The intendants acted as business managers for the governors of French Canada. One of their problems was to keep enough currency in circulation. Coins were sent to Quebec to pay the members of the garrison, but they were returned to France to pay for the purchases. Most trade among the inhabitants had to be carried on by barter. Merchants were legally bound to accept wheat and moose skins as payment for goods, while other pelts, like beaver and wildcat were equally acceptable. One blanket could be bought for eight wildcat skins.
In 1670, France minted special silver and copper coins for use in Canada, but they disappeared quickly and none arrived at all in the spring of 1685. A large number of soldiers who were billeted with private families were De Meulles’ responsibility. They were not hunters capable of trapping their own pelts, but they still needed coins to pay for their board and lodging. De Meulles, in desperation, hit on the idea of issuing paper money that would be redeemed when the coins arrived.
There was a good deal of card playing in Quebec, especially among the soldiers. The most popular game was called “maw” and the lucky cards to turn up were, Tiddy, Gleek, Tup-tup and Towser! There was probably a good deal of grousing when De Meulles gathered up the playing cards and cut them into four pieces. He marked them as being worth various amounts of money and stamped them with the word “bon”, meaning “good”. Each piece of paper money also carried his signature and seal.
The system worked so well that it was used again many times. On April 18, 1749, the King authorized an issue of card money to be increased from 720,000 to one million livres! It was the forerunner of the Canadian paper money in use today.
The Château de Ramezay Museum in Montreal has a collection of the coins used in those days and even some of the card money, although it is only exhibited by special request.
If you would like to learn more about this intriguing currency, and to see what they looked like, you don’t have to wait for the museum — just go to the Bank of Canada and the National Bank of Belgium.