To each his own trade! 350 ans years ago...

À chacun son métier! Il y a 350 ans...On November 16, 2003, the Great Recruit, some 100 men from France who had set out to save the endangered colony, arrived in Montreal. Let us celebrate these builders, who were not afraid to cross the ocean. For the most part, they worked at clearing the land. Yet some were carpenters, tailors, cobblers, sawyers and much, much more.

We are highlighting these long-forgotten trades, which demonstrate the hard work of the first colonists. Follow along with us through these chronicles as we present some of the trades practiced by these 100 men, some trades have disappeared, others have been practiced down through the years and still others were unusual. But... every trade had its value!

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First episode
Doctor or surgeon, what is the difference?

Doctor or surgeon, what is the difference?When men were recruited to come to New France in 1653, four surgeons signed up. Only three of them honoured their contracts: Étienne Bouchard, Louis Chartier and Pierre Piron.

In New France, surgeons were among the best paid individuals. Étienne Bouchard, for example, earned 150 livres per year. The salaries of those who signed up depended on their trade. A man who worked at clearing the land earned 60-75 livres per year on average, whereas as someone who practiced two trades (land clearer and mason, for example) could hope to earn 100 livres or more.

What exactly did a surgeon do in the 17th and 18th centuries? In the extremely hierarchical society of the French Regime, a clear distinction was made between the profession of physician and that of surgeon. For starters, their training was different. The physician studied for 6 or 7 years before practicing, whereas the surgeon often learned his skills in the field.* That was the case of Pierre Piron, who learned from his ancestors.

At the same time, social standing set the two professions apart. The surgeon enjoyed middle class status while the physician belonged to the nobility. By deLateition, a noble is someone who refuses any form of manual labour. For the noble, working with his hands was a degrading activity, reserved for the "little" people and those of base birth. As a result, the surgeon was responsible for the practical side of medical work. The surgeon performed amputations, removed abscesses, extracted teeth, bandaged wounds, bled patients and so on. In fact, he was disdained by the physician, who was responsible for intellectual work. The physician prescribed and diagnosed, but would never dare palpate a patient as part of his work. This posed some obvious problems when it came to detecting the symptoms of a disease. At the end of the 18th century, this rivalry ended and surgery was given its just value.

Moreover, it is interesting to note that the profession of surgeon was confused with that of the barber for a long time. In fact, starting in the 15th century, barbers were responsible for bleeding patients, just as they cut hair or shaved beards. It was only on April 23, 1743 that Louis XV issued an order officially declaring the rights of surgeons. From that time on, they practiced separately from barbers. Surgeons, who were more educated than barbers, learned Latin and philosophy and enjoyed certain rights and privileges. One thing is certain, it’s a good thing this profession has evolved a lot since those days.

* This means that he learned the rudiments of his work gradually, by observing a more experienced surgeon.

  • LEBRUN, François. Se soigner autrefois: médecins, saints et sorciers aux 17e et 18e siècles, Paris: Messidor/Temps actuels, 1983. 202 p.
  • DEMESY-MAURENT, Jeannine. "Maître chirurgien à la veille de la Révolution" Cahiers d’histoires, vol. 33, no 1, 1988, pp. 43-70
  • BARIETY, Maurice; COURY, Charles. Histoire de la médecine, Paris, Fayard, 1963, pp. 585-586

Second episode
Sawing, sawing wood...

Sawing, sawing wood...It has been said that plank sawyers never go to hell because they live in hell on earth. This saying refers to the difficulties of the work. Seven of the men who came to New France with the Great Recruit of 1653 practiced this trade.

The trade of plank sawyer is a very old one and engravings showing sawyers in action have been found on grave markers dating back to the Gallo-Roman Empire. This is easy to explain since, up to the 20th century, plank sawyers played an important role in the construction of buildings. They provided the planks required to build homes, barns, chapels, ships, etc. Working in teams of two, they cut planks from the trunks of massive trees, using their long saw. This difficult work required several steps.

First, the tree trunks had to be cut into sections measuring six to ten feet (two to three meters) and squared, in order to shape them into beams. Then, the beam had to be lined. In other words it had to be marked with a string dipped in powder, to indicate the width and the number of the planks to be cut.

Next, the lined beam would be placed on very high trestles. One of the sawyers, known as the top sawyer, would climb up on the beam and the other, known as the box man would position himself under it. Then the sawing would start. Each man would push and pull the two-handed saw in turn until a plank was cut. Then they would start all over again. Two experienced sawyers could produce a dozen planks per day. The work in both positions was back breaking and the saw would strike the man on the bottom in the face. For protection, he would wear a hat with a broad brim. This was the symbol of the trade.

