French Role


Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville. (©Public Domain. Portrait by G. D. Warburton - National Archives of Canada, C-026026)
Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville. (©Public Domain. Portrait by G. D. Warburton - National Archives of Canada, C-026026)

The Baccalieu Trail Region of Newfoundland and Labrador is not known for its place in the history of the French in Canada. However, the French did have a presence in the region especially in the 16th century. In addition, the area played a role in the ongoing English / French conflict for supremacy in North America in the late 17th and early 18th century.

In the 16th century, the region was frequented by French migratory fishermen from Normandy, Brittany, and the Basque country. These fishermen have left a permanent mark on the area which is seen in the names of many local towns. The names Grates Cove, Harbour Grace (Havre de Grâce), Bay Roberts (Baie de Robert), Port de Grave, and possibly Carbonear (La Carbonnière), have French origins. We also know that French fishermen were in the region in the 17th century because the colonists refer to incidents with French fishermen and to pirates attacking French ships. In addition, we know that the colonists sold fish to French traders.

As part of King William's War, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville led a French assault on the region in 1696-1697. Abbé Jean Baudoin, who accompanied d'Iberville as his chaplain, kept a journal of the campaign, which recorded a number of details about the people and the communities that were attacked. His comments and records reveal a great deal about where English settlers were living and how they were living at that time.

During Queen Anne's War, which lasted from 1702 to 1713, there were more attacks on the English colonies by French forces who were based in the French capital of Placentia (Plaisance) on the other side of the Peninsula. When the war ended, the French were forced to give up their settlements in Newfoundland, but they kept the right to fish along parts of the coastline.