The Organization of New France

The Police In New France

The "Marechaussee"

The presence in New France of a "Maréchaussée" and "archers" is often mentioned, usually in relation to the administration of justice. This institution goes back to the Middle Ages, when the king's marshal was responsible for enforcing the law through "provosts" and their archers. These corps became known as Maréchaussées in the fifteenth century. In the beginning, the men comprising them really were archers. As the centuries passed, their arms changed but the name stuck. In France, they were also called "hoquetons" after the name given at the time to the cassocks they wore. By the seventeenth century, Maréchaussée troops could be found in nearly all the towns and provinces of France. The institution also spread overseas, beginning with Canada.

A Maréchaussée was instituted in New France by an edict of Louis XIV, dated May 9, 1677. It consisted of a small band of six archers commanded by a provost, whose headquarters was at Quebec. A few years later, the provost was given an "exempt" or lieutenant to assist him, but the number of archers was reduced to four. Since Montreal was particularly disorderly because of "disturbances caused by brandy," the Marquis de Vaudreuil established a lieutenant and three archers there in 1709. The small Canadian Maréchaussée pursued offenders on foot, by sleigh or by canoe, but was not mounted as in France, although horses could be hired if necessary. Despite frequent requests that its size be increased, the Maréchaussée remained a small force. At most, it was reinforced occasionally by soldiers, although they did not much like this kind of duty.

The Maréchaussée forces in Canada did not have any real uniforms. At first, members wore bandoliers and cassocks, but by the early eighteenth century only the bandoliers remained as a distinctive emblem. They were apparently of blue velvet, embroidered with fleurs-de-lis and anchors. The provost was entitled to wield a blue baton decorated with gold fleurs-de-lis. The archers were equipped with both firearms and swords. Like soldiers, they were entitled to the half-pay given to retired Navy troops.

Although the Maréchaussée disappeared with the end of French rule, it was the first police force in Canada. Its range of duties made this humble force the ancestor of today's military police, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and all the various police forces across the country that continue to ensure that laws are obeyed.