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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > M > Catholic Indian Missions of Canada

Catholic Indian Missions of Canada

The French discoverers of Canada did not fail to impress the aborigines they met with a vague idea of the religion they professed. Thus, on 3 July 1534, when Jacques Cartier reached Baie des Chaleurs, he presented the Indians with prayer beads, and shortly afterwards erected a large cross with the inscription "Vive le Roide France", thereby combining patriotism with religion. In his second expedition (1535) he was accompanied by two chaplains, who, of course, could not impart much instruction to the Eskimos, Micmacs, Algonquins, and Hurons with whom they came into contact, yet must have indicated in some way the interest the newcomers took in their spiritual welfare. Moreover this important voyage ultimately resulted in the conversion and baptism of Donnacona, the Quebec chief kidnapped to France by the discoverer. Likewise, when the Sieur de Monts established his colony (1604) in what was to become known as Acadia, he had with him priests who soon turned their attention to the surrounding tribes. In the course of time a few Micmacs received baptism (1619), and their companions ever manifested the greatest attachment for the compatriots of their missionaries. Two priests, Father Pierre Biard and Edmond Massé, left Dieppe for Port Royal (26 January, 1611), and started their ministrations among the natives by a wise show of prudence, which some were tempted to regard as an excessive dilatoriness in admitting into the Church. Four years later more important missions were commenced on the arrival at Quebec, then founded seven years, of Fathers Denis Jamay, Jean Dolbeau, and Joseph Caron, Recollects, accompanied by a lay brother. While the first-named remained at the French fort, Father Dolbeau went to instruct the Montagnais who repaired to Tadoussac at the mouth of the Saguenay, and Father Le Caron went to the Hurons in the West. Champlain, in order to secure the friendship of the latter, the most numerous of the Indian bands in his vicinity, deemed it good policy to espouse their cause against their inveterate enemies, the powerful Iroquois of the South. This step eventually embroiled the French colony in incessant hostilities. Well meant though it undoubtedly was, and perhaps necessary under the circumstances, the French leader's intervention in the inter-tribal politics of the natives likewise resulted in their paying more heed to the war songs and the satisfaction of their passions than to the question of their spiritual advancement. Le Caron worked faithfully, evangelizing the savages and paving the way for other priests by the preparation of a dictionary of the Huron language. Having made a trip to France, he returned (1623) with Father Nicholas Viel and Brother Gabriel Sagard, the future historian of the early Catholic missions in Canada.

Yet the results of the Recollects' labours were but indifferent. So these religious generously yielded their places to the Jesuits, who reached Quebec on 19 June, 1625, the first to arrive being Fathers Jerome Lalemant, E. Massé, and Jean de Brébeuf. Father Massé had already laboured among the Micmacs of what is now Nova Scotia. He renewed his exertions in their midst, while Brébeuf succeeded Le Caron at the head of the Huron mission, whither he was accompanied by three other priests from France (1626). One of these, a zealous Franciscan, Father de la Roche Daillion, directed his steps towards the Neutral nation, on which he could make no impression. He finally left (1627), while Brébeuf's Jesuit companion had also to return East in the course of the same year. Brébeuf laboured heroically amidst the most discouraging apathy, if not hostility, of the Hurons. In 1633, after a temporary absence from his post, he returned West with Fathers Antoine* Daniel and Ambroise Devost. Incredible hardships led them to the village of Ihonatiria, where they met a pleasant reception. Thence they visited hamlet after hamlet, teaching and exhorting the Indians, at first with no very great success. In the East Fathers Dolbeau and Jamay, with Brother Duplessis, were displaying their zeal on behalf of the roving Montagnais and Algonquins of the Saguenay, Ottawa, and Lower St. Lawrence. In 1636 Father Dolbeau had even extended his activities to the outlying bands of the Labrador Eskimos. Thus were missions established at Tadoussac for the Montagnais; at Gaspé for that tribe and the Micmacs; for the latter alone at Miscou, New Brunswick, and at Three Rivers for the Montagnais and the Algonquins. As a rule, those Indians, though lower than the Hurons in the social scale, showed themselves more amenable to Christian ideals.

To the west of these, missionary operations were thenceforth to be concentrated chiefly with a view towards the conversion of the tribes of the Huron confederacy. By the end of 1635 Fathers Daniel and Devost, going to Quebec, met two priests proceeding to the north, and at Three Rivers Father Isaac Jogues, newly arrived from France. This missionary soon after left with a party of Hurons with whom he was to make his apprenticeship of the hardships in store for him. From the central mission of St. Joseph, or Ihonatiria, some twenty-eight towns were visited, the inhabitants of which proved as fickle as they were superstitious. Hence continual dangers for the missionaries nearly culminated in their death at the hands of those for whose salvation they were devoting themselves. In 1638 there were nine priests working zealously in thirty-two villages of some twelve thousand souls. Gradually they established the residences of the Conception, St. Mary's, and St. Joseph's, named after the one at Ihonatiria. Thence they visited the Petuns (1639), and in 1641 Fathers Charles Raymbault and Isaac Jogues went among the Ottawas. Then, smallpox having made its appearance among the Hurons, fresh dangers ensued for the missionaries, ever considered the cause of such visitations. They now turned their attention to the Neutrals, a powerful nation settled on the peninsula between Lakes Erie and Ontario, where they experienced new insults, and met with very few consolations (1640-41). Though they thus visited eighteen villages, trying to win over the people by their gentleness and their devotion to their interests, they were everywhere greeted with maledictions and raillery. Nevertheless it would seem as if their patience and fortitude must have at length struck those uncouth savages, for in 1645 they invited them to their country, promising a better reception for the tireless apostles. The days of the Neutrals, however, were numbered; the Iroquois were to be the unconscious executors of the justice of God upon them.

