The Great Peace Of Montreal

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It is one of the most important treaties signed in the history of Canada, and it came 166 years before Canada was ever a country.

As I talked about in my episode on The Beaver Wars, the 1600s was a time of conflict between the Indigenous of the Great Lakes region, and the French who were settling in greater numbers. This was no small war, lasting from 1609 to 1701, and it was fought over the economic dominance of the Saint Lawrence River Valley and the lower Great Lakes region. The biggest factor was the growing fur trade and the efforts of the French to dominate it. The Indigenous in the regions where the French were present wanted to be the intermediary with the French and the fur trade, leading to conflicts between several Indigenous nations. The wars would cause huge disruptions to the Algonquin and Iroquois societies, and its impact would last well beyond the 1700s and all the way up into today. The war would push the Iroquois to ally with the British during the Revolutionary War and would see them lose most of their lands over the course of the next two centuries. The Indigenous, especially the Haudenosaunee Nations, wanted to prevent French expansion in the latter-half of the 17th century, but war and disease had decimated their numbers. The Haudenosaunee had the English as allies, but they were unreliable and the Anishinaabe prevented their expansion into the north as the French moved west. 

I encourage you to check out that episode on my website

That war, one of the largest and most comprehensive ever fought on Canadian soil, would come to an end thanks to the Great Peace of Montreal.

In 1690, negotiations would begin to end the conflict, with Governor Frontenac leading the talks for New France. By this point, the fur market in New France was so saturated that the French could no longer absorb the materials coming in from their posts. The French were willing to push for peace so that they could have greater access to the fur markets of the interior.

In November of 1698, Louis-Hector de Calliere became the governor of Montreal and the Governor of New France in the spring of 1699. This would bring a noticeable change to the area due to the character of Governor Calliere. He was described by Jesuit historian Charlevoix as, quote:

“He had straight and disinterested views, without prejudices and without passions. A firmness always in accord with reason. A valour which always knew how to moderate itself and render useful service. Great common sense, much uprightness and honour, a clear mental vision and great application to duty joined to great experience.”

One of his first tasks was to find a way to end the war, which was a series of skirmishes, battles, and raids, rather than one long war. It was his hope that a peace treaty would strengthen the fur trade alliances New France had with the western Indigenous. In March of 1700, the French and Iroquois met at Onondaga to discuss peace. A few months later in September, a provisional peace treaty was signed with the Hurons, Ottawas, Abenakis and the Iroquois. With progress being made, it was decided that a new treaty, which would include many more Indigenous, including all five Haudenosaunee Nations, which would include the Mohawk, would be scheduled to be held in Montreal the following summer. Throughout the next 10 months, negotiations would continue through selected French emissaries, clergy, soldiers, and Indigenous leaders. The emissaries would go out to the various Indigenous nations, asking them to attend. Once an Indigenous nation received an invitation, they could decide if they wanted to participate. If they decided to attend, then the community would discuss what they would bring to the event and what topics would be discussed. Delegates were then chosen, with an orator chosen to speak at the meetings. Not all communities would choose to go, preferring to make their own treaties. In some cases, they did not want to exchange prisoners as their own prisoners had become accustom to their new community. Another issue was that there was an epidemic in Montreal and there was a real fear of disease spreading.

On July 21, 1701, the process began to create the peace treaty that would end the century of conflict. A total of 39 nations sent 1,300 delegates to discuss terms. This is significant because the population of Montreal at the time was only 1,200. The Indigenous nations came from as far as Illinois and the Maritimes to discuss the treaty, and it was no quick task. As the canoes arrived, the cannons were fired as a sign of welcoming.

There were several matters that the Indigenous wanted to address including the expansion of New France, the fur trade and access to traditional hunting grounds for the Indigenous. Prior to the singing of anything, each Indigenous nation could have a representative speak to the other Indigenous nations. This would be important thanks to Kondiaronk, a man I will talk about later. Typically, the Indigenous nations would speak directly to Governor Calliere. As each orator spoke, they would present various gifts including beaver pelts and wampum belts. The French returned the favour, offering gifts including the traditional bread and wine.

To impress the Indigenous, Governor Calliere, who the Indigenous called Onontio, set up a 42 by 23 metre size platform on a height of land just south of where people would be speaking. The residents of Montreal, everyone from farmers to soldiers to clergy and merchants, came out to watch the huge event that was a first in the history of Canada.

Over the next few weeks, it was not constant talking by delegates. Often groups broke into smaller groups to debate matters of the treaty, and other delegates would go to trade in the shops of Montreal. According to eyewitness accounts, the entire city was in a mood to trade and celebrate. Shopkeepers would hire interpreters so they could trade with the Indigenous.

Of course, there were disputes, recriminations, and some days it looked as though no treaty would be signed. It is in no small part that the success of the treaty must be placed on Kondiaronk, more on him later.

Finally, on Aug. 4, 1701 the treaty was officially agreed upon. This was done through the Haudenosaunee condolence ceremony, which consisted of the exchange of gifts and prisoners, in a large field outside Montreal that was created for the signing of the treaty. On the treaty document, the symbols of the various Indigenous doodems and clan symbols were inscribed, including the turtle, wolf, bear, and eagle.  To commemorate the treaty, Governor de Calliere would have wampum belts commissioned for each of the Indigenous nations present. Pipes would be smoked to ratify the Great Peace as well, with some Indigenous nations offering pipes to their former enemies to, quote:

“Smoke when we next meet each other.”

