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The Mission of Ville Marie

While the Jesuits carried the Cross to the Huron, the Algonquins, and the Iroquois, other crusaders, equally noble and courageous, planted it on the spot where now stands the foremost city of the Dominion. The settlement of the large and fertile island at the confluence of the Ottawa and the St Lawrence had a motive all its own. Quebec was founded primarily for trade; and so with practically all other settlements which have grown into great centers of population. But Montreal was originally intended solely for a mission station. Its founders had no thought of trade; indeed, they were prohibited from dealing in furs, then the chief marketable product of the colony.

We have seen that the men and women who founded the Sillery mission, and the Hotel-Dieu and the Ursuline convent at Quebec, received their inspiration from the Relations of the Jesuits. So likewise did the founders of the settlement on the island of Montreal. Jerome le Royer de la Dauversiere of La Fleche in Anjou, a receiver of taxes, and Abbe Jean Jacques Olier of Paris, were the prime movers in the undertaking. Each independently of the other had conceived the idea of establishing on the island of Hochelaga a mission for the conversion of the heathen in Canada. Meeting by accident at the Chateau of Meudon near Paris, they planned their enterprise, and decided to found a colony of devotees, composed of an order of priests, an order of sisters to care for the sick and infirm, and an order of nuns for the teaching of young Indians and the children of settlers at the mission. These two enthusiasts went to work in a quite practical way to realize their ambition. They succeeded in interesting the Baron de Fancamp and three other wealthy gentlemen, and soon had a sum--about $75,000--ample for the establishment of the colony. While they were busy at this work, Mademoiselle Jeanne Mance, a courageous and devout woman, was moved by one of Father Le Jeune's Relations to devote her life to the care of the wounded and suffering in the wilds of New France; and the projected colony on the island of Montreal offered an opportunity for the fulfillment of her desire. Madame de Bullion, a rich and very charitable woman, had agreed to aid Olier and Dauversiere by endowing a hospital in the colony, and Jeanne Mance offered her services as nurse and housekeeper. A leader was needed, a man of soldierly training and pious life; and in Paul de Chomedy, Sieur de Maisonneuve, a veteran of the wars in Holland, the ideal man was found. No attempt was made at this time to secure teachers; there would be at first neither white nor red children to teach, for there were no Indians living on the island of Montreal, and the colonists would not at first bring their families to this wilderness post. The funds collected and the leader found, the next step was to get permission from the Hundred Associates to settle on the island; and here was a difficulty. The Associates had been liberal in land-grants to their own members; and Jean de Lauzon, the president, had received for himself large concessions, among them the entire island of Montreal. However, he was persuaded, probably for a consideration, to part with a grant that brought him no return, and which he could visit only at the risk of his scalp. Olier and Dauversiere and their associates secured the land, and Maisonneuve was appointed governor of the new colony.

The Jesuits had played an important part in this undertaking. It was their Relations that had given the impulse, and the promoters of the colony had the able assistance of Father Charles Lalemant, whom we have already met as the first superior of the Jesuit order in New France. It was he who persuaded Jean de Lauzon to consent to surrender his grant, and it was to him that Maisonneuve first came to seek advice as to how he could best consecrate his sword to the Church in Canada. And it was largely on Lalemant's recommendation that Maisonneuve received his appointment as leader of the colonists and governor of the colony. To Lalemant, too, came Jeanne Mance when she first heard the clear call to the new mission.

The promoters of the 'Society of Our Lady of Montreal' now set to work to collect recruits for the mission, provide supplies, and prepare vessels to transport the colonists to New France. All was ready about the middle of June 1641, and, while Dauversiere, Olier, and Fancamp remained in France to look after the interests of the colony there, Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance, with three other women and about fifty men, set sail and arrived in Quebec before the end of August. Here they did not find the enthusiastic welcome which they expected. Maisonneuve had come with a special commission as governor of Montreal, and was coldly received by Montmagny, who was jealous of him, and who moreover believed, no doubt rightly, that a divided authority would not be in the best interests of struggling New France. The Jesuits at Quebec tried to persuade Maisonneuve to abandon his enterprise. There were, they said, no inhabitants on the island of Montreal, it was in the direct route of the Mohawks, who annually haunted the Ottawa and St Lawrence, and swift destruction would surely be the fate of the colony. But Maisonneuve could not be moved from his fixed purpose; he would go to Montreal even 'if every tree on that island were to be changed to an Iroquois.'