In the 17th century, construction “required few planks cut with a two-handed saw”.** Axes were used to square the wood and shape beams and the thick planks used for construction. As of the 18th century, plank sawyers became increasingly important for the shipping yards. Their importance increased until the 19th century when a large number of mechanical sawmills were established. These sawmills could produce a plank in just a few minutes. As a result of this competition, plank sawyers disappeared completely by the 20th century.

Thanks to the efforts of certain history enthusiasts, who are re-learning the trades of the past, the trade of plank sawyer is regaining its place. Today, as in the past, plank sawyers may describe their work as back-breaking but they all say that they practice a wonderful trade.

The trade of plank sawyer was associated with that of the nail maker. To learn more about this trade, we invite you to return on November 18.

* The plank sawyers used two types of saws. The first, and older saw, consisted of a blade encased in a wooden frame. The second is a type of two-handed saw with a rounded end and a removable handle.

** Pomerleau, Jeanne. Arts et métiers de nos ancêtres 1650-1950. Montréal: Guérin, 1994, p.403

  • POMERLEAU, Jeanne. Arts et métiers de nos ancêtres 1650-1950. Montréal: Guérin, 1994, 507 p.

Third episode
Hitting the nail on the head

One trade that was rare in New France was that of nail-maker. Throughout the French Regime, only six men practiced this trade. They included Antoine Beaudry dit l’Épinette, one of the men who signed on with the Great Recruit in 1653.
As the name indicates, the nail-maker made nails. For most of us, this appears to be a simple trade. A nail is a nail, after all! But that is not quite accurate. The nail-maker made a vast array of nails which were once very useful. You have to be familiar with nails. Each nail has a different shape and function: upholstering nails, cart nails, horseshoe nails, roofing nails, carpenter’s nails, cobbler’s nails, deck nails (for boats), lock nails (i.e. to lock windows), etc. The nail-maker also made other parts such as iron hooks and rods. At the end of his apprenticeship, which lasted about five years, he had to master all of these techniques. *

As in the cases of other tradesmen working with iron, the nail-maker used a smithy to heat the metal until it was white hot and could be shaped as he wanted. He made the stem of the nail by hammering a bar of hot metal on an anvil and shaped the head in a mold called a heading tool. There is a different heading tool for each type of nail. An experienced nail-maker could make between 50 and 100 nails in an hour.

In New France, all of the blacksmith trades faced a major problem: the lack of raw materials, particularly iron. In fact, until the Saint-Maurice ironworks (located new Trois-Rivières, Quebec) opened in 1738, nail-makers and other tradesmen obtained their raw materials from French suppliers, who in turn obtained the valuable metal from their distant neighbors, the Swedish.

As a result of the shortage of the raw material and strong competition for this resource from other tradesmen working with iron, few people worked as nail-makers. Moreover, nail-makers were poorly paid, which gave rise to the French expression “travailler pour des clous” (literal translation: to work for nails), which means to work for next to nothing. As a result, the nail-maker did other types of blacksmith work in order to survive. He would work as a farrier, edgetool maker, armorer or even locksmith, depending on what was needed. These other tradesmen also made nails on occasion, even though that was not their specialty.

In Montreal in 1825, there were 18 nail-makers, which corresponds to 0.2% of the trades documented. This percentage declined as the City became increasingly industrialized. Faced with competition from plants that could produce thousands of nails in a day, the nail-maker finally closed up shop in the second half of the 19th century.

Did you know that another tradesman used a heading tool in his work? To find out more, join us on December 2, to read about the kettle maker.

* Apprenticeship to a master varied from one trade to another, depending on the difficulty of the work. For example, an edgetool maker would be apprenticed for three years and an armorer for five years. During this training period, the apprentice would receive no wages. However, he was housed and fed and, occasionally, provided with clean laundry.

  • POMERLEAU, Jeanne. Arts et métiers de nos ancêtres 1650-1950, Montréal, Guérin, 1994, 507 p.
  • TESSIER, Albert. Les forges Saint-Maurice, Montréal, Les Éditions du Boréal Express, 1974, 197 p.

Fourth episode
Cauldrons, pots and other containers

Cauldrons, pots and other containersUp until the 1940s, itinerant tradesmen traveled the roads of our cities and countryside offering their services. They worked as deliverymen, salesmen, maintenance men or repairmen. One such tradesman was the kettlemaker. The Great Recruit of 1653 included kettlemaker Gilles Lauson. Originally from Caen in Basse-Normandie (France), he married Marie Archambault in 1656; she gave him thirteen children. He settled in Montreal, making his living from farm work and his trade. It is known that he paid off certain debts by working as a kettlemaker and that he taught his trade to several apprentices.

