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Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site of Canada

The Jesuit Mission

Jean-de-Brébeuf and the Jesuits in New-France

Father Jean de Brébeuf Print of Father Jean de Brébeuf, from the waist up.
© National Archives of Canada / C-1190

Jesuit Order was founded in 1534 by Inigo Perez, alias Ignatius of Loyola. He wished to build up an apostolic order based on a military model named the Society of Jesus. Soon, the Jesuits found favour with Pope Paul III who sanctioned the Order in 1540. The Jesuits took the three vows of chastity, poverty and obedience as any religious order but also swore absolute obedience to the Pope, to whom they were directly responsible. The Order was founded just before the Catholic counter-reform movement, in reaction to Protestantism, then sweeping throughout Europe. The Jesuits purposes were to educate the Christians, convert the “infidels” and prevent Protestantism. Their training was rigorous.

The Jesuit was the first order to run colleges and universities worldwide. When Ignatius of Loyola died in 1556, his order already owned 74 colleges on three continents and had thousands of members (60 years later, 13.000 members across Europe). In the 1540's, missionaries were sent throughout the world: in India (1541-42), Congo (1547), Brazil and Japan (1549), Ethiopia (1555), China (1563), Philippines and Acadia (1611). In 1625, Jean-de-Brébeuf came to Quebec to convert the Amerindians of New-France.

Jean-de-Brébeuf, a priest and missionary, was born on March 25th 1593 in Condé-sur-Vire, Normandy (northern France). Little is known about his childhood and relatives. He took the orders in Rouen, in 1617 at the age of 24 and was ordered priest in 1622, in spite of his poor health (tuberculosis). He stayed in Rouen for three years and embarked for New-France in 1625 with five other missionaries among whom Énemond Massé and Charles Lalemant. They arrived in Quebec City in June of that same year.

From 1625, the actual site of Cartier-Brébeuf national historic site saw a new human occupation marked by religious, agricultural and industrial activities. The first Jesuit mission in the St. Lawrence valley began mid-June 1625. On a lot given by the Viceroy of New France, the newcomers built a modest habitation of thirteen by seven metres housing a chapel dedicated to Notre-Dame-des-Anges. By 1629, a second structure of equal size was erected and land sowed. Meanwhile, Brébeuf conducted his first mission among the Montagnais, a nomad people who lived near Quebec City. In the winter, he experienced the harsh reality of missionary life. No sooner had he got familiar with the language and customs of the Montagnais was he sent to Huronia, the Huron's country (1626), then located north of Lake Huron and the Georgian Bay, Ontario. This 800 miles (1280 km) journey approximately took him one month. The voyage was hard going and exhausting due to portages, long walks in the woods, poor sailing conditions and privations. According to Brébeuf, “one had to be tough, help the Amerindians out whenever necessary, never complain and eat on time, generally twice a day, at sunrise and sunset.” His first stay with the Hurons resulted in no conversions, but was worthwhile on the linguistic and cultural levels. This people easily accepted Brébeuf thanks to the strong trading agreements they had with the French since Champlain's first expeditions.

After the Kirke brother's invaded Quebec City in 1629, the Jesuits were sent back to France, but came back in 1632 as Quebec was ceded back to France through the treaty of St Germain-en-laye. On their return, they restored their living quarters along with a section of the second building, burnt down by the conquerors. A wooden fence of 10.5 square metres and 4.5 metres high was added around the courtyard.

A House of Evangelism

In 1635, the house of Notre-Dame-des-Anges was the only rightful Jesuit property in the colony. Its superior, Father Lejeune, planned to turn it into a college to educate children of the French, a seminary to evangelize young Amerindians, and a central house to support the missions. Only the seminary will be carried out, at the location of the actual Cartier-Brébeuf National Historic Site.

A hut will be built and used as a center to convert the Natives. To their sayings, this hut was “a bad slum of botched boards and slats of forty French feet long and twenty-five feet wide”. An adjacent building served as a barn. In 1634, according to Father Lejeune, the seminary had four lower rooms, a chapel, a refectory where they slept, a kitchen and a spare room. Two additional rooms of smaller dimensions could accommodate up to six persons. Other guests could sleep in the attic.

So the Jesuit main residence housed the Huron's seminary from 1636 to 1639. However, this institution only lasted three years. Over this period, ten Huron attended school. Among this group of nine teenagers and one adult, five went back to Huronia, two died soon upon arrival and one, the adult, drowned. After two years, only two returned and five were baptized. The natives would pray, read, write and study the catechism in the morning and fish, hunt and make bows and arrows in the afternoon. The Jesuits initial plan was to select the best candidates in each native villages, form them for four to five years then sent them back home to teach the new faith. After three years, this experience was a failure, mainly because the natives recruited showed little interest and left sooner than expected. The Jesuits abandoned the seminary in 1639 and moved in the Notre-Dame-de-la-Recouvrance presbytery, in Quebec City.

The Jesuit father's plans called for selecting the best Aboriginal candidates and training them for four to five years before allowing them to return to their communities, where they would spread their religious knowledge. The experiment, which lasted approximately three years, proved a failure because the recruits showed little interest in their education and stayed for a much shorter period than planned. The seminary was abandoned around 1639, the year when the Jesuits relocated to the Notre-Dame-de-la-Recouvrance presbytery in Québec.

