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The Seigneurial System

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    Country Life Seigneurialism was the typical landholding system in early Canada. Seigneurialism allowed agriculture to take shape in Canada. The land of each colony was essentially owned by the Crown; however, it was decided that the land would be divided and then sub-divided into strips in which settlers would care for.

    The seigneurial system was created to reach many objectives: “to provide the colony with a basic land survey; to perpetuate a traditional class structure; to establish relations between privileged landowners and dependant peasant families; and to develop a system for recruiting and settling immigrants” (Conrad and Finkel, 2007, p. 46). In the end, the seigneurial system accomplished all three of these goals. Each person that was a part of the system had a way of life and roles that they were expected to uphold.

    Estates would be granted to people known as seigneurs by the Crown; the seigneurs were expected to maintain a household and the land with the help of peasant workers, known as censitaires. The censitaires were expected to pay a fee, known as cents et rentes, to work the land themselves and for their seigneurs. Notaries called such habitations and the people who lived on these habitations were soon called habitants. Seigneurs could make a censitaire work a certain amount of hours per day, known as demesne, on his property.

    The seigneur could also charge the habitants a fee, known as lods et ventes, to use their mill to grind wheat, since seigneurs were the only tenants allowed to own such equipment. In New France it was traditional survey for the grants to be issued by the St Lawrence River or other waterways, in long, narrow trapezoids. Seigneural estates or grant were ten times long as they were wide. The pieces of land that the tentants possessed were strip-like. The first lines of farms, also known as cote, were the first strips of land to be given away.

    When all of the first lines were given away, the second line of land, known as rangs, were given away. For a community just starting up, this type of survey was inexpensive to run and it permitted the farmers to be able to live close to their fields and always care for their crops. It also gave them access to fish, other river life, and fresh water. The farmers were able to use the river as a mode of transportation. The water from the river also kept the soil in good health which allowed for a better harvest of crops. Seigneurs of New France were not a privileged class.

    The seigneurs lived and worked like a habitant; seigneurs homes were not much better than habitants; and seigneurs fares were not much higher than those of habitants. Habitants in turn, could become a seigneur by saving a little bit of money, and this happened frequently. Becoming a seigneur did not change a man’s way of life; he continued to live the life he had before. However, many seigneurs took their title very serious. Many seigneurs spent great amounts of currency to obtain patents-letters giving them titles of nobility.

    The people of the community did not treat these men any differently when they obtained nobility. People who had courage and virtue were recognized within the community above seigneurs. Sur cette terre encor sauvage Les vieux titres sont inconnus; La noblesse est dans le courage, Dans les talents, dans le vertus. “The first citizens in the heart of the community were the men of personal courage, talent, and worldly virtues. ” -Munro, 2004, p. 46 The house in which seigneurs lived in was not a mansion. It was usually made out of stone or timber.

    The house usually has three to four bedrooms on the first floor and was very comfortable. The second floor was a spacious attic. Most of the furniture which furnished the housed within the seigneurial system came from France and the furniture is what usually showed the distinction between seigneur and habitant homes. Habitant homes were usally built out of timber or stone, just like the seigneur homes. In contrast the homes of habitants were narrow, heavily built, and very low. The houses of the habitants stood near the roadway and rarely had a plot of grass or shade tree around them.

    Dailey food for the seigneurs and habitants was not limitless; however, it was adequate and nourishing. Fish was accessible by all and was cured or smoked to last throughout the winters. The Native Americans showed the seigneurs how to smoke meat in their traditional fashion. Bread made from wheat flour and cakes made from maize were always on the menu. Many types of vegetables were grown but peas were the main staple. One had to trade in order to obtain coffee beans or tea leaves, but they were very expensive and not plentiful.

    Milk was the drink of choice. Brandy and wine were also shipped to New France from France, but the ordinary habitant could not afford to drink these alcohols on a daily basis and saved them for special occasions. Colony brewed beer was more affordable for a daily drink. Although seigneurs and habitants were from two different classes, their lifestyles appear similar. Although seigneurs could afford more than the habitants, they still lived in the same type of homes, drank the same drinks, and ate the same foods.

    The lifestyle of people in New France depended upon what was available due to the season, what the land supported, and what was available through trading. Bibliography Conrad, Margaret, and Alvin Finkel. Canada: A National History. Toronto: Pearson Education Canada, 2007. Munro, William Bennett. The Seigneurs of Old Canada. Toronto: Kessinger Publishing, 2004. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. Conrad and Finkel, 46 [ 2 ]. Munro, 5 [ 3 ]. Conrad and Finkel, 46 [ 4 ]. Conrad and Finkel, 46 [ 5 ]. Conrad and Finkel, 47 [ 6 ]. Conrad and Finkel, 47 [ 7 ]. Munro, 46 [ 8 ]. Munro, 47 [ 9 ]. Munro, 50 [ 10 ]. Munro, 51

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