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Europeans in early settlements and up to the British Conquest of 1759

The earliest arrivals in the territories that are today Canada were Norse peoples, who established temporary settlements around 1,000 CE in what is currently Newfoundland. For unknown reasons, these settlements were not continued. Something similar can be said of the European explorers of the 16th century, mainly from Great Britain and France. Early attempts to establish settlements failed. The chief activity of the Europeans was fishing off the east coast, and this by people from various European countries.

Near the beginning of the 17th century, French settlers, prominently under the leadership of Samuel de Champlain, finally succeeded in establishing what became permanent settlements, first on the east coast in what is now Nova Scotia and then gradually up the St. Lawrence river to today’s Montreal. These settlers were mostly Roman Catholic; in 1627, the French crown expelled or barred Protestants from its Canadian colonies and the Roman Catholic Church became the only and established church. The first Roman Catholic diocese was established in Quebec in 1658.

Although the economy of the colonies was largely based on the fur trade, especially beaver pelts, agricultural settlement began from early on and religious figures played important roles in establishing and solidifying the colonies. From members of monastic orders like the Jesuits and Recollets, to episcopal structures, to new orders like the Grey Nuns, the goal was to serve the growing colonist population, but also critically to convert the Indigenous peoples, including from very early on by establishing schools for their children. This 17th century was the era of Kateri Tekakwitha, a Christian Six-Nations convert who was eventually canonized in the late 20th century as the first Canadian Aboriginal Roman Catholic saint. It was also the era of religious figures now considered among the founders of French Canadian (Quebec) society, including, for instance, Jeanne Mance, Marie de l’Incarnation, Bishop Laval, and Fathers Brébeuf and Lalemant, the latter two dying among the Wendat (Huron) people of what is now southwestern Ontario (Huronia) in the process of the destruction of that society by Haudenosaunee confederacy (Iroquois) people in 1649.

During this time, the religious cultures of the Indigenous peoples that had contact with the European settlers remained largely viable, although also undergoing change. Their viability was only undermined as Indigenous economies and polities were destroyed, beginning in some areas already in the 18th century, accelerating during the 19th century and into the 20th century in all areas.

British presence and eventual dominance began, in earnest, after 1713 with the British conquest of the Maritime colonies, what are today the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. In 1755, the British power expelled most of the French-speaking Acadians, many of whom settled in Louisiana, and many of whom then later returned to the area, especially eastern New Brunswick. British settlement increased throughout the 18th century in the Maritimes, but the population consisted increasingly of both a Protestant majority and a Roman Catholic minority, of whom the Acadians were only the most numerous group. In the later 18th century, the Baptist and Congregational movements arrived in the Maritime colonies from the American colonies to the south.

In 1759, in the context of the seven-years war between Great Britain and France, the British conquered the French colonies in Canada, and rendered that conquest permanent in the Treaty of Paris in 1763.

D 20 June 2017    APeter Beyer

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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