Exhibit features New France founder

Every Canadian school kid knows about Samuel de Champlain, the explorer who founded Quebec in the early 1600’s. But who knows about his boss, Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons?

De Mons was the first governor of New France and Champlain was his lieutenant. According to a new exhibit, it was de Mons who sent Champlain out on his voyages of discovery, first along the Atlantic coast, then inland to the St. Lawrence River region. One Canadian historian, Marcel Toupin, says “without Dugua (de Mons), we can suppose that we wouldn’t have heard of Champlain.”

The travelling exhibit consists of laminated panels and illustrates the life of this first governor and founder of New France. De Mons is described as “a visionary who was instrumental in establishing the first permanent French settlement in North America at Ste-Croix Island.”

The exhibit also includes a model of the village De Mons and his colonists built in 1604. The exhibit opened in Nova Scotia earlier this spring, then moved to Fredericton, New Brunswick at the beginning of May. In June, the exhibit travels on to St. Stephen N.B., then to Quebec City for the rest of the summer.

Celebrationin 2004

This modest show is the first step leading up to celebrations in 2004 for the 400th anniversary of the founding of New France. It was organized by the museum in De Mons’ hometown in France, Royan. Nowadays, it’s an Atlantic seaside holiday spot northwest of Bordeaux.

Two years ago, the exhibit traveled in France, according to Fidèle Thériault, an historian with the Heritage Branch of the government of New Brunswick. He says everywhere it goes, there’s excitement about discovering this little known but important character in the founding of the first European settlement in North America.

De Mons arrived on the North American coast in 1604 to establish a colony, several years before the arrival of the first settlers in America. He chose a small island, because it was easily defended from attack by the native population, if that proved necessary. Today, his Ste-Croix Island is known as Dochet Island. It’s in American territory in the Ste-Croix River between New Brunswick and Maine.

Hardship story

That toe-hold for the settlers was brief. The winter of 1604 was brutal, even by Canadian standards. Fresh water and game ran out on the island, and ice made it impossible to get to the mainland to hunt. Accounts say that in March, when a native hunting party passed through, they found just 45 of the original 80 soldiers and fur traders still alive. The rest had perished from scurvy.

The local Passmaquoddy tribe nursed the remaining settlers back to health. That spring, De Mons moved his settlement to the mainland, to Port-Royal, across the Bay of Fundy.

Back in France, the politics and intrigue of the French court intruded and De Mons was stripped of his monopoly to trade furs. He headed back home to lobby for reinstatement. He left Champlain and another subordinate in charge of the settlement.