Canadian History The Canadian Community
To understand the political evolution of Canada it is essenti...
Siege Of Fort Niagara
The River Niagara was known to the Jesuits as early as 1640...
Battle Of Lake George
For more than a century after the death of Jogues, Lakes Ge...
The Consequences Of Canadian Autonomy
A change so informally achieved, and yet so decisive, as the ...
A Winter Raid
While Johnson was building Fort William Henry at one end of...
A Military Mission
Quebec was without a governor. Who should succeed Champlain...
Battle Of Ticonderoga
In 1758, the English commanders, incensed at the loss of Fo...
Infancy Of Quebec
Champlain was the founder of this old capital of French Can...
The Governors-general: Lord Metcalfe
A surrender of the official Imperial position so unexpected a...
Massachusetts Attacks Quebec
Like Montreal, Quebec transformed itself in time lost much ...
British Opinion And Canadian Autonomy
While these great modifications were being made in the form a...
Siege And Massacre Of Fort William Henry
Having failed to take Fort William Henry by surprise, the F...
There are antinomies in politics as in philosophy, problems w...
Massacre Of The Devil's Hole
After the conquest of Canada, there was a general uprising ...
The Birth Of Montreal
We come now to an enterprise as singular in its character a...
The Governors-general: Lord Sydenham
Between 1839 and 1854, four governors-general exercised autho...
Discovery Of Lake Champlain
This beautiful lake owes its name to Samuel de Champlain, t...
The Governors-general: Sir Charles Bagot
Sir Charles Bagot, the second governor-general of United Cana...
Discovery Of Lake George
It was thirty-three years since Champlain had first attacke...
The Governors-general: Lord Elgin
The year which intervened between Metcalfe's departure and th...
The Birth Of Montreal
We come now to an enterprise as singular in its character as it proved
important in its results.
At La Fleche, in Anjou, dwelt one Jerome le Royer de la Dauversiere,
receiver of taxes. His portrait shows us a round, bourgeois face,
somewhat heavy perhaps, decorated with a slight mustache, and redeemed
by bright and earnest eyes. On his head he wears a black skull-cap; and
over his ample shoulders spreads a stiff white collar, of wide expanse
and studious plainness. Though he belonged to the noblesse, his look
is that of a grave burgher, of good renown and sage deportment.
Dauversiere was, however, an enthusiastic devotee, of mystical
tendencies, who whipped himself with a scourge of small chains till his
shoulders were one wound, wore a belt with more than twelve hundred
sharp points, and invented for himself other torments, which filled his
confessor with admiration. One day, while at his devotions, he heard an
inward voice commanding him to become the founder of a new Order of
hospital nuns; and he was further ordered to establish, on the island
called Montreal, in Canada, a hospital, or Hotel-Dieu, to be conducted
by these nuns. But Montreal was a wilderness, and the hospital would
have no patients. Therefore, in order to supply them, the island must
first be colonized. Dauversiere was greatly perplexed. On the one hand,
the voice of Heaven must be obeyed; on the other, he had a wife, six
children, and a very moderate fortune.
Again: there was at Paris a young priest, about twenty-eight years of
age,--Jean Jacques Olier, afterwards widely known as founder of the
Seminary of St. Sulpice. Judged by his engraved portrait, his
countenance, though marked both with energy and intellect, was anything
but prepossessing. Every lineament proclaims the priest. Yet the Abbe
Olier has high titles to esteem. He signalized his piety, it is true, by
the most disgusting exploits of self-mortification; but, at the same
time, he was strenuous in his efforts to reform the people and the
clergy. So zealous was he for good morals, that he drew upon himself the
imputation of a leaning to the heresy of the Jansenists,--a suspicion
strengthened by his opposition to certain priests, who, to secure the
faithful in their allegiance, justified them in lives of licentiousness.
Yet Olier's catholicity was past attaintment, and in his horror of
Jansenists he yielded to the Jesuits alone.
