Daily Life in New France


A New Monetary System

The monetary system consisted of livres (pounds), sous (shillings) and deniers (pence). The same principle applied in both the mother country and New France: 12 deniers made a sou, and 20 sous made a livre. However, other coins existed as well: silver écus (the smaller of which was worth 3 livres, 6 sous, while the larger was worth 6 livres, 12 sous) and the louis d'or (whose value fluctuated between 11 and 20 livres until 1726, when it was fixed at 24 livres). The latter coin was rarely seen outside France.

In the colonies, hard cash was in short supply and therefore Spanish pieces of silver were widely used. This is the origin of the old nickname "piastre" for dollar in popular Quebec French.

Shortly after the arrival of the Navy troops in Canada, the inevitable happened: the ship carrying their pay failed to arrive in Quebec. The year was 1685 and some 500 soldiers were awaiting their wages. Intendant Demeulles then came up with the idea of using paper money, whose worth was based on the amount due. Various amounts were written by hand on playing cards, which were then signed by the intendant. This incident may seem hardly worth mentioning, but according to the economist John Kenneth Galbraith, it marked the invention of paper money as we know it today: a rectangular piece of paper on which is written a value and an official guarantee. Officials in Versailles were horrified at this measure, but when the same thing happened four years later, the same solution was adopted. Paper (or card) money became common in Canada and throughout the world.