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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday Spotlight: Cynthia Owens

A long time ago - a very long time ago - I had to take a course in Canadian History. Like a lot of compulsory history courses, it mainly consisted of names, dates and battles. Not particularly interesting.

One of the groups we studied were Les Filles du roi, the king's girls. I took a mild interest in these "girls for marrying" - enough to remember the relevant facts for the final exam - but it really didn't mean much to me at the time.

I didn't begin to enjoy history until my university days.

Then, about 15 years ago, my cousin did some genealogical research on my mother's side of the family and discovered that, in the 17th Century, an ancestress of mine had been one of the filles du roi.

The term filles du roi was exclusively applied to the young women of marriageable age and capable of bearing children, who emigrated to New France - now the province of Quebec - between 1663-1673. They were so called because their transportation, settlement expenses, and dowry were assumed by Louis XIV's royal treasury. They were destined to marry the habitants, or settlers, of New France.

The dowries of these girls were quite interesting when you consider all the hardships these girls were to face - setting up housekeeping in such a harsh new land. Here are some of the items that were given to a typical fille du roi:

1 velvet-lined chest; 1 taffeta kerchief; 1 ribbon for shoes; 100 needles; 1 comb; 1 white thread; 1 pair of stockings; 1 pair of gloves; 1 pair of scissors; 2 knives; about 1,000 pins; 1 bonnet; 4 laces; and 2 silver livres.

Upon arrival in New France, the girls were taken by nuns, either to Ville Marie (now Montreal) or to Quebec City, where they received training for marriage.

Since I live in the Montreal area, I wanted to find out as much as possible about these girls, particularly my ancestress. There's a wonderful museum, the Maison St. Gabriel, where the girls who arrived in Montreal lived before their weddings. It's now a museum, and I've been there many a time. Unfortunately, I've not yet been able to locate my ancestress, leading me to the conclusion that she probably arrived in Quebec City, rather than Montreal.

It's a bit of personal historical research I plan to delve into as soon as possible.


L. K. Below/Lindsay Below said...

This is fascinating! I've always ignored Canadian history in favor of more, er interesting eras. But this is fascinating. Next time I'm in Montreal, I'll have to visit this museum.

Thanks for sharing, Cynthia!


Cynthia Owens said...

L.K., we Canadians are known for ignoring our own history, and even though we didn't have the revolutions the Americans did, we have our own quiet history that I think is worth telling about.

The museum is wonderful, full of charm and history. I've been there several times, and always found something new to explore.

Thanks for stopping by!

Lady Boru said...

When I first heard a description of this book I was fascinated. I think that there have been a lot of strong women that had to endure hardships and changes we can not even imagine. I think how difficult it would be to be sent away from your homeland and start a new life away from the only life you knew. I hope you find out more about your ancestress.

Cynthia Owens said...

Thank you, Lady Boru. You're right, over the centuries, women had to be strong, courageous, and willing to take chances on a new life far from home. And yes, I continue to research my ancestors on both sides!

Tracy Brogan said...

What a fantastic premise for a story! I'm feeling inspired just thinking about it. Thanks for sharing.

Cynthia Owens said...

TL, there are so many stories buried in our history, I sometimes wonder if there's enough time to write them all! Thanks for stopping by!

Unknown said...

How interesting! I have always loved history and stories like this are why. It's so much fun to think about what it must have been like back then even though I'm sure much of it wasn't fun for those actually living it. I find it amusing that they get 100 needles and 1000 pins but only one ribbon for shoes, and one pair of stockings, etc. You can see what the priorities were back then! lol

Thanks for sharing!

Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Laura, yes it is interesting to realize the priorities back then! As soon as these girls arrived in New France, they were taken in by the nuns and "trained" in the type of work they'd need to do once they married. Thanks for stopping by, and glad you enjoyed the post!