Quebec Windmills and Seigneuries 

Find an old windmill (moulin) in Quebec and you will find a trace of an old seigneury, or estate.

In 2005, a heritage society in the Montreal suburb of Pointe Claire was looking into restoring the local windmill, built in 1710, but realized no-one had the knowledge to repair it. So, the Société pour la Sauvegarde du Patrimoine de Pointe-Claire (SSPPC) formed a partnership with Quebec’s national archives, the BAnQ Vieux-Montréal, to do some research.  A team of archivists, librarians and clerks compiled hundreds of notarial acts dealing with windmills in Nouvelle France, and in Quebec after the British Conquest of 1759.

The old windmill in Pointe-Claire, overlooking Lac Saint-Louis. Claire Lindell photo.

The resulting document, “Actes notariés transcrits sur les moulins du Québec,” (see link below) reveals a great deal about the history of Quebec’s moulins-à-vent (windmills) and moulins-à-eau (watermills,) and about the seigneuries where they were located.

It includes transcriptions of acts made by notaries concerning windmills. These documents, such as leases, sales, inventories and various contracts involving millers, shine a light, not only on windmill construction, but many other aspects of their use. Some of these notarized agreements date back to the 1600s.

Until the 20th century, Quebec’s economy was based on agriculture, with corn and various grains being the most common products. Most windmills produced flour, although some powered sawmills or tanneries.

In New France, in Quebec under the British, and during the Lower Canada period, the majority of windmills were owned by the seigneurs, the owners of seigneuries, or large estates of farmland and forest. The seigneurial system of land ownership, tenancy and feudal-based obligations was officially abolished in 1854, but it took many years before it completely disappeared.

Here is the link to “Actes notariés transcrits sur les moulins du Québec” https://www.banq.qc.ca/documents/archives/genealogie/outils/moulins.pdf

Most of the transcriptions in this large PDF are in French, but you can copy and paste sections that are of interest to you and make use of online translation services such as Google Translate or DeepL.

Built around 1730, this former mill in Verchères is a museum. Joann Egar photo.

Some windmills were owned by censitaires (tenants), but these private windmill or water-powered mill operators had to pay annual fees to their seigneurs. The fees were based on the number of tonneaux (wooden barrels) of farine (flour) and grains they produced on a yearly basis.

Most windmills in New France measured their capacity of production of flour, grain and corn by the number of wooden barrels they could produce per day or week.

If you look at biographies of settlers posted on Fichier Origine (www.fichierorigine.com) or P.R.D.H. (https://www.prdh-igd.com/en/accueil) or within the René Jetté books of pioneers, you will encounter the word tonnelier, a carpenter who specialized in making wooden barrels for operators of windmills, seigneurs and farmers. Most seigneuries in New France had their own tonnelier and/or windmill operator and/or operator of a water-powered mill.

Recruiters of families from France in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially within the northwest regions of France — Normandie, Poitou, Perche, Bretagne, Maine, Aunis, Anjou, Touraine, Beauce — would always recruit one or two tonneliers and one or two operators of windmills or operators of mills powered by water among the citizens who boarded sailing ships from La Rochelle and other seaports, destined for the French colonies of America.

The Fleming Mill in LaSalle is designed in Anglo-Saxon style. Janice Hamilton photo.

To learn more:

Most of the province’s many windmills have disappeared, however, several remain in the Montreal area, including in Pointe-Claire, LaSalle and on Île Perrot.

Liste des moulins à eau du Québec:  https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_des_moulins_%C3%A0_eau_du_Qu%C3%A9bec

This is a less extensive list of windmills in English:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_windmills_in_Quebec

René Jetté, Dictionnaire généalogique des familles du Québec: des origines à 1730, Montréal: Gaetan Morin, 2003.  No longer in print but available at the BAnQ and at the Grande Bibliothèque de Montréal. Also available at many university libraries in Canada and at most French-language genealogical societies in Quebec, Ontario, and New England. Major libraries in Canada would also have a copy.

Gilles Deschênes, Quand le vent faisait tourner les moulins: Trois siècles de meunerie banale et marchande au Québec, Québec: Septentrion, 2009, https://www.septentrion.qc.ca/catalogue/quand-le-vent-faisait-tourner-les-moulins

Article on the seigneurial system in the Canadian Encyclopedia: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/seigneurial-system

 

 

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