You know the expression, “it would take an earthquake to move him,” to describe someone who is stubborn? Well, it took an earthquake on February 5, 1663 to move people to stop selling liquor to the Natives … even then the effect didn’t last very long.
One of the worst problems in early Canada was caused by people who plied the natives with liquor and then stole their furs. Even in the late 1800’s, unscrupulous traders persuaded many Indians and Metis in western Canada, to give up their allotments of land in exchange for bottles of whiskey.
Francois de Laval, the first Bishop of Quebec, waged a continual battle against the liquor trade. When his own appeals did not have an effect, he urged King Louis XIV and his minister, Colbert, to take action. There was much discussion, but no effective action was taken. Finally Bishop Laval decreed that people selling liquor to the Natives would be excommunicated from the Church. Even this was unsuccessful, and Laval persuaded Governor d’Avaugour to impose the death penalty on people who were guilty!
People were hanged until the day a woman was caught. She was a widow with a family to support, and Father Lalemont appealed to Governor d’Avaugour for clemency. The Governor, who did not want to impose the death penalty in the first place, took this opportunity to end it. He said, “Since this is not a crime for this woman, it shall not be a crime for anybody.”
On the night of February 5, 1663 there was an earthquake. It was so severe that great fissures were opened in the snow; streams were diverted from their courses; new waterfalls appeared; homes rocked, and church bells rang widely.
People were terrified. They flocked into the churches, believing that the world was coming to an end. Many of those guilty of selling liquor to the Natives felt that they were being punished for their sins and resolved to “go straight.”
The city of Laval, in southern Quebec, is named in honour of Bishop Francois de Laval.