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Port-Royal Habitation: Doorway to the Past
This lively and suspenseful 17-minute film follows two modern-day kids as they travel back in time to meet Samuel de Champlain and the other explorers who founded and lived at Port-Royal. The film can be used as an introduction to the Habitation or as a post-visit refresher.
Factsheet - The Buildings at Port-Royal (printable version, PDF: 334 KB)
Factsheet - Clothing at Port-Royal (printable version, PDF: 107 KB)
Factsheet - Trade at Port-Royal (printable version, PDF: 108 KB)
Factsheet - Social Classes at Port-Royal (printable version, PDF: 108 KB)
Bibliography of sources for Port-Royal studies (printable version, PDF: 146 KB)
Mathieu Da Costa and Early Canada: Possibilities and Probabilities (printable version, PDF: 178 KB)
The Registers of St. Jean-Baptiste, Annapolis Royal, 1702-1755
Annapolis Heritage Society
Université de Moncton (in French only)
Université Sainte-Anne (in French only)
Factsheet - The Buildings at Port-Royal
Samuel de Champlain was the man who designed and oversaw the construction of the original Habitation. The structure is a series of buildings arranged in the shape of a square which encloses a central courtyard.
The majority of the Habitation is constructed out of wood. The entire frame and all of the support beams are squared timber joined together with wooden pegs. The roofs and the outside walls are hand-sawn boards. A couple of the roofs have hand-split shingles. The blacksmith would hand forge all of the iron hardware (hinges, latches and locks) needed for the doors and windows as well as the square-headed nails used to attach the boards in place. Fieldstones were used to construct the chimneys and a mortar made from clay, sand and crushed shells (clams and mussels) was used to hold the stones in place. Bricks for the hearth of the fireplaces and the bake ovens were baked from the clay found along the shore of the river. Glass for the residences was brought by ship from France and oiled animal skins were placed in the windows of the workshops.
By having all the buildings joined together in a square, protection was offered against the winds and cold of winter. There were also minimal defences facing the river. A platform with cannons mounted on it offered protection from the westward approach of the river and a palisade, where guards could be stationed, protected the gateway and the eastern approach of the river.
© Parks Canada
Among the buildings located inside the Habitation was a series of workshops. The kitchen and bakeshop were important in the daily food preparation at Port-Royal. All the meals for the community were prepared in the kitchen and the bread that the men ate would be baked in the bakeshop. The bread that was traded with the Mi’kmaq would also be made here.
The blacksmith shop was a very busy area. All of the hardware (hinges, locks, latches, square nails, etc.) was manufactured here by the blacksmith. He repaired any iron objects inside the Habitation and he could also make extra items (knives, axe heads, arrow heads) to trade with the Mi’kmaq if the French were running low on trade goods. The artisans’ workshop was an area where carpenters and joiners could build a variety of products for the community. Most of the woodworking needs of the Habitation were produced out of this shop.
Accommodations were arranged according to the class of people present. The governor had the finest home; a two-story building with upper sleeping quarters and a lower living area. Upper class gentlemen shared a series of homes on the north side of the compound. Among the gentlemen would be people such as the apothecary, the surgeon, sea captains, the clergy, a lawyer and any other upper class profession. These accommodations offered comfort and some privacy. The working class or artisans shared a communal sleeping quarters on the second floor of the Habitation. It was an open style dormitory with bunk-beds and mattresses. The comfort level was not as high as the gentlemen’s dwellings and privacy was at a minimum because of the open style of the room.
All the men gathered in a large common room to have their meals. The upper class gentlemen had a finer table in the center of the room while the artisans ate at tables on the side. Only the gentlemen took part in the “Order of Good Cheer.” At the request of the Jesuit priests, a small chapel was constructed to address the religious needs of the community. Prior to having a chapel, religious services would be held in the common room or outside.
There were also several storage areas inside the Habitation. Under the cannon platform, there was a gunpowder magazine where barrels of gunpowder for the cannons and the muskets were stored. Grains were stored on the second floor on the north side of the compound (above the gentlemen’s quarters). The majority of the storage area was in a large building on the east side of the Habitation. The lower storage room was used to store all of the furs that were acquired from the Mi’kmaq during the season. There was also a small underground wine cellar where the wine and cider was stored. The upper level was used for storage of ship supplies such as sails, rope, masts and netting. Grain could be stored there as well.
