The great entrepreneurs of the past year | A trader in New France

Quebec did not wait for the Quiet Revolution to see the emergence of great Francophone entrepreneurs. This summer, we present to you some of them, whose exploits date from 1655 to the beginning of the 20th century.e century. Today: Marie-Anne Barbel.

Posted on August 8

Mark Tison

Mark Tison
The Press

Instead of importing dishes and pans from overseas, risking a break in (and in) the supply chain, why not make them locally in Canada? This is the conclusion reached by the merchant Marie-Anne Barbel, in Quebec, in 1746.

The term “business woman” did not exist at that time. Neither does the “supply chain,” for that matter.

However, Marie-Anne Barbel was one of those enthusiastic women who made a significant contribution to her husband’s commercial activities and who continued them after his death, always with greater success.

Daughter of the notary Jacques Barbel, she was born in Quebec on August 26, 1704. In December 1723, at the age of 19, she married Louis Fornel, from a family of “bourgeois merchants”. They will have 14 children, 5 of which will reach adulthood.

big projects

Also a merchant, Louis Fornel first devoted himself to his shop in the Place Royale. He increased real estate and land acquisitions and was granted a seigneury which he named Bourg-Louis.

In 1737, he teamed up with Huguenot merchants François Havy and Jean Lefebvre to obtain shipping rights on the coast of Labrador. Six years later, he reached the Baie des Esquimaux (Hamilton Inlet), where he hoped to establish trade relations with the Inuit. But his request for a concession, which angered powerful interests, was opposed by Intendant Hocquart.

In anticipation of his wanderings in Labrador, Fornel entrusted by proxy to his wife the entire management of his affairs in Quebec. So Marie-Anne Barbel can make all the decisions she deems necessary.

It was a wise precaution, that Fornel may not have had time to congratulate himself when he died after a short illness in 1745, at the age of 46.

The 41-year-old widow has 5 minor children. He resolutely decided to continue the activities of the Place Royale shop. Quickly, it consolidates real estate holdings.

One of her first acts was to finish taking the house next to hers, Place Royale, which her husband had built in 1742.

A pottery factory

The War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) broke out in North America from 1744, causing many supply difficulties for the merchants of the small French colony.

Marie-Anne Barbel saw this as an opportunity to build a pottery factory on one of her properties, whose production could be sold in her shop in Place Royale.

In a letter dated 1746, Havy and Lefebvre stated that “there is no land in France and it is obvious that while the war is going on, it will be the same. But here is a resource found in the country of Mademoiselle Fornel who raised a factory. He has a very good workforce and his land is good”.

In the article of Dictionary of Canadian Biography dedicated to Marie-Anne Barbel, the historian Dale Miquelon further emphasized that the pieces of pottery, decorated with lead and copper glazes and of such workmanship that they were mistaken for French products, achieved immediately success.

According to the 1752 contract that bound him to his employer, the potter François Jacques was to make “terrines of three pints, pots of one pint, plates and small terrines of one pint”, approx. note for his part Lilianne Plamondon in the master’s thesis that he was devoted to the widow Fornel.


Memorandum of costs to be paid by François Jacques, potter, at the request of Marie-Anne Barbel, widow of Louis Fornel, merchant, following the judgment of the Superior Council of Quebec on November 13, 1752

However, the case and the trick did not happen as well as the dynamic entrepreneur hoped. The potters and the disputes follow each other. He can no longer mend broken pots.


In 1749, Marie-Anne Barbel achieved what her husband did not: Intendant Bigot granted her the concession of the Baie des Esquimaux for 12 years.

At the same time, for 7,000 pounds per year, Barbel, Havy and Lefebvre (Veuve Fornel and company) obtained a six-year lease for the Tadoussac fur trade and its five trading posts.

Selling posts and bindings are expensive. We must build seasonal quarters for men and equipment, charter ships, plan for supplies from France and Quebec.

Results are not guaranteed. The first year was burdened by an unusually harsh winter. The receipts of 50,428 pounds of oils and furs do not cover the investment of 125,766 pounds. In the face of this bad result, Intendant Bigot threatened Marie-Anne Barbel to withdraw the Tadoussac concession. In a long letter addressed to Versailles, the businessman strongly defended his rights and his balance.

Fortunately, the situation recovered in the following years. At the beginning of the 1750s, the company employed more than 40 men – coopers, gunsmiths, carpenters, sailors, clerks, hunters, etc. – to whom they paid 14,000 pounds in wages.

Marie-Anne Barbel made enough profit from the fur trade to increase her real estate investments. At the end of 1753, he owned seven houses in the lower town, another rue Saint-Louis, land bordering the coast, the seigneury of Bourg-Louis and five other lands in the surrounding region.

Alas, trouble and cannonballs will soon rain down…


The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) was preceded in 1754 by hostilities between the French and English colonies, which already disrupted economic activity.

In 1755, when the fur trade declined, Marie-Anne Barbel did not renew the lease on the Tadoussac farm. His pottery has ceased operations.

The siege of Quebec, carried out by Wolfe in June 1759, saw the city destroyed by the projectiles of the English batteries mounted on the heights of Lévis. Marie-Anne Barbel’s properties did not escape the iron storm: five of her eight houses were destroyed.


The Place Royale in 1761, after the bombings of 1759. The house of Marie-Anne Barbel can be seen on the left.

Some were to be rebuilt after the war, but the new circumstances did not allow him to relaunch his other businesses.

“Marie-Anne Barbel surpassed her late husband in the variety and scope of her commercial and financial activities,” wrote Lilianne Plamondon, in one of the articles she dedicated to him.

He died on November 16, 1793. He had reached the age of 89—a final feat.

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