He was praying in the ancient church of St. Germain des Pres, when, like
Dauversiere, he thought he heard a voice from Heaven, saying that he was
destined to be a light to the Gentiles. It is recorded as a mystic
coincidence attending this miracle, that the choir was at that very time
chanting the words, Lumen ad revelationem Gentium; and it seems to
have occurred neither to Olier nor to his biographer, that, falling on
the ear of the rapt worshipper, they might have unconsciously suggested
the supposed revelation. But there was a further miracle. An inward
voice told Olier that he was to form a society of priests, and establish
them on the island called Montreal, in Canada, for the propagation of
the True Faith; and writers old and recent assert, that, while both he
and Dauversiere were totally ignorant of Canadian geography, they
suddenly found themselves in possession, they knew not how, of the most
exact details concerning Montreal, its size, shape, situation, soil,
climate, and productions.
The annual volumes of the Jesuit Relations, issuing from the renowned
press of Cramoisy, were at this time spread broadcast throughout France;
and, in the circles of haute devotion, Canada and its missions were
everywhere the themes of enthusiastic discussion; while Champlain, in
his published works, had long before pointed out Montreal as the proper
site for a settlement. But we are entering a region of miracle, and it
is superfluous to look far for explanations. The illusion, in these
cases, is a part of the history.
Dauversiere pondered the revelation he had received; and the more he
pondered, the more was he convinced that it came from God. He therefore
set out for Paris, to find some means of accomplishing the task assigned
him. Here, as he prayed before an image of the Virgin in the church of
Notre-Dame, he fell into an ecstasy, and beheld a vision. "I should be
false to the integrity of history," writes his biographer, "if I did not
relate it here." And he adds, that the reality of this celestial favor
is past doubting, inasmuch as Dauversiere himself told it to his
daughters. Christ, the Virgin, and St. Joseph appeared before him. He
saw them distinctly. Then he heard Christ ask three times of his Virgin
Mother, Where can I find a faithful servant? On which, the Virgin,
taking him (Dauversiere) by the hand, replied, See, Lord, here is that
faithful servant!--and Christ, with a benignant smile, received him
into his service, promising to bestow on him wisdom and strength to do
his work. From Paris he went to the neighboring chateau of Meudon, which
overlooks the valley of the Seine, not far from St. Cloud. Entering the
gallery of the old castle, he saw a priest approaching him. It was
Olier. Now we are told that neither of these men had ever seen or heard
of the other; and yet, says the pious historian, "impelled by a kind of
inspiration, they knew each other at once, even to the depths of their
hearts; saluted each other by name, as we read of St. Paul, the Hermit,
and St. Anthony, and of St. Dominic and St. Francis; and ran to embrace
each other, like two friends who had met after a long separation."
"Monsieur," exclaimed Olier, "I know your design, and I go to commend it
to God at the holy altar."
And he went at once to say mass in the chapel. Dauversiere received the
communion at his hands; and then they walked for three hours in the
park, discussing their plans. They were of one mind, in respect both to
objects and means; and when they parted, Olier gave Dauversiere a
hundred louis, saying, "This is to begin the work of God."
They proposed to found at Montreal three religious communities,--three
being the mystic number,--one of secular priests to direct the colonists
and convert the Indians, one of nuns to nurse the sick, and one of nuns
to teach the Faith to the children, white and red. To borrow their own
phrases, they would plant the banner of Christ in an abode of desolation
and a haunt of demons; and to this end a band of priests and women were
to invade the wilderness, and take post between the fangs of the
Iroquois. But first they must make a colony, and to do so must raise
money. Olier had pious and wealthy penitents; Dauversiere had a friend,
the Baron de Fancamp, devout as himself and far richer. Anxious for his
soul, and satisfied that the enterprise was an inspiration of God, he
was eager to bear part in it. Olier soon found three others: and the
six together formed the germ of the Society of Notre-Dame de Montreal.
Among them they raised the sum of seventy-five thousand livres,
equivalent to about as many dollars at the present day.
Now to look for a moment at their plan. Their eulogists say, and with
perfect truth, that, from a worldly point of view, it was mere folly.
