The First Soldiers of New France

The First Permanent Colonies


1610 attack on an Iroquois fort

Caption: 1610 attack on an Iroquois fort

Shortly after his first ventures in Acadia, Sieur de Monts extended his monopoly to the St. Lawrence Valley and dispatched another expedition, led by Champlain, to the site of Quebec City. On July 3, 1608, Champlain began the construction of the Habitation in what would become the lower town of Quebec, in order to provide protection for the fledgling colony. These, then, were the timid beginnings of the first permanent settlement in New France. A new fort was built at Quebec in 1620 to replace the decaying Habitation of 1608, and in 1624 "a square wall with two little towers on the corners" was added "for the security of the place." 27 Two years later, Fort Saint-Louis was constructed on the heights of Cap Diamant. Eventually it became the residence of the governor general under the name Château Saint-Louis. Champlain's alliance with the Hurons and Algonquins provoked the hostility of the Iroquois, who wanted this relationship to fail. From 1609 until the peace of 1622, Champlain and some his men set off on several campaigns against them.

In 1627, the monopoly for New France was turned over to the Company of the Hundred Associates. It sent out so few soldiers that when the vessels of the Kirke brothers, privateers chartered by the King of England, Charles I, cast anchor at Quebec in 1629, only a handful of soldiers were available to meet them. Thus France lost its colony, which was returned in 1632 by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, as was Acadia. The next year, Champlain returned to Quebec with three ships and repossessed Fort Saint Louis. In 1634, one of the gentlemen on the voyage, Sieur de la Violette, left to establish Trois-Rivières and build a fort there.

The colony's garrison was doubtless still very small when the new governor, Charles Huault de Montmagny, arrived in Quebec in 1636, probably with some reinforcements. He was a naval officer, a Knight of the Order of Malta, and a veteran of battles against Turkish and Arab corsairs. A quick tour of the little colony convinced him that its military defence needed urgent reorganization. He instructed the engineer Jean Bourdon to make improvements to Fort Saint-Louis at Quebec, where he would reside as governor, by replacing the wooden palisade with walls of stone and masonry and by building a guardhouse. A redoubt was built in the lower town, adding "cannons to cover the river and reinforcing the platform on which they stood." At the Trois-Rivières fort as well, a "platform and cannons" were added. The colony was therefore now animated by a much more martial spirit than under Champlain, as this quotation shows.

"We have here two brave Knights, one as Governor, that being Monsieur de Montmagny, and the other as his Lieutenant, that being Monsieur de l'Isle. We also have very worthy Gentlemen, and a number of experienced, resolute soldiers. It is a pleasure to see them conducting their war exercises in the sweetness of peacetime, to hear the crack of the muskets and cannons only as festive noises ... The Diane [the first drum call of the day] awakens us every morning, and we see the sentries posted. The guardhouse is always well-stocked. Each squad has its days to stand sentry. In a word, our fortress of Kébec is guarded in peacetime like an important position in wartime." 28

Additional Images

French harquebusier in Canada, between 1610 and 1620
Champlain's famous fight on 30 July 1609 against the Iroquois Indians as interpreted in a late 19th century print
Cross of Malta carved in a stone bearing the date 1647
Model of the second habitation at Quebec, circa 1625
Champlain surrenders Quebec to English privateers, the Kirke brothers, on 19 July 1629