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The Vicariate Apostolic of British Columbia

The Vicariate Apostolic of British Columbia was formed under the direction of Vicar Louis D’herbomez, residing at St-Charles Mission in New Westminster. When it was founded, the Vicariate included the Queen Charlotte Islands and continental British Columbia, but not Vancouver Island. However, Vancouver Island was the first apostolic territory staffed by Oblates in BC.

The first Oblates in BC were not sent from Eastern Canada or from St-Boniface in the North West Territories. Rather, they came from Oregon and Washington. Five Oblates were sent to the dioceses of Walla Walla (Washington) and Oregon in 1847. However, from 1855 to 1858,war broke out between the Americans and the Yakima Aboriginal Peoples in the area. The war destroyed many of the Oblate missions, and the Oblates decided to leave the dioceses. The Oblates of Oregon and Walla Walla decided to grant the request of Mgr Modeste Demers, the bishop of Vancouver Island, for missionaries in 1857. Between 1858 and 1860, they began transferring to BC, except for a few who remained at Puget Sound. The main residence of the west coast Oblates was transferred to Olympia at Esquimalt on Vancouver Island, led by Father D’herbomez.

The first Oblate missions were located on Vancouver Island, although, technically, Vancouver Island was a separate colony from BC up until 1866. R.P. Léon Fouquet, OMI, [1888-1899]. (OB2955 - Oblate Collection at the PAA)At Esquimalt, Oblates ministered largely to White Catholics – colonists and naval soldiers, many of whom were French Canadian. The naval soldiers were stationed at the major naval base at Fort Victoria. Oblates ran a boys’ school at Fort Victoria and Father D’herbomez also opened the College of St. Louis in 1864 that accepted members of all religions, including a number of Jews. Aside from their White parishioners, Oblates worked among the Salish tribes throughout the Island.They established the St-Michel Mission along the North coast of the Island in 1863, among the Salish; they also travelled to nearby Fort Rupert, a mining settlement. More Aboriginal missions were founded along the Pacific coast, particularly on the Queen Charlotte Islands, where Fathers Fouquet and Le Jacq traveled from Fort Rupert. Eventually, a conflict between Bishop Demers and the Oblates led to the abandonment of the Victoria and Equimalt missions.

Shortly after Oblates began work on Vancouver Island, Oblates from Oregon founded missions on the mainland at Okanagan, in 1859, and New Westminster, in 1860. The Okanagan Mission was founded by Father Pandosy among the Yakimas. The mission in the town of New Westminster, the capital of BC at the time, was dedicated to both Aboriginals and Whites. There were two chapels in town, one for each community. Fathers Fouquet and Grandidier, the first Oblates at New Westminster, also traveled to Port Douglas, Fort Hope, and Fort Yale, below the Fraser River.

In 1861, Father Fouquet founded an important mission, Ste-Marie, at Mission City. This Mission, the central home of Oblates in the Fraser Valley, was later the site of an industrial school for Aboriginal Peoples. The same year this Mission was founded, Father Grandidier established a mission near Caribou Mountain, an area in the midst of a gold rush.

Some Oblates traveled father North to establish St. Joseph Mission at Williams Lake, in 1867, and Notre-Dame-de-Bonne-Espérance at Stuart Lake, in 1873. Later on, Oblates went to the Kootenay Region in South Eastern British Columbia where they established the residence of St. Eugene in Cranbrook, in 1874, and the residence at Kamloops, in 1878. Oblates were not sent to Vancouver until 1885.

Mgr Durieu became Coadjutor Vicar, in 1875, to assist an ailing Mgr D’herbomez. When the Vicariate of British Columbia became the Diocese of New Westminster in 1890, Mgr Durieu became the Bishop of the Diocese. Oblate Paul Durieu was known for gathering large numbers of Aboriginal Peoples (up to 3000) for retreats at mission centres. At these retreats, Oblates would hold Christian ceremonial feasts (to replace Potlatches), read sermons in Aboriginal languages, and organize hymn sings. Durieu and other Oblates in BC also attempted to organize Aboriginal Peoples into agricultural villages, opening schools to teach agricultural trades, and enforcing adherence to laws based on a Roman Catholic moral code, which included temperance and strict rules about sexual conduct. These villages were organized under the civil leadership of a chief, who was under the authority of the Bishop and or an Oblate missionary. Village laws were enforced through public punishments handed out by the chief’s “watchmen.” The philosophy behind these mission villages was that Aboriginal converts needed constant supervision to ensure that they remained Catholic, not only in name, but in practice.

By 1898, the Diocese of New Westminster (formerly the Vicariate Apostolic of British Columbia) had a largely Protestant population; there were about 24,000 Roman Catholics in a population of 80,000. The diocese had about six Oblate residences and 25 Oblate fathers.


Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. “Durieu, Paul.” Retrieved April 21, 2009 from http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=6080

Les Oblats de Marie Immaculée en Orégon, 1847-1860¸Vol I,Documents d’archives édités par Paul Drouin, o.m.i., Ottawa, Archives Deschâtelets, 1992.

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. Les Oblats de Marie Immaculée dans l’Ouest et le Nord du Canada, 1845-1967. University of Alberta Press and Western Canadian Publishers, 1995.

Morice, R.P.A.-G., OMI. Histoire de L’Église Catholique dans L’Ouest Canadien: Du Lac Supérieur au Pacifique (1695-1905). Vol. III. Montreal: Granger Frères, 1915.


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