One of the most important buildings was the trading room. This was the area where commercial activity took place. The Mi’kmaq brought their furs and traded them for European goods such as iron pots, knives, axes, blankets and bread. The furs were shipped to France and the money from the sale of the furs was used to pay for the salary of the men and to buy the supplies that the colony needed.
By taking a close look at the purpose and design of the buildings, one can see that all of the basic needs of the community were addressed within the comfort and safety of the Habitation designed by Champlain.
Factsheet - Clothing at Port-Royal
There were two distinct classes of people living at Port-Royal; the artisans (working class) and the upper class gentlemen. The clothing worn depended on the class of the person, the season and the type of activity they were performing. The clothing worn by the men was not manufactured at Port-Royal. They were responsible for bringing their clothes with them from France. A tailor was present to do repairs as needed.
The artisan generally wore linen shirts that were long and would serve as a night shirt as well. In colder weather they would wear thicker woolen shirts. Woolen breeches or pantaloons were worn. These were not full length. They went down just below the knee and tended to be fairly loose-fitting and comfortable.
When working in wet gardens and fields, the artisans wore wooden shoes called “sabots”. We often associate wooden shoes with Holland but they were not the only people to wear them. People in countries such as Sweden, Germany, Belgium and France at times also wore wooden shoes. “Sabots” were the affordable, waterproof footwear of the time.
The men wore thick woolen socks for comfort and warmth. The artisans often wore plain felt hats when working in the hot sun or if they were outside on rainy days. Artisans also had ordinary leather shoes and they adopted the moose hide moccasins from the Mi’kmaq. In colder weather woolen cloaks were worn as well as woolen toques.
The upper class gentlemen wore clothing quite similar to the artisans if they were working outside in the fields and gardens, but they had much fancier clothing which they wore for special occasions and ceremonies. At these special times, the gentlemen wore a much finer linen shirt. They also wore a tailored doublet or jacket usually made of wool or fine silk with a fancy linen collar as well as linen cuffs. Flowing pantaloons of the same material, extending just below the knee, accompanied the doublet.
Gentlemen often wore high leather boots that came up slightly above the knee. At times they might wear a very fine linen hose with fancy leather shoes instead of the boots. A woolen or velour cape, which may have a silk thread embroidery around the edge, could be worn over the doublet.
The finishing touch was a felted beaver hat with decorative ostrich plumes extending out of the band around the body of the hat. Upper class gentlemen such as Pierre Dugua de Mons, Samuel de Champlain, Marc Lescarbot and Sieur de Poutrincourt probably wore attire quite similar to this on special occasions at Port-Royal.
Factsheet - Trade at Port-Royal
Pierre Dugua de Mons, the leader of the expedition, was given a monopoly on the fur trade in Acadia by the king of France, Henry IV. He did not receive any money from the king. He was expected to finance the needs of the colony through the sale of furs acquired in trade with the First Nations people of the area.
All of the trapping, curing, tanning and preparation of the hides was done by the Mi’kmaq. The French acquired the furs through a bartering system where they traded European goods in exchange for the pelts. The main fur that the French were interested in acquiring was the beaver. The fur of the beaver was used to make hats. There are two layers of fur on a beaver. Once the furs arrived in France, the long outer “guard hair” would be shaved off. Underneath there is a shorter layer of hair that would be shaved off as well. This short hair has microscopic hooks which makes it stick together with ease. This short hair would be heated, wetted and pressed to make felt. Out of this felt, the hat makers would fabricate felted beaver hats which were water proof and very popular among the gentlemen in France at the time.
Although beaver was the most popular of the furs, other types were acquired in trade as well. Otter, fox, timber wolf, racoon, muskrat, lynx and bear furs were popular as were seal skins and moose and caribou hides. All of the fur was kept in a storehouse during the winter. When a supply ship arrived in the summer, the furs were loaded on the vessel and shipped back to France. With the sale of the cargo of furs, Pierre Dugua could pay the salaries of the men hired on the expedition as well as supply the provisions needed to sustain the colony. Hopefully, after all the expenses were taken care of, there would be a profit for Sieur de Mons’ company.