The primary job of the kettlemaker was to manufacture and repair cauldrons and pots. At the time, such objects either had to be imported from France or made here from copper, which was also imported. As a result, these objects were rare and expensive. Instead of buying new ones, people would call on the kettlemaker to patch them with metal (copper, tin or sheet metal) that was heated and then hammered into shape on an anvil. “He started to make a rivet by cutting a copper triangle that he then rolled into a cone and hammered in his heading plate: an anvil with holes of various sizes (...) Then he inserted this rivet into the hole in the container, point first, and hammered it on a tinsmith’s anvil horn to flatten it until it was level with the bottom of the cauldron.”* This process made the container water-tight once again, until the next time the kettlemaker passed through, the following year.

Despite his name, the kettlemaker did much more than make and repair pots. He was a jack of all trades. He was called on to make and repair all kinds of objects. In the 17th and 18th centuries, he specialized in making and repairing bellows, bed warmers and braziers.** In the 19th century, he installed and repaired pipes for wood stoves and made lamps and lanterns. In addition to that, he maintained the immense vats for sugar houses, cheese plants and butter factories.

Today the trade of kettlemaker still exists but both the name and the work done have evolved. Today’s boilermakers, sheet metal workers and tinsmiths still work with metal, but they use alloys that were unknown in the 17th century: stainless steel, carbon steel, aluminum... Their job is to trace shapes on metal sheets and cut them out. They weld the cut pieces together to make various industrial articles: vats, boilers, mixers, silos, etc. Moreover, they have traded in their anvils and traditional tools for modern instruments: computers for technical drafting, plasma cutting equipment for cutting metal and oxyacetylene torches for assembling metal. We’ve come a long way from the time of the kettlemaker who traveled the countryside with his small stove and a handful of tools.

In addition to the kettlemaker, there were several other itinerant tradesmen. To be continued on December 16... with the clog maker.

* POMERLEAU, Jeanne. Métiers ambulants d’autrefois, Montréal, Guérin, 1990, pp. 247-248

** The bed warmer is essential for dealing with cold, harsh winters. The bed warmer is a copper container, equipped with a cover that is perforated with small holes and a long wooden or metal handle. Filled with hot coals, the bed warmer was used to warm up the cold sheets in a bed and chase away the humidity. The brazier was a metal recipient used to carry the coals used for heating.

  • EMPLOI VEDIORBIS. «Le chaudronnier», Zoom sur le métier de..., [En ligne], 2003.
  • LANGLOIS, Michel. Montréal 1653. La Grande Recrue, Québec, Les Éditions du Septentrion, 2003, 268 p.
  • POMERLEAU, Jeanne. Métiers ambulants d’autrefois, Montréal, Guérin, 1990, 467p.
  • SEYMOUR, John. Métiers oubliés. Métiers d’autrefois, Paris, France Loisirs, 1985, 187 p.

Fifth episode
Finding a shoe that fit

Finding a shoe that fitFor a long time, shoes were expensive items and people maintained them carefully in order to keep them as long as possible. This was particularly true for the common people. They viewed shoes as items of wealth, occasionally handing them on from one generation to the next, as demonstrated by certain inventories made after death.

In 17th-century New France, French-style leather shoes were the prerogative of the rich bourgeois. The average peasant had to settle for moccasins – borrowed from Native fashion – and clogs. Clogs were very popular because they were waterproof, unlike leather shoes, and because they were inexpensive. They were worn alone or with shoes, to protect them in wet conditions. When worn alone, they were stuffed with straw for additional comfort. In cold weather, they were filled with hot embers for a few minutes, before being worn outside.

Clogs were carved from a single piece of wood by clog makers*. Initially, in order to be close to their primary resource, clog makers would set up shop in shacks next to forests. These shacks then transformed into small work sites where clog makers plied their trade. For this reason, clog makers were often associated with logging operations, much like loggers or sawyers.

Did you know that...
... the word sabotage in French – which means to do work badly or intentionally destroy material or equipment – comes from the word “sabot” (“clog” in English)? In fact, in the 19th century, in order to protest against their poor working conditions in the factories, French workers used their clogs to block and break the machinery.

Then the clog makers left the forest. Some opened workshops in the towns and villages while others became traveling craftsmen. The traveling craftsmen offered their services during their annual visit, in the homes they came across on their way. They brought clogs of various sizes with them, to shoe women, men and children. When they did not have the right size with them, they would take measurements and returned at a later date with clogs made to measure.

How did the clog maker make clogs? He would proceed in stages. First, he would use an ax to cut sections of wood in various lengths, one length for each clog size. He would use the trunk of a freshly cut tree, since green wood was easier to work. Then, he would cut the lengths into blocks and each block would be used to make a single clog. The clog maker would carve the clog, which was held in place by a clamp, using a variety of chisels. He would shape the clog, and then hollow it out with an instrument known as a spoon. Occasionally, he would give rein to his imagination and engrave attractive designs on the clog.

