When Samuel de Champlain arrived in the early 1600s, the St Lawrence valley was uninhabited, although after the dispersion of the St Lawrence Iroquoians in about 1580 Algonquian-speaking Montagnais bands from the Canadian Shield and Iroquoian-speaking Mohawk from southeast of Lake Ontario fished and hunted there in summer.
When emigrants from France made the two-or three-month crossing of the Atlantic to Canada, they came to a forested, New World valley.[edited together in English, thus need French]. The climate was unsuitable for plantation crops, but the crops of northwestern France could be grown. At one end of the valley canoe routes led to the continental interior and the fur trade; at the other end shipping led to France or, nearer at hand, to fishing stations in the Gulf of St Lawrence. Local markets were small and external markets thousands of kilometres away. For years only fish and furs could be exported profitably.
Land along the lower St Lawrence was conceded in seigneuries within which all rural settlement took place. The first farm lots conceded in Canada were long, narrow trapezoids fronting on the river. Along the St Lawrence the shape suited new settlements of farmers who lived on their own land. Long lots were easily and cheaply surveyed, gave all farmers frontage on the river or, eventually, a public road, and allowed them to live on their own farms yet close to neighbours.
Farming developed primarily in response to the needs of farm families. A farm was an unspecialized, mixed operation that provided as much as possible for domestic consumption, and some surplus for sale. Its basic components were a kitchen garden, in which a wide variety of vegetables, tobacco, and perhaps a few fruit trees were grown; ploughed fields, which were planted primarily in wheat but also in legumes (a field crop in Canada), barley, and oats (usually in a two-course rotation, that is, crops one year followed by fallow the next); some meadow and pasture; and, depending on the age of the farm, more or less forest. Pigs, sturdy animals that could fend for themselves most of the year, were kept for meat. Cattle were kept for meat and milk, and oxen as draft animals. Sheep were raised for their wool. By the 18th century there were horses on most farms, used for hauling. Every farm had poultry.
At the end of the French regime (Treaty of Paris, 1763) about 60,000 people, some 85% of the Canadian population, lived in the countryside of the lower St Lawrence. Almost all of these people were farmers on their own long-lot farms.
Learn more about the late 20th century farming in Atlantic Canada Mixedwood Plains and the Central Plains.