To the north of Huronia lay the territory of the Algonquins who counted at that time no less than one hundred and four distinct groups. One of these, the Nipissings, was visited by Fathers Claude Pijart and Raymbault (1640), who were cordially received. Though they soon made a number of baptisms, their success was scarcely commensurate with their exertions. Little by little, however, the Nipissings tired of the missionaries, and, as if by way of punishment, they were in 1650 exterminated by the Iroquois. Unfortunately good and bad alike had too often to suffer by the invasions of those warlike aborigines. In the summer of 1652 Father Jogues and Brother René Goupil were surprised by a party of that nation, who shockingly mutilated and shamefully tortured the former, and put the latter to death (see GOUPIL and JOGUES). In common with practically all the missionaries of the time, Father Jogues was a native of France; an Italian, Father Francis Joseph Bressani, was soon to walk in his footsteps. Nothing daunted by torments which, humanly speaking, should have proved fatal, Bressani, after his experience with the Mohawks, returned to Canada (1645) and consecrated his unfailing energies to the welfare of the Hurons, who could not help regarding him as a hero. Meantime, constantly harassed by the Iroquois, who had burnt several of their villages, the Hurons were rapidly marching to their doom. Yet, thanks to the fearlessness of their spiritual guides, mission work grew apace among them. Indeed about 1648 Father Bressani felt warranted to write that "whereas at the date of their arrival they found not a single soul possessing a knowledge of the true God, at the present day, in spite of persecution, want, famine, war, and pestilence, there is not a single family which does count some Christians." Better still, the converts were living up to the Christian standard of morality, and the general tone of the nation's society was gradually undergoing a decided change for the better. But the implacable Iroquois would not allow them to profit peacefully by the ministrations of their priests. One by one their villages were attacked and destroyed. In the spring of 1648 St. Joseph's was annihilated and its missionary, Father Daniel, killed while comforting his flock. Next came the turn of the fortified town of St. Louis where the lionhearted Brébeuf and his companion, Father Lalemant, were martyred (see BRÉBEUF). St. Ignatius village suffered a similar attack, and most of its inhabitants were butchered. Then St. Mary's was assailed by the enemy; but, warned in time, it succeeded in repulsing the attack. Numerous Huron villages were successively razed, and many of their people massacred, while others were led off to the land of the invaders, there to undergo torture, perpetual captivity, or death.

No wonder, then, if the Hurons lost heart and, sought safety in flight and dispersion. Their devoted pastors followed them in their exile. They at first gathered remnants of their once nation on an island in Lake Huron, called today Christian Island, while the Petun village of Etharita succumbed under the blows of the southern aborigines, and with it Father Charles Garnier who, though in the grasp of death, dragged himself to minister to the spiritual needs of his afflicted flock. His companion, Father Noel Chabanel, was at the same time the victim of an apostate Huron who flung his body into the river. The one consolation in the midst of these ruins was the constancy with which the converts stuck to their faith even when in the land of their executioners. So thoroughly did they share the fortitude of their pastors, that many of them not only confessed their faith in Christ at the peril of their lives but even exhorted their persecutors to embrace it themselves. Some of the fugitives went west, while others found a temporary refuge on the desert islands of Lake Huron, or among the Neutrals who had soon themselves to flee for their lives. Meanwhile the exiles of Christian Island, after untold sufferings, retired in the spring of 1650 to the neighbourhood of Quebec, finally settling at the Lorette Mission (see HURON INDIANS). Their chief occupation having ceased with the practical extinction of the Hurons as a people, the Jesuit missionaries now turned their attention to the fierce Iroquois, repeating the prodigies of self-denial with which their victims had been favored. Against their tenacious perseverance and devotion to duty no bigotry can stand. To Protestants as well as to Catholics they are nothing short of heroes of Christian fortitude. To the west of Huronia proper was the land of the Petuns who boasted nine or ten villages with a population of perhaps ten thousand in 1640. Two missions, that of St. John's and that of St. Mathias, had been established among them. These Indians were commencing to yield to the influence of grace when they, too, had to retire before the victorious march of the ruthless Iroquois.

In 1652 we find them at Michillimakinac, whence they set out on a series, of peregrinations which landed them among tribes of the United States, by whom they were ultimately absorbed. The other remnant of the Huron nation fared better. About 1665 they enjoyed the ministrations of an able and pious priest, Father Joseph M. Chaumonot, a pioneer missionary who bad given no less than fifty-three years of his life to the ill-fated Hurons (d. 1692).

