Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine


Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Champlain
Chapter V The Récollets and their Missions


CHAMPLAIN'S affection for New France, the land of his adoption, made him anxious to continue his explorations, in order that he might become familiar with every locality. In the course of his voyages he often had to be conveyed in Indian canoes, especially on the lakes and rivers, but this means was sufficient only when his object was to ascertain whether the country was well watered, whether the rivers were more or less navigable, whether the lakes abounded with fish, and whether the water powers were capable of being turned to account. Up till this time the founder of Quebec had pressed forward his work of. exploration with an energy that was almost astonishing. He had rowed up the Iroquois River as far as lake Champlain, and he had also navigated the Ottawa River in a manner that had even surprised the Algonquins. Still many things remained to be done and to be seen, such as to observe the fertility of the soil in different latitudes, to study the manners and customs of the Indians, especially of the great Huron tribe, which was the most populous and probably better disposed to receive Christian instruction than the other tribes. Champlain's ambition had always been to introduce Christianity in order to civilize the people. Thus we find in his writings after his return to France in 1614, the words:

"Without losing courage, I have not ceased to push on and visit various nations of the savages, and by associating familiarly with them, I have concluded, as well from their conversation as from the knowledge attained, that there is no better way than, disregarding all storms and difficulties, to have patience until His Majesty shall give the requisite attention to the matter, and in the meantime to continue the exploration of the country, but also to learn the language, and form relations and friendship with the leading men of the villages and tribes, in order to lay the foundations of a permanent edifice, as well for the glory of God as for the renown of the French."'

It is well to observe the significance of these words from the pen of Champlain. Is this the language of a common fur-trader, simply seeking to increase his fortune? What were really Champlain's designs during all these years of labour and self-sacrifice ? Was he animated by the mere curiosity of the tourist, or the ambition of a man.of science ? No. Champlain desired, it is true, to gain an intimate knowledge of the country, and his labours are highly valued as a geographer and cosmographer, but his intention was to utilize all his varied information to promote the Christian religion and at the same time to increase the renown of his native land.

Champlain deserves credit, not only for the idea of bringing missionaries to Canada, but also for having realized his ideas. He obtained the cooperation of many pious and zealous persons in France, who •willingly seconded his efforts, but it was owing to his own steadfastness of purpose and to his great ability that his designs were successfully carried out. After having formed a society of merchants to take the material affairs of the colony in hand, Champlain tried to get some religious orders to assume the direction of spiritual matters. He had previously made known his plan to Louis Hoiiel, king's councillor, and comptroller of the salt works at Brouage, and sieur of Petit-Prd. Hoiiel was an honourable and pious man, and a friend of Champlain. He told him that he was acquainted with some Rdcollets who would readily agree to proceed to New France. Hoiiel met Father du Verger, a man of great virtue and ability, and principal of the order of the Immaculate Conception. Father du Verger made an appeal to his confreres, all of whom offered their services, and were ready to cross the ocean.

The cardinals and bishops who were then gathered at St. Denis for their great chapter, were in favour of the idea of sending the Rdcollets to their foreign missions, and promised to raise a fund for the maintenance of four monks, and the merchants of Rouen promised to maintain and convey at least six Rd-collets gratuitously. The king issued letters for the future church of Canada. The pope's nuncio, Guido Bentivoglio, granted the requisite permission, in conformity with the pope's wishes, but the bull establishing the church was only forwarded on May 20th, 1615. The brief of Paul V granted to the Rdcollets the following privileges:

"To receive all children born of believing and unbelieving parents, and all others of what condition soever they may be, who, after promising to keep and observe all that should be kept and observed by the faithful, will embrace the truth of the Christian and Catholic faith; to baptize even outside of the churches in case of necessity; to hear confessions of penitents, and after diligently hearing them, to impose a salutary penance according to their faults, and enjoin what should be enjoined in conscience, to loose and absolve them from all sentences of excommunication and other ecclesiastical pains and censures, as also from all sorts of crimes, excesses, and delicts; to administer the sacraments of the eucharist, marriage and extreme unction; to bless all kinds of vestments, vessels and ornaments when holy unction is not necessary; to dispense gratuitously new converts who have contracted or would contract marriage in any degree of consanguinity, or affinity whatever, except the first or second, or between ascending and descending, provided the women have not been carried off by force, and the two parties who have contracted or would contract be Catholics, and there be just cause as well for the marriages already contracted as for those desired to be contracted; to declare and pronounce the children born and issued of such marriages legitimate; to have an altar which they may decently carry, and thereon to celebrate in decent and becoming places where the convenience of a church shall be wanting."