The mission in Huronia

Meanwhile, in July 1634, Jean-de-Brébeuf is sent to Huronia by Father Lejeune to found a new mission, St-Joseph I, in Toanché, a village he had spent 3 years in between 1626 and 1629. Around 1637, after a rather satisfactory period of evangelization, Brébeuf faced growing resistance from the Huron he blamed on their attachment to traditions, immorality and epidemics. Over the years, prolonged contacts between Europeans and Amerindians had set to the spreading of various diseases that still decimated a growing part of the indigenous populations.

In 1638, Brébeuf founded a new mission, St.Joseph II, in Teanaostaiae. The Huron aversions increased after another small pox epidemic eventually leading to physical and psychological violence. Several converts also renounced to their faith. The Jesuits were even attacked in the spring of 1640. During the uprising, Pierre Boucher was hurt and Brebeuf and Chaumonot beaten. In May, hostilities forced Lalemant back to Quebec City. In spite of all, the missionaries founded two new missions in the autumn of 1640, one with the Algonquians, another with the Neutrals. Brébeuf and Chaumonot went north of the lake Erie to convert the latter. The Huron preceding them had spread rumours about the  black robes. Everywhere they went they faced hostile reactions, were rejected and insulted. This attempt had little results.

In the spring of 1641, on his way back from the mission, Brébeuf felt on and icy lake, broke his collarbone and was sent back to Quebec City. There, he planned expeditions to supply the missionaries with all they needed (paper, books, objects of worship, food, …). In addition to being a procurator, he took care of six young Huron of whom he was the guardian. He was also the confessor and spiritual adviser for the Ursulines and Hospitaliers sisters. In 1642 and 1643, the convoys sent to Huronia were attacked three times by the Iroquois. As the conflict opposing the Iroquois to the Huron intensified, the route between Quebec City and Huronia became so risky even the Huron dare not come to Québec City. Then, the Dutch gave guns to the Iroquois so they could harass the French and their allies, in hope the latter would abandon the colony.

Around 1640, the missionaries were nowhere safe as the situation between Huron and Iroquoians worsened. In 1642, Isaac Jogues, René Goupil and Guillaume Couture are captured by Iroquoians. Jogues body will be found two years later. In 1644, Father Bressani is also captured, tortured and ransomed by the Dutch. The same year, Brebeuf is sent back to Huronia.

On July 4th 1648, the Iroquois attacked St.Joseph and St.Michel while many Huron were gone to trade. About seven hundred prisoners were taken and Father Antoine Daniel was killed. On March 16th 1649, more than a thousand Iroquois attacked St.Ignace (Taenhatentaron), then St.Louis where Brebeuf and Lalemant stayed. Both could have escaped but decided to stay and met the fate of their flocks. They were captured and brought back to St.Ignace where they were welcomed by a hail of rocks and insults. The details of the horrible torture of Jean-de-Brebeuf were reported by Christophe Regnault, who saw and touched his body.

As the Huron federation dissolved many ran to other nations like the Neutrals, the Erie or Algonquians. On June 14th 1649, the Jesuits burnt down their residence in Ste-Marie-des-Huron and moved with approximately three hundred Huron on St.Joseph Island, on Lake Huron. Their situation deteriorated rapidly because of famine, diseases and constant attacks from the Iroquois. On June 10th 1650, the Huron and the Jesuits went to Quebec City. In 1651, Huron survivors settled on the Orleans Island where under Father Chaumonot's guidance, their number quickly grew to six hundred.

Jean-de-Brebeuf and seven other Jesuits were canonised in 1930 by Pope Pius XI as the Saint-Martyrs of Canada, celebrated on October 19th. All died in the name of Christian faith during the Huron-Iroquois war. They are Jean-de-Brebeuf (1649), Saint-Noël-Chabanel (1649), Saint-Antoine-Daniel (1649), Saint-Charles-Garnier (1649), Saint-René-Goupil (1642), Saint-Isaac-Jogues (1646), Saint-Jean-de-Lalande (1649) and Saint-Gabriel-Lalemant (1649).

Fields to cultivate

From 1652 onward, the Jesuits owned the Notre-Dame-des-Anges seigniory. This territory, bordered by the Saint-Michel brook in the west and the Beauport river in the east, corresponded to the one ceded to them in 1626 by Henri de Lévy, viceroy of New-France. Even if the Jesuits do not inhabited within the limits of their seigniory then, they wished to preserve it. Many parcels were conceded and mills built. The Notre-Dame-des-Anges barn, located at the actual Cartier-Brébeuf national historic site, maintained its territorial integrity and agricultural vocation until 1855.

Enterprises and constructions

Since 1688 however, the industrial activity developed in its vicinity with the establishment of a brickyard and the addition, a few years later, of a tannery and a pottery. In the 19th century, shipyards multiplied in the area along the St.Charles River. Around 1850, manufacturers rented parcels of Notre-Dame-des-Anges. Thereafter, sawmills were exploited for a few years and were replaced by the Rochette brickyard by the end of the century. In 1948, the site became the Arsenault dump and used as a snow deposit ten years later until restoration work rehabilitated the place into Cartier-Brébeuf National historic site of Canada.