The Oblates in the Dioceses of Montreal, Quebec & Bytown
Much of the Oblate's early work in the diocese of Montreal involved the revival of Christianity in the Eastern townships, the conversion of Aboriginal Peoples around Montreal, and the establishment of schools. There were sedentary missions around Montreal, at Longueuil, Beloeil, and St-Vincent-de-Paul. The Oblates ran parish schools at Rouville and Longueuil. The main residence of the Oblates at Longueuil was later moved to Montreal, at a new chapel called St. Pierre-Apôtre. In 1842, several Oblates were sent to the Eastern townships to set up roving missions, until they were ceased in 1845, because the Oblates were needed elsewhere. The Oblates were also given direction for a mission among the Iroquois at Caughnawaga, near Montreal.
The Oblates were soon in demand outside of Bishop Bourget’s diocese. In 1844, the Bishop of Kingston enlisted Bourget’s aid to bring the Oblates to the new settlement of Bytown (Ottawa), to minister to the Roman Catholics of the town, and to set up schools and institutions for the care of the sick and the elderly. Father Telmon was the first Oblate sent to Bytown, followed shortly by Father Dandurand who came to minister to the many English-speaking Irish Catholics of the town. The next year, in 1845, Father Telmon brought the Sisters of Charity of Montreal (known colloquially as the Grey Nuns) to Bytown to staff new institutions for education and healthcare. The most important school that the Oblates would open in Bytown was a college for boys, the College of Bytown, which became a full-fledged university in 1881, the University of Ottawa.
Outside of Bytown, the Oblates expanded rapidly throughout the diocese of Kingston. Fathers Durocher and Brunet were sent to do missionary work among the hommes des chantiers in the Ottawa, Gatineau, and Lièvre river valleys in 1845. The Oblates also established themselves at Hull, forming the Notre Dame-de-Grâce Parish in 1870, and at Lowell (Massachusetts), among the Irish and Franco-American Catholics. Father Nicolas Laverlochère was sent to the Témiscamingue to evangelize the First Nations in the area. The Témiscamingue, a large region bordering Quebec and Ontario, also extended into the diocese of Montreal. The missions at Témiscamingue were the first of many future missions that would follow the fur trade route. Father Laverlochère travelled from Montreal all the way to Moose Factory on the Abitibi River, ministering among the Aboriginal Peoples, largely Algonquin. He fell ill with fever in 1849 while distributing goods during an epidemic, and was forced to return to the home mission of Témiscamingue. Later, in the 1860s, more Oblates continued Laverlochère’s efforts to convert the Aboriginal Peoples in the area, by building an Oblate church, a residence, and a hospital. During the next decade, Brother Joseph Moffet began to promote agricultural colonization in the area. Other Oblates sent to Témiscamingue went further north to James Bay to form missions among the Aboriginal Peoples there.
The other diocese of Eastern Canada in which the Oblates would have a significant impact was the diocese of Quebec. In 1844, Mgr Joseph Signay, the Archbishop of Quebec, requested Oblates for missionary work among the Aboriginal Peoples of St-Maurice, in the Saguenay region, and along the northern coast of the St. Lawrence. The Oblates set up their first residence in the diocese, St. Alexis de Grande-Baie, on the year of their arrival. They later founded a major residence at Quebec City, St-Sauveur in 1853, in addition to schools and charitable institutions in the city. Oblate missionaries traveled throughout northern Quebec, among the Aboriginal communities, first to the Labrador and Saguenay areas. Oblates ministered to several Aboriginal reserves, and opened two residences in the area. In the Saguenay, Father Jean-Baptiste Honorat ministered to the poor white population in the countryside. He began colonizing efforts at Grand-Brûlé, founding an agricultural parish, Notre Dame de Laterrière and engaged in a powerful battle with the lumber baron William Price to break his monopoly in the Lac Saint-Jean region which was detrimental to settlers.2 In 1851, Fathers Arnaud and Babel began converting the Naskapis at the Baie des Esquimaux, before traveling among the Montagnais-Naskapi (East Cree) along the northern coast of the St. Lawrence River, and opening more than 70 chapels in the area. Finally, the Oblates came to St. Maurice along the St. Lawrence River, where Father Jean-Pierre Guéguen resided from 1867-1899, opening about eight missions, among the Montagnais, Algonquin, Iroquois, and Cree nations.
The dioceses of Montreal, Kingston, and Quebec in Eastern Canada were the Oblates’ first apostolic fields in Canada. In 1844, the Oblates began to head west to respond to the call of Bishop Provencher at the Red River Colony.
Lapointe, Raoul, Combat de Titans au Coeur d’un Royaume, le duel Honorat-Price, Editions de La Pinière, Société historique du Saguenay, No. 49, Chicoutimi, 1996.
Levasseur, Donat, (O.M.I.) Histoire des Missionnaires Oblats de Marie Immaculée: Essai de synthèse. Vol. I: 1815-1898. Montréal: Maison Provinciale, 1983.
Levasseur, Donat, OMI. “La Venue des Oblats de Marie Immaculée en Amérique.” In Raymond Huel (Ed.). Western Oblate Studies 2/Études Oblates De l'Ouest 2: Proceedings of the Second Symposium on the History of the Oblates in Western and Northern Canada. Edwin Mellen Press, 1992.
Levasseur, Donat, OMI. Les Oblats de Marie Immaculée dans l’Ouest et le Nord du Canada, 1845-1967. University of Alberta Press and Western Canadian Publishers, 1995.
Roche, Aimé. Eugène de Mazenod, Lyon, Éditions du Chalet, 1960, p. 56.
Vaulx, Bernard de, D’une mer à l’autre, les Oblats de Marie-Immaculée au Canada, 1841 -1961, Éditions du Chalet, 1961.
(2) See Raoul Lapointe, Combat de Titans au Coeur d’un Royaume, le duel Honorat-Price, Editions de la La Pinière, Société historique du Saguenay, No. 49, Chicoutimi, 1996.
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