Louis Gaston Hebert was born in 1575 at 129 Rue Honore, Paris, France; the son of Nicolas Hebert and Jacqueline Pajot. His family was quite affluent, with ties to the Royal Court of Catherine de’ Medici; where his father was the official druggist and spice merchant to the Queen. In this capacity, he would have had access to the royal palace; and though a bourgeois; would have been respected as a gentleman of the court. But Louis could not depend on a large inheritance and had to make his own way.
He was well-educated, energetic and adventurous, so when he had a chance to travel to the New World with Jean de Biencourt de Poutrincourt, the First Governor at Port Royal; he jumped at it. His mother and Poutrincourt’s wife were sisters, and many others on that voyage were also connected to the Pajot family. Whether motivated by gold, furs, or finding a magical cure, it was a chance to start over and bring some dignity back to the Hebert name. He was no doubt ostracized and may have even been harassed by his father’s creditors. It would also have been difficult for him to obtain credit on his own, so he really needed a fresh start.
After spending that disastrous winter at Ste. Croix in 1603, the colony had to be abandoned and Hebert returned home, where he resumed his work as a druggist in Paris, with a few new herbal medicines to add to his shelves. Marie would give birth to three children; Anne, Guillaume and Marie-Gullimette and though they were no longer well off, they were middle class.
Several years later, when Champlain was looking for volunteers to settle in Quebec, he approached his old friend Hebert, and after accepting his offer to join him there, Marie and Louis arrived with their children on June 14, 1617. They had been promised 200 crowns per year, and would be able to select their own spot for a garden, provided that it was close to the habitation. Though her husband would not be allowed to trade in furs, he was free to study herbal medicine with the Canadian people, who were well known for their ability to cure many illnesses that had alluded Europeans for centuries.
Once they had decided to make Quebec their home, they forged strong ties with the local people. Louis took care of their sick, while Marie taught the native children how to read and write, instructing them in the Christian faith.
In turn, the natives taught his family the proper use of snowshoes, toboggans and canoes; all necessary to survive in the harsh Canadian environment. Her children, with the benefit of youth, were adapting well, learning the customs of their adopted country and enjoying the spirited games that were a large part of Canadian life. Foot races, lacrosse and tobogganing helped to pass away the long winter days, and in summer they enjoyed gathering berries, fishing in the streams, swimming and canoeing. In France, many of those things could only be enjoyed by the nobility. Though they had erroneously selected an uncultivated clump of high ground near the habitation, the family went to work, clearing an area where they could begin planting their crops. There was no plough available, and the tools her husband was able to purchase were practically useless. Still, the small garden he created, gave him the ridiculous honor of being “the first Canadian farmer”. Of course we know he wasn’t really the first farmer, only perhaps the first French-Canadian farmer, since the natives had been cultivating crops for more than 5,000 years and most of what he would eventually learn about agriculture, came from them. Louis also learned a great deal about the proper use of herbal remedies, which benefited the French traders, who depended on him to cure their ills. This well-bred, highly educated Parisian, may not have been much of a farmer, but he helped to sow the seeds of friendship between the two nations, ensuring a continued loyalty to the French.
Much is written about Louis contribution to the development of French-Canada, when in fact he was only in Quebec for seven years, due to his untimely death, while Marie would spend thirty years there, raising her family, assisting new French settlers and instructing the Canadian children.