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The Pre-Confederation Era and Modern Canada

Despite the tremendous changes toward modernization, it is impossible to dissociate humanity from its history entirely. Consequently, it is impossible to dissociate modern Canadian society from pre-confederation Canada. Being a new world country, Canada’s population is primarily associated with immigration and immigrants. However, despite the substantial immigrant population, Canada’s score on gender ratio consistently portrays a balance between males and females in the country. For instance, in 2021, Canada’s gender ratio stood at 98 males to 100 females, almost 1:1. While the above gender ratio has primarily been attributed to the consistently changing legal domestic and international legal framework on gender equality, it cannot be separated from the actions of Jean Talon, a French Colonial administrator who imported 1,200 marriageable young women to Canada to correct the gender imbalance in the 17th century.

The pre-confederation of Canada, a French colony, largely survived the fur trade run by the Company of One Hundred Associates. However, as the fortunes of the fur trade faltered, the Company of One Hundred Associated, which had initially promised to settle over 300 Catholic colonists annually in New France, was unable to sustain its commitment and instead turned to the Seigneuries system to shoulder the cost (Blake et al. 37). Under the Seigneuries system, large tracts of land were given individuals, cenistaires, who used male Engagees to cultivate crops. Engages typically worked for three to five years for a token wage, food and accommodation. At the end of the tenure period, Engages would either return to France or remain in the colony as habitants (Blake et al. 38). Despite the enormous contribution of the new land system, it further reduced the population of free men in New France. For instance, while a significant population of men were engaged in harvesting fur from beavers, the remaining population was taken up by the cenistaires for cultivation and crop production.

Moved by the growing gender imbalance in New France, Jean Talon embarked on a plan to breach the imbalance by increasing the population of marriageable women who would bear children with the male inhabitants. While Talon had successfully recruited colonists and settlers for New France on promises of land, animals, and farm inputs, subsequent importation of people was stopped by Colbert’s assertion that it was not possible to populate Canada by depopulating the realm (Blake et al. 58). As a result, Talon resorted to recruiting 1,200 filles du roi, marriageable young women to address the women shortage in New France. The women had to be healthy, physically robust, repulsive and willing to work with their hands. Most young women were recruited from Hospital General in Paris and other urban centers. Other files du roi were daughters whose parents could not afford to arrange good marriages for them. In New France, the filles du roi capitalized on the women shortage in the colony to enter into multiple marriage contracts before they could settle upon the most preferred spouse for marriage in church (Blake et al. 59). The multiple marriages allowed the young women to bear children with different men, often helping breach the shortage that previously faced the colony.

Besides importing women, Talon also made several changes in New France to further family formation. For example, she threatened to deprive all bachelors in the colony of hunting, fishing and trading privileges until they selected a woman from the newly arrived imports to marry. The administrator also imposed fines upon parents whose sons and daughters had not married by a certain age. The colony also paid bonuses to every young man who married by the age of 20 and couples with more than ten children (Blake et al. 59). After the implementation of the above measures, New France’s population increased to 7,832 people by 1676 (Blake et al. 59). Talon further emphasized that despite the population growth, family life in New France remained under the Counume de Paris which accorded women status inferior to their husbands.

While Talon imported women into New France during the 17th century, the effects of the administrator’s actions are still present and significantly impact modern Canadian society. For instance, the Canadian society enjoys an almost equal number of men and women. The administrator’s actions set precedence for a series of activities that currently describe the lives of Canadians in the modern era. For example, during Talon’s era, only strong and healthy women willing to work with their hands were considered for export to New France. In other words, the move towards breaching the gender parity gap in Canada began in the pre-confederation era. While the imported files du roi was aware that they had been brought in to sire, they were equally aware of the extra responsibility; to partake in manual tasks using their hands to complement their men’s efforts. Canada has one of the smallest employment gaps by gender compared to other nations. In other words, the population of Canadian women in employment has consistently risen since the pre-confederation period due to the supportive foundational framework laid by the colonial administration. Since the pre-confederation era, Canadian women were encouraged to compliment their husbands’ efforts in raising a family even though they were accorded an inferior status. It is a culture introduced during the pre-confederation era through the importation of filles du roi and has been sustained through a guiding framework that ensures submissive women without compromising the acceptable standards of gender parity and equality.

The high immigrant population in Canada is equally a creation of the pre-confederation era. Canada is one of the most cosmopolitan societies, hosting immigrants from different parts of the world. Besides the filles du roi, colonial administrators often imported skilled labour from France to Canada to work in the fur processing company. While some imported labourers returned to France at the end of their tenure, others chose to remain in New France as colonials. In modern society, Canada periodically admits documented immigrants, especially skilled labourers, who are granted citizenship to live and work in Canada. Just like the filles du roi imported into the colony to help reduce the women shortage, documented immigrants are primarily admitted to helping the country address labour shortages in the industrial sector. However, during their stay, the immigrants helped increase Canada’s population, reducing the need for dependence on imported labour. For instance, the population of immigrant labour has consistently reduced over the years with the increasing population of Canadians born out of immigrants.

In conclusion, one may only realize the contribution of administrator Jean Talon to modern Canadian society once they review the history of pre-confederation Canada. Although she intended to reduce the growing gap between the male and female population, her actions lay precedence for domestic and international practices that have increased Canada’s population by systematically integrating immigrants from different parts of the world to work and live in Canada. An outstanding contribution of Administrator Talon’s actions is reflected in the almost equal number of men and women in Canada, a situation that would not have been achieved had she not brought in the 1200 filles du roi and forced Canadian men of age to marry. However, the focus is not only on forced marriage but also on the contribution of arranged marriages to the local economy of pre-confederation and current Canada. Over the years, Canada has seen its dependency on immigrant and imported labour reduce as more immigrants give birth to children in Canada, thereby increasing the population of homegrown labour to work in the country’s industrial sector.


Blake Raymond B et al. Conflict and Compromise. Volume Ii Post-Confederation Canada. The University of Toronto Press 2017.


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