In return for the furs, the French traded European goods to the Mi’kmaq. Among the most popular items were copper and iron pots. These were very prized items because they conduct heat very easily and greatly facilitated the task of cooking. The Mi’kmaq had the ability to make tools out of stone and bones but they would often trade for iron tools such as knives, axe heads, arrow heads and fish hooks. Woolen blankets, linen and beads (for decorative purposes) were also exchanged. Another popular trade item was bread. The Mi’kmaq were not an agricultural people; they hunted and gathered their food. The French grew grains and they would grind them to make bread for their own needs as well as to trade with the Mi’kmaq.
A strong alliance was formed between the French and the Mi’kmaq through the fur trade. This alliance would endure throughout the later French-English conflict for control of Acadia. From this alliance, the French learned many of the survival skills necessary for adaptation and survival in Acadia.
Factsheet - Social Classes at Port-Royal
A wide cross section of French society was present at Port-Royal. There were several upper class gentlemen present at different times such as the acting governor, Sieur de Poutrincourt and his son, Charles de Biencourt; the explorer, Samuel de Champlain; the apothecary (pharmacist), Louis Hébert; the surgeon, DesChamps; the ship pilot, Pierre Champdoré; the captain of the guard, Sieur de Boulay and the lawyer, Marc Lescarbot. These were gentlemen who oversaw the administration, the commerce and the well-being of the colony as well as the voyages of exploration undertaken by the expedition.
A larger part of the inhabitants were very skilled artisans. Carpenters, joiners, sawyers, stone cutters, masons, blacksmiths, locksmiths and tailors were numbered among these craftsmen. These men were paid very good salaries to come from France and work at Port-Royal. They signed one-year contracts and received half their money before leaving France. They received the other half upon their return. The artisans were hired to build and maintain the site. There were also a few servants present at the Habitation.
Several clergy were also present at Port-Royal. As part of the group, there was both a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister in 1605. Although there had been wars between the Catholics and the Protestants in France during the previous century, this was a period of apparent peace between the two groups. Pierre Dugua de Mons, the leader of the expedition, was a Hugenot (French Protestant). There were both Catholics and Protestants in the group.
The first recorded baptisms at Port-Royal were on June 24, 1610 when father Jéssé Flêché, a Catholic priest, baptised the Mi’kmaq Chief Membertou and several members of his family. The first Jesuit priests to come to Canada, father Pierre Biard and father Énémond Massé, arrived at Port-Royal in 1611.
In their first winter in Acadia (St. Croix Island) in 1604, seventy nine men wintered there. The following year at Port-Royal there were forty five. The population was not always the same. The dream had been to get established and to start a whole village; but this goal was not realized at this early stage. The artisans tended to sign only one-year contracts and then return to France. Although there was a social class structure at Port-Royal, it was not quite as formal as it was in France and there was more contact between the various groups because they were dependent on each other for survival.
Mathieu Da Costa and Early Canada
Mathieu Da Costa and Early Canada: Possibilities and Probabilities
by A. J. B. Johnston
Parks Canada, Halifax
Mathieu Da Costa was an interpreter of African descent who likely travelled extensively throughout the “Atlantic world” in the late 1500s and early 1600s. As an interpreter, he was sought after by both the French and the Dutch to help in their trading with Aboriginal peoples. Da Costa likely spoke French, Dutch, Portuguese, as well as “pidgin Basque.” The last-named language was the most common trade language used in dealing with Aboriginal peoples in the era of early contact. The tradition of Europeans relying on Black interpreters was more than a century old by Da Costa’s time. It began with voyages off the African coast and continued as Europeans and Africans came across to the Americas. Mathieu Da Costa probably sailed on many different voyages, travelling up the St. Lawrence River and all along the coast of what is now Atlantic Canada.
