Champlain’s Ordre-du-bon-temps

Champlain’s Ordre-du-bon-temps

It was after an impossible winter at Ste. Croix Island where many of the first French settlers in North America died of scurvy that the French fur trading colony relocated across the Baie Française (Bay of Fundy), settling the following year in a location they named Port-Royal.

L’Ordre Du Bon-Temps, or in English, the Order of Good Cheer, was founded at Port-Royal at the suggestion of Samuel de Champlain and was chartered under the Royal auspices of the Baron de Poutrincourt and Pierre du Gua, Sieur de Monts. The Order’s practices were established by the first Chief Steward Marc Lescarbot.

The Baron de Poutrincourt, Intendant to the King of France in North America, had been on an expedition on the Atlantic coast to the coast of present-day Maine[1], and, on the occasion of his return to the fort at Port-Royal, the Order was founded at a glorious reception, the preparations for which reportedly involved all those remaining at Port-Royal.

His return on the 14th of November, 1606, is a date to remember in the annals of the New World, as the establishment of the first North American Order of Chivalry and the birth of the Nouveau Noblesse of New France. The feasting of the Order occurred weekly and continued throughout the winter until the last of March only to recommence annually in the Fall.

The First Toast of the Order made by the Baron de Poutrincourt…

“We meet tonight to witness an event.
That will, I pray, go ringing down the years. At marking the sure founding of the Order, Which God and France shall ever serve as beacon to our goal”

—Baron de Poutrincourt
Quoting Lescarbot, Rameau writes: “Poutrincourt returned from his excursion on the 14th November, 1606; Lescarbot, who was always full of ideas, and who knew, no doubt, the useful part to be obtained by exterior demonstrations, foresaw to prepare for his honor a quasi- triumphal return from his voyage; Nature itself has already furnished the principle [sic] initiative, and advantage of it had been taken, everywhere were decorations and garlands of natural green; a magnificent forest hid the rusticity of wooden buildings and huts; even a theatre was built where allegoric scenes were represented; there was a feast, a discharge of musketry, and as much noise as could be made by some fifty men, joined by a few Indians, whose families served as spectators.”[2]

In 1606, there were less than 70 men at Port-Royal. Lescarbot states that, in total, about 50 Frenchmen, joined by Indians, participated in the welcoming home of Poutrincourt and the first gathering of the Order. However only fifteen men of birth are recognized as founding the Order. These would have been the only men present at the time of sufficient social standing with whom Champlain and the Baron de Poutrincourt would care to dine. The guests of the Order likely sat at other tables, probably getting equally good dinners as the rest, but without being recognized as official members of the Order.

Likely everyone at the settlement took part in the staging of “Le Théâtre de Neptune en la Nouvelle-France,” written by Lescarbot and performed at the first celebration Order marking the first theatrical performance in North America.

The founding Chevaliers of the Order were those who normally dined at Sieur Poutrincourt’s table. The main table of Poutrincourt, in the great hall of the fort was reserved for fifteen gentlemen of birth who are credited as the founding Matries d’Hotel or members of the Order and were known as The Nevoux Noblise of New France.

According to official documents – ” Baron Poutrincourt was, no doubt, the Grand Knight of the Order, followed by Champlain, Lescarbot, Louis Hébert, Charles de Biencourt, Claude de La Tour, Charles de La Tour, Daniel Hay, the surgeon, Champdore, leaving six unknown, but, the records note that Sagamore Membertou was always treated as their equal, it is quite certain he was at that table, leaving five to be accounted for, if documents to that effect can be found.

Lescarbot’s account of the Order: is best translated in Murdoch’s (v. 1, p 34), in which is described the gathering of the Order, “There were 15 guests (at Poutrincourt’s table), each of whom in his turn, became steward and caterer of the day. At the dinner, the steward, with napkin on shoulder, staff of office in hand, and the collar of the order round his neck, led the van. The other guests in procession followed, each bearing a dish. After grace in the evening, he resigned the insignia to his successor, and they drank to each other in a cup of wine. It was the steward’s duty, to look to supplies, and he would go hunt or fish a day or two before his turn came, and add some dainty to the ordinary fare. During the winter they had fowl and game in abundance, supplied by the Indians and by their own exertions. These feasts were often attended by Indians of all ages and both sexes, sometimes twenty or thirty being present. The Sagamore, or chief, Membertou, the greatest Sagamore of the land, and other chiefs, when there, were treated as guests and equals.”

