Canada’s French Catholics and the Huguenot Connection
Did you know there were once many Huguenot settlers in 17th century Québec? For a time there was harmony (so to speak . . .) between Protestant and Catholic Frenchmen in the tenacious little village that would one day become a sprawling city. Samuel de Champlain --- many will remember him from the history textbooks --- at first gave equality to French Protestants, allowing them to live in Québec as long as they kept to themselves and did not attempt to evangelize the neighboring Native Americans. There were even Huguenot-based firms such as the De Caen Company. Many French Protestants must have believed that this was an extended opportunity to pick up in the New World where Florida’s failed Fort Caroline had left off. This all worked well . . . but not for long.
In the late 1620s, the Jesuits arrived. Known at the time for their zealous dislike of anything and everything Protestant, they exerted their authority to get the Huguenots banned from major activities, from fur-trading, from bartering . . . from fishing. The Huguenots’ financial lifelines had been snapped. With the Jesuits in charge, “Protestant” was an ugly word. This was one of many precursors to the 1685 Edict of Fontainebleau in France which sapped Huguenot fortunes in much the same way.
By the 1740s, however, there was a resurgence of Huguenots in Québec and beyond. French Protestants were fine merchants and businessmen and refused to leave the area. We know this because of nasty letters the officials sent back and forth to complain about the “heretic” problem :-) Although the Catholics of “New France” certainly saw no merit in the day England temporarily took control of Canada in 1764, French Protestants were enthused. There was now freedom of religion. Opportunities skyrocketed. The Huguenots were quickly learning that if they were tenacious enough, if they hung on long enough and refused to be silenced, they would usually --- after decades, perhaps --- have the opportunity for which they had waited.
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