Considered as a nation, the Hurons had been wiped off the face of the earth. Such of the priests as were not required for missionary work within what is now the American Union then turned their attention toward the more pacific tribes nearer home. The Micmacs had from the first accepted Christianity (see MICMACS). On 29 July, 1657, Gabriel De Queylus, Gabriel Souart, and Dominique Galinier, members of a newly founded ecclesiastical society, the Sulpicians. accompanied by M. d'Allet a deacon of the same institute, arriving at Quebec, immediately proceeded to the village of Ville-Marie, now Montreal, where they replaced the Jesuits in the charge of the local parish. Though more especially destined for work among the whites, the Sulpicians did not overlook the salvation of the native tribes. Thus, ten years after their arrival in Canada (1667), they ministered to the Ottawas and other Algonquin groups. Bishop De Montmorency-Laval, the first prelate in the colony, entrusted to them the care of a mission established at Quinte Bay on Lake Ontario, for the benefit of the Cayugas, an Iroquois tribe, and many adopted Hurons settled in their midst. Their success with the adult population was not complete; but their very presence paved the way towards establishing missionary stations all along the western shore of Lake Ontario (1669). Soon after, the Sulpicians were succeeded in that field by the Recollects who had just returned to Canada. Father Louis Hennepin and others laboured with energy, but harvested only tares, and the natives gradually returned south; all traces of a mission on the Canadian side of the lake disappeared.

It was then that, quite a number of Iroquois of the American Union having been won over to the Faith, a step was taken by their spiritual advisers of which the results were to last to our day. To withdraw them from the dangers of their pagan environment, the Jesuits induced them (1668) to settle at La Prarie, near Montreal, whence they moved (1676) to Sault St. Louis, and then to Caughnawaga. One of the chief reasons for that migration was the prevailing excesses, principally owing to the intoxicants dealt out by the Dutch. The French colony itself was not free from that greatest of curses for the American aborigine. But, in addition to the solemn promise to abstain therefrom which was exacted of all the newcomers into the model settlement, the stopping of the evil was more easy on Canadian than on American (or, as it was then; English) soil. As a matter of fact, the missionaries of New France, and especially their valiant head, Bishop Laval, fought it with unflagging perseverance, appealing to the French authorities whenever their representatives on the St. Lawrence proved unwilling to stay the spread of this scourge. In their new home at Sault St. Louis the Iroquois Christians gave great consolations. Thus one of the former torturers of Father de Brébeuf, Garonhiague by name, became one of the most zealous catechists of the new mission, and the war-chief Kryn shone by his virtues as much as by his courage. But the best known example of Christian efflorescence in that settlement was Catherine Tegakwitha, a native virgin surnamed the "Lily of the Mohawks", who died in 1678 after a short life passed in the practice of heroic virtues. About that time events shaped themselves in such a way as to further increase the extent of the missionary field in the East. The Abenakis, an Algonquin nation, ever a staunch ally of the French though most of its tribes were considerably nearer to the English, were attracting the attention of Father Gabriel Druillettes, who visited them repeatedly in their original homes. These natives were soon to swell the ranks of the Canadian Indians under the care of the Jesuits. After a series of hostilities in the course of which the English had at one time to agree to pay them tribute, the Abenakis were defeated on 3 Dec., 1679. Rather than remain neighbours to the victors, most of them immediately made their way to Canada and Acadia, where they have since remained.

The following year (1680) two Jesuits, the brothers Vincent and Jacques Bigot, were appointed to watch over the spiritual interests of the newcomers. These, gathered at the village of Sillery, joined St. Joseph's Mission which in 1681 counted already some five hundred or six hundred inhabitants, as yet unbaptized, but animated by excellent dispositions. Their congeners in Acadia, having heard of the welcome extended to them, asked for, and were granted, 1 July, 1683, a land concession of thirty-six square miles on the Chaudiere River, to which they flocked in large numbers. This was given the name of St. Francis' Mission. For over twenty years the Bigot brothers devoted their energies to the welfare of the Indians of both missions, and their zeal was rewarded by complete success. In 1708 other aborigines of the same stock were settled at Becancourt, with a view to serve as a rampart against the Iroquois. They "were all Christians, and practised with much edification the precepts of Christianity" (Charlevoix, "Journal Hist.", V, p. 164). Twelve years later (1720) they numbered about five hundred souls. A short time before (1716), the mission of Oka, or Lake of the Two Mountains, was established, where Christianized Iroquois and remnants of the Algonquin nation were gathered under the guidance of the Sulpicians. In these various foundations the secular authorities generously seconded the efforts of the missionaries by the grant of large tracts of land for the benefit of their charge.

Now that the French were more or less at peace with the Iroquois, and friendly with the other tribes in the East, they dreamt of fresh conquests in the West. The "Western Sea" (Pacific Ocean) was especially the object of their ambition. They commissioned the Sieur Pierre Gaulthier de Laverendrye to undertake an expedition in that direction, and in the summer of 1735 Father Jean Pierre Aulneau, S.J., accompanied him to the Lake of the Woods previous to attempting his ultimate mission, the conversion of the Mandans of the Upper Missouri. With a party of twenty Frenchmen, he was treacherously slain on an island of the same lake by the Sioux on 8 June of the following year. Father Claude Godefroy Coquart, of the same order, took his place (1743) as chaplain of the exploring expedition, and dwelt a short time at the present Portage la Prarie, but could accomplish nothing for the Western Indians. The mission of Michilimakinac, at the west end of Lake Huron, was then the base of operations for such expeditions. Thence also the Jesuits scoured the woods in quest of souls to save, and Ross Cox says that the impression they made on their wayward wards was such that, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the descendants of the latter had not forgotten "the good white fathers who, unlike other white men, never robbed or cheated them" (Adventures on the Columbia River", New York, P. 149). But with the exception of the reservations of the Abenakis and the Micmacs in the far East, all under the care of the Jesuits, most of the Catholic missions in Canada were along the St. Lawrence. Quite a few were at the various localities then called the Posts of the King, the Malbaie, Tadoussac, Mingan, Chicoutimi, and other places, concerning which Father Coquart addressed a memoir to the Intendant of New France under the date 5 April, 1750.

