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Concerning the Jesuits in Canada

England and France, towards the middle of the seventeenth century, had succeeded in planting small but vigorous colonies in America. The English settlers were to be found along the eastern coast, from Cape Cod to Virginia. They were content to remain in close contact with the sea, not venturing far into the impenetrable forest behind them. Conquest and discovery not being the motives which had impelled them to leave their homes in England, they were not fired with enthusiasm to find out what lay beyond the forest and the mountains. Many had faced the terrors of the ocean merely to find a living, while others had come to obtain freedom to worship according to their conscience. They therefore chose the nearest places which seemed suitable, cut down the forest trees, planted crops, built houses, and became agriculturists and traders.


The Récollets.

It was far otherwise with the French colonists. The sea-coast was almost entirely avoided by them. Their chief settlements lay along the St. Lawrence, the great waterway into the heart of the continent. No desire for a mere livelihood brought Frenchmen from their sunny land, but a passion for adventure, which did not make them good colonists. They were restless beings, ill-content with the slow life of a farmer, always anxious to push into the unknown, and to grow rich rapidly through fur-trading with the Indians. Their leaders, men of the type of Champlain, were inspired with the thought of conquest, of conversion, of the winning of a vast empire for their King and their Church. These divergent motives made a vast difference in the nature of the English and French colonies. France reproduced in Canada all her old customs, her feudal system, and her tyranny; England sent out men who were filled with a spirit of independence.

Religion played a great part in the history of Canada. The Roman Catholic religion gave to Canada many heroic men and women, and supplied countless stories of patient courage in the face of unspeakable torture. But the Jesuits who flocked to the New World, eager to give their lives for their faith, were not the best or most profitable kind of colonists. The country wanted married settlers, whose happiness would be wrapped up in their families and their farms. As one writer puts it: "Martyrs and virgins the Roman Catholic Church sent out to Canada, but it did not send out men and women." Nothing could damp the enthusiasm of the Jesuits. They pleaded their cause in Europe, obtained money, and persuaded brave men and women to follow them into the unknown depths of the forests of America, where they founded mission-stations among the villages of cruel and suspicious savages, far away from any help. Yet in spite of the self-sacrificing heroism of its teachers, the Roman Catholic religion, in shutting the gates of Canada against the Huguenots, brought weakness to New France. The Huguenots would have gladly flocked to the St. Lawrence to face—as did the Puritans of New England—its cold winters and the savage foes, if they could have obtained toleration for their religion. Whereas the Catholics of France, apart from the priests and nuns, had no desire to leave their comfortable homes.


The Récollets, the first Roman Catholic Missionaries in Canada.

The grey-robed Récollets, friars of the Franciscan Order, were the first of the Roman Catholic missionaries to venture into Canada. They came out with Champlain in 1615, and settled in Quebec, sending out members of their Order among the savage tribes. When Champlain made his first visit to Lake Huron he found a Récollet Father, Le Caron, had been there before him, carrying the Gospel to the heathen and founding a mission. Ten years after the Récollets, the Jesuits arrived, and soon established a convent of their own at Quebec.

The restless energy of the Jesuits often proved a source of trouble and anxiety to the rulers of Canada. They continued to push farther and farther into the untracked forest, converting the Indians, and building small mission-stations far away from any possible help from Quebec, only to suffer extermination, again and again, from the Iroquois.

The city of Montreal was founded by some religious enthusiasts in France. The beautiful island, discovered by Cartier, was fixed upon as the site of the town that was to put the Church first in everything. Under the leadership of a brave and ardently devout soldier, Maisonneuve, the company arrived at Quebec in the autumn of 1641. Maisonneuve insisted upon building at Montreal, in spite of the arguments of the Governor, who, knowing the ferocity of the Iroquois, wished the settlement to be made near Quebec. The following spring saw the zealous little colony planted within the walls of Ville Marie de Montreal.

Indignation and fury reigned among the Iroquois at this intrusion in their territory, for Ville Marie was close to the Richelieu River, which was their highway. War-parties roamed through the woods, cutting off any who ventured from the fort. One of these parties managed to capture a Jesuit, Father Isaac Jogues, who was among a company of Hurons bringing furs to Quebec. The prisoners were carried down the Richelieu, along the island-studded Lake Champlain to the Mohawk country, and there, from village to village, they were tortured by their merciless foes, who used all their ingenuity to drag from them some cries of suffering. So terrible was the daily torture, that it is marvellous that any came through with their lives. Father Jogues, who had never failed to cheer the Christian Hurons, was taken by the Iroquois to Albany, one of the Dutch towns on the Hudson. With the help of the Dutch he managed to escape, getting back to France. But the next year saw him again in Canada, maimed in body, but unbroken in spirit, to win eventually a martyr's death among the savage Iroquois.