The Reverend Father Gamier de Chapouin, provincial of the province of St. Denis, appointed four monks as the founders of the future mission. Their names were Father Denis Jamet, Jean d'Olbeau, Joseph Le Caron, and a brother named Pacifique du Plessis, who received orders to accompany them. These four monks were all remarkable for their virtue and apostolic zeal. Father Jamet was appointed commissary, and Father d'Olbeau was appointed his successor in the event of death. The king granted them authority to build one or more convents in Canada, and to send for as many monks as were required. It was impossible to send more than four of them during the first year.

On April 24th, 1615, the St. J&tienne sailed from Honfleur, and one month later came to anchor at Tadousac. On June 25th, Father d'Olbeau was able to say mass in a small chapel built at the foot of Mountain Hill, Quebec.

Soon after his arrival at Quebec, Champlain set out for the falls, accompanied by Father Jamet. They reached the river des Prairies some days after, and on June 24th, Father Jamet celebrated a solemn mass, at which Champlain and some others assisted. This was the first mass celebrated in Canada since the days of Jacques Cartier.

In the early days of the settlement these brave missionaries had to contend with many difficulties, which could be foreseen only by those who were acquainted with the existing state of affairs. Many of these difficulties arose from the fact that at least a fourth of the merchants of the company were members of the so-called reformed, or Calvinistic persuasion. It is easy to comprehend that the sympathies of these men would not incline towards the Catholic religion.

Champlain draws particular attention to the unfortunate results produced by the existence of different creeds. Differences arose, and divisions were created which sometimes resulted in quarrels between children of the same country. These quarrels which were much to be deplored, did not, however, occur in Quebec, because the French merchants did not deem it advisable to send their ministers there, but replaced them by agents who were often fanatical; and were for the Recollets a frequent source of bitterness and annoyance. The most of the disorders occurred on board the vessels, and were due to the fact that the crews were too hastily engaged.

The merchants, however, were bound to colonize the country with Catholic settlers, and de Monts was also bound by similar conditions. Moreover, the terms of the patents expressly stipulated that this should be carried out. They were also forbidden to .extend Calvinism among the savages. "This policy," says Bancroft, "was full of wisdom." The interpreters who could have greatly assisted the missionaries, proved on the contrary an obstacle to the development of the Catholic religion, for they refused to instruct the Recollets in the Indian languages, which they had learnt before the arrival of the missionaries.

Father Lalemant, a Jesuit, wrote in the year 1626: "This interpreter had never wanted to communicate his knowledge of the language to any one, not even to the Reverend Recollet Fathers, who had constantly importuned him for ten years." So also wrote Father Le Jeune in his Relation of 1633.

The difficulties that the missionaries had to overcome are therefore readily understood. However they had the merit of preparing the way for their successors, and the honour of planting the cross of Jesus Christ everywhere, from Tadousac to Lake Huron.

The number of missionaries was limited at the commencement, but some others came to Canada later, particularly Fathers Guillaume Poullain, Georges Le Baillif, and Paul Hjuet. These men, some of whom were of noble birth, were remarkable for their virtues and their abilities. In the annals of the primitive church of New France, their names are illustrious, and around their memory gathers the aureole of sanctity. During six years, from 1615 to 1621, the spiritual direction of the colony was entrusted to six fathers and three friars. Father d'Olbeau remained in charge of the habitation of Quebec, and Father Le Caron resolved to proceed at once to the country of the Hurons.

On July 9th, 1615, Champlain, Etienne Brule, an interpreter, a servant, and ten Indians, set out for the mouth of the Ottawa River. They rowed up the river as far as the Mattawan, which they followed westwards, and soon reached Lake Nipissing where they stopped for two days. This was on July 26th. After having taken this short rest, they continued their voyage, crossing Georgian Bay, and reached the land of the Hurons. Near the shore they met the Attignaouantans, or people of the bear tribe, one of the four chief branches of the great Huron family. Their village or bourgade was called Otouacha. On the second day of August, Champlain's party visited the village of Carmeron, and on the following day, they saw the encampments of Tonaguainchain, Tequenonquiayd and Car-hagouha. In the latter encampment Father Le. Caron resided.

