Seigneurial System
of New France

By: P. Andersson


In the Province of Quebec, land distribution was originally based on a seigneurial system, established in 1627 and used until 1854. The seigneuries system of land distribution was regulated by law and had many advantages. Link A-Seigniory of Metis 1675-1854-by Ken Annett

Its purpose was to promote settlement in a systematic way. Seigneuries were usually 1 x 3 leagues (5 x 15 km) but some did vary in size, and were then generally divided into river lots. The long, rectangular strips sometimes called long-lots, were particularly well adapted to the local terrain and provided access to the river, the principal communication route at the time.

Individual holdings were large enough (3 x 30 arpents or 253 x 25.34 acres) to provide a reasonable living to farmers. The state established regulations to govern the system with the relationship between seigneurs and their tenants. The seigneur had the parcel of land and portions of the land were usually leased on the basics of a duly notarized contract. These acts of concessions set out the rights and obligations of each party.

The seigneur had responsibility and honorary rights; he could establish a court of law, operate a mill and organize a town. He would receive from his tenant’s various forms of rent: the cens (a payment or service reserved to the owner of an estate), a small tithe (one tenth of annual produce or earnings) dating from the feudal period; the rente (income) in cash or kind; and the banalities (fees), tax levied in grain. The seigneur usually granted hunting, fishing and woodcutting licences, and by the 18th century, seigneurs began to insist that the tenants work for them a certain number of days annually.

Seigneurial System under the British Colony

After the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and the conquest of Quebec by the British during the Seven Years’ War, the system became an obstacle to colonization by attempting to make the French colony to a British colony and Britain had already abolished feudal land tenure under the Tenures Abolition Act 1660. Nevertheless, the Quebec Act of 1774 retained French civil law and therefore the manorial system.

Manorial land tenure remained relatively intact for almost a century. Steps were taken to end the seigneurial system as early as 1825 to harmonise land ownership throughout the Province of Quebec with the British practice of land ownership. The Feudal Abolition Act abolished the system in 1854, however rural Quebec continued to be defined by the seigneurial system long after 1854.

Did you know… ?  Remnants of the seigneurial system remained until 1970.

Seigneury of Peiras in Mitis (Metis)

The Seigneury of Peiras in Mitis (Metis) was originally granted in 1675 to a French nobleman, Sieur Jean-Baptiste de Peiras, but he never lived there. When he died in 1701 the Seigneury went to his heirs. It remained in the Peiras hands until 1802 when the Seigneury went to auction; where a Scot named Matthew MacNider (McNider) purchased the Seigneury. A member of MacNider families of Trane in Scotland, Matthew MacNider was a businessman, merchant, and landowner. After the Conquest of New France, the family immigrated to the British colony, and became a leading mercantile family of Quebec City. They sold Canadian timber and supplies to the Royal Navy, and traded in wine and spices from Europe and the British West Indies to Quebec, London and Scotland.

It seems that Matthew MacNider met with some misfortune in his business dealings before he was able to undertake the development of the Seigneury. In 1807 the Seigneury was sold at an auction to his nephew John MacNider, a Scottish-born banker.

John MacNider became known as the Father of Metis, the founder in every sense of the word. He had a trans-ocean schooner, named “The Rebecca” which he used to bring Scottish immigrants to his newly acquired Seigneury. John MacNider returned to Scotland several times to convince families to follow him to Metis, so much so, that his vessel became known as the “Mayflower” of Metis. In those early days the only access of travel and communication to the outside world was by schooner… or by foot, not an easy proposition in a time of no roads.

MacNider colonization was to populate the territory of Metis and the families had the advantage of obtaining land and becoming sole tenants of their land to farm on and produce most of what was required to live on. MacNider provided for the first settlers their first two years with food and clothing as well as they would pay no rent for lands that they acquired. But after the two years they were required to pay rent of 12 pounds 6 shillings (12/6) for each farm lot of 140 to 200 acres they occupied.

By 1818, there were approximately 23 (mostly Scottish) families established on the Seigneury, starting at the mouth of the Mitis River and running along the St. Lawrence shore line, and the other along a height of land on the 2nd concession (range), known today as the Scotch second, le range des Écossais.

In July of 1822 the first notarized contracts of land ownership to 23 individuals were registered in Metis. The contracts were an act of concessions that set out the rights and obligations of each party and the amount of currency to be paid on the day and feast of Saint Martin, and continue yearly until the debt was paid in full.  The first lands registered were in the names of William Page, Henry Page, Colin McEwing, Alexander St. Pierre, Robert Polding, Angus Campbell, Donald McMillan, George Cavil, William Cook, Francis Brough, John Smith, Robert Polding, Joseph Morel, Duncan McKindley, Joseph Sim, Robert Sim, Gaven Crawford, William Craig, Hugh Cameron, William Cook, Malcolm McGuan, James MacNider, and Hugh MacNider.

