Daily Life in New France


Working to Supplement Income

Even if soldiers were housed, fed and provided with a certain "pension plan," 15 livres a year did not go very far. Canonniers-bombardiers received a supplement of 24 livres, but even this did not suffice. Soldiers attempted, therefore, to earn second incomes. The least educated became labourers working on the fortifications or in the employ of private individuals. Those who knew a trade practised it, such as the soldier-tailor who was active in Detroit in the mid-eighteenth century. The best-educated soldiers, such as the canonnier-bombardier Joseph-Charles Bonin, found work with merchants keeping their books. According to the Scandinavian traveller Pehr Kalm, in this way soldiers could earn as much as one and a half livres a day in Canada. This increased their incomes considerably! However, in order to work outside their hours of military service, soldiers had to obtain their captains' permission. Captains were usually quite willing to comply, if possible, though in return for the right to keep the soldiers' wages. The soldiers so treated did not complain, because they could earn five or six times as much in their free time.

In the western posts, soldiers were allowed to trade a little with the Indians. In this way, they could return to Montreal with furs worth about 100 livres. Those who were thrifty could therefore afford small luxuries, though others went into debt in the trading posts out west and returned home owing large sums.

Soldiers in Plaisance and Acadia also engaged in other lines of work, some becoming occasional fishermen. However, conditions worsened after the colony of Île Royale was established in 1713. Since there were no labourers available to work on the fortifications, soldiers performed this task, thus augmenting their meagre wages. However, supplies were very expensive in Louisbourg, where company captains controlled the canteens and acted also as lenders. Soldiers were almost forced to go into debt in order to survive. During the 1730s, officers even managed to have their soldiers' pay turned over to them first so that they could make their deductions. Soldiers on Île Royale thus found themselves in an economic bind, with no other sources of supply in such an isolated area.