Shortly before, a , Father Francis Picquet, had started a movement among the aborigines, the results of which were most remarkable. In a village called Ogdensburg he established a reduction, the success of which soon attracted widespread attention. In the space of four years he grouped over three thousand Indians and opened for their benefit the missions of La Presentation, La Galette, Sugatzo, l,'Ile àu Galop, and L'Ile Picquet, on the St. Lawrence. So great was his success and so considerable the extent of his operations that (1749) it took the Bishop of Quebec ten days to inspect his central establishment officially. Two years later Father Picquet visited the Indians on Lake Ontario, whence he repaired to the land of the Senecas. When Quebec was captured in 1759, that missionary had converted large numbers of heathens. Unfortunately, the ensuing unsettled state of the country put a stop to his activities, and in May, 1760, he had to leave Ogdensburg, never to return. Another Sulpician, Father Jean Mathevet, after having mastered the language of the Abenakis, of which he compiled a dictionary, was then ministering to the mixed congregation of Oka (1746-81), together with Father Vincent Guichart, whose missionary labours extended from 1754 to the time of his death in 1793. Perhaps the most famous Canadian missionary of that period was Father Jean-Baptiste Labrosse, a Jesuit, who exercised his ministry all through Lower Canada and New Brunswick during no less than thirty-five years, being with the Montagnais and the Malecites from 1754-82, when he died regretted by all for his unremitting charity. Two events then conspired to interrupt the progress of the Catholic missions in Canada. These were the change of political masters, owing to which several members of the clergy returned to France, and the suppression, in 1773, of the Jesuit Order. By the fortieth clause of the Montreal capitulation England had granted religious liberty to the Indians as well as to the whites then in the colony. Yet some of the instructions soon after sent to her representatives on the banks of the St. Lawrence were openly against the spirit, if not the letter, of that treaty. The officials were told that "all missionaries among the Indians, whether established under the authority or appointed by the Jesuits, or by any other ecclesiastical authority of the Romish Church, [must] be withdrawn by degrees, and at such times and in such a manner as shall be satisfactory to the Indians and consistent with the public safety, and Protestant missionaries appointed in their places" (Royal Instructions to Sir George Prevost). The natives refused to part with their priests on any consideration, thereby showing the extent of the influence these had acquired over them. After the suppression of the Society of Jesus the care of the Indians fell entirely on the shoulders of the Sulpicians and of such of the secular clergy as could be spared for that work. Among the former we may mention Father Thavenet, who laboured, mostly at the Oka mission, from 1793 to 1815. Of the latter one of the most prominent was a refugee from the horrors of the French Revolution, Abbé le Courtois, who reached Canada on 26 June, 1794, and died on 18 May, 1828, after having devoted himself to the service of the northeastern and St. Lawrence aborigines.

Meantime an event had taken place in the West which was portentous of the most important results for Catholic influence among the natives of North America. The Earl of Selkirk having founded, in 1812, a colony of Scotch Presbyterians and Irish Catholics at the junction of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers, was violently opposed by the representatives of the Northwest Company. This opposition resulted (19 June, 1816) in the Battle of Seven Oaks, in which twenty-two whites, including the governor of the colony, lost their lives. As it was evident to the noble founder that no permanent success could be achieved without the aid of religion, he obtained from the Bishop of Quebec two missionaries, Father Joseph Norbert Provencher and Joseph Nicholas S. Dumoulin, who, on 16 July, 1818, arrived to found the church of St. Boniface, opposite Fort Douglas, the headquarters of the traders in the country. One of the chief objects of the new mission was the conversion of the Aborigines of the Middle West of Canada. Father Dumoulin tried to meet the wishes of his bishop in this respect; but, owing to the fact that he could give only half of his time to the Indians, he accomplished little enough. In fact, such was the rebellious temper of his native charges, that he was twice shot at by one of them. Scarcely anything could be done to better their lot until 1831, when Father George A. Belcourt arrived among them from Lower Canada. The newcomer, an able man, immediately commenced to acquire a thorough knowledge of the language of the Saulteux, or Chippewas, which he reduced to writing and of which he composed a dictionary. In 1833 he established on the Assiniboine an Indian village, known as St. Paul's Mission, where he strove to teach farming as well as the elements of the Christian doctrine. Owing perhaps to his insistence on the former, his success was far from complete. In the summer of the same year, Father Jean-Baptiste Thibault reached the Middle West; though less brilliantly endowed than Belcourt, he was to prove more successful as a missionary. The latter was then journeying to Rainy River, where he found the Indians "little disposed to leave the bottle for the word of God", according to the founder of the Red River Missions, now Bishop Provencher. In the course of 1838 Belcourt established a second post at the confluence of the English and Winnipeg Rivers. This was Wabassimong, which soon acquired a degree of celebrity, though it had to be abandoned in 1847. In 1842 a new and larger field was opened to the zeal of the missionaries, the Far West, today Alberta, where Father Thibatilt preached the Gospel to the Crees and Blackfeet who repaired to Fort Edmonton. Without becoming at once converts to our holy faith, these aborigines were persuaded by the preaching of the Canadian priest to the extent of definitively rejecting the advances of the Methodist minister who had preceded him in that distant region. Then Thibault journeyed even farther west, and founded the mission of St. Ann, whence he and other priests thenceforth attended, with some measure of success, to the spiritual wants of the surrounding tribes. He next went (1844) as far as Cold Lake, Lac la Biche and even Ile à la Crosse, where the Déné Indians received him with open arms.

