Life on a Seigneury

Through research, art, drama and games, students will understand what it was like to live on a Seigneury in New France.

Created by Louisa Ellul

Posted September 5, 2010

Lesson Overview

Through research, art, drama and games, students will understand what it was like to live on a Seigneury in New France.

Time Required

The entire project takes one month, based on three­ one hour class periods per week. 

Historical Thinking Concept(s)

This lesson plan uses the following historical thinking concepts: establish historical significance, use primary source evidence, identify continuity and change and take historical perspectives.

Learning Outcomes

Students will: 

  • Use a variety of resources and tools to gather, process, and communicate information about how settlers in New France met the physical, social, and economic challenges of the new land (e.g., the seigneurial system; the roles of Governor, Bishop, and Intendant).
  • Identify key characteristics of economic, political, and social life in New France.
  • Communicate the results of inquiries for specific purposes and audiences, using oral presentations, written notes and reports, and drawings (e.g., create a plot of land that illustrates the organization of a seigneury).
  • Use a variety of primary and secondary resources to locate relevant information about how early settlers met the challenges of the new land (e.g., primary sources: journals, letters, statistics, interviews, period documents and maps; secondary sources: maps, illustrations, print materials, videos, CDROMs, Internet sites)

Background Information

It is difficult to truly understand the past unless you are able to become a participant in it. The tasks in this unit allow students to experience the past in a variety of ways. Through research, students will develop an understanding of life on a Seigneury in New France. Students then show their understanding through a variety of different learning experiences such as; re creating a plot of land in a seigneury (art), participating in a town meet and greet (Drama), trade resources like a Couriers de Bois (game), and finally create an educational game for children that demonstrates their knowledge of the time period.

The Lesson Activity


  • Using pictures, and short videos clips, students take a visual stroll through life in the Royal Colony of New France. In groups they discuss the pictures of people, places, and artifacts to help them discover the past. Students compare life in the pictures/video to life today. These basic comparisons are to activate prior knowledge. After the student discussion, students use a sticky note to write one question they still have. These sticky notes are answered at the end of the unit using clicker technology (electronic feedback system).
  • Students then continue their exploration of the past by completing a research project on how life would be like living in a Seigneury in the 1700s. Using a graphic organizer, students research guiding questions that focus on the political, social, and religious structure of the time period. This research, along with class lessons allow students to acquire the knowledge needed for the rest of the project. Students are also asked to create a title page that reflects their understanding of the research and attach it to their work.


New France Meet and Greet (Role Play)

  • In this part of the project, students become French settlers who have just arrived in New France. Students will take the knowledge they have gained from their research and apply it to a role play situation.
  • The teacher comes in fully dressed and models the role of a habitant, and then an Intendant. Students discuss what parts of the role are believable, and what can be changed. They co-construct the criteria for their own role play.
  • Pictures of former students dressed up for this role play are displayed around the classroom for students to discuss in groups. Once students understand the expectations for the role play, they choose what character they will play in the seigneury (Governor General, habitant, nun, couriers de bois, Bishop, etc.).
  • Students are given one computer class to research their role, using a graphic organizer (created as a class), and develop good guiding questions they would ask other settlers in the seigneury.
  • Students are given time to discuss good questions with others in a group format.
  • Prior to the official role play, students go through a dress rehearsal where students are given a chance to go through their roles and determine what areas they need to work on. Then the class creates a self-assessment checklist that will help them assess their readiness for the official role play next class.
  • On the day of the role play, students become French settlers who have arrived in New France in the search of a better life. All settlers are taken from the boat, to a neighbouring town’s school house where the Governor General, Intendant, and Bishop wait to welcome them to New France. Students come fully dressed as French settlers with an authentic French name and life story. The members of the Sovereign council begin the role play by introducing themselves and welcoming the settlers to New France. Then the rest of the students introduce themselves and their story to the congregation. Afterwards, all the settlers have an opportunity to mingle with each other, and discuss how they can work together to make the newly established a successful Seigneury. Students remain in their roles for the duration of the role play, which usually takes a full 50-minute period.
  • Self-reflection and group discussion follow the role play. In some years, students bring in finger foods, as sharing food was big part of all social interactions. At the end of the role play, students write a reflection based on their experiences during the role play. The reflections are discussed next class, along with how the assignment could be improved for the years to come.