The partners mutually bound themselves to seek no return for the money
expended. Their profit was to be reaped in the skies: and, indeed, there
was none to be reaped on earth. The feeble settlement at Quebec was at
this time in danger of utter ruin; for the Iroquois, enraged at the
attacks made on them by Champlain, had begun a fearful course of
retaliation, and the very existence of the colony trembled in the
balance. But if Quebec was exposed to their ferocious inroads, Montreal
was incomparably more so. A settlement here would be a perilous
outpost,--a hand thrust into the jaws of the tiger. It would provoke
attack, and lie almost in the path of the war-parties. The Associates
could gain nothing by the fur-trade; for they would not be allowed to
share in it. On the other hand, danger apart, the place was an excellent
one for a mission; for here met two great rivers: the St. Lawrence, with
its countless tributaries, flowed in from the west, while the Ottawa
descended from the north; and Montreal, embraced by their uniting
waters, was the key to a vast inland navigation. Thither the Indians
would naturally resort; and thence the missionaries could make their way
into the heart of a boundless heathendom. None of the ordinary motives
of colonization had part in this design. It owed its conception and its
birth to religious zeal alone.
The island of Montreal belonged to Lauson, former president of the great
company of the Hundred Associates; and his son had a monopoly of fishing
in the St. Lawrence. Dauversiere and Fancamp, after much diplomacy,
succeeded in persuading the elder Lauson to transfer his title to them;
and, as there was a defect in it, they also obtained a grant of the
island from the Hundred Associates, its original owners, who, however,
reserved to themselves its western extremity as a site for a fort and
storehouses. At the same time, the younger Lauson granted them a right
of fishery within two leagues of the shores of the island, for which
they were to make a yearly acknowledgment of ten pounds of fish. A
confirmation of these grants was obtained from the King. Dauversiere and
his companions were now seigneurs of Montreal. They were empowered to
appoint a governor, and to establish courts, from which there was to be
an appeal to the Supreme Court of Quebec, supposing such to exist. They
were excluded from the fur-trade, and forbidden to build castles or
forts other than such as were necessary for defence against the Indians.
Their title assured, they matured their plan. First they would send out
forty men to take possession of Montreal, intrench themselves, and raise
crops. Then they would build a house for the priests, and two convents
for the nuns. Meanwhile, Olier was toiling at Vaugirard, on the
outskirts of Paris, to inaugurate the seminary of priests, and
Dauversiere at La Fleche, to form the community of hospital nuns. How
the school nuns were provided for we shall see hereafter. The colony, it
will be observed, was for the convents, not the convents for the colony.
The Associates needed a soldier-governor to take charge of their forty
men; and, directed as they supposed by Providence, they found one
wholly to their mind. This was Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, a
devout and valiant gentleman, who in long service among the heretics of
Holland had kept his faith intact, and had held himself resolutely aloof
from the license that surrounded him. He loved his profession of arms,
and wished to consecrate his sword to the Church. Past all comparison,
he is the manliest figure that appears in this group of zealots. The
piety of the design, the miracles that inspired it, the adventure and
the peril, all combined to charm him; and he eagerly embraced the
enterprise. His father opposed his purpose; but he met him with a text
of St. Mark, "There is no man that hath left house or brethren or
sisters or father for my sake, but he shall receive an hundred-fold." On
this the elder Maisonneuve, deceived by his own worldliness, imagined
that the plan covered some hidden speculation, from which enormous
profits were expected, and therefore withdrew his opposition.
Their scheme was ripening fast, when both Olier and Dauversiere were
assailed by one of those revulsions of spirit, to which saints of the
ecstatic school are naturally liable. Dauversiere, in particular, was a
prey to the extremity of dejection, uncertainty, and misgiving. What had
he, a family man, to do with ventures beyond sea? Was it not his first
duty to support his wife and children? Could he not fulfil all his
obligations as a Christian by reclaiming the wicked and relieving the
poor at La Fleche? Plainly, he had doubts that his vocation was genuine.
If we could raise the curtain of his domestic life, perhaps we should
find him beset by wife and daughters, tearful and wrathful, inveighing
against his folly, and imploring him to provide a support for them
before squandering his money to plant a convent of nuns in a
wilderness. How long his fit of dejection lasted does not appear; but at
length he set himself again to his appointed work. Olier, too, emerging
from the clouds and darkness, found faith once more, and again placed
himself at the head of the great enterprise.
