The Hemp Plant in Canada

Image: Botanical illustration of Cannabis sativa L. from Pharmacopoeia Borussica (1863) by Otto Karl Berg and C.F. Schmidt, Leipzig. Reproduced from p. 51 of Highlights: An Illustrated History of Cannabis by Carol Sherman & Andrew Smith with Erik Turner(1999.

Like their English rivals, when the French laid claim to North America in the sixteenth century, they too envisioned the New World as a vast repository of naval supplies, especially hemp and timber. These hopes were fueled by reports from here early explorers such as Jacques Cartier who, like many others, had mistaken Acnida cannabina for Cannabis Sativa.
Unlike the English, however, the French did not need to import hemp. They wanted more so that they could sell it to other countries.
The export of hemp abroad began around the fifteenth century. By the sixteenth century, France was said to possess "two magnets" which attracted the wealth of Europe. One of these was wheat. The other was hemp. The yearly exports to England alone between 1686 and 1688 were over two million pounds. It was not without reason that the English complained so bitterly about the draining of their economy as a result of their imports of hemp from France.
"This most prosperous kingdom," declared the chancellor of France in 1484, "has a great number of provinces which, because of the beauty of the countryside, of the fertility of the soil, of the health-giving air, easily surpasses all the countries of earth." To take advantage of these bountiful assets, French workers were continually urged to work harder to produce wool, flax and especially hemp.
Ironically, despite the abundance of hemp, French merchants still imported large quantities of fiber from countries such as Italy and sweden. The reason was that French merchants were able to make greater profits selling hemp abroad than they could possibly earn by manufacturing it and selling it domestically. Thus, while France sold enormous amounts of hemp to countries like England and Spain, she herself imported large quantities from other European countries. Consequently, when French merchants heard that hemp was growing wild in the New World, they sensed an opportunity for enormous profits. (Unfortunately, Cartier was a better explorer than a naturalist. The European variety of hemp did not grow wild in the New World.)
After the first disappointments subsided, the French thought they could still make a profit in hemp if they could simply persuade the colonists who were settling in New france to cultivate cannabis as a crop. To this end, Samuel Champlain, the great explorer and colonizer, brought hemp seeds with him on his early expeditions to New France. By 1606, hemp was growing in Port Royal in Nova Scotia under the watchful eye of the colony's botanist and apothecary, Louis Hebert...
In the meantime, relations between France and England were rapidly deteriorating and eventually the two countries went to war. The French proved to be no match for the English, and in 1763 all of New France became an English domain. Almost immediately, England tried to promote hemp production in her efforts to promote hemp production in Canada. In 1790, 2000 bushels of Russian hemp seed were brought to Quebec and were distributed free to all the agricultural districts of the province. Only fifteen farmers showed any interest.
By 1800, Russia was charging sixty-one pounds per ton of hemp. England reacted by urging her governors to offer more bounties. A public relations campaign of sorts was also initiated claiming hemp was a valuable economic commodity to colony and mother country alike. If hemp production increased, there would be more money and more employment. The standard of living would rise. Prosperity was within each colonist's grasp if only he would turn his efforts to growing hemp.
The appeal fell upon deaf ears. There were simply too few people to work in the hemp fields. Whatever manpower was available could be more profitably used clearing land to grow food crops essential for survival. An equally formidable problem was the Catholic church. Since hemp was was exempt from tithes, the Catholic clergy refused to encourage their parishioners to grow hemp. Even had they had the time and will, French Canadians would not have listened to the English please. In Nova Scotia, the hemp shortage became so acute that the legislature complained that hangings had to be delayed!
Not easily discouraged, Parliament offered a deal to James Campbell and Charles Grece, two experts in hemp production. Should either of them sow twenty-five acres of land with hemp during their first year of settlement in Canada, and agree to continue cultivation on a scale thereafter deemed satisfactory to local authorities, and should they also be willing to teach the settlers the fine points of hemp production and serve as inspectors for all finished hemp, they would be assured of a purchase price of forty- three pounds per ton for any hemp they raised, for five years...
Alas, both men failed. Grece tried very hard to raise the first year, but a combination of bad seed, late sowing, and poor weather was less than conducive to success. Campbell fared no better. What the spring floods left of his crop, the fall frost destroyed.
Meanwhile, Napoleon's brilliant victories in Europe were beginning to pose a threat to England's Baltic hemp suppliers. If Napoleon defeated Russia, England would no longer have a reliable hemp source. In desperation, she once again turned to Canada. Promises of seventy pounds per ton and 300 acres of land were made to anyone who would raise five tons of hemp in a year. To make sure these offers were heard throughout the country, they were issued from church pulpits immediately after services were concluded.

- pp. 97-99, The Hemp Plant in Canada in The First Twelve Thousand Years: Marijuana by Ernest L. Abell (1980)

Pharmacopoeia Borussica (1863), Otto Karl Berg, Cannabis sativa, industrial hemp
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