CHEMIN DU ROY
These days I seem to spend a great deal of my time in Eastern Canada and the more I read about the history of this part of the country the more fascinated I become.
One of the things that has been holding my attention for quite some time is the story of the Chemin du Roy - the "King's Highway" linking Montreal and the city of Quebec.
But this is a comparatively recent road. Back in the 17th Century in the Province of Québec there were no roads at all worth speaking of, and most of the journeys between the city of Québec and Montreal took place via the St Lawrence River.
This was by no means an easy task. Allan Greer, in his book The People of New France records an examination of the parish deaths registers of the 17th Century which show, of the 4587 causes of death recorded, 1302 deaths were by drowning, so that you can see the problems that water-borne traffic was facing.
Confrontations with the Native inhabitants was another serious issue. The reason why the number of deaths of European colonists at their hands does not figure significantly in the records include
firstly - quite often the victims were never recovered so the cause of death could not be ascertained.
secondly - in many cases the Europeans were too frightened to venture too far from their doors to put themselves at risk.
Once the "issues" with the Iroquois had been overcome by the armistice of the summer of 1701, attention then turned to providing a safe overland route between these two important centres.
On 1st February 1706, a decision to build a road was finally made, and a route was surveyed and planned by Pierre Robineau de Bécancour and Jean Eustache Lanouiller. It took years to build, construction being of course only seasonal and being impeded by floods, coastal erosion, landslides and all that kind of thing. It was not until 5th August 1734 that the road was finally opened.
The road was about 280 kilometres long as finished, although its length has varied slightly over time. The width though, that was to be 24 feet according to Lanouiller and flanked by ditches of three feet wide on each side to keep the road well-drained. There were as many as 29 way-stations along the route.
Where the lie of the land so required it, cuttings were to be dug for the road, and where the land was soft or marshy, the road was to be paved with tree trunks at least 15 feet long. Furthermore, each resident whose property bordered the road was responsible for keeping the section of the road by his property in good repair.
Lanouiller said a great deal about bridges too. Every bridge, whether it was over a stream or a ditch, had to be made of the trunk of a cedar, squared off on all of its four faces and fastened together with dowels of good quality. Each trunk used in the bridge has to be 15 feet long and at least 1 foot thick
But even with all of this, the journey of 280kms was not easy, the distance being measured in days rather than hours. 2 days was the official time for the journey in a diligence but 3 days on the journey was not uncommon, even in the 19th Century.
there are innumerable occasions recorded where the diligence did not reach a scheduled stop during daylight hours and the travellers on board were obliged to lodge with inhabitants along the route for the night, and sometimes even sleep in the coach itself.
But the builders were happy enough with their baby. Lanouiller is famously on record in 1735 as reporting that "last August" that is - in 1734 "I did the journey from Montreal to the city of Quebec in four and a half days in a sedan chair".
There is, unfortunately, no record of what the poor porters had to say about the journey.
Having driven over the odd stretch of the road every now and again in the past, I decided that just for a change and to keep me out of mischief I would take a tour myself along the entire length of the road to see what I would see.
In fact, there was so much to see that it took as long for to travel from Montreal to Québec by car as it did for Lanouiller by sedan chair in 1734, and you can see below the links to all of the exciting things, people and places that I encountered.
I do hope that you enjoy your journey as much as I did.
A little word of warning is appropriate here.
It has not been possible for us to follow with any kind of precision the road of 1734. The problems of floods, landslides and coastal erosion encountered by Bécancour and Lanouiller have not abated and a good proportion of the original road has disappeared.
More has been abandoned and in many cases took some finding - in other cases, the roue passed through private land or there were other obstacles in the way.
Anyway, I've done my best.