France Finds a Foothold in Canada
France was another latecomer in the scramble for New World real estate, like England and Holland, and for basically the same reasons.
A new era dawned in 1598 when the Edict of Nantes, issued by the Crown, was granted to allow limited toleration to the French Protestants. Religious wars ceased, and in the 1600s France blossomed into the mightiest and most-feared nation in Europe.
Even earlier, while the religious wars were still raging in the mid-1500s, the French had planted a few colonial seedlings. Noteworthy were the short-lived Catholic settlements on the St. Lawrence River, and the havens which the harassed Huguenots strove to create in Brazil, Florida, and South Carolina.
Old Feudalism in New France
The government of New France (Canada) finally fell under the direct control of the King, after various commercial companies had faltered or failed. This royal regime was almost completely autocratic.
Noteworthy were the huge feudal estates, fronting the river highways, and the medieval customs, including the annual dues to the lord in chickens and other produce.
Red Men and Black Robes in Canada
Fur was the big "money crop" of New France. Lush pelts, especially beaver, were popular in Europe for their warmth, adornment, and the proof of social position.
But the fur-trapping business had fatal drawbacks. It was cannibalistic, for it ate up its own capital. Retreating animals had to be followed into the interior, and the lure of the sharp-toothed beaver dangerously diluted the already scanty vanguard of French inhabitants.
New France Fans Out
Daring French explorers and traders were inevitably drawn deeper and deeper into the heart of the continent. They walked, rode, snow shoed, sailed, or paddled amazing distances.
Most famous of all the French explorers was the haughty but far-visioned La Salle.