The Jesuits had taken up the work, commenced by the Récollets, among the Hurons, who dwelt on the shores of the great lake named after them. They realized that the Hurons were more capable of receiving the new teaching than any of the other tribes, and with their untiring energy had built numerous mission-stations among them. But, though their success was great, winning the hearts of the Indians through their courage and their tender care of the sick, a terrible disaster was in store for them.


The Iroquois attacking the Huron Missions.

A declaration of war against the Hurons was issued by the Council of the Iroquois, a war not merely of conquest, but of extermination. The blow fell upon the unsuspecting Hurons in 1648, and by the following year their land had become a desert, and what was left of the nation was scattered among distant tribes. The priests died bravely among their flock, who, in accepting Christianity, seemed to have lost their war-like strength, offering very little resistance to their foes. After this exhibition of their power the Iroquois lorded it over Canada, keeping the French within the fortified walls of Quebec, Montreal, and Three Rivers. Beyond the immediate neighbourhood of these places, the Iroquois scalped and slaughtered at their pleasure, and every small settlement was wiped out.

For nearly ten years the Iroquois indulged in an orgy of conquest. They were bent upon exterminating all their foes, and destroyed tribe after tribe.

Concerning the Jesuits in Canada Natural enemies of the French, who were invading their land and threatening their supremacy, they were friendly to the English, who left them unmolested. Had they been a weak nation they must have been crushed between the French and English, between whose colonies they lay, but they were strong and clever enough to use one European foe against the other. Though none of the tribes could stand against them, the Iroquois had suffered heavy losses, but by their custom of incorporating certain of their prisoners, they were able to keep up their numbers.


Iroquois attacking Father Jogues and converts.

All this time the French had been showing their weakness to the Iroquois. They had proved themselves incapable of protecting their allies, the Hurons, and, indeed, had more than enough to do to maintain their own position. Naturally the Iroquois became more and more menacing to the French, whom they now openly despised.

At last, in 1660, news came to Montreal that a horde of Iroquois, all in their war-paint, was advancing down the Ottawa River to wipe out the settlement. There was a young French nobleman in Montreal, named Dollard, who was eager to do some deed of heroism, by which he might wipe out a stain upon his name. He volunteered, with sixteen others, to meet this savage horde before it reached the city, and to convince the Indians that Frenchmen could still fight. With his band of comrades, all vowed to give their lives for France, Dollard took up his position in an old stockade close to the Long Sault Rapids near where the Ottawa joins the St. Lawrence. A brave Algonquin chief, with ten Hurons, joined him, and with this small force he awaited the Iroquois. The war-party soon burst upon them, seven hundred strong, and with loud yells stormed the little fort, only to be beaten back with loss. The defenders fought continuously for three days, with not a moment's rest nor time to eat. Though they were exhausted with hunger and thirst, having no water in the fort, the heroic men kept the foe at bay till the bodies of dead men lay deep outside the wooden walls. When at last the firing ceased and the Iroquois burst in, they found all but five of the tiny garrison were dead, and those who were still living were covered with wounds. Only one of the five lived long enough to be tortured. But their dauntless courage had not been in vain, for the Iroquois were so impressed that they gave up the idea of attacking Montreal and returned to their lodges.

Just when the French were filled with dread of the Iroquois, the ground beneath their feet began to fill them with superstitious fears. Terrible earthquakes shook the earth, crumbling the massive ice of the rivers, and causing chimneys to fall. Strange meteors were seen among the fixed stars of the heavens; the solid ground swayed, giving out horrible noises, till the wretched settlers lived in hourly terror.

The earthquakes occurred in the year 1663, and with that year better times dawned on Canada. It became a royal province, under the direct rule of the King. The Company of the Hundred Associates was broken up, having shown itself entirely neglectful of its duties. Fur-trading had absorbed all its attention, and the interests and growth of the colony had been forgotten. The total population of Canada at the end of the company's rule only amounted to 2,000.