The National Battlefields Commission
Plains of Abraham
During the prior half century, Québec had been transformed as a result of the lengthy peace that followed the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. On an economic level, the growth of exchanges with Louisbourg and the West Indies, as well as the boost given to the shipbuilding industry, stimulated urban growth. Despite a few slowdowns, between 1736 and 1744, the population increased considerably. From 2,700 in 1726, it had increased to between 8,000 and 9,000 souls in the last decade of the French regime91.
However, at the dawn of the siege of 1759, life in the city and in the entire colony had become very difficult. The Canadians were exhausted by a war that had lasted five years. The administration of the colony was undermined by numerous cases of embezzlement, including some perpetrated by Intendant Bigot. The relationship between Montcalm and Vaudreuil was also increasingly strained. The scarcity of supplies led to inflation, limiting the residents' access to foodstuffs and other products. For example, the price of brandy, mirrors, utensils or powder had become extremely high. Finally, although the fur trade still went on during the conflict, beavers had become increasingly rare92. Canadians were rationed, and the longer it lasted the scarcer the available rations became. The greatest famine Canada had ever known left Québec's population in unbearable misery.
And so Québec's inhabitants experienced famine, fear and uncertainty. As they saw their town being destroyed by constant shelling, they wondered why the French authorities did not retaliate and what the ammunitions were being saved for93. In the face of such danger, some left town to take shelter94. The constant shellings, in addition to destroying a large part of town, scared the Canadians, especially the women and children, who took refuge in prayer95.
The archives of the Hôpital Général de Québec mention that, during the siege of Québec, "distinguished merchant and middle-class families who could support themselves," were sent to Montreal and Trois-Rivières so as to "remove everything that could be a burden to the town.96". It seems that several Québec families, unable to care for their wounded husbands and children, requested sanctuary at this hospital which, being a long way from the shelling, proved to be a safe haven for them97. However, available space was soon to be in short supply.