The second interpreter was far more important historically. In 1645, Etienne de Lafond, recently arrived from France, married Marie Boucher. Marie was the younger sister of Pierre Boucher, who was already 13 years old when his parents left for New France about 1634. In his new abode, Pierre set about learning several Amerindian languages and became proficient enough to act as interpreter to the Jesuits for their missions to the Hurons, who were allies of the French. At that period he became a donné (dedicated servant) of the Jesuits and served them from 1637 to 1641. Then in 1640 he was seriously injured in one arm during a Huron revolt. He withdrew to Quebec City, where the governor, Huault de Montmagny, appointed him to his personal staff as interpreter and as agent to Indian tribes. As such he took part in all the negotiations between the French and the Indians, an experience that was to be helpful to him for the rest of his life. In 1644, he was appointed interpreter of the fort at the settlement of Trois-Rivières (Three Rivers) on the St. Lawrence midway between Quebec City and Montreal. In particular he took a leading part in the important peace negotiations with the Iroquois chief Kiotseaeton the following year. He had become indispensable.
From 1635 on he lived permanently at the township of Trois-Rivières. There he was elected captain of the militia, warded off an Iroquois attack and was later appointed governor. Among his achievements was an important early description of the colony printed in France (see References) and the honour of being the first of the colonisers to be granted titles of nobility.
But the role for which he is best remembered today is as the founder of Boucherville, an important town on the St. Lawrence 20 km downstream from Montreal. It was in his manor-house at Boucherville that he died in 1715 at the age of 95.
Between these two interpreters, we can see common elements. First their early multilingualism in French and several Amerindian languages. And then, the role of the Jesuits, adept at learning native languages in distant lands, who trained them as boys and gave them thorough practical experience by taking them with them on their voyages. They produced Expert Interpreters, experts not only in languages but also in cultures, commerce and politics.
In June 1995, in the ice-hockey arena of the little village of Saint-Bruno-de-Guigues in northwestern Quebec – you can find it with Google Maps – I attended a reunion of 450 proven members of the Lafond family, come together from many parts of Canada and the United States. Part of the family had established itself at Guigues during another wave of colonisation around 1900. It follows from the above that they were all related by blood or marriage, however distantly, to the two 17th-century interpreters.
- Florent Héroux. See the previous post
- Raymond Douville. Boucher, Pierre. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. The article is here.
- Pierre Boucher. L'histoire véritable et naturelle des mœurs et productions du pays de la Nouvelle-France, vulgairement dite le Canada. (The True Natural History of the Customs and Products of New France, Commonly Called Canada). Paris: Florentin Lambert, 1664. There’s a modern reprint advertised on Amazon, and also a paperback edition of an English translation with the title Canada in the Seventeenth Century: From the French of Pierre Boucher.
Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
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