FORNEL (Fournel), LOUIS (Jean-Louis), merchant and entrepreneur at Quebec, explorer, seigneur; baptized 20 Aug. 1698 at Quebec, son of Jean Fornel, merchant, and Anne-Thérèse Levasseur; m. 31 Dec. 1723 Marie-Anne Barbel*; seven of the 14 children born of their marriage survived infancy; d. 30 May 1745 at Quebec.
Judging from his position as an administrator of the Hôpital Général of Quebec, the elder Fornel had been a respected member of the community. The status of the family may further be measured by Louis Fornel’s marriage to the daughter of Jacques Barbel*, a seigneur and the holder of important judicial appointments. Signatories to the marriage contract included Governor Rigaud* de Vaudreuil, Intendant Michel Bégon, and many lesser government officials.
The colony’s judicial records contain scattered references to Fornel’s disputes with ship’s captains and merchants concerning bills of exchange, items of cargo, and freight payments: evidence of his involvement to an indeterminable extent in maritime commerce. As did many Quebec City merchants, in the 1730s he turned his attention to the sealing industry of the Labrador coast, then a new and promising field of enterprise.
In 1737 he, François Havy, and Jean Lefebvre acquired a two-thirds interest in an undeveloped sealing station at Chateau Bay on the Strait of Belle Isle from its concessionaire, Louis Bazil, husband of his maternal cousin, Charlotte Duroy. Fornel, Havy, and Lefebvre provided the capital, including Bazil’s one-third share, for what proved to be an unprofitable undertaking. As early as 1742, considering Bazil a drone, Fornel was beseeching the local authorities and Maurepas, minister of Marine, to grant him the post upon expiration of Bazil’s concession in 1745. He argued that using the post as an advance base “in order to attract the Eskimos, as a depot and place of refuge in case of need,” he could explore and eventually develop the more remote Baie des Esquimaux (probably Hamilton Inlet). This development would help extend French trade to the Eskimos, whom he claimed he had already done much “to humanize” at Chateau Bay.
In 1744 the solvent partners offered alternately to surrender the post to Bazil in return for full payment of the sums owed them or to write off his debt in exchange for title to the concession. The intendant, Hocquart*, who favoured arbitration, temporized; and the colony’s involvement in war in 1745 postponed decision indefinitely. In any case the lease expired in 1745.
Exploration of the Baie des Esquimaux, however, could not be put off. Louis Fornel was not the only Canadian to have designs on the bay, and with the spur of competition he undertook in 1743 the expedition he had hitherto declared impossible without the concession of Chateau Bay. Beyond Cape Charles, the last French outpost on the Labrador coast, waited the broad and promising estuary (Hamilton Inlet) of the Kessessakiou (Churchill) River.
Fornel left Quebec on 16 May 1743 as a passenger aboard the Expérience, owned by himself, Havy, and Lefebvre, on its regular run to Chateau Bay, and continued in a fishing schooner rented at Tierpon in Newfoundland. He landed at Baie des Esquimaux, which he renamed Baie Saint-Louis, on 11 July, taking possession of it, as he wrote, “in the name of the king, and the French nation.” In fact, Intendant Hocquart thought in 1740 that the site was identical with the fief of Saint-Paul, conceded to Jean-Amador Godefroy* de Saint-Paul in 1706 and long since reunited to the king’s domain.
On 25 August, Fornel arrived back at Quebec on the Expérience. His “Relation de la découverte . . .” is a minor classic in Canadian exploration literature, combining an engaging adventure story with much close observation of the Eskimos. It includes a description of Fornel’s experiment to disprove the myth that Eskimos subsisted on raw meat and salt water.
Fornel’s request for the concession of Baie Saint-Louis, backed up by his claim of exploration, alarmed the leaseholder of the king’s posts, François-Étienne Cugnet, and Hocquart. Both feared that a post at the bay would draw off the Indian trade of the domain; with good reason Fornel had avoided mention of Indians in his supplications, concentrating on the prospects of the seal hunt and development of trade with the Eskimos.
In 1749 a new intendant, François Bigot*, finally came to a decision regarding Chateau Bay and Baie Saint-Louis. The former was granted to a new concessionaire; and, Fornel having died in 1745, the latter was conceded to his widow, who had formed a company with Havy and Lefebvre.
Fornel was also interested in acquiring real estate, an almost invariably safe investment in the uncertain business world of the 18th century. In the 1740s he purchased suburban land, on La Canoterie road and in the seigneury of Notre-Dame-des-Anges, and a lot near his own house on the square in Lower Town. On 14 May 1741 he was granted a seigneury directly behind the seigneury of Neuville, not far from the city. He immediately began to develop this concession, which he named Bourg-Louis. With it came the title of seigneur and a social rank that the successful merchant coveted, indeed merited, but that only the ownership of land conferred.
Louis Fornel fell ill in March 1745 and died on 30 May at only 47 years of age. His commerce was continued for many years by his widow, who, a typical merchant’s wife of her time, was well versed in business affairs. Fornel’s life and career are not only the manifestation of a unique and dynamic personality, but also a recognizable reflection of his class, his country, and his era.
The “Relation de la découverte qu’a faite le sieur Louis Fornel en 1743 de la baie des Eskimaux nommée par les Sauvages Kessessakiou” is found in AN, Col., C11A 109, ff.272–86, and is published in APQ Rapport, 1920–21, 60–75, and Inv. de pièces du Labrador (P.-G. Roy), II, 204–29.
AJQ, Registre d’état civil, Notre-Dame de Québec, 31 mai 1745. AN, Col., B, 81, f.271; C11A, 81, ff.77, 85–89; 83, f.261; 85, f.21; 92, f.359; 96, f.101; 100, f.337; 101, f.398; E, 189 (dossier Fornel); Section Outre-Mer, G1, 462, ff.339–40, 344, 346–49. ANQ, Greffe de C.-H. Du Laurent, 10 sept., 3 oct. 1736, 1er mai 1740, 21 juin, 3 oct. 1742, 15 mai, 27 sept. 1743; Greffe de J.-C. Louet, 26 août, 31 déc. 1723; AP, J.-L. Fournel, 1725–1742. PAC, MG 24, L3, pp.571, 602–3, 608–10. Inv. de pièces du Labrador (P.-G. Roy), I, 50, 51, 56, 60, 99, 151, 293; II, 88, 176, 181, 201, 229, 234, 235, 244, 249, 255, 256, 258, 259, 260. P.-G. Roy, Inv. concessions; Inv. ins. Cons. souv.; Inv. ord. int.