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History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part I: Chapter XI. The Beginning of Montreal


TO Champlain succeeded a Governor of very similar temperament, Charles Herault de Montmagny, with his lieutenant, De Lisle, and a brilliant train of French gentlemen. Both Montmagny and De Lisle were members of the semi-military, semi-ecclesiastical order of the Knights of St. John, of Malta. Both were therefore in thorough accord with the Jesuits in favouring that system of paternal government by the priesthood which, fostered by them, has more or less prevailed in New France ever since, and of which many survivals exist in French Canada at the present day. Montmagny was the bearer of letters from some of the most illustrious nobles and the greatest ladies of France, expressing their interest in the Canadian mission. The Relations of the Canadian Jesuits, especially those of Le Jeune, had been read throughout all France. The apostolic lives of these most self-denying of missionaries had awakened a general enthusiasm, of which the Jesuits throughout France took full advantage to stiff up the susceptible minds of female devotees to aid, with prayers and money, the good work in Canada. Some person unknown to men, but blessed of God, was about to found a school for Huron children at Quebec. In one convent thirteen- of the sisters had bound themselves by a vow to the work of converting the Indian women and children. In the church of Montmartre a nun lay prostrate day and night before the altar, praying for the Canadian mission. Accordingly, m 1637, the Jesuits succeeded in building at Quebec a college for French boys and a seminary for Hut on children. The commencement of the work with the latter was not hopeful for the few original pupils. One was taken away by his father, four ran away, and two killed themselves by over-eating. The Jesuits were enabled to complete both buildings by a generous donation of six thousand crowns by a French nobleman. An appeal was made by Le Jeune, in his Relations, to the effect that he prayed God might put it into the heart of some virtuous and charitable lady to come out and undertake the training of the female children of the Indians. A young lady of rank whose name is one of the most remarkable n the early history of New France, Marie Madeleine de la Peltrie, w hen a girl of seventeen, had a romantic longing to enter a convent. This her father strongly opposed, being exceedingly fond of his only child. He insisted on taking her into the gaieties of fashionable society, and induced her to accept the hand of M. de la Peltrie, a young nobleman of excellent disposition. The marriage was a happy one, but Madame de la Peltrie was left a childless widow at twenty-two. She read Le Jeune's appeal to the women of France ; her old religious fervour returned; and she resolved to devote all her wealth and the rest of her life to founding a sisterhood for teaching the Indian girls at Quebec. But her father, dismayed at the prospect of losing his only child, threatened to disinherit her if she went to Canada. He pressed her to marry again ; but her Jesuit confessor suggested a means of escape. She was to pretend to marry a nobleman of great wealth and thorough devotion to the Church. The marriage took place. Her father fell ill and died before he could discover the deception. Madame de la Peltrie was caressed and honoured by some of the greatest ladies in France. The comeen herself sent for her. At Tours the Superior of the Ursuline Convent, with all the nuns, led her to the altar and sang Te Deum. they threw themselves at her feet, each weeping as she entreated to be allowed to go with her to Canada. That privilege was accorded to two; a young nun of noble family, whose pure and earnest religious temperament was united with strong common sense and a natural gaiety which in after years shed brightness on the Ursuline Convent at Quebec. The second was the celebrated Marie de 1'Incarnation. In the history of these times we find ourselves in an atmosphere of miracle. Jesuitism had brought back to Europe the faith of the Middle Ages. With the age of faith came back the age of miracles, of dreams, voices, and visions; the relation of which, by witnesses whose honesty of purpose is above suspicion, make them to the true believer additional proofs of supernatural religion, while the heretic only sees m them phenomena of constant recurrence m the history of religious enthusiasm, and capable of easy psychological explanation. Marie de l'lncarnation beheld m a dream an unknown lady who took her by the hand; and then they walked towards the sea. They entered a magnificent temple where the Virgin Mother of God sat on a throne. Her head was turned aside, and she was looking on a distant scene of wild mountain and valley. Three times the Virgin kissed her, whereon in the excess of her joy she awoke. Her Jesuit confessor interpreted the dream: the wild land to which the Virgin was looking was Canada, and when for the first time she saw Madame de la Peltrie she recognized in her the lady seen 'n her dream. The Ursuline nuns, with Madame de la Peltrie, arrived at Quebec on August 1st, 1659. They were received with every honour by Montmagny and soon were established in a massive stone convent on the site of their present building. Their romantic garden where Marie de St. Bernard and Marie de l'lncarnation used to gather roses is as beautiful as ever; and an ash