Champlain’s account of the Order: “We spent this winter very joyously and of good times, due to the L’Odre de l Bon Temps that I established here, which each person finds useful for their health and more beneficial than any sort of medicine that we could have used. The Order was presented as a Chain of office that we placed with some small ceremony, at the neck of one of our people, charging him that day with going hunting; the next day we gave it to another and thus consequently: all who wished to try would do their best and bring the most beautiful hunt: We don’t find it half bad , as well as the Indians who were with us” Voyages of Champlain: 1613

Description of the order of Good Cheer: “The first winters of the French in Acadie were very painful and cost the life of several men. One has to only think of the first winter in the Sainte-Croix Island in 1604-1605 when more than thirty men of the company the sieur de Mons perished by the scurvy. The winters in Port-Royal were less rigorous, but nonetheless long and dull.

To brighten the atmosphere and foster the esprit de corps amongst the sieur de Poutrincourt, lord of Port-Royal’s staff members, Samuel de Champlain had the idea to create “the order of Good-Cheer” during the winter 1606-1607. In turn, the members of the small elite of Port-Royal were to prepare a gastronomical meal for their fellow-members, with the fruit of their hunting and fishing in the rich Acadian natural environment plentiful with game and fish of various kinds. From time to time, the sagamo Membertou and its close relations were also invited to share the feast during which the person in charge of the eve entered ceremoniously in the main room of the Habitation wearing around his neck the collar of the Order that he would tend to the future host of the next evening. In the current rebuilt Habitation, today a national historical place of Canada, one can easily imagine the atmosphere of these evenings. The government of the province of New-Scotland reestablished the order of the Good Cheer and it is possible to become join it.” (Samuel de Champlain in: The Works of Samuel de Champlain[3])


1. Faragher, John Mack, A Great and Noble Scheme W.W. Norton and Co., New York (2005) pp. 15-16
2, Rameau de Saint-Père, François-Edme (1889) (in fr). Une colonie féodale en Amérique [l’Acadie (1604-1881)]. 1. Paris: E. Plon, Nourrit et Cie. p. 33. Retrieved 2010-11-26.
3. Biggar, H. P., ed (1922). I. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 447–448. Original: “Les premiers hivers des Français en Acadie furent très pénibles et coutèrent la vie à plusieurs hommes. On n’a qu’à penser au premier hiver à l’Île Sainte-Croix en 1604-1605 où plus d’une trentaine d’hommes de la compagnie du sieur de Mons périrent du scorbut. Les hivers à Port-Royal furent moins rigoureux, mais quand même longs et ennuyants. Afin d’égayer l’ambiance et créer un plus grand esprit de corps entre les membres de l’état-major du sieur de Poutrincourt, seigneur de Port-Royal, Samuel de Champlain eut l’idée de créer « l’ordre de Bon-Temps » durant l’hiver 1606-1607. Tour à tour, les membres de la petite élite de Port-Royal devaient préparer un repas gastronomique pour leurs confrères, repas fruit de leur chasse et de leur pêche dans le riche environnement naturel acadien qui abondait en gibier et en poissons de différentes espèces. De temps en temps, le sagamo Membertou et ses proches étaient aussi invités à partager le festin au cours duquel le responsable de la soirée entrait cérémonieusement dans la salle principale de l’Habitation en portant au cou le collier de l’Ordre qu’il tendait au futur hôte de la prochaine soirée. Dans l’actuelle Habitation reconstruite, aujourd’hui un lieu historique national du Canada, on peut facilement imaginer l’ambiance de ces soirées. Le gouvernement de la province de la Nouvelle-Écosse a redonné vie à l’ordre du Bon Temps et il est possible d’en devenir membre”)

Samuel de Champlain