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HOMAGE TO THE FIRST INHABITANTS OF MONTREAL 

THE GREAT RECRUITMENT OF 1653


Ville-Marie was founded in 1642, in a joyful spirit brought about by the dream of the members of the Society of Notre-Dame of Montreal to assure the spiritual and material development of New France. Unfortunately, after ten years of sustained effort, it was necessary to conclude that the continued existence of the little colony established at the upper limit of navigation on the Saint Lawrence was in jeopardy, unless efforts to bring reinforcements were swiftly rewarded with success. It was obvious that the handful of colonists who had settled there could not, by themselves, establish the town on solid footings, since they were constantly occupied with taming a hostile environment, and with defending themselves against the unceasing attacks of the Iroquois. Moreover, many of the settlers wanted to leave Canada, since fear and terror were so widespread. 

It was Jeanne Mance who persuaded the founder of the little colony, Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, to return to France with the aim of recruiting settlers to furnish the colony with the ability to survive, and, eventually to prosper. Maisonneuve left Ville-Marie in the autumn of 1651, intent upon recruiting 100 new settlers. If unsuccessful, it was his intention not to return, and to order that the colony be abandoned,. He came to La Fleche, where, with the assistance of Jerome le Royer de la Dauversiere, and thanks to the generosity of Madame de Bullion, he carried on a campaign in Maine and Anjou to recruit settlers who would commit themselves to leave homeland and family and become land clearers and soldiers in the New World. Between March and May of 1653, 153 men signed before notaries acts of commitment to the Company of Montreal. They were recruited for a term of three to five years at wages proportionate to their crafts. In return, they would be housed and fed, and, at the end of their contract, they would be brought back to France at no cost to themselves, if they so desired. 

THE CROSSING

On June 20, 1653, 117 passengers, including Monsieur de Maisonneuve, embarked on the Saint Nicolas of Nantes, sailing under the command of Captain Le Besson. Fourteen of them were women. The ship left the port of Saint-Nazaire traveling westerly to the New World. After covering 350 leagues in a few days, it became evident hat the hull was split, and that a serious breach threatened to flood the hold and ruin the provisions. The crew could not manage to caulk the breach, and it became necessary to return to Saint-Nazaire in order to perform the necessary repairs.

According to the narrative of Marguerite Bourgeoys, the passengers were furious, believing that they were being sent to perdition. M. de Maisonneuve felt obliged to "set all of the colonists down on an island from which they could not escape, since otherwise, not one of them would have stayed." Two recruits managed nonetheless to escape. A month went by before the Saint Nicolas of Nantes was once again deemed seaworthy. The signal for departure was sounded on July 20, 1653. After two months of a rather difficult crossing, eight passengers having died at sea, the ship finally arrived at Quebec on September 22.

Ill fortune continued as the ship became grounded on a sand bar below Quebec, at the place called Saint Denis' mill. Marguerite Bourgeois writes, "that the great tides could not dislodge it, and it had to be put to the torch at the site". The group stayed in Quebec through the month of October, until M. de Maisonneuve found boats to bring them to Ville-Marie. They did not reach their destination until November. Two weeks later, on November 16, 1653, nearly five months after leaving the port of Saint-Nazaire, the little band of settlers finally set foot on the soil of Montreal.

Four decades later, in 1687, Governor Denonville and Intendant Champigny commemorated the arrival of "these hundred men [who] saved the Isle of Montreal and all of Canada as well". The Sociéte généalogique canadienne-francaise (French-Canadian Genealogical Societé) will celebrate the 350th anniversary of this event, considered the second foundation of Montreal, during the year 2003. The SGCF has associated itself with partners that share its goal of honouring the past, to set in place a series of events to which the public, in particular the descendants of the men and women of the Recruitment, will be invited to participate. 
 

Translation by Fr. Owen Taggart - 03 Dec 2002