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Voyage of Pehr Kalm to Canada, 20 September 1749. The women of Montréal.


Generally speaking, the women of Montréal appear to be better looking than those of Québec, if I dare say so and although I have little expertise in these matters. I also believe that those in Montréal, particularly those in high society, are well above the women of Québec in terms of chastity. It


is indeed said that the way of life in Québec is too liberal, in particular among the married women who, it seems, are introduced to the numerous young Frenchmen brought over by the royal navy every year; they are stationed in Québec for a month or more and have no other means of occupying their time than to visit these women before returning to France. These young officers, however, rarely come as far as Montréal. It can be said with certainty and without taking away from the truth that women in Montréal and particularly the younger women, apply themselves better than their counterparts in Québec, regarding all that has to do with the keeping of a home, sewing, the preparation of meals, etc. A woman in Québec is generally as lazy as an English woman and more inclined still towards sentimentality. It is said that there is a poor girl in Québec who, at the age of eighteen, was incapable of listing the number of lovers she had had, any more than those she had at the time. The women in this city, in particular those in high society, do very little except rise at 7 in the morning, dress, powder themselves and curl their locks until 9, while having their morning meal, which normally consists of coffee with milk; they then preen themselves magnificently, sit on a chair by an open window that looks out onto the street, with some needlework in hand, placing a stitch every now and again; but little stitching is done, as their eyes are constantly turned towards the street; and if by chance some young man, either a stranger or an acquaintance, enters the house, the young woman drops her work, sits as closely as possible to the young man; chats and visits with him, smiles and giggles, and her tongue flutters like the wings of a hummingbird, if not faster. When someone has mastered the art of playful jesting, when that someone is able to utter words with a double meaning, then that person is known to possess a sound wit [sic]. And so the day unfolds, so that the young woman never lends herself to the slightest chore; she prefers to remain seated and natter away with young people; I have noticed that these demoiselles do not possess the natural gifts of Julius Caesar, this man who was capable of accomplishing three separate tasks simultaneously; the young Canadian woman, for her part, is incapable of doing this, as she cannot be expected to chatter with a young man and sew all at once; the sewing is put aside until a later time. It is often the mother of the family who stands in the kitchen preparing the meal while


the young woman keeps the guests company; as well, the mother always rises earlier than the daughters, one or two hours prior to them. Even when at home, the young women are dressed as magnificently as if they had been invited to dine at the governor general’s house. They dress to display their wealth, and at times more, just to exude splendour. Whether or not they have any money to speak of is of little importance. Men as well suffer from this same affliction in terms of elegant dress, particularly the young military men and messieurs the officers. They invest most of their fortune in clothing, which is why their children are left with little in inheritance. Such are the preoccupations of women in Québec. They waste countless hours, daily, fussing over their head and hair in order to obtain the desired look; they must also set aside for this a good portion of the evening and the same amount of time again, if not more, each morning. But they are parsimonious in what they eat and in what they spend in other areas, while parading about bedecked in unsurpassed splendour, just as though they were headed to Court. The young women in Montréal are not quite as superficial; they can always be found sitting and sewing and they also devote time to other household chores; it is not a rare occurrence to find them in the kitchen with the maid; they do not giggle as much as the young women in Québec, although they are rather playful and likeable and no one can say that they lack charm and intelligence. What a major portion of them lack, is wealth, a good inheritance, money; there are many children in the home, incomes are modest; that is what is lacking at times in these young women. It can also be noted that the young women in Montréal, when they are given household chores to do, have a know-how second to no one, anywhere. They do not consider it beneath them to go to the market, to purchase watermelons, pumpkins, or whatever is for sale, nor to carry them back to the house by themselves. This is done by the most distinguished young women in the city, who were born into the highest and oldest noble class. In the morning, they rise before the cock crows and in the evening they are seldom found in bed. Yet what annoys them, is that the young women in Québec usually marry at a younger age. The reason given for this is that many Frenchmen come to Québec aboard their ships, and sometimes become amorously involved and marry. But as these men rarely make it up to


Montréal, the young women here are not so lucky.

Source: Kaml, Pehr, "Travels of Pehr Kalm in Canada in 1749" (Montréal: Pierre Tisseyre, 1977), p. 440-443. Notes: Annotated translation of the travel diary by Jacques Rousseau and Guy Béthune with the collaboration of Pierre Morisset

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