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Benoît Grenier

B Grenier 2019[1]

The Clio Prizes


Benoît Grenier, Persistances seigneuriales : Histoire et mémoire de la seigneurie au Québec depuis son abolition. Septentrion, 2023.

Persistances seigneuriales : Histoire et mémoire de la seigneurie au Québec depuis son abolition explores the way in which socio-economic structures endure in political institutions and personal memory over decades. Established in the St. Lawrence valley with French colonization in the 17th century, maintained by the British regime after the Conquest, the seigneurial institution survived well beyond its formal abolition in 1854. Several historians have noted this persistence, whether in the morphology of the landscape or in the toponymy, or even in the very concrete economic reality of generations of farmers who continued to pay rent in one form or another to the descendants of their former seigneurs – a practice which continued into the 1970s in some cases.

With this book, Benoît Grenier has placed at the centre of his analysis what, in the writings of other specialists of seigneurial history, has tended to be an anecdotal observation relegated to the epilogue. This gradual, incomplete abolition is examined here in detail, right down to its echoes in the memory of the individuals and families who were directly involved in it. The result of a research program that spanned a decade, Persistances seigneuriales combines with great originality and skilled archival research, the use of literary sources and an oral history of the descendants of these seigneurial families, privileged witnesses to the perseverance of a centuries-old system. Grenier demonstrates that this slow abolition of the seigneurial regime favored above all the seigneurs and their families, who were compensated for the loss of their rights and retained ownership of ungranted lands, but also that the memory of this system persisted, tinged in nostalgia and anchored in a traditional conception of socio-economic relationships which, in reality, were not always harmonious. The book, written in a style that is both rigorous and sympathetic, will be appreciated by both the general public and specialists.