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Port-Royal National Historic Site of Canada


Introduction    A Taste of History    Hard Times for the Colonists    Port-Royal: A Landmark of Preservation


Introduction - continued

Once Sieur de Mons settled his expedition, his small band of men (no women were on the expedition) immediately went to work reassembling buildings they had transported from Saint Croix. Needing to work with his investors and seeing the settlement rapidly taking shape, Sieur de Mons returned to France, leaving Captain François Pont-Gravé, in charge.

The reconstructed Habitation is based in part on Champlain’s sketch The reconstructed Habitation is based in part on Champlain's sketch
© Parks Canada

Sketches of the Port-Royal Habitation by Champlain show a rectangular shape 18 metres (60 feet) long and 15 metres (48 feet) wide, resembling a fortified farm hamlet as seen in France during the early 1600s. At the southwest corner of the rectangle, the men built a bastion with four guns. The structure held lodgings for the settlers according to rank. Standing alone at the northern corner of the Habitation was a small house with a high-hipped roof where Pont-Gravé and Champlain lived in 1605-06. Next to their house spanned a row of smaller dwellings for gentlemen. A Catholic priest and Protestant pastor lived there, along with the surgeon Deschamps and a skilled shipwright named Champdoré. On the southwest was a dormitory for skilled workmen.

Champlain and Pont-Gravé planted gardens on the south side of the settlement. About his labours Champlain tells us, he “sowed there some seeds which throve well.” He surrounded his garden with “channels full of water, wherein I placed some very fine trout.” His servants constructed a small reservoir to hold salt-water fish. In spite of milder temperatures than what the expedition had experienced in Saint Croix, around twelve men out of 45 died that first winter in Port-Royal. Buried in the cemetery to the east of the Habitation, the deceased included a miner, the Catholic priest and the Protestant pastor.

Sieur de Mons remained in France to rally support at court and maintain ties with investors who supported the North American project. He assigned Pont-Gravé to a post on the Atlantic coast and sent over Jean de Biencourt de Poutrincourt, as lieutenant governor of Port-Royal. In going to Port-Royal, Poutrincourt would be visiting the land de Mons had granted him, the equivalent to having his own overseas estate. In the summer of 1606, Poutrincourt brought 50 men ashore at Port-Royal. This new contingent included his 14-year-old son, Charles de Biencourt, the lawyer and writer Marc Lescarbot, and the pharmacist Louis Hébert.

A replica of Poutrincourt’s gristmill lies near the original site A replica of Poutrincourt’s gristmill lies near the original site on the Lequille River
© Parks Canada/A. Rierden

A person with broad interests, Poutrincourt came with a vision of creating a self-sustaining agricultural colony and began to work toward that end. Under his supervision, his workmen cleared large areas of land for grain and other crops upriver near present Fort Anne National Historic Site. On a small river nearby (present-day Allains River), Poutrincourt built a water-powered mill to grind the grain.

As the colony evolved, music, performance and celebration became a central part of life. In November of 1606, for example, Poutrincourt and Champlain limped back to Port-Royal after an expedition down the coast, where they had faced a hostile encounter with the Monomoyick peoples of Cape Cod. As their battered barque sailed to shore, the exuberant Lescarbot welcomed the explorers back. A family friend of Poutrincourt, Lescarbot had written a theatrical production especially for the occasion. Le Théâtre de Neptune, or The Neptune Theatre, called for a cast of eleven actors including the sea god Neptune, Tritons and Frenchmen dressed as native people. Into this lively script, Lescarbot wove classical verse, humour and poems of praise for Sieur de Poutrincourt.

A gifted musician and composer, Poutrincourt also contributed to the settlement’s artistic spirits. He wrote both religious and secular music and encouraged singing for various celebrations. Champlain too, added to the merriment by creating a dining society called the Order of Good Cheer or, L’Ordre de Bon Temps.