A concluding chapter in a book by Allan Greer titled, “The People of New France“, discussed the diversity of the French-Canadians. I’ve written about this subject in the past. Therefore, I appreciated reading Greer’s point of view.
Although French-Canadians, and the Franco-Americans, who descended from this special population of people, may appear to have similar ethnic and personality traits, they are, in fact, multi-cultural. This is because of the 400 years of American history, whereby the French have been an integral presence to the development of Canada and the United States.
French trappers, traders, fishermen and entrepreneurs were in North American in the 16th century, decades before the attempted 1604, settlement on St. Croix Island, in Calais, Maine. During the French colonization of New France, the population became diverse as the settlers and opportunists blended into the North American environment.
Greer wrote, “…generations of historians liked to emphasize the homogeneous quality of French Canada’s original stock…everyone was from France, they suggested, and everyone was Catholic, racial purity prevailed and social harmony reigned supreme. ” Yet, this is a wrong minded view.
“New France, a homogeneous society?”, he quipped. It only just looked that way. In fact, the French Canadians mingled and co-existed with Native Americans, with French Protestants, who were the Huguenots, and with English, and American slaves and prisoners. Moreover, the French-Canadian settlers of the St. Lawrence valley had contact with two different categories of American Indians who were the permanent residents and where the Christians lived in reserved colonies.
Obviously, I’m not a sociologist or an anthropologist, but I’ve been able to report on my own assessment of Franco-American multiculturalism and ethnic diversity. In the past, this is how I have identified these groups. My own concept of Franco-American diversity has extended to modern immigrants from Africa.
- French Europeans: This group would be those who were followers of the explorer Jacques Cartier (1491-1557), who developed Montreal. Cartier was a Breton explorer, who claimed what is now Canada for France. Young French men who found their way to New France made a point of immersing themselves into the Native environment. They became “coureurs de bois” or “runners in the woods”.
- Huguenots: In fact, the first French Huguenots, the Protestants who followed John Calvin, formally arrived in “New France” in 1604, with the cartographer and explorer Samuel de Champlain (1574-1635), who helped lead the failed settlement on St. Croix Island. (He later settled the city of Quebec, beginning in 1608.)
- French-Canadian Métis: The Métis initially developed as descendants of early unions between the Native American people and colonial-era settlers (usually indigenous women and settler men).
- Acadians: The French colonists who settled in New France, including parts of eastern Quebec, the Canadian Maritime provinces and into modern day Maine, from Madawaska and many communities in the northern part of the state. It was the Acadians were the target of “Le Grand Dérangement” , the 1755 British forced expulsions of the settlers, who were the victims of this tragic upheaval.
- Creoles: People who were originally descended from the inhabitants of colonial Louisiana territory, during the time when both the French and the Spanish exchanged rule. Later, when the Haitian refugees arrived, fleeing from the revolution of 1791-1804, they became influential in the Creole population. In fact, the Haitian refugees from this period included both French and native Haitian people.
- African French: Indeed, the African influence in the French-Canadian and Franco-American ethnic mix can be traced to the slave trades in both the US and the Caribbean. Recently, modern immigrants to North American from French speaking African nations like Burundi, Congo, or Guinea, have also joined the diverse mix of Franco-Americans. In other words, they are also people of French heritage and who speak the French language.
In Greer’s analysis, he stated the purpose of writing about this subject was to present the people of New France as participants in a momentous and multi-dimensional process of colonization, in which more “Frenchness” was only part of the story.
In fact, in the 17th and early 18th centuries, the Catholic immigrants from France often worked in close relations with Native Americans, with Protestants and with the others, to “reconstitute” a version of European society on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, in Quebec. None of the French colonies that were spawned from this effort were homogeneous.
Certainly, it’s affirming to have my point of view about the Franco-American cultural and ethnic diversity, more or less, validated by an academic, like Allan Greer.
“The People of New France” was originally published in 1997, by The University of Toronto Press and republished in 2009, by “Themes in Canadian Social History“.