Presented at 1759 Revisited: The Conquest of Canada in Historical Perspective, 2009
Abstract: The most significant effect of the Conquest of Quebec on the nearby Wendat community of Jeune-Lorette was not felt until the mid-1790s. Before that time, the community continued as it had before. Two key British decisions helped to make this a period of continuity rather than disruption. First, in September 1760, despite the military role the Wendat played in defending Quebec, James Murray ensured that the community would enjoy the same religious and economic protections as their French-Canadian neighbours. The second decision was that despite the international condemnation of the Jesuits during the 1760s and 1770s, Jesuit missionaries in communities like Jeune-Lorette were allowed to remain in their positions. These two key decisions helped to continue pre-conquest community structures despite the political regime change.
During the 1790s the changes brought about by the conquest were beginning to be felt. First, the last Jesuit missionary to Jeune-Lorette died and the colonial government took over administration of the Jesuit seigneuries. Second, access to Dartmouth College during the 1770s helped increase the emphasis on European-based education. Third, increased immigration led to decreased resources in the Wendat hunting territory, limiting the community’s ability to be self-sustaining. These three factors had a profound effect on Wendat interactions with each other, the colonial state, and with their French-Canadian neighbours.
The changing relationships of the 1790s opened a brief period where the Wendat were able to influence some of the highest levels of British decision making. Between 1790 and 1830, village leaders regularly petitioned either the governor or the Assembly of Lower Canada about their land rights – seeking to reclaim both seigneurial rights given to them in the seventeenth century and their hunting grounds north of Quebec City. In 1824/1825, this situation reached its apex when four Wendat leaders travelled to England to bring these concerns before the king. By the mid-1830s, once aboriginal affairs came under civil rather than military oversight, British and Euro-Canadian interest in the Wendat claims, and the political influence of the community, declined.
By focusing on these events, this paper argues that rather than having an immediate effect on the Wendat, the influence of this regime change was a much slower and drawn-out process. The full-weight of the conquest hit the community in the 1790s, sparking the beginning of a campaign for the rights as allies of the British. Although the community was ultimately unsuccessful at having their land claims recognized, this period of the community’s history not only demonstrates the increasingly negative impact of British colonial policies on aboriginal communities in Lower Canada, but also the way that the conquest opened up positive possibilities to resist these changes.