French-Canadian Culture, Heritage, and Traditions
While some people prefer to study the history of their ancestors and their culture working backwards in time, we feel that if you study the history of New France starting with the 17th century you will have a greater understanding of not only our shared history but of the historical events that greatly influenced our evolving culture. The lives lived by our ancestors was also influenced by where they lived at a particular period of time as well as their occupations. In other words, if you focus too much on the stories about French-Canadian culture or Native culture learned from your parents, grandparents, or great grandparents without reading about their history, you may make assumptions about their culture that are not supported by historical records.
A glimpse into a mini aspect of French-Canadian Culture - the use of animal skins such as bear or buffalo as bedcoverings or travelling mattresses.
In 1707 and 1709, buffalo and other skins were recorded in the inventories of François Bienvenu dit Delisle and Jérôme Marillac. See the Land Page on this website to download these inventories.In the 1711 inventory of Cadillac's goods, we find the following description of a mattress: 1 feather mattress (lit de plumes) and its bolster (traversin), weighing with its hides 46 pounds, with 10 smoked deer hides (peau de chevreuil boucanné), and an armchair which was covered by a buffalo hide.
In his 1718 memoire, Jacques Charles de Sabrevois, sieur de Bluery, noted that buffalo could be found south of Lake Erie. Sabrevois was commandant of Détroit from 1715 to 1717. He noted that the Potawatomi adorned themselves in buffalo robes, and that buffalo herds ate the clay and rolled in it near la glaise [present-day Defiance, Ohio] about 55 miles southwest of present-day Toledo, Ohio. [LAC, Mikan #3065210 – original memoir; WiHC, Vol. 16, pp. 363-376 – translation].
In Fort Pontchartrain at Detroit, FCHSM member, Timothy J. Kent, notes that animal skins were sometimes used as blankets. In the St. Lawrence Valley, “beds in winter were sometimes covered with robes or blankets made of buffalo, bear, beaver, or raccoon pelts, or with hides of deer, elk, or cattle.” He also noted the following examples: In 1701, Cadillac’s convoy brought one bear skin, and five sheep skins to be used as a mattress or cover during the expedition to Détroit. In 1748, Alexis Lemoine de Monière, a Montréal merchant, sold four bear skins to make blankets [Kent, pp. 306-311 – he also discusses the buffalo and other skins listed in the Bienvenu and Marillac inventories].
In 1754, Jacques François Forget Duverger, a missionary priest assigned to the Cahokia Mission, accompanied Gaspard Joseph Chaussegros de Léry to Détroit when Chaussegros de Léry led a detachment of troops to Détroit. Prior to resuming his journey to the Cahokia Mission, he obtained a bear robe which would be used as a travelling bed [Kent, p. 311; DCB – biography of Forget Duverger].
In 1757, Louis Antoine de Bougainville, Montcalm’s aide de camp, recorded that French Canadians who served in the French and Indian War were issued a bearskin to be used as a mattress [Louis Antoine de Bougainville and Edward P. Hamilton, editor, Adventure in the Wilderness – The American Journals of Louis Antoine de Bougainville, 1756-1760 (Norman, Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma Press, 1964), p. 87].
Suzanne Sommerville’s 12 May 2018 Presentation at the FCHSM Meeting:
Booklets - Fort St Joseph Archaeological Project - see the Fur Trade Page for their booklet on the Fur Trade
Cultural Métissage: From the founding of New France by Champlain, the French immigrants began to borrow cultural practices from Native Americans. Likewise, the Native Americans began to borrow cultural practices from the French immigrants. See the following PDFs which provide you with examples from primary records and memoires which document cultural métissage, especially the practices in present-day Michigan and the Mississippi Valley from the 17th through the early 19th centuries.
Christmas in New France, by Catherine Cangany, PhD. This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Michigan's Habitant Heritage (MHH).
Kent, Timothy J. Ft. Pontchartrain at Detroit: A Guide to the Daily Lives of Fur Trade and Military Personnel, Settlers, and Missionaries at French Posts, Volumes I and II (Ossineke, Michigan: Silver Fox Enterprises, 2001). FCHSM member Timothy Kent’s two volumes about the early history of Detroit provide unparalleled detail about what life was like in the French Posts.
The two-volume set includes the following chapters: Introduction; Historical Overview; Canoe Transportation; Provisions, Cooking, and Eating; Hunting and Warfare, Trapping and Fishing; Buildings, Hardware, and Furnishings; Furnishings of the Church, Vestments, and Activities of the Priest; Woodworking, Metalworking, and Masonryworking; Farming and Gardening; Clothing; Sewing, Laundry, and Cleaning; Grooming and Medical Treatments; Recreation; Trade and Commerce. The appendices contain translations of 32 documents related to life and trade at Detroit. Finally, Kent has illustrated the book with drawings, maps, and photographs.
Websites with mini articles about cultural topics in New France:
Loraine DiCerbo’s Photo of the Chevalier House at Colonial Michilimackinac
Download the PDF Brief Bibliography for researching French-Canadian Housing and Furniture above for an explanation of the building styles used at the Great Lake’s Posts and Forts
During the French Regime (through 1760), the largest canoes were manned by eight-man crews and were introduced in 1730.