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Jacques Archambault: Cultivateur, Vigneron, & Puisatier

Jacques Archambault Plaque in France
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia article for Jacques Archambault

Jacques Archambault was born during the 17th century in the Department de le Charente-Maritime, located in the Poitou region of France. There are many well-known vineyards in this area, although these days, they are better known for producing cognac than wine. Monsieur Archambault may have learned his trade alongside others with generations of viticultural experience. Eventually, he made his way to Montréal with his family, including his daughter and my ancestor, Jacquette. While he was chiefly a cultivateur (farmer), he has also been listed as a vigneron. However, he is most well-known in Montréal for being the city's first well-digger, known as a "puisatier" in French. According to historical accounts, he was known for an uncanny ability to detect water underground, leading me to believe he must have had a strong affinity with nature.

Prior to his arrival in Québec, Monsieur Archambault had a better chance of practicing viticulture in France. There is at least one contract in existence, dated in the year 1637, for which he sold wine made from white grapes to a merchant named Hiérônimus Bonnevye. Although Québec has a thriving wine industry now, its viticultural potential would not be realized for a few centuries. The new settlers still depended on wine from France after having a difficult time with producing wine from both native vines and those imported from France. Fortunately, most of those difficulties have been surmounted now, but France still has an easier climate to grow certain wine grape varieties. More than likely, Monsieur Archambault purchased wine imports from France after arriving in Québec, just like many other families at the time.

Eventually, Monsieur Archambault started his farm and contracted with the governor, Monsieur de Maisonneuve, to construct the first well in Montréal. He promised to find at least 2 feet of water at the bottom, and he succeeded. He was promised 300 livres (the unit of currency at the time) and 10 pots of eau-de-vie, which was brandy. Not only that, but the contract stipulated that a quarter of the amount would be provided prior to the ground-breaking of the well. Good luck finding a contract promising that today! He was promised the same amount for also finding water at the Saint-Sulpice Seminary of Montréal. The well was located in the hospital's garden, presumably much to the relief of the seminary's founder, Monsieur Gabriel de Queylus. There are numerous other contracts indicating subsequent wells found by Monsieur Archambault.

Today, there are plaques commemorating Jacques Archambault. How many other nations celebrate those who find fresh water? Something so crucial yet so essential for our lives. It would seem that Québec does not take its heritage for granted. France also has a memorial to Jacques Archambault. The plaque above, which memorializes the 300th year of his death, has been placed at the parish where he was baptized in France.

Thank you to both France and Québec for acknowledging the contributions of Monsieur Jacques Archambault.


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