This was followed by drying. The clog had to be dried in the open air in order to harden the wood and make the clogs durable. The clog maker would stack the clogs so that the air would circulate well among them. The more sap the wood contained, the longer it took to dry. For example, clogs made from alder wood had to be dried for nine months before they could be worn. In addition to alder wood, the clog maker used a variety of other woods such as beech, birch, maple, black poplar, Scotch pine and walnut.

Unlike the wooden shoes or clogs popular in France, Belgium and Holland, the people of Great Britain wore another type of clog that consisted of a leather shoe with a wooden sole made in much the same manner as clogs. In Quebec, this type of footwear became popular after the conquest, although people continued to wear clogs until the 19th century and even later. In the Lac Mégantic region, clog makers could still be found in the 20th century.

To learn about another traveling craftsman, join us on December 30, for the baker.

* The men who made up the Great Recruit of 1653, included one clog maker, Louis Guertin dit Le Sabotier (!), originally from the Anjou region in France. It is not known whether he actually practiced his trade in New France.

  • LANGLOIS, Michel. Montréal 1653. La Grande Recrue, Québec, Les Éditions du Septentrion, 2003, 268 p.
    Le Petit Larousse illustré, Paris, Larousse, 2002, 1786 p.
  • POMERLEAU, Jeanne. Métiers ambulants d’autrefois, Montréal, Guérin, 1990, 467p.
  • SEYMOUR, John. Métiers oubliés. Métiers d’autrefois, Paris, France Loisirs, 1985, 187 p.

Sixth episode
Give us this day our daily bread

Give us this day our daily breadAlthough the first bakers appeared in Europe in ancient Rome, their numbers really started to grow in the Middle Ages. At that time, they worked primarily in the royal courts and fortified towns. Until the end of the 12th century in France, they went by the name of talmelier which most likely came from the verbs tamiser (to sieve) and taler (to knead, in this case dough). The word “boulanger” in French came into use after that, taken from the name of the bread, which was shaped in balls (“boules” in French) at that time.

In France, bread was a dietary staple until the 19th century. This was particularly true during the time of the Ancien Régime, when 70-80% of an individual’s daily calorie intake came from this food. New France was no exception, although the diet here was more varied since the settlers ate more meat.

In 17th-century Montreal, which was still a village, it was common for the woman of the house to make the bread needed to feed her family. Also, it took some time for bakers to arrive here. The first baker, André Saint-Ange set up shop in Montreal in 1651, almost a decade after Ville-Marie was founded. He was followed by François Hudin and Jean Gervais (or Gervaise), two bakers who arrived with the Great Recruit of 1653.

Although the trade guild system * did not exist in New France, the baker’s trade was highly regulated. Not just anyone could become a baker. A local judge and a tribunal set certain standards to be respected: the number of bakers, the price of bread, the quality of the bread, and the times at which it could be sold. The baker also had to mark each loaf with his initials and indicate its weight before sale. He would sell his bread at the market, primarily to City merchants, innkeepers and hotelkeepers. They were legally obliged to obtain their bread from the baker. Peasants rarely purchased bread from the baker, except during a poor harvest or between two baking sessions.

The baker’s trade was difficult and demanding. At that time, the baker was involved in all the steps required to transform the grain into wheat and the wheat into bread and cakes. He would grind the grain at the seigniorial mill, and pass it through a sieve to remove any impurities and break up any lumps **. Then he would prepare the dough, mixing flower, salt, water, grease and the precious yeast. He would produce yeast by allowing a piece of raw dough mixed with warm water, sugar and flour, to ferment for a few days.

The next step involved kneading the dough. This was beyond a doubt the hardest task. Using a dough trough, he would mix the dough with his hands and sometimes his feet. Since he had to knead large quantities of dough, the task was quickly exhausting. “This operation lasted 30-40 minutes and all agreed that a middle-aged man was incapable of doing it.” *** The loaves of bread were then baked in a bread oven at a temperature that varied considerably. Once cooked, the bread was massive since, up to the 18th century, very little water was used to make the dough since people believed it was more nutritious like that.

At that time, brown bread, which was considered more nourishing than white bread, was reserved for the peasants. White bread was popular with the middle and noble classes, who were less active physically. It should also be noted that the wheat flour used to make white bread was expensive since it took longer to process. A saying from that period is very revealing: “Barley bread without debt is better than a loan for wheat bread.”

This belief about bread lasted a long time. When the baker started to travel the countryside at the end of the 19th century, few farmers would buy his bread. It was considered a luxury, with little nourishment, since it tasted too good! Moreover, it was considered unacceptable for a woman not to bake bread for her family.

Starting in the 20th century, baker’s bread became very popular and buying bread from this tradesman was a common practice by the 1930s. Until the 1950s, traveling bread sellers journeyed through the towns and the countryside. They gradually disappeared as the large commercial bakeries took over.