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Mathieu Da Costa and Early Canada: Possibilities and Probabilities (PDF: 178 KB)
Bibliography - Port-Royal
Some suggested reading sources relating to Port-Royal National Historic Site:
Champlain, Samuel de. The works of Samuel de Champlain, Champlain Society,ed., University of Toronto Press, reprint, 1971. 7 vol. text in English and in old French. http://www.champlainsociety.ca
• Vol. 1: 1599-1607 in particular covers French establishment in Acadia.
Fischer, David H. Champlain’s Dream. Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2008
Le Blant, Robert and René Baudry, eds., Nouveaux documents sur Champlain et son epoque, Vol. 1 : 1560-1622. Ottawa: National Archives of Canada, 1967
Lescarbot, Marc. Histoire de la Nouvelle-France. W. L.Grant (ed.), Toronto, 3 vol : 1907, 1911, 1914.
Lescarbot, Marc. Nova Francia. [P. Erondelle translation, New York-London: Broadway Travellers, 1928] 1609
Thwaites, Reuben G., ed., The Jesuit relations and allied documents : travels and explorations of the Jesuit missionaries in New France, 1610-1791 : the original French, Latin and Italian texts, with English translations and notes. 73 vol. Cleveland: Burrows Bros., 1896-1901. The Jesuit Relations and the History of New France
Armstrong, Joe C. W. Champlain. Toronto: MacMillan of Canada, 1987
Buckner, Phillip A., and John G. Reid, eds., The Atlantic Region to Confederation: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994
• Academic text, with a chapter authored by Naomi Griffiths on the period in which Port-Royal was founded
Campeau, Lucien (ed.) Monumentae Novae Franciae. [Lonc, W. O. and G.F. Topp translation. The beginning of Acadia. Book I : The Explorers. Gotran Trottier, 1999] Québec : Presses de l’Université Laval, 1967
Campeau, Lucien (ed.) Monumentae Novae Franciae. [Lonc, W. O. and G. F. Topp translation. The Beginning of Acadia. Book 2 : The Souriquois. Gotran Trottier, 1999] Québec : Presses de l’Université Laval, 1979
Campeau, Lucien (ed.) Monumentae Novae Franciae. [Lonc, W. O. and G.F. Topp translation. The Beginning of Acadia. Book 3 : The mission. Gotran Trottier, 1999] Québec : Presses de l’Université Laval, 1987
Chevrier, Cécile, Acadie : Esquisses d’un parcours / Sketches of a journey. Dieppe: La Société Nationale de l’Acadie, 1994
• A book aimed at a general readership, filled with illustrations. Early sections relate to Port-Royal. There is also an English-language version.
Daigle, Jean, “L’Acadie, 1603-1763. Synthèse historique” in Jean Daigle, ed., Les Acadiens des Maritime : études thématique. Moncton: Université de Moncton Centre d’Études acadiennes, 1980
• Collection of papers by Acadian scholars; the introductory chapter touches on the Habitation story and its aftermath. This book also exists in English.
Jones, Elizabeth. Gentlemen and Jesuits, Quests For Glory And Adventure In The Early Days of New France. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986
for European background:
Braudel, Fernand. The Structures of Everyday Life: The Limits of the Possible. [S. Reynolds translation, New York, 1981] Paris, 1979.
Lough, John. An Introduction to Seventeenth Century France. London, 1954.
Pennington, Donald H. Seventeenth Century Europe. London, 1970.
for General Histories of New World and Old World connections:
Berlin, Ira. Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in Mainland North America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998
Dickason, Olive P. The Myth of the Savage and the Beginnings of French Colonialism in the Americas. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1984
Eccles, William J. France in America. New York, 1972
Morrison, Samuel E. The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages A.D. 500-1600. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971
Trigger, Bruce. Natives and Newcomers, Canada’s “Heroic Age” Reconsidered. Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 1986
Trudel, Marcel. The Beginnings of New France 1524-1663. [abridged English version, P. Claxton, ed. Toronto, 1973] Montreal, 1963,1966
Government of Nova Scotia, Parish of Saint Jean-Baptiste (Annapolis Royal) records, 1702 – 1755.