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LE GARDEUR DE COURTEMANCHE, AUGUSTIN, soldier, ambassador to the English and the Indians, commandant on the coast of Labrador; b. at Quebec, 16 Dec. 1663, fifth child of Jean-Baptiste Legardeur de Repentigny and Marguerite Nicollet, daughter of Jean Nicollet* de Belleborne; d. 29 June 1717.

Courtemanche’s career falls into two periods: his military service and his life in Labrador. He was commissioned ensign in 1690, half-pay lieutenant in 1691, lieutenant in 1692, midshipman in January 1694, and given command of a company 1 April 1702. In 1689–90 he served under René Robinau de Portneuf on his expedition into New England, distinguishing himself during the capture of the fort at Casco Bay (near Portland, Me.). In 1690 he participated in the defence of Quebec when it was attacked by the English under William Phips*. In April the following year Governor Frontenac [Buade*] sent Courtemanche to Michilimackinac to inform the Indians of the upper nations of the great French victory.

In 1693 Courtemanche served under Nicolas d’Ailleboust de Manthet against the Mohawks and later that same year was given command of the post among the Miamis on the St Joseph River. In 1698 the governor of Montreal, Louis-Hector de Callière, sent him to France to inform the king of Frontenac’s death, and to request that Callière be promoted governor of New France in his place. Because he was successful in pleading Callière’s cause over his rivals, Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil and Jean Bochart de Champigny, Courtemanche was made captain in the governor’s guards on his return.

Courtemanche’s marriage on 20 July 1697 changed the whole course of his life. His wife, Marie-Charlotte Charest, was the widow of Pierre-Gratien Martel de Brouague whose brother, Raymond Martel, had commercial interests in Labrador. Courtemanche soon became interested in these and helped organize an expedition to the Labrador coast to explore the fishing and trading possibilities. In the autumn of 1700 he and Jean Enjalran were sent to the Ottawas to persuade them to come down to Montreal to participate in treaty negotiations with the Iroquois. In the following spring, while he was still away, his wife engaged Pierre Constantin* to go to the Rivière des Esquimaux (St Paul River) to trade with the Indians and set up a post on his behalf. On 17 Oct. 1702 Courtemanche was granted a concession (sometimes wrongly referred to as a seigneury) situated along the present-day Quebec and Labrador coast adjacent to the Strait of Belle Isle. It extended from the Kegaska River (Kégashka) to the Kessessakiou (Hamilton River), and gave Courtemanche for ten years the exclusive right to trade with the Indians and hunt for seals as well as permission to fish for whales and cod.

Courtemanche probably went to Labrador himself in 1704 and the following year wrote a memoir to the intendant, Jacques Raudot, in which he enthusiastically described his explorations. He wrote glowingly of the superabundance of fish and game. That same year he moved his first post from Old Fort Bay to Baye de Phélypeau (Brador Bay) and built a new fort, Fort Pontchartrain. His plan to set up a whale fishery was well received. In 1705 also, he had accompanied Livingston to Boston to continue negotiations for a prisoner exchange, returning that summer with Governor Dudley’s response in a ship captained by Vetch.

Courtemanche was on good terms with the Indians in Labrador. About 30 Montagnais families lived on his land, and were employed as hunters and trappers. In 1708 the minister informed him that the king had heard of his success with the Indians and hoped that he would also be as successful with the Eskimos, who had been extremely troublesome to the French fishing interests along the coast.

In 1711 Pontchartrain sent a dispatch to Courtemanche asking him to warn the governor that the English were preparing to attack New France with a large fleet under the command of Sir Hovenden Walker. Courtemanche immediately sent his lieutenant, François Margane* de Lavaltrie, with two Indians to warn Vaudreuil. Fortunately, the English expedition was wrecked in the Gulf of St Lawrence by fogs and gales.

In 1712 the Kegaska-Kessessakiou concession expired, but in 1714 the king granted Courtemanche for the rest of his life “la baye de Phelypeau” and “four leagues of frontage on the said coast to be taken two leagues above and two leagues below the said bay by four leagues in depth, and the islands in the said bay opposite the coast thus granted, with the exclusive right to take seals in the area and to fish concurrently with the other French subjects in the area . . . and to trade with the Indians.” On 12 November of that same year Courtemanche was appointed commandant for the king on the coast of Labrador with the authority to “settle and adjust the disputes which arise between His Majesty’s subjects in connection with the situations of fisheries. . . .”

Courtemanche planned to voyage to France to tell the new minister of Marine in person of all the advantages the crown could expect to extract from the Labrador coast, and also to lodge some complaints, chiefly about the trespass on his concession committed by his former employee, Pierre Constantin. Just as he was about to set sail a party of some 800 Eskimos appeared in the vicinity of his fort, causing much damage and stealing everything that was movable. He abandoned his plans and Madame Courtemanche went to France in his place. An anonymous writer of the period said: “The vigilance and gallantry displayed by M. de Courtemanche in opposing himself to a fleet of some 800 Indians [sic] and putting them to flight are well worth some recognition, at least a few presents; a man who is willing, for the service of the state, to live, practically alone, in an uninhabited country like Labrador, is almost priceless.”

In 1716 Courtemanche wanted to build another fort on the Kessessakiou River to impress the Eskimos and protect the fishermen from attack. He petitioned Vaudreuil for permission to enlist 12 men to garrison the fort and requested an officer to command it. Unfortunately, the following year, a month after capturing the Eskimo girl, Acoutsina, Courtemanche died. His stepson, François Martel* de Brouague was appointed commandant in his place. Courtemanche’s concession passed into the hands of Brouague (one quarter), Madame Courtemanche (one quarter), and their three daughters (one sixth each). Later, in 1722 when the concession was augmented, the family was to retain the same percentage of their holdings.

Nora T. Corley

“L’Ambassade de M. LeGardeur de Courtemanche: chez les Outaouais en 1691,” APQ Rapport, 1921–22, 233–36. G.B., Privy Council, Judicial Committee, In the matter of the boundary between the Dominion of Canada and the colony of Newfoundland in the Labrador peninsula . . . (12v., London, 1926–27), VII, 3511–27. P.-G. Roy, Inventaire de pièces sur la côte de Labrador conservées aux Archives de la Province de Québec (2v., Québec, 1940–42), I; “La famille Legardeur de Repentigny,” BRH, LIII (1947), 195–216. W. G. Gosling, Labrador: its discovery, exploration and development (London, 1910), 131–53.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Nora T. Corley, “LE GARDEUR DE COURTEMANCHE, AUGUSTIN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 22, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/le_gardeur_de_courtemanche_augustin_2E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/le_gardeur_de_courtemanche_augustin_2E.html
Author of Article: Nora T. Corley
Title of Article: LE GARDEUR DE COURTEMANCHE, AUGUSTIN
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1969
Year of revision: 1969
Access Date: September 22, 2014