Émile Petitot was born on December 3rd, 1838, at Grancy-le-Château (Côte-d’Or), France. His parents were Jean-Baptiste Petitot, a watchmaker, and Thérèse-Julie-Fortunée Gagneur. He died at Mareuil-les-Meaux, France on 13th May, 1917.
After his classical studies at the seminary and Catholic college at Marseille, Émile entered the novitiate of Notre-Dame l’Osier, on the 27th September 1860, and took his perpetual vows on the 10th October, 1861. He was subsequently ordained a priest in Marseille on the 15th March, 1862, by Mgr Patrice Cruice, Bishop of Marseille.
Sent to the Canadian West (1862), Fr Petitot lived successively in Fort Providence, Northwest Territories (1862-64), Fort Good Hope and Fort Resolution (1864-73; 1876-78) charged with missions to Fort Resolution (1863-64), Fort Rae (1864), Fort McPherson (1865, 1873), Fort Norman (1866-69, 1871-73, 1876-78) and Fort Simpson (1872).
Exhausted, Fr Petitot was forced to quit temporarily his artic missionary work and went to live at Lac-La-Biche, Alberta (1873-74) before returning to France. There he embarked on the writing of important works on Indigenous languages, before returning to Fort Good Hope in 1876. However, his health had been irreparably damaged and he had to quit mission work again. After a time in Cold Lake Alberta (1879-81), he retired to Saint-Jean-de-Dieu, Quebec (1882-83).
Unwell because of the stress of his work in the North, Fr Petitot undertook a number of postings including as a printer in Paris before being released from his vows on April 19, 1886. After completely recovering his health, he became a member of the secular clergy and passed the rest of his life as a curate at Mareuil-les-Meaux (1886-1917).
From 1862 to 1873, he undertook various voyages of evangelization and geographical exploration, and even reached the Yukon (1870). He published a number of works on geography and linguistics, and his name is associated with various geographical entities in the great Canadian North. The Aboriginal Peoples named him Yaltri nexun “The Good Father.” He was buried at Mareuil-les-Meaux. The Canadian government erected a plaque in his honour at Mareuil in 1975 .1
Reprinted with the permission of Les Archives Deschâtelets and the publisher. From Gaston Carriere, o.m.i., Dictionnaire de Marie Immaculée au Canada, tome III (Ottawa: Éditions de l’Université d’Ottawa, 1979), pp 69-70.
1. Louis LE JEUNE, o.m.i., Petitot. Emile, dans Dictionnaire général... du Canada, vol. 2, p. 435-436; Adrien-G. MORICE. o.m.i., L 'abbé Emile Petitot et les découvertes géographiques du Canada.... Québec, Action Sociale, 1923, 56 p.; Donat SAVOIE, Les Amérindiens du Nord-Ouest canadien au 19. Siècle selon Emile Petitot. Ottawa, Ministère des Affaires Indiennes et du Nord canadien, , 2 vol.; Donat SAVOIE, The Amerindians of the Canadian North-West in the 19th Century, as seen by Emile Petitot, Ottawa, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Deve1opment, 1970; 2 vol.; Donat SAVOIE. Bibliographie d'Emile Petitot missionnaire dans le Nord-Ouest canadien, dans Anthropologica [Ottawa], n. s. 12 (1971), p. 159-168; Petitot, Emile, dans Encyclopedia canadiana, vol. 8, p. 169; Norah STORY, Petitot, Emile, in The Oxford Companion to Canadian History and Literature, p. 634-635; Pietro CERRUTI, 11 Padre Emilio Petitot e le sue relazioni sul Nord-Ovest canadese (MA Thesis), Université de Gênes, 1972-1973, 105-ix p; Petitot Emile, dans Encyclopédie Grollier, vol. 8, p. 295; Petitot, Emile, in La Grande Encyclopédie, vol. 26, p. 530; Petitot, Emile, in Victor BARBEAU-André FORTIER. Dictionnaire biographique du Canada français, p. 190; Emile Petitot (1836-1916), in Bulletin de la Société d'histoire et d'art du diocèse de Meaux, 1974, 32 p.
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