A short time before (1842) another Canadian missionary, Father Modeste Demers, began work throughout British Columbia, or New Caledonia, as that country was then called, going as far as Stuart Lake, where he accomplished wonders. As early as 1838, after having crossed the entire continent from Quebec, Father Demers had reached the Columbia valley, where he was everywhere received as the special envoy of the Almighty, and produced among the populous tribes of the Pacific an impression which powerfully worked for unity when, later on, the ministers of various sects made their appearance. In the spring of the following year, Father Jean Baptiste Z. Bolduc reintroduced Christianity on Vancouver Island, where it had been planted at the time of the occupation of Nootka by the Spaniards (1789-95). In 1845-47 Father John Nobili, a Jesuit, retraced Demers' itinerary, and finally went even so far as Babine Lake in the course of his missionary excursion. Meantime a new worker, Father Jean E. Darveau, was in a fair way towards materially improving the spiritual condition of the hardened Saulteux of what is today Northern Manitoba, when he was murdered 4 June, 1844, by Indians who sided with a Protestant catechist stationed at Le Pas, Lower Saskatchewan, where the priest intended to start a permanent mission. East of the Manitoban lakes, Father Dominique Du Ranquet, S.J., inaugurated in April of the same year the missionary station of Walpole Island, on Lake Superior, whence he visited various posts, and in the following July another Jesuit, Father Choné, took up his residence at Wikwemikong, on Manitoulin Island, where a secular priest had preceded him. No less than twenty-one posts on the island, Georgian Bay from Mississagué to Owen Sound, as well as Lake Nipissing. and Beausoleil Island, were attended from that mission. Great was the opposition of the Protestant ministers (among whom was James Evans, the inventor of the Cree syllabics); but the Jesuits held their own, and managed to organize the flourishing Christian settlements of Garden River and Pigeon River (1848). The latter station was transferred in 1849 to Fort William by Fathers Choné and Frémiot. Thence these missionaries ministered to the Indians of Port Arthur, Prince's Bay, Royal Island, and Lake Nepigon. Still further east, in the very land of the Abenakis, less consoling events had taken place some time previously. An Indian known by the name of Masta had been educated in the United States whence he returned in 1830 to St. Francis Mission with the title and attributes of a Protestant minister. After much opposition at the hands of his fellow Abenakis he succeeded, by dint of skilful intrigue and with the connivance of the Canadian authorities, in putting up a Protestant chapel in the very midst of the Indian village (1837). Three years later Father J. A. Maurault was sent thither by Bishop Signay to learn the language of the natives, and in 1847 he actually became their missionary. Thenceforth the Abenaki preacher saw whatever influence he had gained wane until he bad to leave the scene of his exploits. At the same time a still better known priest was commencing his apostolic career at Oka, Father J. A. Cuocq, an able Sulpician, who was to consecrate his energies for over half a century to the welfare of the Mohawks and Algonquins, whose languages he eventually mastered.

A new era dawned for the Indian missions of Canada. At the request of Mgr. Bourget, Bishop of Montreal, four Oblates of Mary Immaculate reached the St. Lawrence from France (1811) and immediately began preaching missions, not only to the whites, but also to the Indians of Lower Canada. Several missionaries of the new order, Father Louis Déléage, Flavien Durocher, and Jean-N. Laverlochère, soon distinguished themselves. Hearing of their success, Bishop Provencher begged for the co-operation of their brethren in religion. On 25 Aug., 1845, Father Pierre Aubert and Brother Antonin-Alexandre Taché arrived at St. Boniface, and, while the older missionary was sent to Wabassimong, Brother Taché left after his ordination to the distant post of Ile à la Crosse. There he had for a superior Father Louis Laflèche, who had established that, mission in the course of the preceding year. Both priests did a vast amount of good to the native population. In 1846 two other Oblates, Father Henri Faraud and a companion, reached the Canadian West. In the north Father Taché gradually extended his field of action. He visited the (1847), first of all missionaries, the shores of Lake Athabasca, where Father Faraud was to inaugurate Nativity Mission on 8 September 1849. On 24 June of the following year Father Taché was appointed coadjutor to Bishop Provencher, and temporarily left the Ile à la Crosse mission in the hand of newcomers, Fathers Maisonneuve and Tissot, whose inexperience was somewhat resented by the Indians. Hence Bishop Taché had to return to them after his consecration (23 Nov., 1851) and for several years the young prelate continued among them the labours which pertain more to the province of a simple priest than to that of a bishop. Father Henri Grollier, a young Oblate who was to become the Apostle of the Arctic Circle, came to swell the ranks of the missionaries (June, 1852), while Father Albert Lacombe started on his long career as all itinerant missionary over the Saskatchewan plains. Father Grollier soon went to Lake Athabasca, where he was for some time Father Faraud's companion. Then he founded the mission of Fond du Lac, on the same body of water (1853), while Father René Rémas established that of Lac la Biche. The principal event of 1854 was the arrival in the Canadian Northwest of Father Vital J. Grandin, a young Oblate who was to do yeoman service in the cause of the missions there. The new recruit was sent to Lake Athabasca, to relieve Father Faraud, who established (1856) St. Joseph's Mission on Great Slave Lake. Illustrative of the result of the Oblates' exertions in the north, we may say that, by the end of 1856, there remained of the seven hundred and thirty-five natives who formed the population of Ile à la Crosse, only one hundred and forty-eight heathens.