There was imperative need of more money; and Dauversiere, under
judicious guidance, was active in obtaining it. This miserable victim of
illusions had a squat, uncourtly figure, and was no proficient in the
graces either of manners or of speech: hence his success in commending
his objects to persons of rank and wealth is set down as one of the many
miracles which attended the birth of Montreal. But zeal and earnestness
are in themselves a power; and the ground had been well marked out and
ploughed for him in advance. That attractive, though intricate, subject
of study, the female mind, has always engaged the attention of priests,
more especially in countries where as in France, women exert a strong
social and political influence. The art of kindling the flames of zeal,
and the more difficult art of directing and controlling them, have been
themes of reflection the most diligent and profound. Accordingly we find
that a large proportion of the money raised for this enterprise was
contributed by devout ladies. Many of them became members of the
Association of Montreal, which was eventually increased to about
forty-five persons, chosen for their devotion and their wealth.
Olier and his associates had resolved, though not from any collapse of
zeal, to postpone the establishment of the seminary and the college
until after a settlement should be formed. The hospital, however, might,
they thought, be begun at once; for blood and blows would be the assured
portion of the first settlers. At least, a discreet woman ought to
embark with the first colonists as their nurse and housekeeper. Scarcely
was the need recognized when it was supplied.
Mademoiselle Jeanne Mance was born of an honorable family of
Nogent-le-Roi, and in 1640 was thirty-four years of age. These Canadian
heroines began their religious experiences early. Of Marie de
l'Incarnation we read, that at the age of seven Christ appeared to her
in a vision; and the biographer of Mademoiselle Mance assures us, with
admiring gravity, that, at the same tender age, she bound herself to God
by a vow of perpetual chastity. This singular infant in due time became
a woman, of a delicate constitution, and manners graceful, yet
dignified. Though an earnest devotee, she felt no vocation for the
cloister; yet, while still "in the world," she led the life of a nun.
The Jesuit Relations, and the example of Madame de la Peltrie, of whom
she had heard, inoculated her with the Canadian enthusiasm, then so
prevalent; and, under the pretence of visiting relatives, she made a
journey to Paris, to take counsel of certain priests. Of one thing she
was assured: the Divine will called her to Canada, but to what end she
neither knew nor asked to know; for she abandoned herself as an atom to
be borne to unknown destinies on the breath of God. At Paris, Father St.
Jure, a Jesuit, assured her that her vocation to Canada was, past doubt,
a call from Heaven; while Father Rapin, a Recollet, spread abroad the
fame of her virtues, and introduced her to many ladies of rank, wealth,
and zeal. Then, well supplied with money for any pious work to which she
might be summoned, she journeyed to Rochelle, whence ships were to sail
for New France. Thus far she had been kept in ignorance of the plan with
regard to Montreal; but now Father La Place, a Jesuit, revealed it to
her. On the day after her arrival at Rochelle, as she entered the Church
of the Jesuits, she met Dauversiere coming out. "Then," says her
biographer, "these two persons, who had never seen nor heard of each
other, were enlightened supernaturally, whereby their most hidden
thoughts were mutually made known, as had happened already with M. Olier
and this same M. de la Dauversiere." A long conversation ensued between
them; and the delights of this interview were never effaced from the
mind of Mademoiselle Mance. "She used to speak of it like a seraph,"
writes one of her nuns, "and far better than many a learned doctor could
She had found her destiny. The ocean, the wilderness, the solitude, the
Iroquois,--nothing daunted her. She would go to Montreal with
Maisonneuve and his forty men. Yet, when the vessel was about to sail, a
new and sharp misgiving seized her. How could she, a woman, not yet
bereft of youth or charms, live alone in the forest, among a troop of
soldiers? Her scruples were relieved by two of the men, who, at the last
moment, refused to embark without their wives,--and by a young woman,
who, impelled by enthusiasm, escaped from her friends, and took passage,
in spite of them, in one of the vessels.
