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Great (Cannon) Balls of Fire!

This story was initially published in 2006

On September 5, 1697, Pierre Le Moyne, sieur d’Iberville et d’Ardillières successfully attacked three Hudson’s Bay Company ships off the coast of Hudson Bay, sinking two of them and badly damaging the third. His manoeuvre gave the French army the upper hand in defeating the English at Fort York.

Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville
© Library and Archives Canada / C-026026
Pierre Le Moyne was baptized on July 20, 1661, at Ville-Marie (present-day Montréal, Quebec). Iberville’s father, Charles Le Moyne, was a director of the Compagnie du Nord, the rival fur-trading company to the English Hudson’s Bay Company. Because of this rivalry and, like many men his age, Iberville at age 25 began his career in the French army. His first expedition with the army was under Captain Pierre de Troyes. Their objective was to sail to James Bay and capture the Hudson’s Bay Company forts. The mission was a success, and Iberville was able to establish a reputation as a courageous fighter by attacking Moose Fort (today, Moose Factory, Ontario) virtually single-handedly and capturing it in the name of the King of France. Iberville promptly renamed the fort Saint-Louis, in the King’s honour.

Skirmishes continued off and on between the French and English to regain control of the trading forts situated along both the Hudson and James bays between 1686 and 1689. Iberville led several excursions to both attack and defend the coasts.

However, the situation changed in 1689, when England and France declared war once more. The conflict quickly spilled from Europe into the colonies in what would become known as King William’s War. Control over the North American forts became a central part of this war.

York Factory National Historic Site of Canada
© Parks Canada / F. Mercier / H.07.73.09.01(03)
One such fort was York Fort, controlled by the Hudson Bay Company, and a particularly important to fur trading in that region (present-day York Factory, Manitoba). Between 1694 and 1696, control of the fort seesawed back and forth between both sides. So in 1697, Iberville was sent to reclaim it. However, he was separated from the other French ships in thick fog. When the fog lifted, he was surrounded by three heavily armed English ships, which had been sent to protect York Fort. Iberville, much to everyone’s surprise, succeeded in outmanoeuvring the English, sinking two ships, and heavily damaging the third. This single act allowed the French army to gain important ground and force the English to surrender at York Fort only days later. Renamed Fort Bourbon, it remained a French possession until 1713.

Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, New France’s most courageous but ruthless soldier was designated of national historic importance in 1937. For more stories about New France and the early settlement of Canada, read Champlain Charts the Coast, Filles du Roi, and The First Intendent of New France in the This Week in History archives. To learn more about Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville and explorers of New France, visit Virtual Museum of New France on the Canadian Museum of Civilization website.

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