In the far East other Oblates were emulating those of the Canadian Northwest; in addition to those already mentioned there were Fathers André Garin and Charles Arnaud, then Fathers Louis Babel and Jean-Pierre Guéguen. These missionaries repeatedly visited in succession Tadotissac, Les Escoumains, Maskuaro, Mingan, Portneuf, and Les Ilets. As a rule their efforts were crowned with success. Not only did they teach their neophytes the rudiments of the Christian doctrine, but they even imparted to them some knowledge of the secular sciences, and enhanced the attractiveness of the Catholic worship by solemn processions and other pious devices. As early as 30 Sept., 1850, one of them, Father Arnaud, at this writing (1910) still actively engaged in the eastern field, wrote of the natives of Les Ilets: "They are the best instructed on the coast; they all know how to read and write. It is inspiring to see them in the church, the men on one side and the women on the other, prayer-book in hand, vying with each other, as it were, in modesty and fervour. Another spectacle scarcely less striking is that of the little children at prayer after the evening service, when every mother teaches the members of her family how to pray to the Great Spirit" (Rapport sur les Missions de Québec, March, 1851, p. 36. A regular house of the Oblates was established (1851) at Rivière au Désert, now Maniwaki, and later on (1862) others were erected at Bethsiamits and Ville-Marie (Pontiac), whence, as well as from the residences on the St. Lawrence, not only the roving bands of the interior. Montagnais, Algonquins, and Nascapis, but even such as resorted to the trading-posts of Abbittibbi, Albany, and Moose Factory, on Hudson Bay, were visited by the "Black-Robes". In spite of their precarious circumstances, those aboriginies often enough repaid by a faithful discharge of their religious duties the devotedness of their spiritual guides. The same may be said of the Indians of the inhospitable steppes of the Far North, where the Tachés, Farauds, Grandins, Grolliers, and a host of others were gladly undergoing the pangs of hunger, and setting at defiance the rigours of Arctic winters and the fatigues of endless marches on snowshoes for the sake of the souls entrusted to their care. Their courage and devotion to duty were so great, and their successes so striking, that they often elicited flattering encomiums from Protestant traders and explorers. On 30 November, 1859, Father Grandin was consecrated Bishop of Satala and coadjutor to Bishop Taché. yet he remained in the north, spending most of his time in incessant travelling. His presence there was all the more necessary as the preceding year had witnessed the arrival in the Mackenzie district of the first Protestant clergyman, the forerunner of numerous Anglican missionaries in the north. Father Grollier was immediately dispatched to Fort Simpson, the headquarters of the enemy, where, in spite of the inducements offered by the local Protestant trader, he had the consolation of seeing the great majority of the natives side with the representative of Catholicism. He then founded (1858) the missionary post of Our Lady of Good Hope, likewise on the Mackenzie and just within the Arctic Circle. Then he even went down as far is the first Eskimo village (Sept., 1860), while Father Gascon, a new recruit, was protecting the savages of the Liard River against the wiles of the preacher. Simultaneously the difficult station of Lake Caribou, just southwest of the Barren Grounds, was established under Father Végreville.

The year 1862 saw the beginning of what was to become a most important establishment under the title of the Divine Providence, on the Mackenzie where Fathers Gascon and Petitot made the very first clearings. That same year a Protestant minister, Mr. Kirkby, despairing of success east of the Rocky Mountains, crossed that range into the Yukon. Hearing of this, an intrepid missionary, Father Séguin, immediately followed; but the conflict was unequal; the preacher, besides the powerful influence of the traders, had resources of which the priest could not dispose. Above all he had the advantage of priority, and, despite two other visits of the Catholic missionaries, that of Father Petitot (1870) and that of Bishop Clut with Father Lecorre (1872), the Loucheux of the Far Northwest were, to great extent, lost to the Church. Things were brighter on the Saskatchewan and in the adjoining region, where new posts, denoting constant progress, were being established on all sides. Even martyred Darveau's old mission of Duck Bay had been in a sense revived, though transferred to the northern extremely of Lake Manitoba under the name of St-Laurent. A still more important event was the erection of the Athabasca and Mackenzie districts into a separate vicariate Apostolic, with Father Faraud (consecrated 30 Nov., 1864) as first titular. The new prelate was (1866) given coadjutor in the person of Bishop Isidore Clut. With this perfected organization the northern missions, served by such sterling missionaries as Fathers Séguin, Grouard, and the learned explorer, linguist, and ethnographer, Father Petitot, managed, in the teeth of opposition and extreme poverty, not only to hold their own, but to increase the number of their stations and converts. In the course of 1866 Father Petitot procured for the natives of Great Bear Lake the visit of the first minister of the Gospel they had ever seen in their dreary wastes. In the south Fathers Lacombe, Gasté, Leduc, Fourmond, Bonnald, and others were neither less active nor less successful. While in the far East secular priests were looking after the spiritual interests of the Abenakis, the Oblates continued their visits to the Indians north of the St. Lawrence, and the Jesuits to the natives of the Lake Superior basin.

