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French Oblate Names: Part One

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Among the early French travellers to leave their mark on Alberta were missionaries for the Roman Catholic Church.

According to historian Merrily Aubrey, among the most influential were those clergy who belonged to the Oblate Order of Mary Immaculate.

The Oblate Order was established in Ex, An Provence, France, in 1815. It was two or three decades before the priests began arriving in Canada – in Montreal, in 1841.

Three years later, a handful of their order travelled west, to serve an area that covered a huge area, from the U.S. to the Arctic Ocean, James Bay to the Pacific Ocean.

The first three missions in what is now Alberta were established at Fort Chipewyan in 1849, Lac Ste. Anne in 1852, and St. Albert in 1861.

One Oblate priest to do missionary work in Alberta was Father Emile Petitot.

He was born in Dijon, France, and he came to the northwest here in 1862 as Oblate missionary for the Mackenzie District.

He served at several missions, including Fort Good Hope, Fort Ray, Fort Macpherson, and Fort Norman.

Petitot was a talented artist, and during the 1870s he designed the lavish decoration of the Church of our Lady of Good Hope at Providence.

His painting of Fort Edmonton, painted around 1867, still hangs in the Alberta Legislature Library.

Between the years of 1862 and 1873, Father Petitot went on several missionary expeditions, which took him across the north and well into the Yukon. These included an exploration of the Great Slave Lake region. He also wrote a monograph on the theory of the origin of the Dené.

His diaries, his geographical, anthropological and linguistic works, received a lot of international attention when they were published in France, between 1876 and 1893.

Exhausted from the rigours of northern life by the mid-1880s, Petitot returned to France in 1886, where he served as a parish priest until his death in 1917.

A tributary of the Laird River was named after Father Petitot. The Petitot River flows into British Columbia, 160 kilometres northwest of High Level.

On the Heritage Trail,

I’m Cheryl Croucher.

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            For more on Missionary Oblates in Western Canada, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.

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