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Canada in the 17th Century; Canada is successfully colonized; Quebec and Montreal are born.

In the previous article, we told you about how Samuel de Champlain started his journeys and how it will be of significance in the history of Canada. Here in this part, we will learn about Canada in the 17th century; the first towns made by Europeans there, and how the flames of the long-lasting hostilities between the French and the British in North America were lit in the 17th century.

But before the bloody wars, towns were established. Stick with us to the end of this article, so you get to know about it all!

First permanent colonies

Who successfully colonized Canada first? In 1605 Samuel de Champlain, with the help of his comrades, established the first permanent colony in Canada at Port Royal, Acadia, engraving his name in history as the first European to do so. Performing this great feat yielded him the name “Father of Canada”. Today Port Royale is a historical site located in Nova Scotia.

In 1607 the colony received an order from King Henry: He revoked de Monts’ monopoly in fur trading because of the insufficient income. The last remaining French left the colony in the hands of the native Mi’kmaq nation to watch over their possessions. When some French turned back in 1610, Port Royale was just as they had left it.

Port-Royal, a token of history of Canada in the 17th century

Port-Royal National Historic Site Outside View


Port-Royal National Historic Site Entrance

Five years after founding Port Royal, in 1608, Sieur de Monts and Champlain left Acadia and founded the second permanent colony in the region, “Quebec”. The name Quebec means “Narrow Passage” in Algonquin language, referring to the area where the Saint Lawrence River narrows. Saint Lawrence River had significant roles in the history of Canada in the 17th century, and in the following centuries.

 Champlain built a fortress there, at Quebec, and managed it until the last days of his life (1635), although he hadn’t stopped his explorations before 1620 when Louis XIII ordered him to cease explorations and devote himself to the administration of Quebec.

Port-Royal National Historic Site Outside View

Painting of Quebec, 1720

During one of his expeditions, he found a lake today named after him, Champlain lake. He also allied with Algonquin, Montagnais, and Huron, making enemies of the Iroquois. This alliance in Canada in the 17th century had longer lasting effects than what Champlain had anticipated, it  resulted in a century of war with the Iroquois before making peace in 1701. 

The French settlers and indigenous people worked together to form an immense fur trading economy supplying the endless demand of Europeans for beaver pelt.

French Colonies prosper in Canada

During one of his journeys on the St. Lawrence river in 1603, Champlain suggested building a settlement in the area. In 1634, Sieur de Laviolette fulfilled Champlain’s recommendation and built a village there. Trois-Rivieres became the second permanent settlement in New France, after the capital, Quebec, and generally the second French colony in Canada in the 17th century.

Through his journeys, Champlain visited the island of Montreal. To his surprise, there was no sign of Hochelaga village (An Iroquoian village) as Cartier had mentioned 70 years ago. He tried to make a post there at Place Royal to trade fur, but the Mohawk primarily based at today’s New York prevented him from doing so. They protected their hunting grounds. Little did Champlain know this place would become the famous city of Montreal in the future. (He isn’t called Father of Canada for no reason!!)

Years later, in 1642, after the ice had melted, a small group of people stood where Champlain once did but with a different motive: To create a colony devoted to Virgin Mary. They were missionaries with the objective of teaching natives about Christianity. Their leaders were Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance and they were under authority of Société Notre-Dame de Montréal. Maisonneuve was appointed as the governor of this colony.

The colonists were constantly under attack by the Mohawks, who didn’t want to lose their game ground in Canada in the 17th century. Mohawks were a part of the Iroquois confederation, enemies of colonists’ indigenous allies. By 1651 the population of Ville-Marie had dropped under 50, so Maisonneuve returned to France to recruit new colonists. 

He returned two years later with 100 more people, reviving the colony. They built “Fort Ville-Marie” and Jeanne Mance established the first hospital in Canada in the 17th century, in Fort Ville-Marie, named “Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal”.

This colony thrived through time, having 600 people by 1685. In 1688, during the Indian War, the fort was dismantled, and a wall was erected around the whole settlement. In 1705 the name of the settlement was officially changed to Montreal. 

Bird’s eye view of Ville-Marie

First church in Ville-Marie

The British grow strong in the 17th century

During much of the 17th century in Canada, fur trade was practically a French monopoly. In the 1650s, two French fur traders got information from natives about the best region to get fur north and west of Lake Superior. French authority did not grant the permission to explore, but in 1659, they set their journey without authorities’ consent and returned with high-quality fur a year later. Having their fur confiscated and being fined, they turned to the English to back their trade. 

With the English support, they made an expedition to James Bay, south of Hudson Bay, and built Charles Fort (Named after their sponsor, King Charles II) at the mouth of Rupert River (Named after another sponsor, King’s cousin, Prince Rupert).

This fort became known as Rupert House in the future. Today it has developed into a community of “Waskaganish”, Quebec. They returned to England in 1669 with a cargo of fur that was sold at an eye-catching price.

These events made the British authorities pay more attention to Canada in the 17th century; King of Britain, Charles II, granted the Hudson’s Bay Company the monopoly of fur trade over the drainage basin of the Hudson Bay in 1670. There was a competition between French Montreal-based and Hudson Bay’s Company over the fur business for the next century. This monopoly resulted in English settlement becoming richer and more populous, and the situation between New France and English colonies got intense with conflicts over the years.


Hudson’s Bay Company is the longest-lasting Corporation of North America, still active today.

Hudson Bay and its drainage Basin

Battle of Quebec, the British and the French fight over Canada

Late in the 17th century, New France was the largest part of North America, but its population was less than the other colony, New England. They compensated for this by making towns guarded by forts. In 1690, under the command of “Sir William Phips”, the British seized Port Royal, capital of Acadia. Delighted by this triumph, they were determined to capture Quebec, capital of New France, next. 

Upon his return to New France, “Count Frontenac” ordered to fortify Quebec with wooden walls, outposts, and artillery weapons. On 16th October, Phips sent his envoy to ask for their surrender, but Frontenac’s reply was fierce, “My only reply will be from the mouths of my cannons!”.

The battle began, but Frontenac’s shrewdness and Phips’ incompetence in managing his troops sealed the fate of war; the English were utterly defeated. On their retreat, smallpox took its toll on the British troops too. About 1000 lost their lives to the disease. 

“My only reply will be from the mouths of my cannons!”


People will remember this battle, as one of the most major skirmish in Canada in the 17th century, and as a sparkle to light a fire between New England and New France.

Our last words about Canada in the 17th century

And thus, Quebec’s defenses were tested for the first time. Both English and French got invaluable experience from this skirmish; the need for artillery along with better support and improving the city’s defenses were what the English and the French learned.

But this was not the end, the British would not give up easily on Canada, and they proved it in the next century. Now that you have read about Canada in the 17th century, If you are interested in knowing more about it and about how things panned out, you can read the 18th century of Canada’s history. Also, if you are curious about other aspects of Canada, don’t forget to check our other articles regarding the Geography, Politics, Socio-cultural, and economics of Canada.

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