Daily Life in New France

Soldiers

How Soldiers Amused Themselves

Soldiers playing cards during the 1630s

Caption: Soldiers playing cards during the 1630s

What did soldiers do when not on duty or working? Playing games of chance and drinking come immediately to mind. This is not incorrect, but is by no means all they did. Soldiers certainly spent a good part of their free time drinking with comrades, playing cards and rolling dice. In the towns, taverns were open every day except Sundays during Mass and they could be found everywhere. There were more than 80 in Quebec City alone around 1750 and about 20 in Louisbourg a few years earlier. They bore such names as La Reine Blanche (The White Queen), Au Lion d'Or (The Golden Lion), and L'Épée Royale (The Royal Sword).

The favourite drink in Canada under the French Regime was wine. Great quantities were drunk, much more than today, in proportional terms. In 1739, for example, enough wine was imported to provide every adult in the colony with 32 L. This is more than double the present consumption in the province of Quebec, which is about 14 L per year. Wine drinkers were concentrated primarily in the towns, where only one-fifth of the population lived. This considerably increased the amount that urban dwellers had to drink. It was not by accident that most troops could be found in towns. People also drank brandy (calvados, cognac or rum), cider, and hop or spruce beer. The latter was very popular in the countryside and at isolated posts.