Over the last ten years or so in Quebec, the demand for natural products has increased and artisanal bakers are springing up all over. Bread is baked using old-fashioned techniques and traditional ingredients. We are re-discovering spelt wheat bread, home-made bread and much more. In fact, we invite you to try the recipe for rye bread produced by the Sisters of the Congrégation Notre-Dame, the secular guardians of our culinary traditions.

Rye bread

In New France, rye was one of the most popular grains. Here is a recipe for old-fashioned rye bread.

1 cup of rye flour
1 egg
2 cups of wheat flour
1 package of yeast, dissolved
2 tbsp of sugar
1 dash of salt

Prepare the evening before; use just enough milk to obtain a thick dough and leave sitting overnight. In the morning, add 1 tsp of baking soda to a small amount of boiling water. Knead the dough and allow to rise again. Cook in a hot baking pan.

Recipe taken from Cuisine raisonnée. Nouvelle version abrégée, Montreal, Éditions Fides, 2003, 411 p.

To learn more about another mouth-watering trade, we invite you to return on January 13, to read about the butcher.

* Trade guilds existed in France from the Middle Ages and were abolished in 1791. These guilds were associations of people who practiced the same trade. They included masters, journeymen and apprentices. The bakers’ guild, founded in the Middle Ages, was one of the most powerful in France. In New France, tradesmen were not allowed to organize in this manner.

** Prior to 1800, when grinding techniques were perfected, wheat was always passed through a sieve.

*** Translation of a quote found on the Internet:

  • BROCHU, René, et Jean-Pierre HÉRY. Le pain, les pâtisseries et les outils d’autrefois, LaPrairie, Éditions Marcel Broquet Publishing, 1988, 55 p.
  • CANNELLE.COM. Histoire de la boulangerie, [En ligne], 2003.
    [ ] (15 novembre 2003).
  • DECHÊNE, Louise. Habitants et marchands de Montréal au 17th century, essai, Montréal, Boréal Compact, 1988, 532 p.
  • LANGLOIS, Michel. Montréal 1653. La Grande Recrue, Québec, Les Éditions du Septentrion, 2003, 268 p.
  • Le Petit Larousse illustré, Paris, Larousse, 2002, 1786 p.
  • POMERLEAU, Jeanne. Métiers ambulants d’autrefois, Montréal, Guérin, 1990, 467p.

Seventh episode
Working as a butcher in New France

The Great Recruit of 1653 crossed the ocean to America on board the Saint-Nicolas from Nantes. The 100 or so men on board included Guillaume Gendron dit La Rolandière, one of the first butchers in Ville-Marie (now Montreal).

Under the French regime, butchers were never numerous. In Quebec, for example, in 1666 there were nine butchers for 550 inhabitants. Fifty years later, there were only four butchers for a population of 1574 inhabitants.* There are several reasons for this situation. First, until the end of the 17th century, farm animals were rare in New France. Since cattle, sheep, pigs, and chickens were imported from the mother land, the settlers had to wait a few years until they had produced enough offspring to start butchering them. Moreover, at the start of colonization, the colonists were unable to grow enough fodder; the Iroquois threat prevented them from spending time growing crops.

At the start of the 18th century, the situation improved and most colonists had several pigs (the basis of their diet), sheep and horned animals. There were many of these animals; they replaced the horse as draft animals since horses were too expensive for the average peasant.

The butcher bought his animals from the farmers or placed his animals in their keeping. In exchange for compensation, the farmer would take care of the animals until it was time to butcher them. In certain cases, the butcher would raise the animals he needed.

The butcher would kill the animals by bleeding them. Then he would remove the fur or feathers from the carcass. In the case of cattle, he would remove the skin, which would be made into leather. In the case of a pig, he would boil or burn the hair and scrape the skin clean with a knife. Finally, he would attach the animal to a vertical rack, gut it and cut it into quarters. He would sell meat, blood pudding and cooked meats at the market, the only place where he was authorized to do so. In 16th and 17th century Montreal, he would sell his wares in Place Royale.

In addition to where meat could be sold, several other aspects of the trade were regulated. Since the butcher’s trade affected public health, it was one of the most regulated trades in New France. Regulations set the number of butchers, the prices and the time between when the animal was killed and the meat sold. Fines were imposed and any butcher who sold bad meat or meat from an animal that died of disease or from an unknown cause would lose his right to work as a butcher. Finally, each slaughtered animal was first inspected by the King’s solicitor.

In the 19th century, butchers sold their meat in the cities and the countryside. They would travel the roads and streets in horse-drawn carts looking for clients. These carts could still be seen in the streets of Montreal in the 1950s. With the development of refrigerators and, a while later, industrial farming, this way of doing business and the butcher’s work changed. Today, the butcher is seldom involved in slaughtering the animals, but he does continue to cut animals up to provide us with loins, filets, sausages and much more.

