Gaspard-Joseph Chaussegros de Léry was an officer and engineer of the King of France from 1716 to 1756. Despite the title history bestowed up him, he was never a member of France’s engineering corps. It appears that he learned his trade working alongside his father. Before being sent to New France he wrote the voluminous Traité de fortification divisé en huit livres, but it was never published, likely owing to the high cost of printing.
He arrived in New France in 1716 under the orders of the Ministry of the Navy. Much to his chagrin, France invested little money in defending its colony. The costs associated with building a fortification were covered by the seigneurs of Montréal (the Sulpicians), residents, the Domaine d’Occident and the French monarchy. Construction began in 1717, but it was slowed down by a lack of funding and the need to reconstruct a number of buildings following the fire of 1721. In 1725, he succeeded in completing only one side of the fortification. He did manage, however, to build a masonry structure (an “enceinte”) that would replace the wooden palisade. He achieved this by using local materials and adapting European techniques to the climatic and geological realities of New France.
The fortification looked solid, which seemed to satisfy the royal authorities. It could withstand an attack by a small militia or lightly armed Indigenous people. However, it was not considered strong enough to contend with a heavy artillery battle, such as when the English captured Montréal in 1760 during the Seven Years War. You could hardly blame Chaussegros de Léry, who did all he could under the circumstances.
The plans for the buildings, whose construction he supervised, particularly his relief maps for the fortifications of Québec (1720) and Montréal (1721), did not withstand the test of time, despite being conserved at the Louvre museum for many years. Even though his work was affected by a profound lack of financial resources, Chaussegros de Léry succeeded in drafting plans for the fortifications of the cities of Québec and Montréal and the forts at Niagara and Chambly. He played a considerable role in the development of New France all the same.
Crédit couverture: Biographi.ca
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