This Week in History


High hopes dashed at Île Ste-Croix

For the week of Monday November 3, 2014

On November 8, 1603, the King of France appointed Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons and a member of the French nobility, as Lieutenant General of the King’s new lands in America. This imposing title meant King Henry IV was granting De Mons a 10-year monopoly on the coasts, lands and bounds of Acadia, Canada, and other parts of New France.

Bust of Pierre Dugua de Mons
© Parks Canada / Theresa Bundbury

In exchange, De Mons undertook to settle 60 colonists there and evangelize the Aboriginal people. In early spring 1604, accompanied by Samuel de Champlain, he set sail for the New World. In June, the flotilla made landfall at Île Ste-Croix (Dochet Island, not far from the present border between Maine and New Brunswick). Of all the places he visited in the territory granted by the King, De Mons deemed the island the most propitious place for establishing a permanent protected settlement.

However, winter and its agonizing cold soon took its toll. Scurvy raged and took the lives of half the colonists. Provisions and materials were scarce on the island, located at the mouth of the St Croix River, but the half-frozen river was very treacherous to cross. The colonists were stuck. After that catastrophic winter, the survivors moved the settlement to Port-Royal (not far from the present site of Annapolis Royal), where they prepared to cope with the bitter cold. To raise the morale of the colony, in 1608 Champlain created the Ordre de Bon Temps (Order of Good Times) and staged prodigious feasts.

Île Sainte-Croix seen from New Brunswick
© Parks Canada / David Hart

In spite of the hopes raised by Dugua de Mons, his mission to Île Ste-Croix ended in failure. He returned to France in 1605 and lost his monopoly in late 1608. Even though he never returned to New France, he remained dedicated to colonization and financed other expeditions, possibly including the one in which Champlain founded the City of Quebec.

Île Sainte-Croix was designated a national historic site as the first French settlement intended to be permanent in the Americas. Port-Royal, the first truly permanent settlement, was also made a national historic site. Samuel de Champlain, considered the “father of New France”, was recognized as a person of national historic importance in 1929.

For more information on the beginnings of colonization, read An Age of Discovery, Cartier Arrives at Stadacona, Champlain Charts Coast, Chief Membertou: The Great Captain and We reap what we sow!  in the archives of This Week in History.

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