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Christmas One Hundred Years Ago

( Originally Published 1907 )



CHRISTMAS one hundred years ago the Quebec Gazette was issued to its subscribers and the public without one word as to "the day we celebrate." Not an advertiser calls attention to his Christmas or New Year wares. Santa Claus is completely ignored. If there was a midnight mass at the Basilica no mention is made of it. To use an Irishism, the English population at that period, apart from the garrison, was very largely Scotch, and Christmas among them had no particular holiday significance. John Bull and his friends in Quebec no doubt ate roast goose and plum pudding, and staved off indigestion with copious libations of brandy and port, and drank many loyal toasts, after the ladies had retired, and grew sentimental and noisy as the hours sped by.

The Scotch and French-Canadians reserved New Year as their particular day for the interchange of calls and hospitality.

My Quebec directories for 1791 and for 1822 give but a limited Scotch and English permanent population. They were mostly merchants or civil or military officials, with an ever-changing large contingent of garrison troops and officers. The tide of immigration from the British Isles had not yet set in. Canada was still a terra incognita outside the few towns on the shores of the St. Lawrence. When the fleet of merchant ships and transports sailed from the port on the approach of winter, the city gave itself up to a long six months of practical seclusion from the outer world. Stage coaches plied at irregular intervals to Montreal and Three Rivers, Fort William Henry and other local points, and some occasional communication was had with Boston and New York. The world's news so far as Quebec was concerned sifted through these channels in a haphazard way. It was often months old, but no doubt as equally interesting to the Quebec readers of the Gazette or the Quebec Mercury as a modern daily telegraphic despatch, more so, perhaps, because of the interest in the particular matters published, as likely to affect the commercial interests of Quebec. Bonaparte and his campaigns, successes, and set-backs were an unfailing subject of import and concern. The French-Canadian was, however, loyal to the English regime in Canada and evinced little interest in Napoleon's campaigns of conquest. He had found England's rule to be a just one, in which his interests and welfare had been so well considered that he felt no desire for a change of allegiance. A constitutional government in which he played an important part, and the conservation of his larguage, religion, and laws quite sufficed for him and he waxed fat and numerous under England's beneficent sway. If there was occasional friction in the wheels, the oil of diplomacy quickly overcame it.

The Quebec Gazette was established in 1764 by Messrs Brown and Gilmour, and later, by inheritance, it passed into the hands of John Neilson, subsequently a member of the Legislature and finally a Legislative Councillor, and a prominent and public-spirited citizen always. In 1806 the Gazette was issued weekly; its advertisements were printed in both English and French. It was then established at No. 3 Mountain Street where it remained for many years. In 1874 it was merged into the Quebec Chronicle.

A brief digest of its issue Dec. 25th, 1806, (Christmas day) may not be uninteresting as throwing some light on the life and times of that period in the Ancient Capital. There is no local column, no birth, death or marriage notices, no resume of daily happenings, yet in the advertisements there is a glimmering of what is going on.

Herman W. Ryland opens with an ad calling upon those who have pretensions in the township of Chatham, to fyle same.

Some townships at this period were being opened up to settlement. Ryland later on became one of the King's Commissioners for the sequestered Jesuits' estates and otherwise was a conspicuous figure in Quebec.

The Government, for the encouragement of the growing of hemp, offers a bounty to growers of 43 sterling per ton. Lewis Foy is the agent. No mention is made as to what disposition is to be made of the hemp when grown, nor have I ever seen it stated whether our Canadian farmers were induced by this liberal bounty to turn their rich pasture lands into hemp fields.

Then follows a letter from Napoleon to his brother the King of Bavaria—the message of the President of the United States to Congress—a paragraph to the effect that the Lord Bishop of Quebec had been presented at the Queen's Levee—the Ladies of Quebec are notified that at the Quebec Assembly to be held on the 27th inst. the ladies are to draw places at a quarter to six p.m., dancing to commence at 7 p.m., precisely. By this ingenious scheme there were no wall flowers and the gentlemen were compelled to dance with whomsoever his lot fell to. What a flutter of excitement it must have created as each lady drew her dance and partner and the announcement was made. Were there any heart-burnings and disappointments? Alas ! the record is silent on these points.

An auction sale is announced of all the moveables at the Manor of Beauport belonging to the estate of the late Honorable Ant. Juchereau Duchesnay. Sale to begin on the 29th inst. and continued daily until all the silverware, furniture, cattle, harnesses, carriages, corn and hay are disposed of. This was to settle the estate en communaute.

Burns & Woolsey will sell at auction on the 30th inst., rosin, herrings, blue cloth, green hyson, Mogul playing cards, woollens, linens, cottons and other articles too numerous to mention.

Theatre--For the relief of the Convent of the Ursulines lately burned at Three Rivers, by the officers of the garrison, a comedy in two acts called

" Love Laughs at Locksmiths" To which will be added " My Grandmother."

Doors open at 6 p.m., performance at 7 p.m.

The title of the first play is rather suggestive for a benefit performance for a convent of cloistered nuns, but no matter so long as the benefit was considerable.

Tickets were generally for sale at the theatre tavern near by.

One Joseph Mathons offers for sale, on short credit, perfumery, jewellery and other fashionable articles.

Notices of sheriff sales are numerous both for the district of Quebec and that of Montreal.

This about sums up the contents of the Gazette, and I will now turn to the pages of the Quebec Mercury, published by Mr. Thomas Carey, of No. 3 St. Louis street, at the new printing office, No. 19 Buade street. The issue of Dec. 22nd, 1806, I have been unable to find, but that of the 15th is before me as I write. Its opening article is a vigorous protest against the proposal that a French paper to be called "Le Canadien" should be published at all, inasmuch as the French inhabitants of the rural districts were unable to read, and the few in town who could were already subscribers to either the Mercury or the Gazette. What more was required. The editor before he finishes, works himself up into quite a fury and strikes out right and left.

Francois Duval offers for sale a spacious house on St. Louis street.

And this leads me to remark that in 1806 and thereabouts the Upper Town was the residential quarter for the professional classes, the civil officials, the well-to-do French, and the garrison officers. The Lower Town was almost entirely given up to the English and Scotch merchants.

If they did not live over their warehouses they lived alongside of them and many of them maintained quite a state. Sous-le-Cap, Sous-le-fort, St. Peter, and Sault-au-Matelot streets were the fashionable residential and business thoroughfares of these merchant nabobs.

Henry Judah informs his friends that he has removed from the St. Roc Brewery to Lower Town Market Place, where he has for sale Burton ale, porter, etc.

Some more or less unimportant news and poetry completes the issue. Not much for a paper issued once a week and for which a guinea subscription was paid.

John Lambert, writing of Canada in 1806 says that much of the sprightliness of the French-Canadians had died out since the influx of the English. Instead of endless informal little dances and entertainments, a large assembly takes their place to which only what are the upper classes are admitted. Society is split into factions and scandal is the order of the day. Calumny and envy are rife among the inhabitants, and the weekly papers teem with scurrility and malicious insinuations. The servant question is a serious one. Girls' wages are high and references quite unnecessary. We haven't progressed so far from many of these conditions even though a century has elapsed.



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