The Organization of New France

The King's Engineers And Military And Civil Construction

The Post of "King's Engineer"

Fort Chambly according to plan dated 1718

Caption: Fort Chambly according to plan dated 1718

Although engineers had worked in Canada during much of the seventeenth century (such as Jean Bourdon who was active in Quebec City from 1634-1668), it was not until the 1680s that the position of engineer was permanently established and the general staff was expanded to include a "king's engineer." Those named to this position held commissions as captains in the Navy troops. With the arrival of the first king's engineer, Robert de Villeneuve, in 1685, the era of military engineering really began in Canada. Villeneuve was followed by Jacques Levasseur de Nérée in 1693 and by Gaspard Chaussegros de Léry, who served from 1716 until his death in 1756. The latter wrote an eight-volume treatise on fortifications, though it was never published. He drew up the plans for the outer stone wall of Montreal's fortifications, as well as plans for Fort Niagara in 1726 and Fort Saint-Frédéric in 1737. In addition, he supervised work on Quebec's fortifications. The king's engineers were also called upon to construct civilian buildings, thereby becoming de facto architects. For example, Chaussegros de Léry designed several churches, the episcopal palace and the facade of the Quebec cathedral, two naval shipyards in Quebec City, and even some windmills! In 1712, the king's engineer in Quebec City was assigned two junior engineers.

Some officers worked as engineers without having the official title. This was true, for instance, of Josué Berthelot de Beaucours, a lieutenant in the Compagnies franches de la Marine who arrived in Canada in 1687 and put his knowledge of fortifications into practice. In particular, he oversaw the construction of Fort Chambly in 1710. Finally, he was named king's engineer on Île Royale in 1715.

Engineers were appointed to Louisbourg because of the extensive fortifications built there. One of them, Jean-François du Verger de Verville, a man of some reputation, drew up the plans for the fortifications and supervised the first phases of construction beginning in 1721. His work was continued by Etienne Verrier from 1725 to 1745. In 1750, an experienced engineer, Louis Franquet, was sent to Louisbourg to inspect the fortifications. He remained in New France to inspect others on he Saint Jean and in Canada. He was promoted to colonel in 1751 and three years later to brigadier (the equivalent of a modern brigadier general) and director of fortifications in New France. He was thus the highest ranking engineering officer in North America. He devoted most of his attention to his duties as engineer-in-chief at Louisbourg, since Canada and Louisiana had their own engineers and assistant engineers.

The king's engineers in the colonies were less affected than their counterparts in France by the reorganization of their corps after 1743. Thereafter, they were assigned to the Ministry of the Navy, but their duties remained similar and they even continued to wear the same scarlet uniform.

Additional Images

The town of Trois-Rivières in 1704
King's engineer, mid-18 century