The Seigniorial System

Introduced in Quebec in 1627, the seigniorial system is a land tenure aimed at populating the colony and managing the population.

Vast areas of land, divided along the axis of the St. Lawrence River, were granted to personalities who had rendered service to the king, who in turn granted portions of their seigniory to censors. The seigniories were rectangular and were arranged perpendicular to the river, to allow access to the waterway for a maximum number of people. Under the direction of Louis XIII and his minister, Cardinal de Richelieu, meaning the Company of One Hundred Associates was responsible for granting the seigniories.

The seigneur who granted the lands, and the inhabitants (censitaires) who are granted the lands, had rights and obligations towards each other and towards the Crown. The seigneur had to first built a house on the lands of the seigniory, a symbol of its presence and power, to live there or have someone to occupy the house on his behalf. He was also responsible for the construction and maintenance of a flour mill for the needs of the censitaires. In return, the inhabitant had to pay to the seigneur taxes called the "cens" (hence the designation of censitaire) and the rent, in money or in products of the land.

In 1637, the seigniory of Platon known as the Sainte-Croix was granted to the Ursulines of Quebec. At that time, faced with the threat of constant Iroquois attacks, few settlers were inclined to come and live on the south shore. It was not until the beginning of 1683 that the first families settled there. In 1672, the lands, west of the Platon Sainte-Croix, were granted as a seigniory to René-Louis Chartier de Lotbinière. Wishing to keep his high position with the government of New France, he entrusted the management of the seigniory to a steward. This method of management continued from Father to Son in the family of the Seigneurs of Lotbinière for five generations, until 1829.

Les seigneurs de Lotbinière

René-Louis Chartier de Lotbinière (seigneur de 1672 à 1709)

Louis-Eustache Chartier de Lotbinière (seigneur de 1709-1749)

Michel Chartier de Lotbinière (seigneur de 1749 à 1770)

Michel-Eustache-Gaspard-Alain Chartier de Lotbinière (seigneur de 1770 à 1822)


The First Seigneuresse

In 1822, the seigniories of Lotbinière, Rigaud and Vaudreuil, properties of the seigniorial family, were left as an inheritance to the Seigneur de Lotbinière's three young daughters. Beautiful, cultivated and intelligent, these rich heiresses were a great match for young men from good families. In 1827, a Swiss-born French businessman, Pierre-Gustave Joly, made a name for himself during social events in Montreal. It was at one of them that he met Julie-Christine Chartier de Lotbinière. Only after a few months of assiduous encounters, he married her in 1828.

At the beginning of the following year, Julie-Christine, the youngest of the three sisters, inherited by succession the seigniory of Lotbinière. Following her mother's wise advice, she remained the sole owner of the seigniory by her marriage contract in separation of property, but entrusted her husband with the management of all the seigniorial and commercial operations. Shortly after, the young couple left for Europe. Their first child, Henri-Gustave, was born in France in December 1829. The family returned to Lower Canada in 1830.

La seigneuresse de Lotbinière

Julie-Christine Chartier de Lotbinière (seigneuresse de 1829-1860)


In 1854, almost 100 years after the Conquest of New France, the seigniorial regime was abolished. The law introduced in 1854 allows the censitaire to buy back the rights on his land. This influenced the way of life in rural Quebec until the middle of the 20th century. The seigniorial regime had a profound effect on the traditional Quebec society and on the landscapes of the St. Lawrence Valley.