On July 12th Father Le Caron celebrated mass and sang the Te Deum, after which the Indians planted a cross near the small chapel which had been erected under Champlain's direction. The reverend father occupied a hut within the palisade which formed the rampart of the village, and he spent the fall and winter with the Hurons of Carhagouha.

The Huron country was situated between the peninsula watered by Lake Simcoe on the eastern side, and by the Georgian Bay on the western side. It extended from north to south between the rivers Severn and Nottawasaga. This land is twenty-five leagues in length and seven or eight in width. The soil, though sandy, was fertile and produced in abundance corn, beans, pumpkins and the annual helianth or sun-flower, from which the Hurons extracted the oil. The neighbouring tribes, such as the Ottawas and the Algonquins, used to procure their provisions from the Hurons, as they were permanently cultivating their lands.

Champlain observed, in 1615, that there were eighteen bourgades or villages, of which he mentions five, namely: Carhagouha, Toanchd, Carmeron, Te-quenonquiayd and Cahiagud. Cahiagud was the most important, and had two hundred huts; it was also the chief bourgade of the tribe called de la Roche.

Four tribes of a common origin and a common language were living on the Huron peninsula. They were: (1.) The Attignaouantans, or Tribe de l'Ours; (2.) The Attignenonghacs, or Tribe de la Corde; (3.) The Arendarrhonons, or Tribe de la Roche; (4.) The Tohontahenrats. tfhe general name given to these four tribes by the French was Ouendats.

The most numerous and the most respected of the tribes were the tribes de l'Ours and de la Corde, which had taken possession of the countiy; the first about the year 1589, and the second twenty years after. The oldest men of these tribes related to the missionaries, in 1638, that their ancestors for the past two hundred years had been obliged to change their residence every ten years. These two tribes were very friendly, and in their councils treated each other like brothers. All their business was conducted through the medium of a captain of war and a captain of council.

These tribes became popular and increased their numbers by adopting members of other nations, so that in later years the Huron family became one of the most powerful and redoubtable in North America. The identity of language was a great factor in the accomplishment of this marvellous result. The Andastes, of Virginia, were therefore speaking the Huron language. The Tionnontatds became so identified with their neighbours that they were named the Hurons of the Petun. The savages of the Neutral Nation had also adopted the Huron idiom. This uniformity of language formed a league between these nations which would have been broken with the utmost difficulty.

Father de Brdbeuf calculated that, in his time, there were scattered over the whole continent of North America about three hundred thousand Indians who understood the Huron dialect. This was exaggerated, for the aborigines covering the territory known to the Hurons from whom the father had collected this information did not number three hundred thousand persons. How* could he rely upon these people, to whom a thousand men represented simply an amazing number? How could the Hurons make a census of an unsedentary people, wandering here and there according to circumstances of war or other reasons, and recruiting themselves with prisoners or with the remnants of conquered nations?

To give only one example of these strange recruitings, let us examine the composition of the great family of the Iroquois in Champlain's time. It was a collection of disbanded tribes, who had belonged to the Hurons, to the Tionnontatds, to the Neutral, to the Eries and du Feu tribes. The Iroquois had separated themselves from the Hurons to form a branch which acquired with time more vivacity than the tree from which it had sprung. The Hurons were called the good Iroquois in order to distinguish them from the wicked Iroquois who were reputed to be barbarous. They fought against all the nations living in Canada, and their name was a subject of general apprehension.

Returning to the Hurons, we find that the Attignaouantans, or the tribe de l'Ours, was the most populous, forming half of the whole Huron family, namely about fifteen thousand souls. They were considered, erroneously, as the most perfidious of all. Father de Brdbeuf, who knew them well, says that they were mild, charitable, polite and courteous. Some years later, the tribe de l'Ours occupied fourteen villages, with thirteen missions under the charge of the Jesuits. The whole mission, called Immaculate Conception, had its principal seat at Ossossand, which had replaced Carhagouha, mentioned by Champlain. The French called it La Rochelle. Ossossand was the nearest village of the Iroquois territory. Father du Creux' map places it on the western coast of the Huron peninsula.

