The Economy

 

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The economy of New France was under strict royal control. The framework was that of the mercantile system, with colonies used to increase the wealth of the nation. The colony was meant to provide raw material to the mother country and act as market for its manufactured products. Hence Colbert encouraged the development of a diversified exploitation of natural resources - agriculture, timber, fish, minerals. Colbert's ambition was to use New France as a grain-producing colony to supply the French Caribbean that produced sugar. As a result, the fur trade was perceived as detrimental to a stable colonial development, so a state-controlled company was created to carry it. Colbert’s policy was implemented by the intendants, particularly Jean Talon (1665-68, 1670-1672). 

 

 

 

 

Agriculture was the main economic resource in Europe. The royal government wanted to promote the same stable basis for New France. The landholding system in France was seigniorial, and the same organization was used in New France. The whole land was considered as belonging to the Crown, which granted estates (seigneuries) to a seigneur who was required to live on the land and develop it with the help of peasant farmers (called “censitaires” because they paid an annual tax called the cens). In New France, the land subdivisions were called habitations and the peasants were called habitants. Traditional land grants consisted in long rectangles along the St Lawrence so everyone could have access to the river for transportation. This remains the distinctive land pattern of Quebec to this day.

 

 

Historians debate whether habitants were virtually independent farmers paying only a light cens, a light tithe to the church and a token tax to the state. Or was in fact the burden of taxation as crushing as in France? Habitants certainly enjoyed better living conditions; they had more land, the right to hunt and fish. Also at first, seigneurs were almost as poor as censitaires and class barriers were eroded. Seigneurs played no military role as in France. Often they were not noble and their income mostly came from trade.