Accompanied by Father Vimont, the superior of the Jesuits, and Governor Montmagny, Maisonneuve went up the river, and took formal possession of the island on the 15th of October in the name of the 'Society of Our Lady of Montreal.' The colonists spent the winter at St Michel, near Sillery, for there was no room for the Montrealers in the buildings at Quebec. On May 8, 1642, Maisonneuve led his company--in a pinnace, a barge, and two row-boats --to the site of the new colony. Here, too, were Father Vimont and Madame de la Peltrie, who for the nonce had deserted her Ursulines to accompany Jeanne Mance to a field that offered greater excitement and danger. On the 18th of May, at a spot where tall warehouses now abound and where the varied roar of the traffic of a great city never ceases, they set up an altar, and Father Vimont consecrated the island mission. In the course of his sermon he uttered the prophetic words: 'You are a grain of mustard seed that shall rise and grow till its branches overshadow the earth. You are few, but your work is the work of God. His smile is upon you and your children shall fill the land.' The city of Montreal, the throbbing heart of the business life of Canada, with its half-million and more inhabitants and its magnificent charitable, religious, and educational institutions, is the fulfillment of his words.

But the beginnings were feeble and disheartening. A few houses, flanked by a windmill and fort, and connected by a footpath where now runs St Paul Street, represented the beginnings of Montreal--or Ville Marie, as the settlement had been christened by the Society in Paris.

The Iroquois soon learned of Ville Marie. Within a few months a scalping party of Mohawks paid it a visit, and killed several workmen and wounded others. The wounded became the care of Jeanne Mance, who never henceforth lacked patients. Between the laborers injured by accident in the forest and the wounded from Iroquois fights, the gentle-handed nurse and her assistants were kept always busy. Many of her patients were friendly Indians who had suffered in the raids; sometimes even a sorely smitten Iroquois would be borne to the rude hospital.

But the mission did not grow. The Algonquins and Huron viewed the island of Montreal as too exposed for a permanent encampment, for the Iroquois ever hovered about it. At no season of the year was Ville Marie immune from attack; night and day the inhabitants had to be on the alert; and often the cry 'The Iroquois!' sent the entire population to the shelter of the fort. For fifteen years there was little change in the population, and year after year the same dangers and hardships faced the people. But Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance hoped on, confident that Ville Marie was destined to have a glorious future. In 1653 Marguerite Bourgeoys, a woman of great force of character, arrived in the colony to open a school. Finding no white pupils, she gathered about her a few red children, and made her school-room in a stable assigned to her by Maisonneuve. Presently more pupils came, and among them some white children. In 1658 she returned to France to secure assistants, and when, in the following year, she resumed her labors at Ville Marie, it was as the head of the 'Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame,' an organization that has so greatly developed as to make its influence felt, not only in Canada, but in the United States as well.

Meanwhile, in 1642, Abbe Olier had founded the Seminary of St Sulpice in Paris; and during the intervening years had been assiduously training missionaries to take over the spiritual control of Ville Marie. Since its founding the Jesuits Poncet, Du Peron, Le Moyne, and Pijart, who had been trained in the difficult school of the Huron mission, and Le Jeune and Druillettes, had ministered to the inhabitants. But in August 1657 the Sulpician priests Gabriel de Queylus, Gabriel Souart, and Dominic Galinier arrived at Ville Marie, and the Jesuits immediately surrendered the parish to them. Henceforth Ville Marie was to be the peculiar care of the Sulpicians, giving them for many years enough of both difficulty and danger. The Iroquois peril did not abate. Never a month passed but the alarm-bell rang out to warn the settlers that the savages were at hand. Even the priests went about their duties with sword at side; and two of them, Vignal and Le Maitre, fell beneath the tomahawk. Only the courage, watchfulness, and foresight of Maisonneuve and of such men as Sergeant-Major Lambert Closse, who gave his life for the colony, saved Ville Marie from utter destruction. And as years went on the Iroquois grew bolder. Having scattered the Huron and the Algonquins, they now threatened every trading-post and mission station in Canada.

In 1660 the climax came. Early in the spring of that year the harassed mission at Ville Marie learned that several hundred Iroquois, who had wintered on the upper Ottawa, were coming down, and that another horde, approaching by way of the Richelieu, would join forces with them. It was the purpose of the savages to destroy Ville Marie and Three Rivers and Quebec, and to wipe out the French on the St Lawrence for good and all.

