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A White House in Early Saint-Roch

A White House in Early Saint-Roch.

This house is the second oldest in Québec City. Charles Aubert de la Chesnaye, then the most prominent businessman in New France, had it built in 1679. It is known as Maison blanche, the White House, because for years it was covered with a white coat of rough plaster. It was originally twice as big before war and fire took their toll. Other people of influence have called it home over the years.

A farmhouse

The main residence of Charles Aubert de la Chesnaye was more extravagant and right in the heart of town on rue du Sault-au-Matelot. The White House was part of a farm in the countryside. De la Chesnaye’s servants were responsible for the cattle that grazed on the neighbouring fields and drank from the shores of Rivière Saint-Charles, a river that back then flowed right past the house. The intendant’s palace was the only other building of any size in this part of town, an area that was virtually uninhabited in the 17th century.

A house to match his standing

This long, two-storey stone home reflected the wealth of Charles Aubert. He was an big land owner who traded wheat and other farm commodities, managed a fishing post at Percé, worked the forest, dominated the fur trade, and had a number of ships sailing back and forth between Québec, La Rochelle, the Caribbean, Amsterdam, and Hamburg. He was also a financier. In 1682 he put forward the money needed to rebuild some sixty buildings that had been destroyed by fire in Lower Town in the vicinity of Place-Royale. He remained active in the business community until his death in 1702.

The Hiché district

Henry Hiché, a merchant, seigneur, and advisor to the sovereign council of New France, inherited the White House and all dependent land in the 1720s. He was later in charge of populating this part of town, particularly after 1739, when the king’s shipyard opened on Rivière Saint-Charles. He ceded land to the artisans wishing to live close to the shipyard. In 1744 some 245 people already lived in what was dubbed the “Hiché district.”

The passing of powers

In 1764 William Grant, a Scot by birth, bought the White House and its dependent land. Using his connections in the new British administration, Grant had the land declared a fief so that he could charge seigniorial dues to the people who lived there. The White House became St. Roch Manor.

Brutal changes

In 1775 St. Roch Manor fell victim to the offensive led by the American revolutionary forces on Québec. William Grant took refuge behind the fortifications of Upper Town, and his stone manor was used as a temporary stronghold for the British troops defending the town. When they abandoned the house, they set fire to it to keep it out of enemy hands. And that was the end of the original White House.

William Grant rebuilt his home, although it would again be ravaged by the Great Fire of 1845 in Saint-Roch. It was partially rebuilt atop part of its original vaulted cellar, which is still in place today.

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