Under the treaty, the Iroquois League agreed to allow the French Settlement to continue at Detroit, which had been founded in July of that year, and they agreed to remain neutral in the event of a war between England and France. The Haudenosaunee were permitted to trade freely and obtain goods from the French at a lower cost. All the nations agreed that the Governor of New France would mediate disputes among the nations, which also created a kinship relationship between the nations and the French.

One of the chiefs to sign the treaty was Kondiaronk, who was a member of the Michilimackinac people. He was a vital part of encouraging the other Indigenous tribes to see that there was an advantage to having peace and it is because of him that the talks would succeed. He would give a speech that was convincing enough that many of the resistant Indigenous nations were convinced to find an agreement. Kondiaronk knew that Montreal was dealing with influenza at the time, but he came because he saw the importance of the treaty.

He would say quote:

“We have found many of our brothers dead along the river, word has spread that a sickness was great in Montreal. All these corpses were eaten away by the birds, which we found at every moment were sufficiently convincing of it. But we made a bridge of all these bodies on which we marched firmly.”

Kondiaronk was sick at the time, and his health was beginning to fail. To speak, he was given an armchair in the middle of the assemblage and the Indigenous and French gathered around him.

Father Pierre Xavier de Charlevoix would write, quote:

“He spoke long and was listened to with infinite attention. He explained the necessity of peace, of the advantages accruing therefrom for the country in general and each tribe in particular.”

He would go on to speak about the exchange of prisoners, saying quote:

“You absolutely insist that we bring you all the Iroquois slaves among us. We have obeyed you, let us see at the same time if the Iroquois obey you and how many of our nephews they have brought back. If they have done so it is a mark of their sincerity. If they have not done it, they are treacherous. I know, however, that they haven’t brought a single one.”

He would also speak to the French, adding a slight dig at the new nation on their shores.

“Among the French, I know only two of sense. The Count de Frontenac and Father Carheil.”

Father Carheil was a Jesuit missionary whom Kondiaronk greatly respected.

Father Charlevoix would write, quote:

“It was the general opinion that no Indian has ever possessed greater merit, a finer mind, more valor, prudence or discernment in understanding those with whom he had to deal.”

The French commissioner of the marine, Bacqueville de la Potherie, would say, quote:

“If he had been born a Frenchman, he was the kind of man to govern the most difficult affairs of a flourishing state. He had the sentiments of a beautiful soul and was a savage in name only.”

Governor Callier would say that everyone was, quote:

“exclusively indebted to him for this assemblage, till then unexampled of so many nations for a general peace.”

By the time he was done talking, he was exhausted. He would be carried to the Hotel-Dieu, where he died the following night, on Aug. 2, 1701. He would be given a majestic funeral and was buried at the Notre Dame Church in Montreal. The belvedere atop Mount Royal would be renamed for Kondiaronk in 1997.

In the book, Montreal Old and New, published in 1915, the following is said:

“One of the most eloquent and brainy Indians who ever lived.”

On April 24, I will be doing an episode about Kondiaronk, where I will explore his life in greater detail.

Even after the treaty was signed, there were several discussions afterwards about the treaty. On Aug. 6, Governor Calliere met with the allies of New France to discuss hunting territories and the debt system. During one meeting, Chief Onaganiouitak of the Nipissings made a grand gesture of a beaver pelts, which he put on the ground in the middle of the council to remind the French that he and his people had always been a good neighbour to the French. He then said he wanted better treatment from their creditors, otherwise they would not survive because they could not afford powder and shot. He stated that his people did not have the hunting territory of the Ottawa, and most of their territory had been destroyed. Governor Calliere stated they should honour whatever agreements they had with their creditors. As for the hunting ground, he encouraged them to plant and grow corn rather than hunt. As a result of this, the Nipissing delegates did not place their totem on the treaty.

Thanks to the treaty, the French were able to expand militarily over the next 50 years, and it assured the New France superiority in dealing with issues related to the Indigenous in the region. From this point on, negotiation would always been chosen over direct conflict with the French. Exploration and commerce in the fur trade began soon after the signing of the treaty.

In Montreal Under the French Regime 1535 – 1760 Volume 1, the event was described, with clear bias, as such:

“It was a momentous occasion. It was looked upon as the triumph of civilization and Christianity over barbarism and paganism. Montreal, so long the beleaguered outpost, the scene of many a bloody onslaught and carnage, was fittingly the arena of the joyous peace celebrations of that evening, heralding brighter days ahead.”

The peace of the Montreal Accord would last for the next 60 years until the British conquest of New France in 1760.

In 2001, the event was honoured on its 300th anniversary with an exhibit at the Point-a-Calliere Museum of Montreal, the first museum to commemorate the event, which included the original manuscript. Canada Post released a stamp on Aug. 3, 2001 to honour the event. The City of Montreal also has an obelisk marking the location that the treaty was signed, in a square in Old Montreal.

Information comes from Canadian Encyclopedia, Pointe A Calliere, Canadian Museum of History, Wikipedia, CBC, Virtual, Montreal Old and New, Canadian Stamp News, Anishinabek News, Montreal Under the French Regime.

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