There was at this time in Ville Marie a young soldier named Adam Daulac, or Dollard, Sieur des Ormeaux, twenty-five years old. He believed that the best defense was attack, and boldly proposed to ascend the Ottawa, with a band of sixteen volunteers, and waylay the Iroquois coming from the north-west. And so the gallant young men bade farewell to their friends and set out. In two large canoes they paddled up the Ottawa, past the swift waters at Ste Anne, through the smooth stretch of the Lake of the Two Mountains, up the fierce current at Carillon, and then on to the rapids of the Long Sault. Here they paused; this was a fitting place for battle. The Iroquois would never expect to find a handful of Frenchmen here, and they could be surprised as they raced down the rapids. On a level stretch near the foot of the Sault there was a rude fort ready at hand, a palisaded structure which had served during the previous autumn as a shelter for an Algonquin war-party. The French drew the canoes up on the shore, and stored the provisions and ammunition in the fort. Then all save the watchful sentinels lay down for a much-needed rest. On the following day Daulac's band was reinforced by four Algonquins and forty Huron, the Huron led by the chief Annahotaha, an inveterate foe of the Iroquois, who had on more than one occasion taken terrible revenge on the enemies of his people. Daulac, now in command of sixty men, confidently awaited the Iroquois. In the meantime axe and saw and shovel were plied to erect a second row of palisades and to fill the space between with earth to the height of a man's breast. Scouts went out and discovered the encampment of the Iroquois, and at last brought the news that two canoes were running the rapids. Daulac hurriedly placed several of his best marksmen in ambush at a spot where the Iroquois were likely to land. The musketeers, however, in their excitement, did not kill all the canoemen. Two of the Iroquois escaped and sped back through the forest to warn their countrymen, and soon a hundred canoes came leaping down the turbulent waters. For a moment Daulac and his men watched the advancing savages. Then they dashed into the fort to prepare for the fight. Against their defenses rushed the Iroquois. Again and again the defenders drove them back with great loss. And for a week the heroic band, living on short rations of crushed corn and water from a well they had dug within the fort, kept the assailants at bay. During this time the Iroquois received large reinforcements, but to no avail. At length they made shields of split logs heavy enough to resist bullets; and presently the bewildered defenders of the fort saw a wooden wall advancing against them. They fired rapid, despairing volleys; a few of the shield-bearers fell, but their places were quickly filled from those in the rear. At the foot of the palisades the Iroquois cast aside the shields, and, hatchet in hand, hacked an opening. The end had come. The Iroquois breached the wall. But Daulac and his men stood to the last, brandishing knife and axe, while with fierce war-cries the Iroquois bounded into the fort; and when the sounds of battle ceased there remained only three Frenchmen, living but mortally wounded, on whom the savages could glut their vengeance.1

The Iroquois had won, but they had no stomach for raiding the settlements. If seventeen Frenchmen, assisted by a few Indians, could keep their hosts at bay for a week, it would be useless to attack strongly fortified posts. And so Daulac and his men at this 'Canadian Thermopylae' had really turned aside the tide of war from New France. The settlements were saved, and for a time traders and missionaries journeyed along the St Lawrence and the Ottawa unmolested.

In 1663, when Louis XIV took New France under his wing, the surviving members of the original Society of Our Lady of Montreal made over the island to the Sulpicians, who assumed the liabilities of the Society, and took up the task of looking after the education of the inhabitants and the care of the sick. Four years later the Seminary of St Sulpice was given judicial rights in the mission of Ville Marie. In 1668 five more Sulpicians came to the colony, among them Rene de Galinee and Dollier de Casson, who were to win distinction as missionaries and explorers. Many Sulpician missions pushed out from Ville Marie, along the upper St Lawrence and the north shore of Lake Ontario.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century the complexion of Ville Marie, then generally called Montreal, had somewhat changed. The Jesuits, the Recollets, who had returned to New France in 1670, and the Sulpicians all labored there. Moreover, from a mere mission station it had become an important trading centre; and as such it was to continue. In position it was well adapted for the fur trade, and after the British took possession in 1760 it became the emporium of a great traffic in the fur-fields of the north and west. But its glorious days are those of its infancy, the days of Maisonneuve and Daulac, of Jeanne Mance and Marguerite Bourgeoys, of Rene de Galinee and Dollier de Casson.


1 The story of the fight was brought to Montreal by some Huron who deserted Daulac's party and escaped.


This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

Chronicles of Canada, The Jesuit Missions, A Chronicle of the Cross in the Wilderness, 1915

 

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