During the 17th century, the French colony of New France (today Canada) had a very low population which worried the king as it made the colony weaker. Most of the men were soldiers and immigrants who had completed their contracts in the colony. There was also an imbalance between males and females which did not help the low population. The males heavily outnumbered the female population and population growth was almost non-existent. The harsh environmental conditions and the kind of work done in the colony discouraged most women from immigrating to Canada.
The Filles du Roi Program
To solve the nagging question of how to solve the issue of low population in the new world colony, the French government introduced a program for transporting unmarried girls and widows into the new colony to provide wives for the unmarried men. The program initially targeted transporting 500 women, but more than 700 immigrated to Canada between 1663 and 1673. The King paid for their travel expenses, dowries, and other expenses incurred before they found suitors. The women were first referred to as the Filles du Roi (the King’s Daughters) in the 17th century to distinguish them from women who immigrated to Canada independently. The term does not imply a royal parentage.
Recruiting and Resettlement
Under King Louis XIV, the French government sponsored the immigration of about 800 young women, mostly aged 16-25 years to boost the population density in Canada. Jean Talon, the Intendant of New France proposed the program to sponsor the immigration of about 500 young women to Canada. Most of the women recruited were orphans or those of humble backgrounds mainly from Paris, Normandy, and western France. Others were from Germany, England, and Portugal. The women underwent a thorough screening program to ascertain their moral standing and physical ability to cope in Canada. Most of the girls settled in Quebec where they found suitors immediately after their arrival. Others settled in Montréal. The women were at liberty to annul their marriages if they were incompatible with their spouse.
Most of the women immigrating to Canada were ill prepared for the climatic conditions as well as the rural agricultural life in the colony. Most of them found it hard to adjust from an urban life to a rural way of life. Some of the women did not marry at all while others returned to France to marry. Other women died during travel. Those left behind criticized the program as a means of encouraging prostitution claiming that most of the immigrants were of questionable moral standing. However, only one woman in the new world became a prostitute after being left by her husband.
Impact of the Filles du Roi
After the first year of immigrating to Canada, most of the Filles du Roi were married and pregnant, thus the goal to increase the Canadian population was achieved. Years later, acts of the Filles du Roi are appreciated and linked to the French people of Canada and North America. Several events are held both in Canada and France to commemorate the immigration of the Filles du Roi. The Quebec Ministry of culture and communications designated the immigration of the women as a historical event.