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The First Intendant of New France

For the week of Monday April 5, 2004

On April 5, 1669, Jean Talon, the first Intendant of New France, passed an ordinance granting bonuses to the fathers of large families. Talon understood that population growth played a key role in the colony's development.

Jean Talon was born in Châlons-sur-Marne in the Champagne region of France and was baptized on January 8, 1626. He studied in Paris at Collège Clermont, and then held several positions in military administration. In 1665, Louis XIV and his Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert appointed Jean Talon, a highly regarded young man, to the position of Intendant in Canada. Cardinal Richelieu, head of Louis XIII's cabinet, had created this position in the 1630s in order to impose royal authority in New France. As intendant, Talon became responsible for all civil administration in the colony.

"Jean Talon Visiting Settlers"
© Library and Archives Canada / C-011925

From the time of his arrival in Québec, Talon was committed to advancing the colony, despite Iroquois threats. To this end, he established a series of measures to defend the territory, increase the population and diversify the economy. In 1665, French troops landed in Québec and forts were built to protect its borders. Talon supplied the soldiers with food, weapons and boats. In 1667 the Iroquois surrendered. In order to ensure a population increase in New France, he urged soldiers to settle in the territory and settlers to immigrate to cultivate the land. With Colbert's co‑operation, he also brought "filles du roi" or King’s daughters to New France to establish families. The number of marriages and births increased significantly as a result of Talon’s policy incentives.

Reception of the Marquis de Tracy and The Intendant Talon by Mgr. Laval, 1665
© Library and Archives Canada / C-010621

Talon also worked to make the colony self‑sufficient through farming, and then tried to increase and diversify agricultural production. He exploited the two most abundant natural resources: lumber and fish. Many efforts were made to develop agriculture, forestry and fishing in order to build trade with France and, in particular, the West Indies. Unfortunately, when he returned to France in 1668, most of these fragile industries disappeared. When he returned in 1670, Talon's goal was to explore regions that were uninhabited by Europeans. He also wanted to further develop the St. Lawrence colony, strengthen trade alliances, defend the French territory against the English presence on the continent and to exploit mineral resources. New France's future looked promising when he left in 1672. His projects, however, were not pursued because of a shortage of specialized workers and a lack of support from France. Exhausted, he died in his home village in 1694.

In 1974, Jean Talon was designated as a person of national historic significance.

For more information on the development of the colony's population, visit Filles du roi in the This Week in History archives.  

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