In the early years of colonization in the New World, the settlers were virtually dependent upon supplies from the homeland. First priority, of course, was to build a home, which usually meant clearing the space of trees and then preparing the trees into logs for the cabin. Only after a home was completed could the colonists begin to clear land and prepare it for the agriculture which would sustain them in the future. In the case of fruit trees and bushes, it could be years before their work began to pay them back with food.
When Louis Hébert first set foot on Canadian soil, he did not know that he would be stepping into Canadian history.
An apothecary by trade and living in Paris, Hébert first arrived in Port-Royal (present-day Annapolis, Nova Scotia) in 1606. However, with the collapse of the Canada and Acadia Company in 1607, Hébert and many other colonists, including Samuel de Champlain, returned to France. He later returned to Port-Royal after the creation of the Company of Merchants where he continued his efforts to establish an agricultural system along the Annapolis River.
In 1616, Champlain engaged Hébert as a resident physician and surgeon for the Company in Quebec. He was granted 4 hectares (10 acres) of land for his homestead and would be paid the sum of 200 crowns per year during his 3-year contract. After selling his home and business in Paris, Hébert and his family, along with all the belongings they cared to bring to New France, prepared to disembark from France one last time.
However, he was soon to learn that the Company had thought that Champlain had vastly overstepped his authority and rewrote the contract to Hébert. He would receive his land as promised, but he would be paid only 100 crowns per year. At the end of the 3-year contract, Hébert would then work exclusively for the Company as physician and surgeon without any compensation. Additionally, he was forbidden to enter into any form of fur trade and any crops he managed to grow would be sold exclusively to the Company for the price they set.
Hébert had little choice but to sign the one-sided contract. He arrived in Quebec in 1617.
Fortunately, a new system of justice was created in Quebec in 1621 and life did not look so bleak for Hébert after all. He was named King's Procurator in the first court held and was granted more land along the St. Charles River. Along with the land came the title Sieur d'Épinay and Hébert became reasonably prosperous.
Louis Hébert's prosperity would be short-lived. In January of 1627, Hébert suffered a serious fall on the ice and never recovered. He died in Quebec on January 25.
Louis Hébert was not the first settler in Canada. Nor was he the first to die here. He was, however, the first to settle here and to remain. He raised his family here and he lived on the food he grew on his own land. He was Canada's first permanent settler.