Let us now leave the food trades and move on to construction. We invite you to return on January 27, to learn about the carpenter.

* AUDET, Bernard. Se nourrir au quotidien en Nouvelle-France, p. 174

  • AUDET, Bernard. Se nourrir au quotidien en Nouvelle-France, Sainte-Foy, Les Éditions GID, 2001, 355 p.
  • LANGLOIS, Michel. Montréal 1653. La Grande Recrue, Québec, Les Éditions du Septentrion, 2003, 268 p.
  • POMERLEAU, Jeanne. Métiers ambulants d’autrefois, Montréal, Guérin, 1990, 467p.

Eighth episode
Building a solid structure

Eight of the men who came across with the Great Recruit in 1653 were carpenters. This was an important trade in New France, where 80% of the homes were made of wood. Although some buildings were made of stone or brick, wood was still the most accessible building material. In addition to buildings (homes, churches, convents, etc.), the carpenter of the 17th and 18th centuries also built structures for ships.

Anyone who has looked at an old-fashioned structure will realize just how complex the carpenter’s work was. Transforming immense tree trunks into a solid frame was a lengthy process. First, the tree trunks had to be cut into beams, rafters and the various components that went to make a frame. An ax was used to cut the beams and this work took several hours. Each component was then finished with a plane and an adze, which was a small ax with a rounded cutting edge.

Using a chisel and a mallet, the carpenter would then groove the pieces of wood, using a tongue and groove assembly technique. The tongue is the male component that is inserted in the groove, the female component. Everything was held in place by a wooden pin. Such pins were replaced by nails at the end of the 19th century.

When building the frame for a roof, the carpenter would start by assembling all of the segments on the ground. He would number each piece and then take everything apart. Next, seven or eight men, equipped with solid ropes, would lift each piece to the top of the structure. They would then assemble the pieces of wood in numerical order. Each piece would fit into the next perfectly, like an immense puzzle, a masterpiece when completed.

When building a wooden house, the carpenter would build the frame for the roof and all of the walls. In New France, two types of frames supported the roof. Very popular in the 17th century, the ridge board brace frame was characterized by the presence of an X-brace (also known as St. Andrew’s cross)*. This is the type of structure used in Maison Saint-Gabriel. The second type, the lateral brace frame, is less complex. This style was particularly popular as of the second half of the 18th century. The walls were built with vertical or horizontal frames. In the case of vertical frames, the pieces of wood were embedded, like posts, in the ground or a wooden base. Frame houses were of this type. In the case of horizontal frames, the pieces of wood were installed one on top of another, as in the case of log houses.

Finally, pine was the wood used most commonly for such structures. Some may find this surprising but, since pine is a soft wood and the tools used at the time were very rudimentary, it was a perfect material for carpentry work. Moreover, pine was known for its light weight, solidness, impermeability and its great ability to withstand bad weather and mold. Hard woods, such as maple, were reserved for heating.

Once the structure was completed, it could be covered with stone. To find out more about the carpenter’s associate, come back on February 10, to learn about the mason.

* St. Andrew’s cross (the X-brace) was used in old-fashioned structures. This brace was used to support the ridge board, namely the main horizontal beam in the roof. Shaped like an “X”, it recalls the death of St. Andrew, who was crucified in Patras (Greece).

  • LANGLOIS, Michel. Montréal 1653. La Grande Recrue, Québec, Les Éditions du Septentrion, 2003, 268 p.
  • LANDRY, Yves, dir. Pour le Christ et le Roy. La vie au temps des premiers Montréalais, Montréal, Libre Expression, 1992, 320 p.
  • LESSARD, Michel, et Gilles Vilandré. La maison traditionnelle au Québec, Ottawa, Les Éditions de l’Homme ltée, 1974, 493 p.
  • LESSARD, Michel, et Huguette MARQUIS. L’encyclopédie de la maison québécoise. Trois siècles d’habitations, Ottawa, Les Éditions de l’Homme ltée, 1972, 727 p.

Ninth episode
Stone and brick

Most of the buildings that were built during the time of the French Regime and have survived to our days were made of stone. But this should not be construed to mean that most homes built in New France were made of this material. On the contrary, fewer than 20% were made of stone. Given the large number of fires that occurred and the fact that wood was much less resistant to the elements, very few houses made with that raw material have survived to the present.

The first houses built by the colonists in New France were very rudimentary. They were essentially wooden squares measuring an average of 70 square feet. Built on the ground, they had no foundations. The floors were made of beaten earth and the fireplaces were made of cob (a mixture of clay and chopped straw). This situation prevailed until the end of the 17th century. Until that time, the demand for masonry work was minimal.

