11. I Have What I Need

illustration from the 20th century, Library and Archives Canada C-002148

In 1665 King Louis XIV of France and his minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert selected Jean Talon as the “Intendant of Justice, Public order and Finances in Canada, Acadia and Newfoundland”. Soon after his arrival in New France, as part of his attempt to make the colony self sufficient, Talon urged women and girls to learn to spin the yarn of the territories own sheep, and he distributed looms to private homes so they could weave what they spun. Five years later he was able to announce to Colbert that “the colony was now able to make the majority of its own drugget, barracan, coarse muslin, and serge and moreover”, he added, “nearly a third of the shoes are made from native leathers, and at the present time I have, from what is produced in Canada, all that I need to clothe myself from head to foot.”

Unfortunately, with Talon taking leave of Canada in 1672, the King stopped giving any effective aid to the young colony and Talon’s work was soon undone.

Agathe de Saint-Père belonged to a family of renowned colonists of Ville-Marie. On Nov. 28, 1685, she married the ensign Pierre Legardeur de Repentigny. Legardeur’s easy-going nature allowed the dynamic Agathe de Saint-Père’s talents to burn brightly. She signed contracts, made profits on fur-trading licences, bought and sold land, made loans, and settled her accounts as well as the debts of her husband and her brothers-in-law.

To make up for the shortage of linen and wool at the time, Mme de Repentigny experimented widely, especially with nettles and bark fibres, cottonweed, and the woolly hair of the buffalo. In 1705, when news arrived of the shipwreck of the Seine, which was bringing supplies for a whole year, she created a factory in her home. She then had her loom copied, and distributed the copies to several inhabitants of the island, who learned the techniques of using them, and soon there were more than 20 looms, which turned out daily 120 ells of coarse cloth and canvas, both hard-wearing and cheap. In 1705 Madame de Repentigny was licensed by the King to be the first textile manufacturer in Canada. She sold the very successful company in 1713 and retired.

By 1736 an anonymous government report noted the colony had several who were weavers and made rough fabrics and stuffs which they call druggets, which they use to clothe themselves and their families, and that they made the majority of their tools and utensils for work and built their own houses and barns.

Hundreds of small custom carding and cloth-fulling mills continued to develop throughout Upper and Lower Canada and the Maritimes and in 1826, Mahlon Willett established the first complete factory system of woollen cloth manufacture at l’Acadie, in Lower Canada. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, Canada’s textile industry would continue to grow.

Jean Talon
1626 (France) – 1694 (France)







Agathe de Saint-Pere,