pierres photo

 Pierre Beemans

While much of my education about pop culture in the 21st c. is provided by my 12-year old grandson during our early morning walks with his dog, Canadian history is not one of our hotter topics . Recently, however, a passing question about the settlement of New France led me to dig around and discover several little known events in our national story.


Raise your hand if you have heard of The Great Peace of 1701, or the Wars of Pere Rale and Pere Le Loutre. You have? Et bien, je vous tire mon chapeau, cher ami. I took the standard issue Canadian History in high school and college but I had never heard of these amazing events. One might say that this is not surprising as my education was all in English with textbooks by Britannophiles.” (However, I notice that the Histoire du Quebec (Jean Hamelin, ed.) gives only three lines to the Great Peace of 1701.) When I raided the OPL for help I came across The Great Peace, a fabulous volume by Alain Beaulieu and Roland Viau (Editions Libre Expression, Montreal, 2001). A bit more searching onWikipedia led me to some links that opened the window on Pere Rale and Pere Le Loutre.


All through the 17th c. the French and the Iroquois Confederacy were in almost constant conflict in a series of confrontations known as the Beaver Wars. Champlain had started it all in 1609 by helping out his Montagnais and Algonquin hosts in a raid into Iroquois territory. Working on the principle that my enemy’s enemy is my friend, the Dutch and later, the English, along the Atlantic coast were only too happy to arm and assist the Iroquois against both the French and the various tribes north of the St. Lawrence/Great Lakes with whom the French traded or struck alliances.


Champlain had entered the scene at a time when the Iroquois Five Nations Confederacy was beginning its century-long expansion out of its homeland in what is now northern New York State. In addition to long-standing tribal rivalries, control of indigenous trading routes and then of the fur trade with the European powers were the driving motives. In the 1620s and 1630s the Iroquois defeated the Mohicans and pushed them east out of the Hudson valley. In 1648-49 they drove the Huron out of their homeland around Georgian Bay, clearing the way to the rich fur trapping areas of Northern Ontario and killing eight Jesuit missionaries now known as the Canadian Martyrs.


During the 1650s and early 1660s, the Iroquois overpowered the Eries and the Neutrals south and north of  Lake Erie, destroyed the Susquehannock in Pennsylvania and northern Virginia, and pushed other tribes like the Miami and the Shawnee westward out of the Ohio valley. During these decades they also attacked French settlements in the St. Lawrence valley from Long Sault to Quebec, as well as French trading posts in Ontario and south into the Ohio valley. Even the Menominee and the Potawatomi on the other side of Lake Michigan were not safe from Iroquois war parties.


During the first 50 years of New France, its governance was in the hands of various trading and colonising ventures; they and the settlers were responsible for its defence. In 1660-61 the Iroquois launched large-scale attacks on Montreal and captured almost 30 colonists. France finally changed its policy and assumed direct control of the colony, naming a Governor and sending regular troops to its defence, the Carignan-Salieres Regiment in 1664 followed by the Compagnie Franche de la Marine in 1683.


These well-armed soldiers and their Indian allies organized devastating attacks into the Iroquois heartland, destroying villages and crops. In 1687, Governor Denonville invited 50 Iroquois hereditary sachems, virtually the entire decision-making strata of the Confederacy, under a flag of truce to discussions in Fort Cataraqui (Kingston). He seized them and shipped them in chains to Marseilles as galley slaves. The Iroquois responded in kind: in 1689, 1100 warriors nearly wiped out the settlement at Lachine, just outside Montreal, killing 90 settlers. Governor Frontenac retaliated with more punishing expeditions. The losses from these battles, the famines that ensued from the destruction of their crops and the diseases contracted from contact with the Europeans finally left the Iroquois weakened and prepared to consider peace with the French. Frontenac recognized the opening and had the 13 surviving chiefs returned from France to the Iroquois in 1698.


He and his successor, Governor Callieres, undertook a lengthy process of negotiations with the Iroquois and his Indians allies. A key issue was the return of prisoners by both sides. Over the years, the Iroquois had captured hundreds of men, women and children - both French and from France’s Indian allies. Most of these were not killed but kept as slaves or adopted into Iroquois families. Similarly, the Huron, Ottawa, Montagnais, Algonquin, etc. had taken Iroquois prisoners during their raids and integrated them into their communities. Building the trust necessary to bring these hostile nations together and get them to release their prisoners and commit themselves to a permanent peace was a daunting and dangerous diplomatic exercise.