All was ready; the ships set sail; but Olier, Dauversiere, and Fancamp
remained at home, as did also the other Associates, with the exception
of Maisonneuve and Mademoiselle Mance. In the following February, an
impressive scene took place in the Church of Notre-Dame, at Paris. The
Associates, at this time numbering about forty-five, with Olier at their
head, assembled before the altar of the Virgin, and, by a solemn
ceremonial, consecrated Montreal to the Holy Family. Henceforth it was
to be called Villemarie de Montreal,--a sacred town, reared to the
honor and under the patronage of Christ, St. Joseph, and the Virgin, to
be typified by three persons on earth, founders respectively of the
three destined communities,--Olier, Dauversiere, and a maiden of Troyes,
Marguerite Bourgeoys: the seminary to be consecrated to Christ, the
Hotel-Dieu to St. Joseph, and the college to the Virgin.
But we are anticipating a little; for it was several years as yet before
Marguerite Bourgeoys took an active part in the work of Montreal. She
was the daughter of a respectable tradesman, and was now twenty-two
years of age. Her portrait has come down to us; and her face is a mirror
of loyalty and womanly tenderness. Her qualities were those of good
sense, conscientiousness, and a warm heart. She had known no miracles,
ecstasies, or trances; and though afterwards, when her religious
susceptibilities had reached a fuller development, a few such are
recorded of her, yet even the Abbe Faillon, with the best intentions,
can credit her with but a meagre allowance of these celestial favors.
Though in the midst of visionaries, she distrusted the supernatural, and
avowed her belief that, in His government of the world, God does not
often set aside its ordinary laws. Her religion was of the affections,
and was manifested in an absorbing devotion to duty. She had felt no
vocation to the cloister, but had taken the vow of chastity, and was
attached, as an externe, to the Sisters of the Congregation of Troyes,
who were fevered with eagerness to go to Canada. Marguerite, however,
was content to wait until there was a prospect that she could do good by
going; and it was not till the year 1653, that, renouncing an
inheritance, and giving all she had to the poor, she embarked for the
savage scene of her labors. To this day, in crowded school-rooms of
Montreal and Quebec, fit monuments of her unobtrusive virtue, her
successors instruct the children of the poor, and embalm the pleasant
memory of Marguerite Bourgeoys. In the martial figure of Maisonneuve,
and the fair form of this gentle nun, we find the true heroes of
Maisonneuve, with his forty men and four women, reached Quebec too late
to ascend to Montreal that season. They encountered distrust, jealousy,
and opposition. The agents of the Company of the Hundred Associates
looked on them askance; and the Governor of Quebec, Montmagny, saw a
rival governor in Maisonneuve. Every means was used to persuade the
adventurers to abandon their project, and settle at Quebec. Montmagny
called a council of the principal persons of his colony, who gave it as
their opinion that the newcomers had better exchange Montreal for the
Island of Orleans, where they would be in a position to give and receive
succor; while, by persisting in their first design, they would expose
themselves to destruction, and be of use to nobody. Maisonneuve, who was
present, expressed his surprise that they should assume to direct his
affairs. "I have not come here," he said, "to deliberate, but to act. It
is my duty and my honor to found a colony at Montreal; and I would go,
if every tree were an Iroquois!"
At Quebec there was little ability and no inclination to shelter the new
colonists for the winter; and they would have fared ill, but for the
generosity of M. Puiseaux, who lived not far distant, at a place called
St. Michel. This devout and most hospitable person made room for them
all in his rough, but capacious dwelling. Their neighbors were the
hospital nuns, then living at the mission of Sillery, in a substantial,
but comfortless house of stone; where, amidst destitution, sickness,
and irrepressible disgust at the filth of the savages whom they had in
charge, they were laboring day and night with devoted assiduity. Among
the minor ills which beset them were the eccentricities of one of their
lay sisters, crazed with religious enthusiasm, who had the care of their
poultry and domestic animals, of which she was accustomed to inquire,
one by one, if they loved God; when, not receiving an immediate answer
in the affirmative, she would instantly put them to death, telling them
that their impiety deserved no better fate.
