The Quebec Settlement:
A Page of Historical Archaeology

by Françoise Niellon

The Settlement From 1613 to 1632: A New Settlement Soon Destroyed

Champlain was no longer working for the companies that managed the fur trade in New France and had agreed to develop a permanent settlement there. However, the companies financed everything and even paid his salary, so, relatively speaking, Champlain still depended on them.

In 1628, France and England were at war. Having received a patent from the King of Great Britain, Charles I, David Kirke blocked the fleet of the Company of One Hundred Associates on the Saint Lawrence, effectively cutting off supplies to Quebec. In July 1629, having exhausted all his resources, Champlain was forced to surrender the settlement and the fort to the Kirke brothers, who spent three years there. During that time, the settlement was consumed by fire; in 1632, it lay in ruins.

Accounts Given by Champlain
and His Contemporaries

In 1614, work was done on the Quebec settlement. Champlain noted in 1616:
". . . we enlarged our said settlement by a third at least with additional fortified buildings, because it was not sufficiently roomy . . . and we built the whole solidly with lime and sand, having found some of very good quality . . .". The building material used was stone, with a mortar of lime and sand.

When the Récollets arrived in 1615, a small chapel/dwelling was built for them outside the settlement but on the same shoulder that had been cleared. Later, in 1619, a forge-bakery was built because it could no be "accommodated in the precinct of the dwellings". Despite all the work, in 1620 Champlain noted that the settlement was in a terrible state: one of the dwellings had crumbled and "the store-house was on the point of tumbling down". As it turns out, the storehouse was the stone building Champlain had mentioned four years earlier, but it remained unfinished. It was completed only the following year.

Fig. 6 - The structure planned in 1623, a plausible representation

Despite the constant repairs, and the fact that the courtyard had recently been paved and the storehouse was finally completed, the person who owned the settlement in 1623, Guillaume de Caën, considered it old. He decided "to build a new one . . .pulling down the whole of the old except the warehouse". Champlain set out to build a dwelling that would be 18 toises long and have two ells, each measuring 10 toises, and a small tower "at the four corners of the structure]" (Fig. 6). The only mention made of the storehouse is that it was to be "adjoining it"; otherwise, its location was not specified. The new structure was also to have "a ravelin in front, commanding the river, the whole encircled by ditches and a drawbridge".

Pitcher from Bouffioux
Object damaged by fire
Photos: Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec, Archaological Collection

Construction began on May 1, 1624. When Champlain decided to go to France in mid-August, he seemed satisfied with the progress of the work. Twenty-six toises of 14-foot walls had been built, so the walls just had to be raised another seven or eight feet.

Upon his return to Quebec in July 1626, Champlain noted: "After having inspected the settlement, and what had been done about the dwelling quarters since my departure, I did not find the work so far advanced as I had expected". He therefore "gave orders to cover in half the quarters of the settlement that I had had begun before I left for France, and to carry out some other necessary improvements".

Neck of a square bottle
Object damaged by fire
Photos: Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec, Archaological Collection

Besides this emergency work, he decided to enlarge the small fort that had been hastily built a few years earlier on "the mountain" (Cap Diamant). He also had a farm built at Cap Tourmente to provide for the needs of the settlement’s residents.

In the summer of 1628, having received news that the farm had been sacked by the Kirkes’ men, Champlain quickly "set all hands to work to make entrenchments around the settlement, and barricades on the ramparts of the fort which were not completed . . . These things having been accomplished in all haste". Everyone was placed on alert, but their fears never materialized; no battle took place that year, nor the following.

Petit pot à conserve
Object damaged by fire
Photos: Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec, Archaological Collection

  The Kirke brothers lived at the fort, and maintained and improved its defences. They used the settlement as a warehouse, but it caught fire. Exactly when and how is not certain. When the French returned, there were only ruins. According to Emery de Caën, the settlement had burned to the ground. The Jesuits noted: ". . . poor settlement of which nothing is to be seen but the ruins of its stone walls" (Note)..

Asian amphora
Object damaged by fire
Photos: Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec, Archaological Collection

Champlain himself wrote: "The settlement was in such a poor state that it was difficult to find a spot to put our flour and other goods under cover, since there was only the cellar and a lean-to over it, and the hut of the plank sawyers. Only part of the walls of the stone house was left . . ." (Note).

The Field Work

The excavations made it possible to clarify, to a certain extent, and sometimes supplement, the information Champlain provided on the progressive replacement of the structure built in 1608. The objects found on the floors of the structure built in 1624, in the inner courtyard of the settlement and outside the north side indicate that the site was occupied at the time. As for the destruction by fire and the crumbling of the walls when the settlement was occupied by the English, they were identified by the calcination of the floors and the objects that had been placed there.

On the whole, the vestiges found at the site - a main dwelling with two ells - correspond to the structure planned in 1623. The south wing consists of the storehouse that was begun in 1614 and completed in 1621. In 1624, the main dwelling was built at right angles to the storehouse, whose west section was integrated into it. However, the building that was to constitute the north wing does not seem to have been built at that time. As they now stand, the north wing and the central dwelling have no structural link, and their north walls are not really aligned.

Fig. 8 - The vestiges of the northwest angle of the main dwelling
Looking west

Photo: Archives nationales du Québec à Québec, 764-160

Instead of the 18 toises that had been planned in 1623, the central dwelling has only 16, that is 4 m less. If we take into account the integration of the storehouse, the 26 toises built in 1624 were in fact enough for the new building. But that does not include the towers, which must have been added later. Did this make it necessary to add the two interior buttresses found near the northwest turret (Fig. 8)?

The walls built in 1624 are of black shale, the local stone that was known as "pierre du Cap" (Cap stone). They are about two feet (65 cm) thick, and in some areas there are about 3 m of masonry (Fig. 9). The floors of the section excavated are of white pine. As for the roofing, Champlain had 1,800 planks sawn before he left in 1624, and in 1626 there was no question of using another material. Given the shape of the turrets, they were probably topped with wood shingles. However, fragments of flat tiles found here and there indicate that this material was used to cover at least part of the buildings at the time.

Fig. 9 - The vestiges of the northwest angle of the main dwelling
Looking north

Photo: Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec, 1976-R12:19

The defences built in 1608, at least on the north side, must have been covered by the structure of the second settlement. Traces of a ditch found under Place Royale may indicate that a new line was built on that side, but that probably happened only in 1628, under the threat of danger.

Continued . . .


    Last Updated: September 1, 2009