On the Pacific Coast, the work of evangelization, inaugurated by Father Demers likewise advanced. That missionary, having been made Bishop of Vancouver Island (1847), called to his aid the Oblates lately established in Oregon. The stations of Esquimalt, Sanish, and Cowitchen, and the conversion of hosts of aborigines were the immediate results. From the island missionary work spread to the adjacent mainland. On 8 Oct., 1859, Father Charles M. Pandosy founded the Okanagan mission, and Fathers Casimir Chirouse, Léon Fouquet, Paul Durieu, and other Oblates powerfully helped their superior, Father Louis-Joseph D'Herbomez, in regenerating the Indians of the Lower Fraser. Most consoling were the results of their zeal, and it is doubtful if a more thorough change from habitual intemperance and other vices was ever effected in North America than that which rejoiced the hearts of the Oblates in British Columbia.

On 20 Dec., 1863, Father d'Herbomez became the first bishop of the mainland, and this circumstance gave a new impetus to the evangelization of that immense country. Shushwaps and Chilcotins were then granted the same spiritual advantages as had been for some time enjoyed by the natives of the Lower Fraser valley, for the special benefit of whom the mission of St. Mary's had been established (1861). In the course of 1868 Bishop d'Herbomez himself visited the whole of the northern interior of British Columbia, as far as Babine Lake, doing much good to the Dénés and other Indians he met. Fathers Le Jacq and McGuckin walked in his footsteps until the former established (1873) the mission of Stuart Lake, which was to become the great centre of missionary activities in the north of the Pacific province. In June, 1875, Father Pierre-P. Durieu was named coadjutor to Bishop d'Herbomez. On Vancouver Island a devoted secular priest, Father August Brabant, had long been battling at his own personal risk against the apathy of the less religiously inclined Indians of the west coast. he was finally successful, while secular priests, Fathers J. N. Lemmens, Joseph Nicolaye, and others, were gradually taking the places of the Oblates who had been the pioneers of the island diocese. In 1871 the Holy See formed the Province of St. Boniface with Archbishop Taché as metropolitan and three suffragans, Bishop Grandin, now titular of St. Albert, and the vicars Apostolic of Athabasca-Mackenzie (Mgr. Faraud) and of British Columbia (Mgr. d'Herbomez). The archdiocese lost importance as a missionary country in proportion as it saw the wave of white immigration roll over the soil tilled by so many devoted workers. The districts of the Saskatchewan, Athabasca, and the Mackenzie were long to remain rich fields for apostolic men zealous for the lowest in the social scale. That the difficulties and even dangers attending the evangelization of the Indians had not disappeared from those territories was made evident by the drowning in Lake Athabasca (1873) of a veteran of the northern missions, Father Emile Eynard, an ex-official of the French Government; the freezing (1874) of Louis Daze, a lay missionary of the St. Albert diocese; and the fate which befell Brother Alexis (July, 1875), killed and eaten by an Iroquois companion.

Yet there is no denying that local conditions were little by little undergoing some alterations. On the plains of what is now southern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan white immigration had commenced. At that time treaties were made with the Indians, entailing the establishment of new missionary posts and of industrial schools. While some of these were assigned to Protestant sects, the Church could not be content with a second place in a country where she had done most of the pioneer work. In spite of occasional ill-will on the part of those in power, she readily adapted herself to the new circumstances. Thus were founded the important Indian schools of (1) Dunbow, Alberta (1884); (2) Qu' Appelle, Saskatchewan (1884); (3) St. Boniface (1890); (4) Duck Lake, in Saskatchewan (1897), and other similar institutions for the benefit of the Indian youth. British Columbia already possessed the Indian industrial schools of St. Mary's, William's Lake, Kamloops, and Kootenay, all in the hands of the Catholic missionaries and nuns. Then came the Saskatchewan Rebellion (1885), which resulted not only in the destruction of seven Catholic missions, but even in the death at the hands of pagan Crees (2 April) of Fathers Fafard and Marchand, young Oblates then in charge of the posts of Frog Lake and Onion Lake respectively. Quite a few of the misguided Indians, however, eventually profited by these troubles, since their condemnation to death or confinement led them to join the Church they had so grievously injured.