Did you know… ?  Many of the descendants of these founding families still reside here today and it is interesting to note that with over 200 years of proud heritage behind them the community still thrives.

During the next eight years John MacNider recruited more immigrants to come to Metis. Viola (Astle) Viet shared a map of the land owners from the Mitis River to McNider Road that was drawn up by H. A. Ballantyne in 1834, and for these early settlers it must have been a wonderful feeling that the land was included in one’s patrimony to be passed on from generation to generation.

The system of land tenure, the rectangular strips or long-lot, which placed rural inhabitants close to one another, was the foundation upon which the family, neighbour relations and community developed. John MacNider hopes for the settlement were beginning to be realized in Grand Metis and Leggatt’s Point area.

Timeline of Land Registry in Lower Canada

Since the mid-19th century the State has submitted all the real property transactions conducted in the various registers that make up the Land register of Quebec. Prior to this it was under the seigneurial system.

The timeline below are of Acts concerning Lands registry in Quebec. According to the land registration system, all real property transactions become public upon registration in the Land register of Quebec. Since it is a public register, all citizens can access it and trace the history of transactions made on a lot since its creation in 1830 which was an Act to establish first land registry offices and to ensure the protection of the land rights of Quebec citizens.

  • 1841: Act to generalize land registry offices over the settled territory. The State made it mandatory for the contracting parties to register their transactions, making them public. Respecting this obligation means registering documents in the Land Register of Quebec. So only owners who hold a title of ownership registered or written in this register have their rights protected and this allows these rights to be set up against third parties. The State entrusts the Land Registrar with the responsibility of ensuring the functioning of the system while respecting a rigorous legal and administrative framework. This process establishes the credibility of the Land register of Quebec and gains the trust of the Quebec population seeking to protect their real property rights.
  • 1845: An Act of the new constitutional government of united provinces of Canada This assigned registry offices to each county, in order to cover all settled territory. An index to immovable (real estate) for inscription of private acts, deeds, and mortgage concerning any particular lot, appear utopic. But an index of names (a repertory book by parties’ names) alone became quite unpractical by two decades without identification of their properties.
  • 1846: First Act on Local and County municipal authorities. Reports on deficiencies of land registry offices.
  • 1854-59: Seigniorial Act for commutation of land rights and rents. This abolished Seigniorial tenure. Compensation of seigneurial rights and rents was assessed by commissioners. Seigneurs were compensated for their loss of revenues and remained owners of their domains. As for the tenant farmers, they had to buy back their land. Most were unable to do so and had to continue paying rent to the former seigneurial families until 1945.
  • 1860: Act for registration system for land transactions. The cadastre was created and represents the property on a plan and identifies it by lot number. Since then, real estate transactions were published based on a lot, and not on a register of names.
  • 1866: Civil Code amendment to merge both sorts of property rights. In 1866, the first provincial Civil Code of Lower Canada enforced cadastral plans as legal identification basics for registration of private land rights, securities, mortgages, obligations, in order to support the emerging real estate market.

With Canadian Confederation in 1867 the first “cadastre originaire” map was drawn up.

The rectangular strips or long-lot of land had some drawbacks especially with inheritance. Early farms could be split right down the middle when the owner died. With the next generation when the owner died and again the farm would be split they became far too narrow to be divided equally among the children, especially when families were large. But with the development of the new villages, St. Octave de Metis, Grand Metis, Little Metis, Sandy Bay, especially after 1854 when they became municipalities, the lands under this municipalisation structure seemed to have a distinctive trait and ownership and division of landholdings took place and saw the launching of Metis as a summer resort.

Abolition of the Seigneurial system in the Province of Quebec (Some lands in Metis fell into this next category.)

The British Parliament passed legislation in 1825 that provided for the commutation of manorial land tenure, upon the agreement of the lord of the manor and the tenants concerned. As no incentives were given, few such conversions took place. The Province of Canada also attempted to facilitate the process through passage of a further Act in 1845.