The Attignenonghacs, or tribe de la Corde, were the oldest and the most numerous, after the Atti-gnaouantans. They praised their antiquity and their traditions which had existed for two hundred years, and which had been collected by word of mouth by the chiefs or captains. This evidence, more or less valuable, seems to indicate that they had preserved a family spirit, which is very laudable. The Attignenonghacs, however, had founded a nationality, and their language was so developed that, in 1635, Father de Brdbeuf could recall to memory twelve nations who spoke it. This tribe had no special features except that they were very devoted to the French: The Jesuits opened in their midst two missions called St. Ignace and St. Joseph. Teanaus-tayad was one of the most important villages of the Attignenonghacs. When the village of Ihonatiria ceased to exist, the Jesuits called it St. Joseph. Here perished, in 1648, Father Daniel, together with seven hundred Hurons.

Toanchd was another village of the same tribe. It has often changed its-name, and we may consider it as one of these flying bourgades so commonly found among the Hurons. Champlain had known the village of Toanchd under the name of Otouacha. When Father de Brdbeuf came here for the second time, in 1634, he was unable to recognize the village that he had visited for the first time in 1626. It had been transported about two miles from its former place. It was then situated at the western entrance of a bay now Penetanguishene, on a point in the northern part of Lake Huron, four leagues from Ossossand and seven from Teanaustayad.

The Ajrendarrhonons, or tribe de la Roche, were settled on the eastern part of the peninsula. They were at first discovered by the French, and they had, according to the laws of the country, the privilege of fur trading. They were especially attached to Champlain, and twenty-two years after his death they had not forgotten his remarkable virtues and courage. The bourgade of Cahiagud, comprising two hundred and sixty huts and two thousand souls, was the chief place of the Arendar-rhonons. It was situated near the lake Ouentaron, now lake Simcoe, at the northern extremity, near the small town of Orillia. The Jesuits established a mission here, and their principal residence was on the right shore of a small river called the Wye, near Penetanguishene. The remains of a fort built there in 1639 could be seen a few years ago.

Cahiagud was distant from Carhagouha fourteen leagues. It was situated near the village of Scanona-henrat, where the Tohontahenrats, the fourth Huron tribe, resided. They were less numerous than the others. Scanonahenrat was situated at about two leagues from Ihonatiria of the Attignenonghacs, and at three leagues from the Ataronchronons, another Huron group of small importance, where finally the Jesuits took up their residence. When these missions were flourishing, the Jesuits could enumerate twenty-five different places where they could pursue their calling with zeal. The Rdcollets had continued their course with vigorous activity; they had sown the divine seed, but they were not permitted to reap the reward of their labours, as the Jesuits did in the future.

Although the Hurons appeared to be happy, their mode of living was miserable. Their principal articles of food were Indian corn and common beans, which they prepared in various ways. Their clothing was made of the skins of wild animals. Deer skin was used for their trousers, which were cut loose, and their stockings were made of another piece of the same skin, while their boots were formed of the skin of bears, beavers and deer. They also wore a cloak in the Egyptian style, with sleeves which were attached by a string behind. Most of them painted their faces black and red, and dyed their hair, which some wore long, others short, and others again on one side only. The women and girls were dressed like men, except that they had their robes, which extended to the knee, girt about them. They all dressed their hair in one uniform style, carefully combed, d'yed and oiled. For ornaments they wore quantities of porcelain, chains and necklaces, besides bracelets and ear-rings.

These people were of a happy temperament generally, though some had a sad and gloomy coun-• tenance. Physically they were well proportioned. Some of the men and women had fine figures, strong and robust, and many of the women were powerful and of unusual height. The greater portion of the work fell to the lot of the women, who looked after the housework, tilled the land, laid up a store of wood for the winter, beat the hemp and spun it, and made fishing nets from the thread. They also gathered in the harvest and prepared it for food. The occupation of the men was hunting for deer, fishing, and building their cabins, varied at times by war. When they were free from these occupations, they visited other tribes with whom they were acquainted for the purpose of traffic or exchange, and their return was celebrated by dances and festivities.

They had a certain form of marriage which Champlain thus describes. When a girl had reached the age of eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen or fifteen years, she had suitors, more or less, according to her attractions, who wooed her for some time. The consent of the parents was then asked, to whose wills the girl did not always submit, although the most discreet of them did so. The favoured lover or suitor then presented to the girl some necklaces, bracelets or chains of porcelain, which she accepted if the suitor was agreeable to her. The suitor then resided with her for three or four days, without saying anything to her in the meantime, but if they did not agree, the girl left her suitor, who forfeited his necklaces and the other presents which he had made, and each was free to seek another companion if so disposed. This term of probation was often extended to eight, or even to fifteen days.

