals or deserters. This was a delicate task because Canadians tended to sympathize with "malefactors and deserters" 122 and were inclined to hide them. Although people may have looked the other way in less serious cases, they watched more carefully for murderers. In the towns, militia captains ensured that fire prevention and public health regulations were enforced. If necessary, they had to provide brigades for the night watch and, during times of scarcity, ensure the equitable distribution of wheat.

On some rare occasions, Canadians felt that the authorities went too far. For instance, in October 1717, the inhabitants of Longueuil, on the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River, were called upon to provide statute labour to build fortifications on Montreal Island across the way. They refused, saying that they would not perform any statute labour outside their parish. The authorities held firm and sent for troops, while the Longueuil militiamen assembled, arms in hand. After two days, the authorities reconsidered and everybody returned home. There would be no statute labour in Montreal for the people of Longueuil. Three years later, the intendant had to stop making seizures in the homes of certain Canadians because these measures were provoking immediate public protests by the people, who felt wronged.