Plots of Land on Our Seigneury (Art)

  • Students are given the opportunity to draw what their plot of land would look like according to their chosen character from the role play.
  • The plots of land are then put together creating a class seigneury. As a class, the layout of a seigneury and the reasoning behind it are discussed. Using a slideshow, pictures of seigneuries from the past (using primary and secondary sources) are compared to pictures of farmland found around Quebec City. A slideshow is also shown of pictures taken along the “Route De La Nouvelle France.” The narrow roads, architecture, and the presence of churches are discussed.
  • At the end of the New France Meet and Greet (Role Play), settlers (students) are asked to draw random plot numbers out of a hat. The Sovereign Council and Seigneur are automatically given the bigger plots of land; therefore they do not have to draw numbers.
  • The rest of the students draw random numbers that correspond to the plots of land available in the “class” seigneury. Students are then asked to look closely at their plot of land. Some plots of land have markings that require the student to select from an additional pile of cards that contain valuable resources such a hardwood forest, and maple forest, to poor land quality such as rocky outcrops or bogs.
  • The class discusses why each valuable resource can help settlers, and why the effects of poor land quality can be detrimental. The role, (doctor, seamstress, merchant, couriers de bois, etc.) will determine what their plot of land will look like (drawn). All the plots of land are put together on a bulletin board to create a large “class” seigneury.

Extension Activities

Bartering in the New World (Game)

  • Now that the seigneury is established, students are given another opportunity to work together representing a number of different colonies in an original game called Bartering in the New World. In this game, students create their own small colony and then they are required to trade items/resources (corn, axes, furs, cloth, etc.) with neighboring colonies in order to obtain a specific list of items they need for their survival in New France.
  • Before the game is played, students get into their colonies and discuss the list of resources given to them to determine why each item/resource is important in order for their colony to survive.
  • In this game, each colony (4-6 students), chooses one member to be the couriers de bois who will go out to trade with other colonies, while another member becomes the Intendant who organizes what the colony needs, and what can be traded. The rest of the members in the group represent a group of settlers who meet and trade with the courier de bois who come to them.
  • The game ends after the first colony assembles all the resources listed on the sheet. Then, the king/queen (teacher) holds a ceremony in which he/she asks the winning colony to get down on one knee (as music plays), and rewards them with a monopoly over the fur trade in their area. Students are so proud when they win, because they enjoy going through the ceremony. This game is played several times in one class to give students a chance to experience all the roles.

Game Challenge Christmas 1776 (History, Art, Media, Writing)

  • Students are game developers who are challenged to create the “must have” game for Christmas 1776. Their game can be geared towards children or youth. Students need to create a game that reflects their knowledge of either the events, or life and times of 1776.
  • Game board and game pieces can only be constructed using materials found back in 1776; therefore additional research is needed. Students can work independently, in pairs, or in groups of three to create their game.
  • Students are encouraged to use additional research, especially primary resources in order to obtain the knowledge required to challenge the players of the game.
  • Along with the game, students need to create an attractive game box to store all the pieces, and a clear set of instructions (with graphics) of how to play the game. Students are then required to advertise their game.
  • They can advertise in the Halifax Gazette by creating a full page newspaper advertisement, or writing a persuasive letter to the editor. Students can also advertise their game orally in the town square (class).
  • On game day, groups of students become game testers, and they rotate through the games from another History class and rate them using common criteria previously outlined by the class. After game day, all evaluations go to a game testing council (teacher and a few students) who discuss and decide which game in each class is the must have game of Christmas 1776. The winning game is revealed in a class ceremony, and a bonus cheque (homework pass) is given to the creator(s). Students are evaluated using teacher and peer-evaluation.
The above task descriptions were created to increase student engagement in History class. They are a direct result of student input through class discussions and individual reflections. All activities allow students to become active members in history, as well as, appreciate how the past affects the present. These activities have been extremely effective in reawakening the joy of History in my students.


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