The situation changed as of the 18th century. As the material conditions of the colonists improved and a middle class developed, the number of stone houses quickly increased. Masons were required to erect the foundations, walls, chimneys and fireplaces for homes.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the mason basically used field stone as his raw material. He also used rock obtained from local quarries: sandstone, limestone and granite. In Montreal, quarries were located in Lachine, near Mont Royal and on Île à la Pierre – an island that has disappeared today and was located to the west of Île Sainte-Hélène. These quarries also provided the lime used to make mortar. Brick was rarely used, except in regions that lacked minerals, such as Trois-Rivières, for example. Finally, dressed stone did not become popular until the 19th century.

When the mason had amassed enough rock – an operation that could take several months – he would start his work. He erected walls or any other structure by stacking the stones on top of one another firmly in rows. When he wanted to solidify the stonework near an opening, he would position the stone so that it crossed through the entire wall, from the exterior surface to the interior surface.

Once the wall was completed, the mason would fill any open areas with small pebbles. At this stage, the wall would be solid and could stand alone without the aid of a bonding agent*. Nevertheless, the mason would use mortar, more to fill the holes than to solidify the structure. Traditionally, mortar was made with sand, lime and water. Water was mixed with roughly one part lime and three parts sand. Although this mortar was less solid than modern cement, it was resistant to changes in temperature, a quality that was not negligible considering the climate of New France.

The final step involved whitewashing the square stone with a lime wash. This slurry, which was obtained by mixing water with dead lime, sealed the mortar and protected it from the elements. Most houses in New France were whitewashed, even those made of wood. This whitewashing operation was repeated every four to five years.

The men who enlisted in the Great Recruit of 1653 included four masons: Michel Bouvier, Urbain Brossard, Urbain Jetté and Martin dit Lamontagne. In fact, what did being an enlisted man mean in the 17th century? To learn more about the status of these men in New France, we invite you to come back on February 24.

* Material used to hold inert materials together (stone, sand, gravel).

  • LANGLOIS, Michel. Montréal 1653. La Grande Recrue, Québec, Les Éditions du Septentrion, 2003, 268 p.
  • LANDRY, Yves, dir. Pour le Christ et le Roy. La vie au temps des premiers Montréalais, Montréal, Libre Expression, 1992, 320 p.
  • LESSARD, Michel, et Gilles Vilandré. La maison traditionnelle au Québec, Ottawa, Les Éditions de l’Homme ltée, 1974, 493 p.
  • LESSARD, Michel, et Huguette MARQUIS. L’encyclopédie de la maison québécoise. Trois siècles d’habitations, Ottawa, Les Éditions de l’Homme ltée, 1972, 727 p.
  • SEYMOUR, John. Métiers oubliés. Métiers d’autrefois, Paris, France Loisirs, 1985, 187 p.

Tenth episode
Profession: enlisted man

In France, the 17th century was marked by several crises: famines, wars, popular uprisings... It was also the time of “La Fronde” during which villages were sacked. It was during this tumultuous time in history that the men of the Great Recruit of 1653 were enlisted. Men looking for a better future were tempted to sign up to go to New France. In all, 149 men enlisted to go to Ville-Marie (now Montreal); one hundred of them honoured their contracts and set out from France on board the Saint-Nicolas-de-Nantes.

According to the lists of the recruits, several men declared that they practiced a trade. However, most of them had no particular experience and they would be assigned to clearing the land. Once they signed their contract, they were officially identified as enlisted men.

At the time, the term “enlisted man” did not mean what it does today. Under the French Regime, an enlisted man was an individual who was bound by contract to another individual or a company for a period of three to five years. During this period, the enlisted man could not hire on with another master and had to obey certain rules. For example, he could not trade furs, or marry (without special permission), and could not go to cabarets. He did not enjoy the status of a free citizen. “An enlisted man is a man who is required to go anywhere and do anything his master asks him, much like a slave, during the time of his enlistment,” said a man of the time.* At the end of his contract, he could take on the status of a free citizen, settle in the colony and marry. Only one-third of the enlisted men decided to do so; the rest returned to France.

The enlisted man worked as a jack of all trades. His duties depended on his master and his trade, if he had one. For example, if the enlisted man worked on a farm, he would work in the fields, but he would also work as a carpenter if that was his original trade. In brief, according to the contracts signed for the Great Recruit of 1653, the enlisted men “promised and were required to practice both their trade and do the other tasks they were asked to do on the Island of Montreal.” **

In Montreal, it was primarily the religious communities (the Congrégation de Notre-Dame, the Hôtel-Dieu, the Seigneurs de l’île), as well as certain wealthy families (including the LeBer-LeMoyne families) who hired the enlisted men. It should be noted that a master could sell or rent an enlisted man to a habitant requiring his services.

