Daily Life in New France



It is hard to estimate the nutritional value of soldiers' diets because of all the variations. For example, the basic rations in Canada between 1680 and 1720 provided 3,100 calories when bacon was eaten and 2,800 when their diet included beef. Four hundred calories a day would have to be deducted between 1730 and 1740 when peas were eliminated. On the other hand, the ration increased by 100 calories after 1750 when peas were again added to the diet as well as butter.

According to the World Health Organization, a man 1.60 to 1.65 m tall and weighing 55 to 66 kg requires a minimum of 2,400 to 2,700 calories a day for light work (standing guard), 2,700 to 3,000 calories for sustained work (exercises), and 3,300 to 3,700 for heavy work (construction, military expeditions).

It is not difficult to see the deficiencies in soldiers' basic rations once sustained work was required. However, these deficiencies existed only in theory. In reality, soldiers living with civilians customarily turned over their rations to the woman of the house, who combined them with other foods to make the family meal. Generally, this widespread practice had the effect of improving soldiers' diets. Furthermore, many soldiers kept small gardens or went hunting and fishing, as Pehr Kalm noted in 1749 when passing through Fort Saint-Frédéric. He thought this rather surprising, since in his view the regular rations were quite sufficient. He found the men of the garrison to be in good health, plump, smiling and eager to amuse themselves. They were certainly not suffering from malnutrition!

Insofar as drink was concerned, soldiers could purchase beer and wine in the barracks canteen. In addition, several Amerindian dishes frequently graced Canadian tables. References can be found, for example, to sagamité, a corn-based porridge to which vegetables and fish or meat were added. There was also gagaitetaakwa, a very firm corn bread similar to the long-lasting biscuits that soldiers carried on expeditions. And of course there was pemmican, the dried, pounded meat to which fat was added and which would last four or five years. It seems obvious, then, that one cannot simply add up the calories in soldiers' official rations in Canada in order to determine the nutritional value of their diets, since they used the resources of the country to augment and vary their menus.

The soldiers on Île Royale were not so lucky. Since opportunities to improve their rations were limited, they relied on them much more. Their rations were therefore somewhat more generous than in Canada. The soldiers on Île Royale produced a beer that was rich in calories and doubtless had a beneficial effect, and often replaced meat with cod in their diets. However, the rest of their food had to be imported and was often spoiled or of poor quality. This was one of the causes of the discontent that led to the mutiny of 1744.

The rations for expeditions contained more calories, but here too calculations are purely theoretical because in actual practice provisions could also include dried corn and other Amerindian foods, rice, and game or fish when it was possible to get some along the way.