The manorial system was formally abolished through the passage of the Feudal Abolition Act 1854 by the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, which received royal assent on 18 December 1854. Link

It provided for:

-the conversion of all feudal tenure into that of allodial title

– the abolition of all feu-duties and feudal incidents, to be replaced by a rent charge (rente constituée) calculated under a specified formula

-the determination of rights held by manorial lords and tenants through referral to a special Seigniorial Court

-the redemption of rent charges in certain circumstances, upon payment of a determined amount to the lord

After the required schedules for each manorial estate were published in 1859, the Legislative Assembly passed The Seigniorial Amendment Act of 1859, which provided for the commutation of all feu-duties and rents (other than those relating to cens et rentes) through payments to the lords from a fund appropriated for that purpose. From Wikipedia Seigneurial system of New France

Delay into the 20th century for commutation of rents

Some of the vestiges of this system of landowning continued into the 20th century as some of the rent charges continued to be collected as before on the traditional date of St. Martin’s Day.

The final steps towards actual abolition of the system of rent charges took place under the government of Louis-Alexandre Taschereau, when the cause was promoted by Télesphore-Damien Bouchard, the Liberal deputy and mayor of Saint-Hyacinthe. He declared that “a very large number of villein socagers have not yet redeemed for over the seventy years that they have been able to do so [since the passage of the 1854 law]” and they must “make an annual pilgrimage to pay [the dues], very often, to a stranger who has acquired rights originally belonging to our ancestral families”.

In 1928, the Seigniories Act was amended to require the compilation of all information relating to dues and related capital by municipality. In 1935, the Legislative Assembly of Quebec passed the Seigniorial Rent Abolition Act, which aimed to “facilitate the freeing of all lands or lots of land from rent charges.” It provided for:

  • the incorporation of all county municipalities and independent city and town municipalities in which manorial estates were located, as the Syndicat national du rachat des rentes seigneuriales(SNRRS) (English: National Syndicate for the Redemption of Rent charges).
  • the borrowing of money by the Syndicate, under provincial guarantee, in order to redeem all rent charges.
  • the preparation of land registers (terriers) in each municipality showing the lands, owners, rents and capital amounts concerned. The commutation of such rent charges, upon the approval of the land registers by the municipal councils and their subsequent ratification by an Act of the Legislative Assembly, after which the funds borrowed by the Syndicate would be repaid through a special tax to be collected from the owners, which could be paid in a lump sum or over a period of up to 41 years. From Wikipedia Seigneurial system of New France


Final steps (1936–1970)

It was contemplated that the manorial lords would receive their commutation payments by 11 November 1936, in consideration of the capital represented by the feu-duties to be collected. However, the work of the SNRRS was briefly on hiatus from 1936–1940 during the government of the Union Nationale. It was resumed by the new provincial Liberal government in 1940, after which the final feu-duties were paid in November 1940.

Compared to the situation of the short cadastre (survey) of 1854, it was determined that annuities owed amount to no more than 25% of the original amount owed by the villein socagers overall. Some had not been paid since the 19th Century. To rectify the situation for once and all, the SNRRS issued an edict dated 15 September 1940 stating that whatever was due no later than 11 November of that year was to be paid directly to the manorial lord as before. Any amount owing after that date would be paid to the municipality. Link 

The amounts paid to the various municipalities were unequal as they did not directly correspond with the boundaries of the former manors. Many municipalities allowed a lump sum payment of the amount owing, rather than impose a small annual tax over the 41 years as permitted. The final installment paid to the SNRRS by the municipalities was made eleven years earlier than planned, on 11 November 1970 instead of 11 November 1981, due to an apparently effective management of the system. From Wikipedia Seigneurial system of New France

Today all lands can be attributed to the early original Scottish settlers, many whom are in the Leggatt’s Point Presbyterian cemetery. Although some moved away, and others left no male heir, those families which remained and those who came later, have contributed with their toil and sweat to make the settlement of Metis a vibrant municipality of today.


Private land partnerships in Metis over the years

In Metis there were and are still landowners who have or had a tract of land which they share or shared with the public for a particular purpose.

Daly’s Field

At one time the Daly family owned this large open field located to the west of 346 Beach Road, hence the name Daly’s field. Though the field is private, an informal partnership with the Metis community was agree upon to be used for activities once in a while. Over the years, Daly’s Field has hosted many summers community and athletic events, including a good-natured sport rivalry between the local and summer residents, Fête des pompiers as well as some Metis Beach School’s sport activities.

Today it is owned by the Stowe family, and they generously have kept the partnership tradition of lending their field for a short period of time for activities that are held in Metis. The most regular activity are Canada Day events, held on July 1st.

