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Boucherville, an Agriculturist's Dream (and Reality)

If you are outside Québec, then you may not know much about Boucherville or its founder, eminent pioneer, military leader, governor, and agriculturist Pierre Boucher. He was also the first Canadian to receive knighthood by the King of France. Let's look at how this prolific individual promoted the promises of Québec's agricultural heritage while practically creating his own territory along the Saint Lawrence River.

1673 Plan for Boucherville, courtesy of the Bibliothéque et Archives Nationale du Québec

This map was created in 1673 by Antoine Loiseau for the benefit of Monsieur Boucher, who envisioned a fortress containing a chapel and homes for the swelling numbers of settlers in Québec. As the author of Histrois Veritables et Naturelle des Mœurs et Productions du Pays de la Nouvelle France (True and Natural History of the Manners and Productions of New France), he was keen on expanding the agricultural potential noted within this popular publication. His observations ranged from the fragrant cedar trees used for garden fencing to a few productive apple trees imported from France. He seemed to be impressed with almost everything in New France compared to the mother country, even saying the hemp and linen was of a better quality!

While discussing gardens, he noted a variety of herbs and well-known produce such as cucumbers, watermelons, and asparagus. Onions, garlic, hyssop, and some mysterious-sounding plants were mentioned. Carrots, parsnips, and cabbages did well. As expected in a cold climate, all root vegetables seemed to be successful. Yet, even melons, watermelons, and cucumbers performed well.

Logically, he looked to the Native Americans for more ideas. He was impressed with the variety of grains they grew, including millet. Of course, there were pumpkins of a different variety than the ones from France. He found the sunflower seeds to be very tasty, indeed! Apparently, the Native Americans made sunflower oil, as well.

While discussing the benefits of the vast variety of trees for purposes such as furniture making, he noted edible ones such as hazelnuts and elderberries. He was impressed by the large size of the plums, but conceded the ones in France tasted better. Additionally, he mentioned the abundance of small cherry trees, which seemed to be a novelty to him.

He also extolled the viticultural virtues of the land, noting that some individuals planted vines from France yielding fine grapes, although nothing was said about the wine. As for the native varieties, he explained they make better wine after sitting for at least a year after they are made, and they were known for a great deal of staining, perhaps due to their rich hues. Despite the small size of the grapes, he thought the numerous clusters and careful cultivation would eventually lead to wines comparable to those of France.

And the berries! Monsieur Boucher was so impressed by the size and abundance of these native raspberries and strawberries. He even said they tasted better than the ones in France! If there was one issue, it was the high volume. He complained they could not harvest all of them, because there were so many of these large and tasty berries. He also mentioned two types of currants similar to the ones found in France. He further noted the excellent tasting blueberry, calling them "bluets"as they were named by people in Québec.

Luckily, Monsieur Boucher did not leave flowers off the list. While noting that great quantities from France were not grown, he did mention roses, carnations, tulips, white lilies, and anemonies. He said these flowers grew the same way they did in France. One may wonder if this is true, but there are historical accounts to confirm some of these floral observations.

Considering Monsieur Boucher's book was originally published in the late 1600's, it seems the rich horticultural heritage of Québec had already established itself before his arrival. Regardless, the village of Boucherville was lucky to have such an enthusiastic founder and leader. During the following three centuries, agriculture remained the dominant force in the area. Today, Boucherville still boasts a picturesque setting upon the river banks, including guided tours of its well-preserved historical section. If you go to Québec City, but you can't make it to Boucherville, you can see a statue of Pierre Boucher outside the Parliament Building, known as Hôtel du Parliament du Québec. While you're at it, be sure to sample some of Québec's agricultural offerings in his honor!


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