In exchange for his labour, the enlisted man was housed, fed and paid an annual wage. His wages depended on his skills. A worker with no experience received an average of 60 livres per year, while a tradesman received higher wages. A sawyer received 80 livres, a carpenter received 100 livres, and a surgeon received 150, even 200 livres per year. These salaries may appear advantageous, but this was not really the case. The sums earned in the first year and even following that were used to reimburse the initial advances paid to the enlisted man, for food and housing prior to the crossing for example. This was the case of the Great Recruit of 1653, which was delayed from leaving France by almost two months.

And it is impossible to determine if all of these men actually practiced their trades in New France. We do know than only one-fifth of the men who made up the Great Recruit of 1653 lived solely by means of their trade. We also know that some of the recruits claimed to practice a trade to facilitate their acceptance as enlisted men and receive better wages. In any case, regardless of their occupation, one thing is certain: the enlisted men were never idle for long.

This is the final chronicle on the trades of the men who made up the Great Recruit of 1653.

* DECHÊNE, Louise. Habitants et marchands de Montréal au 17e siècle, essai, Montréal, Boréal Compact, 1988, p. 63
** LANGLOIS, Michel. Montréal 1653. La Grande Recrue, Québec, Les Éditions du Septentrion, 2003, p. 33

  • DECHÊNE, Louise. Habitants et marchands de Montréal au 17th century, essai, Montréal, Boréal Compact, 1988, 532 p.
  • LANGLOIS, Michel. Montréal 1653. La Grande Recrue, Québec, Les Éditions du Septentrion, 2003, 268 p.


Carte de l'Île de Montréal et de ses environs, No. 11 (Détail), 1764

Collection Centre Canadien d'Architecture / Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal

Gravure de couleur sur papier vergé
31,0 x 44.5 cm
Graveur inconnu
France; 18th century
Jacques Nicolas Bellin, Cartographe
France; Paris 1703 - Versailles 1772

The 17th-century locksmith made wrought iron locks. However, he also performed more general blacksmith duties such as shoeing horses, repairing tools etc. The Great Recruit of 1653 included three locksmiths.
In the Middle Ages, the armorer made the clothing worn under metal armor to protect the body. Following that, he specialized in making and repairing armor, edged weapons and firearms. In New France, he would repair weapons. In fact, in order to maintain its monopoly and protect its business, France prohibited people in its colonies from designing arms. The Great Recruit of 1653 included one armorer, Jean Tavernier dit Laforêt.
Edgetool maker
In principle, the edgetool maker makes tools with edges, namely tools used for cutting (sickles, shears, scissors, planes, etc.). In practice, he also made a large variety of tools used to work wood, stone and iron, as well as in agriculture. Of the men who came over with the Great Recruit in 1653, Pierre Moulières practiced this trade.
A farrier shoes horses. He transforms bars of metal into horseshoes using his anvil and fitting hammer.
Pierre Piron (1632 -?)
Originally from St. Sylvestre (department of Sarthe in France), Pierre Piron signed up for five years to work at clearing land and as a surgeon. However, he earned his living in Ville-Marie primarily by clearing land. In fact, the archives contain various agreements under which he received land concessions in exchange for clearing tracts of land.

One revealing fact, he was one of the Montrealers who signed an agreement with the surgeon Étienne Bouchard, on March 30, 1655. This contract stated that, every year, in exchange for payment of 100 cents per person, Bouchard agreed to?bandage and treat them for all kinds of illness, both natural and accidental (?) until they were healed as much as possible.? The saying,?the shoemaker’s children are the worst shod? seems appropriate in the case of Pierre Piron!

Pierre Piron married Jeanne Lorion in 1663, five years after his contract ended. The couple had no children.

LANGLOIS, Michel. Montréal 1653. La Grande Recrue. Québec: Les Éditions du Septentrion, 2003, 268 p.
Louis Chartier (c. 1633 - 1660)
We know very little about this surgeon since his contract has disappeared. Nevertheless, we do know that he settled in Montreal, where he drowned on July 20, 1660.

LANGLOIS, Michel. Montréal 1653. La Grande Recrue. Québec: Les Éditions du Septentrion, 2003, 268 p.
Étienne Bouchard (c. 1622 - 1676)
A master surgeon from the Parish of St. Paul in France, Étienne Bouchard signed up to come to the New World with the Great Recruit in 1653. He set up practice in Montreal and is the only one of the three surgeons who were recruited that we know practiced his profession in New France.

In 1657, he married Marguerite Boessel. Seven children were born to the couple. In the spring of 1673, he moved to Québec City. Two years later, he returned to Montreal, where he passed away in July 1676.

LANGLOIS, Michel. Montréal 1653. La Grande Recrue. Québec: Les Éditions du Septentrion, 2003, 268 p.