“Meris Derby”

For many years, an annual «Metis derby” was organized, with the summer residents pitting their skills against those of the permanent Metis sur Mer residents. The competition would take place over an August weekend with one day of golf at the Cascade Golf and Tennis Club and the next day a baseball game on Daly’s Field. By Jennie Hurwood 2014

In the mid-1980s the children at Metis Beach School had a newsletter that was called “Horizon” with Tony Ianniciello the Principal of the Metis Schools blessings. In an article that was written for the August 1985 Horizon edition by Troy Sim and Nancy Larue they wrote about the competition between Metis-Les Boules against Cascade members. They wrote:

“Third Consecutive Victory for Metis-Les Boules

For the third consecutive year the Metis-Les Boules team has defeated the members of the Cascade in their annual golf game. On August 4th, the two teams gathered in a “Best Ball – Match Play” competition. Both teams played well, but the victory went to the members of the Metis-Les Boules team with 13 pts. The Cascade team finished the game with 10 pts.

This small competition has taken place for the last twenty-nine years. Throughout this time both the Cascade team and the Metis-Les Boules team have won fourteen games and have tied one. This year, the game was played under a different format. Rather than playing “low ball and aggregate”, the “best ball” format was introduced. This format has speeded up the game by an hour.

After the game, the players gathered in the club house for a small reception where refreshments were served and the trophy was awarded to the winners.”

Cascade Golf and Tennis Club Tunnel

The Cascade golf course was separated because of the new 132 highway that came into being in 1960s. The Cascade Golf and Tennis Club decided that an underground tunnel should be built to enable the golf pedestrians to cross the highway safely. Though the tunnel was built for the golfers the local children also used it for safe passage to go to Station Road to play with friends or go to the swimming hole.

“The savanna”

Behind the Jolly Roger and Au Coin de la Baie, is a large rocky barren area with few trees on it called the savanna by the local people. Though the land was poor, it provided the perfect conditions to produce wild blueberries. The blueberries were perennials and liked the low-fertility soils and cold harsh winters of this area. The berries spread by underground runners and produced a small urn-shaped flower, white to pink in colour. The berries when ready had an intense blue-black color and amazing flavour.

For many generations this back breaking-kneeling job of blueberry-picking was a seasonal activity done every August by local women and children for years in Metis. The children were given buckets of various sizes and a spot to gather the berries. Once the bucket was filled you went back usually to your mother and dumped your container into a bigger bucket and then went back to another spot to pick again. This was an all-day event, but come winter you knew that you would reap the benefit of nature’s candy harvest. Today, sadly, the savanna is longer accessible to the public.

Wild strawberry-picking along the tracks

While not strictly permitted, many permanent and some summer residents also roam the land by the train track running through Metis to pick wild strawberries – again unimaginably hard work to collect enough to make the treasured wild strawberry jam.  Most of us have to content ourselves with picking a few of these tiny sweets every summer.

Right of ways

A right of way is the legal right, established by usage or grant, to pass along a specific route through grounds or property belonging to another. Some homes in Metis have a right of way description attached or relating to their house deed to allow them to go to the beach. These rights of ways are very old and most are about 16 feet wide and varied in lengths.  Often, they were originally created as roads so a horse and buggy could get to the beach to be able to pick up fish that were caught and also to pick up the seaweed for fertilizer for the fields and gardens. The owner of the land on which the right of way is located cannot do anything to reduce your use of it.  And in Quebec the party with the right of way has responsibilities:  carry out any work that may be required; maintain the right of way; use the right of way so as to cause as little damage as possible.”[i]

Did you know… ?  One private right of way in Metis was made permanent when a road, no longer used, was sold to those with properties along the way.  This particular one was created after on-and-off discussions between neighbours with property on the beach and those to the south across Beach Road. The agreement started allowing the construction of six ‘boat houses’ – really glorified changing rooms – along the path to the beach (probably a man’s and a woman’s each for three related homes on what some call the “murky” (non-beach) side of the road (later an agreement was reached on two).  These were deemed as a requirement so that the people of the homes without Saint Lawrence and beach access could change into their bathing costumes modestly, in privacy, rather than skipping across the road in the bathing suits (quel horreur!), which is what later generations did.  It took several years to conclude the agreement (there is something called ‘Metis Time’), and the neighbours continue to be the best of friends. The right of way has two boathouses still standing!

Did you know… ?  Beaches are always fun, though many beach fronts in Metis-sur-Mer are privately owned due to the fact that many proprieties include the beach in their deeds. But there are a few places where everyone can have access to the beach: one at the west end of Leggatt’s Point entrance in Grand Metis; one opposite Astle Park in the Borough of MacNider, and two in Sector Les Boules, one across from Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Compassion and a walkway that was gifted by the Rousseau family to honor the founding French families of Les Boules.