tree beneath whose shade the latter used to catechise the Indian girls is flourishing style. The good nuns devoted themselves with much ardour to their task, and taught their pupils such a righteous horror of the opposite sex, that a little girl whom a man had sportively taken by the hand, ran off crying for a bowl of water to wash away the polluting touch of such an unhallowed creature. A nobleman named Dauversiere one day while at his devotions heard a voice commanding him to establish an hospital on an island called Montreal, in Canada. At Paris a young priest named Jean Jacques Olier was praying in church, when he heard a voice from Heaven telling him that he was to be a light to the Gentiles, and to form a society of priests on an island called Montreal, in Canada. Soon after this, Dauversiere and Olier, who were utter strangers to each other, met at the old castle of Meudon. By a miracle, as we need scarcely say, they knew and greeted each other by name at once ; they even could divine each other's thoughts. Together they undertook the task of raising funds, and soon succeeded in obtaining a large sum of money and a grant from the king of the Island of Montreal. They chose as military leader of the soldiers whom it would be necessary to take with them for defence, a gallant and devoted young nobleman, Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, one in whom the spirit of the ancient crusaders seemed to have returned to life, and who had long eagerly wished to dedicate his sword to the service of God. The little body of colonists, who had taken the name of the Society de Notre Dame de Montreal, received a valuable addition in an unmarried lady of noble family named Mademoiselle Jeanne Mance, who at the tender age of seven had bound herself by a vow of celibacy; also a little later by the unobtrusive goodness, sweet charity, and practical common sense of Marguerite Bourgeoys. In 1653, having given all her possessions to the poor, the latter embarked for Quebec. She brought from France a miracle-work -ing image of the Virgin, which at this day stands in a niche in the old seventeenth century Church beside the harbour at Montreal; and still many a bold mariner, many an anxious wife, invokes the aid of "Our Lady of the Gracious Help." Before the ship set sail, Maisonneuve, with Madamoiselle Mance and the other members of the expedition, knelt before the altar of the Virgin .11 the ancient cathedral church of Notre Dame at Paris. With the priest, Oner, at their head, they solemnly dedicated Montreal to the Virgin. The town they were about to build was to be called \ ille Marie de .Montreal. They arrived at Quebec too late a the fall to make the journey to Montreal till the spring of 1642. The Governor, Montmagny, seems to have felt some jealousy of Maisonneuve as a possible rival "in governing the colony. Maisonneuve seems to have yielded to the temptation of encouraging his men in small acts of insubordination. The new colonists were sheltered by the hospitality of M. Pruseaux, close to the mission, established four miles from Quebec by the generosity of a French noble, Brulart de Sillery, which still bears his honourable name. Maisonneuve and his men spent the winter in building large flat-bottomed boats for the voyage to Montreal. On the 8th of May they embarked, and as their boats with soldiers, arms and supplies, moved slowly up the St. Lawrence, the forest, springing into verdure on either side, screened no lurking ambush to interrupt their way. This of course was due to no less a personage than the Virgin Mary herself, who chilled the courage and dulled the subtility of the Troquois, so that they neglected this signal opportunity of crushing the new colony at its inception. For the Iroquois had now mastered the use of the fire-arms they had purchased from the Dutch traders on the Hudson. These arms were short arquebuse muskets; so that the savages were on equal terms with the white men. On the 17th of May, 1642, the boats approached Montreal, and all on board with one voice intoned the Te Deum. Maisonneuve was the first to spring on shore. He fell on his knees to ask a blessing on their work. His followers did the same. Their tents and stores were landed without delay. An altar was prepared for mass. It was decorated with admirable taste by Mademoiselle Mance, aided by Madame de la Peltrie, who, with the capricousness which distinguishes even the saintliest of her sex, had taken a sudden fancy to abandon the Ursulines in favour of the new settlement at Vilie Marie. Then mass was celebrated, a strange and br Uiant picture, with colour and music, as if the rite of the middle ages had been brought suddenly into the heart of the primeval forest. The altar, with its lights and glittering crucifix; before it the priest in vestments, stiff with gold; the two fair girls of delicate nurture, attended by their servants, erect and tall; above the soldiers kneeling around him, Maisonneuve in panoply of steel; further off, artisans and labourers, the rank and file of the colony: such was the brilliant picture whose background was the dark aisles of columned woods. When mass was said, the Jesuit Father, Vimont, Superior of the mission, addressed to those assembled a few remarkable words to which subsequent events have given the force of prophecy. "You are but 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 on you, and your children shall fill the land.''


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