Early in May, Maisonneuve and his followers embarked. They had gained an
unexpected recruit during the winter, in the person of Madame de la
Peltrie, foundress of the Ursulines of Quebec. The piety, the novelty,
and the romance of their enterprise, all had their charms for the fair
enthusiast; and an irresistible impulse--imputed by a slandering
historian to the levity of her sex--urged her to share their fortunes.
Her zeal was more admired by the Montrealists whom she joined than by
the Ursulines whom she abandoned. She carried off all the furniture she
had lent them, and left them in the utmost destitution. Nor did she
remain quiet after reaching Montreal, but was presently seized with a
longing to visit the Hurons, and preach the Faith in person to those
benighted heathen. It needed all the eloquence of a Jesuit, lately
returned from that most arduous mission, to convince her that the
attempt would be as useless as rash.
It was the eighth of May when Maisonneuve and his followers embarked at
St. Michel; and as the boats, deep-laden with men, arms, and stores,
moved slowly on their way, the forest, with leaves just opening in the
warmth of spring, lay on their right hand and on their left, in a
flattering semblance of tranquillity and peace. But behind woody islets,
in tangled thickets and damp ravines, and in the shade and stillness of
the columned woods, lurked everywhere a danger and a terror.
On the seventeenth of May, 1642, Maisonneuve's little flotilla--a
pinnace, a flat-bottomed craft moved by sails, and two
row-boats--approached Montreal; and all on board raised in unison a hymn
of praise. Montmagny was with them, to deliver the island, in behalf of
the Company of the Hundred Associates, to Maisonneuve, representative of
the Associates of Montreal. And here, too, was Father Vimont, Superior
of the missions; for the Jesuits had been prudently invited to accept
the spiritual charge of the young colony. On the following day, they
glided along the green and solitary shores now thronged with the life of
a busy city, and landed on the spot which Champlain, thirty-one years
before, had chosen as the fit site of a settlement. It was a tongue or
triangle of land, formed by the junction of a rivulet with the St.
Lawrence, and known afterwards as Point Calliere. The rivulet was
bordered by a meadow, and beyond rose the forest with its vanguard of
scattered trees. Early spring flowers were blooming in the young grass,
and birds of varied plumage flitted among the boughs.
Maisonneuve sprang ashore, and fell on his knees. His followers imitated
his example; and all joined their voices in enthusiastic songs of
thanksgiving. Tents, baggage, arms, and stores were landed. An altar was
raised on a pleasant spot near at hand; and Mademoiselle Mance, with
Madame de la Peltrie, aided by her servant, Charlotte Barre, decorated
it with a taste which was the admiration of the beholders. Now all the
company gathered before the shrine. Here stood Vimont, in the rich
vestments of his office. Here were the two ladies, with their servant;
Montmagny, no very willing spectator; and Maisonneuve, a warlike figure,
erect and tall, his men clustering around him,--soldiers, sailors,
artisans, and laborers,--all alike soldiers at need. They kneeled in
reverent silence as the Host was raised aloft; and when the rite was
over, the priest turned and addressed them:--
"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 on you, and your children shall fill the land."
The afternoon waned; the sun sank behind the western forest, and
twilight came on. Fireflies were twinkling over the darkened meadow.
They caught them, tied them with threads into shining festoons, and hung
them before the altar, where the Host remained exposed. Then they
pitched their tents, lighted their bivouac fires, stationed their
guards, and lay down to rest. Such was the birth-night of Montreal.
Is this true history, or a romance of Christian chivalry? It is both.
A few years later there was another emigration to Montreal, of a
character much like the first. The pious little colony led a struggling
and precarious existence. Many of its inhabitants were killed by the
Iroquois, and its escape from destruction was imputed to the
intervention of the Holy Virgin. The place changed as years went on, and
became a great centre of the fur trade, though still bearing strong
marks of its pristine character. The institutions of religion and
charity planted by its founders remain to this day, and the Seminary of
St. Sulpice holds vast possessions in and around the city. During the
war of 1755-1760, Montreal was a base of military operations. In the
latter year three English armies advanced upon it from three different
points, united before its walls, and forced Governor Vaudreuil to
surrender all Canada to the British Crown.
Next: Infancy Of Quebec
Previous: Massacre Of The Devil's Hole