M5524 | View of the Special Court, assembled under the authority of the Seignorial act of Provincial Parliament 1854
View of the Special Court, assembled under the authority of the Seignorial act of Provincial Parliament 1854
William Lockwood, about 1803-1866
About 1856, 19th century
Ink on paper - Lithography
59.6 x 87.8 cm
© McCord Museum
Keywords: group (610) , portrait (53878) , Print (10661)
Keys to History
One of the institutions which set French Canada apart from the rest of North America was the seigneurial system, a holdover from the feudal practices of the French regime. Although many seigneuries were owned by anglophone merchants, the system was strongly opposed by the banks, urban landholders and land speculators. A seigneurial court was established to examine claims. A bill passed in 1854 was the first step toward its dismantling.
Source : Confederation: The Creation of Canada [Web tour], by Brian J. Young, McGill University (see Links)
The decision to end seigneurialism led to decades of dispute over the amounts owed by seigneurial tenants to their seigneurs. Seigneurialism can be seen as part of the feudal system imported from France. Its structures survived until the mid-19th century. Industrialization and urbanization proved a threat to it.
The land question was crucial to the coming of railways and industrialization in Quebec. Free access to land was seen by the business community as a central factor that should not be impeded by the family or by the traditional rights of peasants.
The Grand Trunk Railway was built in the 1850s, as were many of the factories across Lower Canada. The Seigneurial Act set the dismantling of seigneurialism into motion.
Chaired by La Fontaine, the tribunal of judges, here depicted, was established to rule on claims made by those who opposed the seigneurial system.