Jean Fontaine, the First Boatbuilding Apprentice on the Great Lakes

Published in Inland Seas  Volume 72, Number 3,Fall  2016

Abstract:

In Quebec City in 1676, Jean Fontaine signed on as the apprentice to  a master shipwright who would soon be hired by the French explorer La Salle. The 14-year-old Fontaine travelled up the rapids of the Saint Lawrence River to the harbor at the mouth of the Cataraqui River, in present-day Kingston, Ontario.  There he learned the boatbuilding trade as he worked on some of the first sailing vessels ever built on the Great Lakes.  Over three centuries later, a renewed interest in the ancient tradition of apprenticeship is sweeping North America. The harbor on Lake Ontario where Fontaine learned his trade became home to a new boatbuilding apprenticeship program in 2012. This paper presents a translation of Fontaine’s apprenticeship contract and uses it as a window into life as a seventeenth-century tradesman in New France, and the contemporary resurgence in the tradition of formal apprenticeships.


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