This Week in History


We reap what we sow!

For the week of Monday March 10, 2003

On March 11, 1617, Samuel de Champlain boarded a ship heading for the New World. Among his travelling companions were Louis Hébert and his family who became the first settlers to cultivate land in New France.

Samuel de Champlain

Samuel de Champlain
© Library and Archives Canada / C-014305

Born in Paris around 1575, Louis Hébert became an apothecary and married Marie Rollet, with whom he had three children. Despite his comfortable life in France, he had a growing taste for adventure. After visiting New France in 1606 (Saint-Croix Island) and again in 1610 (Port-Royal), Louis Hébert agreed to settle there permanently.

Upon arriving in Québec in the summer of 1617, Louis Hébert immediately began clearing a plot of land in the area. With much effort, he cleared a spot in the forest, then built a house and planted a garden, which he cultivated with great care. By autumn, he had an abundant crop of wheat and vegetables. For many years, Hébert, along with Champlain, were the only ones who farmed.

Slowly, Hébert's garden expanded, producing a surplus of crops that allowed him to trade goods with the Aboriginal peoples. However, this displeased a group of merchants who forced Hébert to hand over his surplus grain. Despite everything, Hébert did not despair and when Champlain appointed him state prosecutor for the King of France in 1620, Hébert could finally argue his case before the court. The court decided to dissolve this group of merchants which then allowed Hébert to peacefully carry on with his farm work.

Louis Hébert 1575?-1626

Louis Hébert 1575?-1626
© Library and Archives Canada / C-016952

As the years went by, Hébert increased the size of his fields and diversified his production. He imported cattle from Europe and planted apple trees, plum trees, vineyards and flowers. The Hébert family's land thus became the colony's first model farm, much to Champlain's delight. Champlain hoped to establish a stable colonial settlement and this was a great step along the way. Unfortunately, Hébert suffered a serious fall on the ice and succumbed to his injuries in the winter of 1626. Thus the first French cultivator in New France met his end. 

Samuel de Champlain, who was the motivation behind Louis Hébert's travels, was recognized as a person of national historic significance in 1929 and a plaque honours his memory in Ottawa, Ontario.

To learn more about Samuel de Champlain visit the archives of This Week In History: Champlain Charts Coast and National Acadian Day.

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