Jean Talon, How Do You Like Them Apples?

Jean Talon. Opened: 1966, Orange Line; 1986, Blue Line
Jean Talon. Opened: 1966, Orange Line; 1986, Blue Line

No-one has yet planted here apple trees, except some which bring very good apples and in quantity, but there are very few of these trees.

It is apple-picking season in Quebec, which makes for a fun day out with students . It also reminds me at least of the sheer insanity of the climate here. Today apples are abundant at Jean Talon market and the orchards around Montreal are bowed down with an explosion of fruit that borders on the obscene. In a few weeks time they will be harvested, the leaves, then snow will fall, and nothing will grow until the dégelé. Then those apple trees will suck up all that melted water for next year’s crop.

Yet while the snow is much as much a part of life in the St Lawrence Valley as in the time of Jean Talon, twice intendant of New France from 1665 to 1668 and then again from 1670 to 1672, apples are not. Writing a year before Talon’s arrival,  Pierre Boucher, governor of Trois-Rivières, noted that though the fruit grew well, the trees were few.

Between Boucher’s time and today’s fecundity are the administrative efforts Jean Talon, whose chief aim was to make the colony self-sufficient. For this he needed not only apples and reforms, but also the labour of countless farmers from France. This brings us back to Boucher, who in his Histoire de la Nouvelle France tries to show that despite the lack of apples Quebec was not without attractions for the would-be French settler. Here he is particularly concerned with trees, no small matter in a time before industrialization.

Then there are the fruit trees. I will not omit the raspberry and strawberry shrubs which are all over the country in such great abundance that cannot be believed. … Sometimes they produce a great quantity for fruit which in one cannot exhaust them in a season. They come as big and as delicious as in France. Also to be found is another sort of little fruit, as big as a pea, called the blueberry, which tastes excellent. The tree which produces them is not more than a foot high. They grow everywhere, but there are places where they are in a great quantity.

The brambles of the country produce a fruit which has almost as good a taste as our blackberries in France. It is not as big.

There are a lot of little fruits such that I do not know the names and which are not as very good, but are eaten in place of others.

There is also an abundance of wild vines which bear grapes. Their grapes are not as big as those of our vines in France, but I believe that if they are cultivated they will be no different. The grape is a little acrid and makes a rough wine which stains well and ordinarily is best one year after it is made. Some individuals have planted some feet of vines brought from France in their gardens which have given very beautiful and good grapes.   

No-one has yet planted here apple trees, except some which bring very good apples and in quantity, but there are very few of these trees.

Consulted for this post

Pierre Boucher, Histoire Veritable et Naturelle de moeurs et productions du Pays de la Nouvelle-France, vulgairement dite le Canada (1664) (Boucherville: Societé Historique de Boucherville, 1964), pp. .

André Vachon, “TALON, JEAN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 28, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/talon_jean_1E.html.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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