Canada: The Story of Us

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was over in less time than your lunch break

Canadian history is full of surprising facts. 10 things about early Canada that you may not know, courtesy of Canada: The Story of Us, episode one.

How well do you know Canadian history? 10 surprising facts from Canada: The Story of Us, Episode 1

At the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the British had their soldiers load two musket balls instead of the usual one, making each shot less accurate, but ultimately much deadlier. (Canada: The Story of Us)

Canada's history is full of battle, intrigue and surprising facts. Here are 10 things you may not know about early Canadian history:

Bison as far as the eye can see

In pre-contact times, the Indigenous people of the plains would hunt herds of bison that could stretch out as far as 80 kilometres.

Champlain "found" a land ruled by the Innu and the Wendat

Chief Oschasteguin of the Wendat formed an alliance with the French settlers, trading furs for military support and metal goods. (Canada: The Story of Us)

At time of Champlain's arrival, the land around what is now Quebec City was controlled by the Innu and the Wendat. Champlain would eventually sign a treaty with the Wendat.

Most of Champlain's crew didn't survive the first winter

Samuel De Champlain was nearly assassinated by his own men. (Canada: The Story of Us)

Twenty of Samuel De Champlain's initial 27-man crew didn't live through their first winter in New France. Those who didn't die of starvation or exposure often died from scurvy, due to a lack of fruits and vegetables in their diet.

Champlain himself almost died, too — though for a very different reason. A small group of his own men planned to assassinate him during the first six months of the settlement of New France. The plot failed when one of the would-be assassins got cold feet and confessed. Champlain executed the ringleader, but pardoned the rest of the plotters.

The arrival of Europeans was fatal for the people already living in North America

Colonialism was much worse for the colonized though. Within 100 years of their first contact with Europeans, the population of North America's Indigenous population fell by 90 per cent. Many were killed by the colonizers, but many more died due to European diseases previously unknown on the continent. Entire communities were wiped out by plagues. Some smaller Indigenous nations, like Newfoundland's Beothuk people, were driven to extinction.

Champlain's arquebus changed the balance of power in the Wendat–Haudenosaunee war

As part of his treaty with the Wendat, Champlain offered to provide military support in their war against the Haudenosaunee. Part of that military support came in the form of the arquebus, a precursor to the modern rifle.

The first firearm with a trigger, the arquebus could pierce metal plate armour. It worked by lowering a smouldering slow match into a flash pan filled with black powder. The Wendat's access to the arquebus shifted the balance of power between the Indigenous confederacies.

In the 1660s, English settlers outnumbered the French by a factor of 18:1

England's prosperous 13 colonies to the south were booming. Their population nearly tripled between 1640 and 1660 — going from roughly 26,000 to 75,000. The 1666 census of New France, on the other hand, counted just over 3,200 settlers.

The Filles du Roi chose their own husbands

The Filles du Roi, like Elisabeth Aubert, had enormous families. Having 10 children wasn't uncommon. (Canada: The Story of Us)

The Filles du Roi were poor French women brought across the Atlantic to marry colonists and increase the population of New France. They were introduced to potential husbands in a series of speed-dating-style chaperoned dates. These dates were almost always overseen by Jean Talon, Indendant of New France and one of the most powerful men in the colony, and Ursuline nun Marie Guyart.

Most of today's French-Canadians are descended from The Filles du Roi

Between 1663 and 1673, roughly 800 women came to what is now Quebec, but two-thirds of today's French-Canadians are descended from these women. Families had an average of five children each and families of 10 weren't uncommon.

It paid to have a big family in New France

If a woman in New France managed to have 10 children, her family would receive an annual pension of 300 livres (roughly $6,000 in today's money).

The defining battle of colonial Canada took less time than your lunch break

The entire Battle of the Plains of Abraham took roughly half an hour. British General Wolfe ordered his men to load their muskets with two musket balls, and close the distance on the French line before firing. The double load made the guns less accurate, but let loose so many musket balls from such a short distance, they didn't need accuracy to be deadly. The resulting volley decimated the French line.