The coureurs de côtes were itinerant traders in 18th-century French Canada. They traveled across the countryside to buy surplus wheat and were fierce competition for stationary merchants in both town and country.

Itinerant Traders

The coureurs de côtes were itinerant traders in 18th-century French Canada. They traveled across the countryside, selling mostly imported products and buying surplus wheat to resell to merchants. They were intermediaries between the habitants who were the grain producers and the merchants who stored the surplus and exported it to Louisbourg and the West Indies.

Competition for City Merchants

The coureurs de côtes travelled to meet wheat producers. They provided stiff competition for urban merchants and merchants who settled in the New France countryside as of 1730. One of these country merchants even referred to the coureurs de côtes as “démons ambulants,” or “travelling demons.” In 1741, the Québec merchants’ syndic, Pierre Trottier Desauniers, sent a brief to Governor Beauharnois and Intendant Hocquart in which he detailed the merchant community’s complaints regarding their competitors.

The End of the Coureurs and the Rise of Peddlers and Rural Merchants

As grain collectors acting on behalf of merchants, the coureurs de côtes often gave better prices and were sometimes able to pay in cash, which the habitants appreciated because it saved them the trouble of going to town to sell their produce and buy manufactured goods. Instead, they stored the wheat in their barns until boats arrived to take their grain to port for export.

Rural wheat collection continued into the 19th century. The historical evidence suggests that the coureurs de côtes were replaced by peddlers who sold on a smaller scale and by rural merchants who, from then on, sent assistants or went themselves to meet producers.