AskDefine | Define habitant

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Noun

  1. a member of habitation colony at Stadacona founded by Samuel de Champlain, where Quebec City now lies

French

Pronunciation

/'a. bi. tã/

Noun

  1. inhabitant
  2. a member of habitation colony at Stadacona founded by Samuel de Champlain, where Quebec City now lies

Extensive Definition

Habitants is the name used to refer to both the French settlers and the inhabitants of French origin who farmed the land along the two shores of the St. Lawrence Gulf and River in what is the present-day Province of Quebec in Canada. The term was used by the inhabitants themselves and the other classes of French Canadian society from the 17th century up until the early 20th century when the usage of the word declined in favor of the more modern agriculteur (farmer) or producteur agricole (agricultural producer). The habitants live on the seigneur's property paying him with food as rent.
Unwilling to accept subordination to anyone but the Governor of New France himself, the inhabitants refused to be called censitaire, a designation they judged equivalent to paysan, who were the servile peasants in France's feudal system.
After the Canadian Confederation in 1867, the seigneural system gradually ceased to exist. The industrialization of Quebec was another factor in the evolution of Quebec's working class, which eventually began migrating to cities like Montreal and Quebec.
The plural was spelled Habitans before the spelling reform and until the spelling reform was accepted in Québec in the 19th century. The singular word Habitant stayed the same.
The name "Habs", from the French "Les Habitants", is now used as a nickname for the Montreal Canadiens ice hockey team.

Seigneur and Habitants

The feudal system of landholding, which had long been established in France, was adopted in the colony. The nobles, in this case the seigneurs, were granted lands and titles by the king in return for their oath of loyalty and promise to support him in time of war. The seigneur in turn granted rights to work farm plots on his land to his vassals, or habitants. In addition the habitants were given the right to use the local mill, the right to use common pasture land for grazing, the right to bequeath land to their families, and were given protection by the seigneur. In exchange, the habitants were required to pay certain feudal dues each year, to clear trees from their lots in order to grow crops on it, to work for the seigneur for a given number of days annually, to maintain their access roads in good condition, and to have their grain ground in the seigneurial mill.
In underpopulated New France the habitants welcomed the fact that the seigneur was obligated to build a mill. They had no military duties to perform except for their common defense against the Indians. There was little money and not much use for it; and so the taxes took the form of payments in chickens, geese, or other farm products. These obligations were hardly burdensome. The seigneurs were anxious that their habitants should wish to remain farmers, and there was as much land as anyone could till.

References

  • Habitants and Merchants in Seventeenth-Century Montreal by Professor Louise Dechêne, McGill-Queen's University Press 1993 (ISBN 0-7735-0658-6)
  • Crofters and Habitants: Settler Society, Economy, and Culture in a Quebec Township 1848-1881, by Professor John I. Little, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1991, (ISBN 0-7735-0807-4)
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