Many of the ambassadors sent to the Confederacy were Jesuit missionaries who had learned the language while working with Iroquois bands that had converted to Catholicism and settled near Montreal under French protection. Others were French traders and settlers who had lived years with the Iroquois as prisoners and then escaped or been traded back. Not all the French prisoners wanted to return: some of the French women had found that they enjoyed more freedom and authority as wives in the Iroquois culture than they had had in New France.


In July of 1701, 1300 warriors from 39 nations arrived just outside Montreal to conclude four years of preparatory negotiations. Callieres ensured that they were all treated with maximum respect and generosity. Some of the Iroquois had not brought their prisoners and the Mohawk nation had not shown up, which almost scuttled the process. When Kondiaronk, one of the hesitating chiefs died, it was rumored that the French had used witchcraft or poison. Callieres arranged for a full state funeral in which he led the procession to Notre Dame church.


Finally, on August 4, 1701, the treaty was signed by Callieres and the representatives of all 39 nations, from the Menominees in Wisconsin and the Peorias in Illinois to the Nipissing in Northern Ontario and the Abenaki in New Brunswick. The Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Seneca signed for the Confederacy and the Mohawks showed up several days later and also affixed their mark. With a few exceptions, the peace held for almost 60 years until the outbreak in 1759 of the Seven Years War when the Iroquois held to the treaties they had also signed with the British.


And where do Pere Rale and Pere Le Loutre fit into the picture, you ask?  They are part of an equally fascinating history at the other end of New France, in the Maritimes. The French settlements known as Acadia were for the most part clustered around the Bay of Fundy and down into Maine. The Acadians developed close ties with the nations of the Wabanaki Confederacy (Mi’kmaq Maliseet and Abenaki) in what is now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Maine.


From 1702-13 England and France waged another major war (Queen Anne’s War) in Europe and North America. Britain, by the Treaty of Utrecht which ended it, took possession of most of Acadia (re-named Nova Scotia).  Many Acadians and the Wabanaki refused to recognize the Treaty, especially as New England fishermen pushed north into Maine. Pere Sebastien Rale, a French missionary, helped organize and lead this resistance. It was a brutal struggle: from 1722-25 both sides raided and burned villages, took scalps and killed prisoners.


Pere Rale was killed in 1724 and a peace treaty signed between the British and the Wabanaki in 1726. Under its terms, the British retained possession of Nova Scotia, but its population remained Acadian and Mi’kmaq, and Britain committed itself to not establish settlements. The Acadians were expected to take an oath of loyalty to the Crown, but many refused and continued to assist their Mi’kmaq and Abenaki friends against the encroachment of New Englanders into northern Maine.


In 1749, General Cornwallis was named Governor of Nova Scotia with orders to establish a naval base and fort at Halifax to counterbalance the French base in Louisbourg, Cape Breton. With him came 2,500 settlers who rapidly established themselves in Dartmouth, Bedford and Lunenburg. Cornwallis also demanded that the Acadians and Mi’kmaq sign an unconditional oath of loyalty to the Crown and abjure their Catholic faith in favour of Anglicanism. The Acadians and Mi’kmaq rejected these demands and over the next six years waged another bloody guerrilla war against the British This time they were led by Father Jean-Louis Le Loutre, a priest who had been given both a religious and a military mandate by the French government. Hundreds of British settlers and soldiers, Acadians and Mi’kmaq were killed, many of them being scalped for the bounties paid by both sides. Halifax and Dartmouth were attacked 13 times, most notoriously in the ‘Dartmouth Massacre’ of 1751 when 20 settlers were killed.


The start of the Seven Years War (which actually lasted nine years) in 1754 between Britain and France made it imperative for the British to resolve the ongoing threat to their naval base in Halifax. With the fall of Fort Beausejour on the Isthmus of Chignecto in June, 1755, the Acadian resistance came to an end. Most of the Acadians who had not already fled to New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island (still part of New France at that point) were deported, 11,400 in all, in what became known as The Great Expulsion.  Pere Le Loutre was captured as he tried to escape and spent the next eight years in prison in England. He was released when the Treaty of Paris (1763) ended both the Seven Years War and the history of New France.


I can hardly wait until my grandson asks me about the British North America Act.




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