Thenceforth the roving life of the pioneers became more or less a thing of the past for the missionaries of the western prairies, who, penned up with their charge in well-defined reservations, continued their ministrations without that element of romance which breaks the monotony of the daily routine and contributes to the making of history. It may now suffice for us to mention the labours of Fathers Gasté at Lake Caribou; Bonnald at Cumberland; Grouard (who replaced Bishop Faraud, d. Oct., 1892), at Lac la Biche and Athabasca; of Father Pascal (appointed vicar Apostolic of the newly created district of the Saskatchewan, 19 April, 1891), at Lake Athabasca and elsewhere; of Father Séguin, on the Lower Mackenzie, and of many other equally deserving missionaries. Even the lonely missions of the great northern stream and tributaries have had a share in the material progress so noticeable in the south. Thanks to the initiative of Bishop Grouard, a steamer has been built which annually saves to those poor missions large sums of money formerly paid to the Hudson Bay Company for their periodical outfitting. In the far East anew impetus was imparted to the missions of the faithful Micmacs by the arrival of the Capuchin Fathers in October, 1894, at Ste-Anne de Restigouche. In British Columbia material circumstances were never quite so precarious as in Mackenzie. Owing to the efforts of Bishop Durieu, the spiritual conditions of the Indians of the mainland of that province have ever been exceptionally bright. With the aid of such tried co-workers as Fathers Le Jacq, Fouquet, Chirouse junior, and others, the wonders of the Paraguayan Reductions have been reproduced, if not surpassed, among the Indians of the Pacific. Others working there were Rev. A. G. Morice, who directed Stuart's Lake mission during nineteen years and invented an Indian syllabary now widely known in the North; N. Coccola, who did wonders in the Kootenay; Fr. Thomas, and V. Rohr.

Of a native population of 111,043, Canada officially counts today 40,820 Catholic Indians thus distributed: Prince Edward Island, 274; New Brunswick, 1871; Nova Scotia, 2103; Quebec, 7926; Ontario, 6319; Manitoba, 1734; Saskatchewan, 2939; Alberta, 1873; Northwest Territories, 2252; Yukon Territory, 59, and British Columbia, 11,470. These are the official figures, which represent, only the treaty Indians. In so far at least as the present vicariates Apostolic of Athabasca and of Mackenzie are concerned, they are manifestly out of proportion with the actual population, since the Catholic Indians and halfbreeds of those territories alone are locally estimated at 11,000 and 5,000 respectively, with perhaps 500 native Protestants. 55,000 is a fairly accurate figure for the total of the Catholics among the Canadian Indians.

Sources

For books bearing on the Catholic missions in Canada see the bibliography after the article HURON. Also:--
BEGG, History of British Columbia Toronto, 1894); BEGG, (a namesake of foregoing), The Creation of Manitoba (Toronto, 1871); lDEM, History of the North-west, 3 vols. (Toronto, 1894); BENOIT, Vie de Mgr. Taché, 2 vols. (Montreal, 1904); BOULTON, Reminiscences of the Northwest Rebellions (Toronto, 1886); BURTIN, Vie de Catherine Tekahgwita (Montreal); DUGAS, Monseigneur Provencher (Montreal, 1881); IDEM, Histoire veridique des Faits qui ont prepare le Mouvement de Metis(Montreal, 1906); HARGRAVE, Red River (Montreal. 1871); HILL, Manitoba (Toronto, 1890); JONES, Relation inedite du R. P. Pierre Laure, S.J. (Montreal, 1889); IDEM, The Aulneau Collection (Montreal, 1893); JONQUET, Monsigneur Grandin (Montreal, 1903); LINDSAY, Notre-Datne de la Jeune Lorette (Montreall, 1900); Martin, Hurons et Iroquois (Paris, 1898); MAURAULT, Histoire des Abenakis (Sorel, 1866); MORICE, Au Pays de l'Ours noir (Paris, 1897); IDEM, History of the Northern Interior of British Columbiai (Toronto, 1904); IDEM, Dictionnaire historique des Canadecns et des Metis francais de l'Ouest (Quebec, 1907); IDEM, History of the Catholic Church in Western Canada, 2 vols. (Toronto, 1910); MULVANY, The History of the Northwest Rebellion of 1885 (Toronto, 1886); PAQUET, Fragments de l'Histoire religieuse et civile de la paroisse de St Nicolas (Levis. 1894); PETITOT, Chez des Grands Esquimaux (Paris, 1887); IDEM, En route pour la Mer Glaciale (Paris, 1888); IDEM, Quinze Ans sous le Cercle Polaire (Paris, 1889); IDEM, Autour du Grand Lac des Esclaves (Paris, 1891); IDEM, Exploration de la Region du Grand Lac des Ours (Paris, 1893); PIOLET, Les Missions catholiques francaises an XIXe siecle, VI (Paris, s. d.), 51-164; SOMERSET, The Land of the Muskeg (London, 1855); SOULERIN, Le Pere Laverlochere (Paris, s. d.).
Periodicals: Annales de la Propagation de la Foi (Lyons); Missions de la Congregation des Oblates de Marie Immaculee (Paris, 1862-1910); Notices necrologiques des O. M. I. (Paris); Rapports sur les Missions du Diocese de Quebec (Quebec).

About this page

APA citation. Morice, A. (1911). Catholic Indian Missions of Canada. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10378a.htm

MLA citation. Morice, Adrian. "Catholic Indian Missions of Canada." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10378a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by John Looby.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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