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
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

have done."

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.