The children enjoyed great freedom. The parents indulged them too much and never punished or corrected them. As a consequence they grew up bad and vicious. They would often strike theft mothers, and when they were powerful enough they did not hesitate to strike their fathers.

The Hurons did not recognize any divine power or worship of God. They were without belief, and lived like brute beasts, with this exception, that they had a sort of fear of an evil spirit. They had ogni or manitous, who were medicine-men, and who healed the sick, bound up the wounded, foretold future events, and practised all the abuses and illusions of the black arts.

Champlain firmly believed that the conversion of the Hurons to Christianity would have been easier if the country had been inhabited by persons who would devote their energies to instructing them. Father Le Caron and himself had often conversed with then} regarding the Catholic faith, the laws and customs of the French, and they had listened attentively, sometimes saying:

"You say things that pass our knowledge, and which we cannot understand by words, being beyond our comprehension; but if you would do us a service, come and dwell in this country, bringing your wives and children, and when they are here, we shall see how you serve the God you worship, and how you live with your wives and children, how you cultivate and plant the soil, how you obey your laws, how you take care of animals, and how you manufacture all that we see proceeding from your inventive skill. When we see all this we shall leam more in a year than in twenty by simply hearing your discourse; and if we cannot understand, you shall take our children, who shall be as your own. And thus being convinced that our life is a miserable one in comparison with yours, it is easy to believe that we shall adopt yours, abandoning our own."

The following was their mode of government. The older and leading men assembled in a council, in which they settled upon and proposed all that was necessary for the affairs of the village. This was done by a plurality of voices, or in accordance with the advice of some one among them whose judgment they considered superior; such a one was requested by the company to give his opinion on the propositions that had been made, and his opinion was minutely obeyed. They had no particular chief with absolute command, but they honoured the older and more courageous men, of which there were several in a village, whom they named captains; as a mark of distinction and respect.

They all deliberated in common, and whenever any member of the assembly offered to do anything for the welfare of the village, or to go anywhere for the service of the community, he was requested to present himself, and if he was judged capable of carrying out what he proposed, they exhorted him, by fair and favourable words, to do his duty. They declared him to be an energetic man, fit for the undertaking, and assured him that he would win honour in accomplishing his task. In a word, they encouraged him by flatteries, in order that this favourable disposition of his for the welfare of his fellow-citizens might continue and increase. Then, according to his pleasure, he accepted or refused the responsibility, and thereby he was held in high esteem.

They had, moreover, general assemblies with representatives from remote regions. These representatives came every year, one from each province, and met in a town designated as the rendezvous of the assembly. Here were celebrated great banquets and dances, for three weeks or a month, according as they might determine. On these occasions they renewed their friendship, resolved upon and decreed what they thought best for the preservation of their country against their enemies, and made each other handsome presents, after which they retired to their own districts.

In burying- the dead, the Hurons took the body of the deceased, wrapped it in furs, and covered it very carefully -with the bark of trees. Then they placed it in a cabin, of the length of the body, made of bark and erected upon four posts. Others they placed in the ground, propping up the earth on all sides that it might not fall on the body, which they covered with the bark of trees, putting earth on top. Over this trench they also made a little cabin. The bodies remained thus buried for a period of eight or ten years. Then they held a general council, to which all the people of the country were invited, for the purpose of determining upon some place for the holding of a great festival. After this they returned each to his own village, where they took all the bones of the deceased, stripped them and made them quite clean. These they kept very carefully, although the odour arising therefrom was noxious. Then all the relatives and friends of the deceased took these bones, together with their necklaces, furs, axes, kettles, and other things highly valued, and carried them, with a quantity of edibles, to the place assigned. Here, when all had assembled, they put the edibles in a place designated by the men of the village, and engaged in banquets and continual dancing. The festival lasted for the space of ten days, during which other tribes from all quarters came to witness the ceremonies. The latter were attended with great outlays.

These details on the manners and customs of the Hurons are quoted nearly verbatim from Champlain's Relations, so they must be considered as accurate.


Return to our Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus