The Diocese of St. Boniface
When Oblates first arrived in the West, they came to St. Boniface at the Red River Colony, bordered by the Red River and Assiniboia River. St. Boniface Cathedral was the seat of the Diocese of St. Boniface, formed in 1847. The apostolic field of the Diocese initially included the Athabasca-Mackenzie areas in the north, and most of the future provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, up until the 1860s, when the Diocese was broken up.
Between 1853 and 1870, 17 Oblates were recruited to the Red River area (the old district of Assiniboia) to work among the Whites, Métis, and the Saulteaux (Ojibwa). The first Oblate missions of the Diocese of St. Boniface were formed along Lake Winnipeg, Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipegosis, in southern Manitoba, and in parts of South Western Ontario, and Southern Saskatchewan. The Red River Settlement was the first Oblate field of evangelization in the West.
The largest parish of the Red River Settlement was the Cathedral of St. Boniface, staffed by Oblates when Father Taché became bishop in 1851. Oblates eventually ran a prison, hospital, industrial school, grand seminary, and a college in the Settlement; the College of St. Boniface, which was taken over by Oblates in 1860. Subsequently, this was one of the founding colleges of the University of Manitoba. Oblates stationed at St. Boniface also traveled with Métis and Aboriginal hunters during the buffalo hunt, twice a year.
Growing numbers of Métis in the Red River Settlement necessitated the building of several more Oblate-run Catholic parishes near St. Boniface. The Métis settlement St. Norbert, along Sturgeon Creek, had a mission run by Father Lestanc, and attended by 700 parishioners, largely Métis. The settlement also had a boys’ and a girls’ school. Six miles from St. Boniface, on the shores of the Red River, was the Parish of St. Vital, erected in about 1860. Another Oblate-staffed parish near St. Boniface was St. Charles. One of the later parishes in this area was Ste. Marie, which originated from the Academy of Ste. Marie, founded by the Sisters of Charity of Montreal (Grey Nuns) in 1869; Oblates were assigned to this parish in 1875. The territory of these Oblate missions around St. Boniface eventually became part of the City of Winnipeg.
Outside of Winnipeg boundaries were several more missions clustered around St. Boniface. The growing settlement of Ste. Anne-des-Chênes, southeast of St. Boniface, was visited by Oblates from 1859 onward; but it had no resident Oblate priest until 1870. About 35 kilometres west of St. Boniface was the large Métis settlement of St. François-Xavier, served by Father Laflèche after 1845; the Grey Nuns also ran a school there. Some of the later parishes founded in the Red River Colony were Ste. Agathe (1871 or 1872), St. Pierre (1870) and St. Jean Baptiste (1876), south of St. Norbert. Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, at the Métis settlement Pointe-des-Chênes just southeast of St. Boniface, was an Oblate parish organized in1873.
Radiating farther outwards from St. Boniface, there were three important Oblate missionary centres – at St. Laurent, Fort Alexandre and Qu’Appelle valley.
For many years, St. Laurent, south of Lake Manitoba, was the location of the Oblate residence and mother mission of the Lakes Manitoba and Winnipegosis missions. Prior to the founding of St. Laurent, Father François-Xavier Bermon travelled the area and fixed a residence at Duck Bay on Lake Winnipegosis in 1847. The next year, the mission was transferred to Manitoba Post on Manitoba Lake, and named Notre-Dame-du-Lac, before the mission was abandoned in 1850. In 1858, Father Gascon was sent to build the chapel of St. Laurent on Lake Manitoba; Father Simonet became the first resident Oblate there in 1861. St. Laurent became the religious centre of the Métis and the Saulteaux (Ojibwa) around Duck Bay and Manitoba Post.
In 1861, Father Joseph Lestanc began his annual travels to Fort Alexandre, along the Winnipeg River, which became the basis for the next important missionary centre in the area. The Oblate residence of St. Alexandre was opened in 1867, to aid the evangelization of the Saulteaux along the Manitoba-Ontario border. Father Joachim Allard was the first resident missionary of St. Alexandre, which served as a base for the formation of three more Saulteaux missions at Portage-du-Rat (Kenora), McIntosh and Fort Francis.
St. Florent, the chapel at Fort Qu’Appelle became the next important Oblate residence. Qu’Appelle River Valley (in south-western Saskatchewan) was one of the first missionary fields in Canada; Mgr Provencher visited the area in 1819. Mgr Taché went to Qu’Appelle in 1864 with the purpose of setting up a mission in the area. Fort Qu’Appelle was a gathering place for large numbers of Métis and also Cree, Assiniboines, Sioux and Saulteaux, making it an ideal place to found a mission. The Oblate chapel at Qu’Appelle was built in 1866, with Father Jules Decorby as the first resident Oblate. Around the residence, several Aboriginal and Métis missions were founded including File Hills on a Cree reserve, Notre-Dame-de-Lumières on a Sioux reserve, Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours among the Saulteaux, and at Dauphiné, a Métis colony. In 1884, Oblates were involved in an Industrial School for Aboriginal students which was opened near Fort Qu'Appelle.
Aside from these missions, Oblates held missions at St. Joseph (Minnesota) in 1853 and at Pembina (southern Manitoba) in 1877. From St. Boniface, Oblates would travel to L’Île-à-la-Crosse, the next important base of missions, located in northwest Saskatchewan.
Champagne, Claude. Les débuts de la mission dans le Nord-Ouest canadien: Mission et église chez Mgr Vital Grandin, o.m.i. (1829-1902). Ottawa: Éditions de l’Université d’Ottawa, 1983.
Champagne, Joseph-Étienne, OMI. Les Missions Catholiques dans l’Ouest Canadien (1818-1875). Scolasticat Saint-Joseph, Ottawa: Éditions des Études Oblates, 1949.
Huel, Raymond. Proclaiming the Gospel to the Indians and the Métis. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press and Western Canadian Publishers, 1996.
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.
This project has been supported in part by the Canada-Alberta Agreement on French-language Services; the opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the Governments of Canada or Alberta.
Copyright © 2009 Heritage Community Foundation and
Institut pour le Patrimoine, Campus Saint-Jean, University of Alberta
All Rights Reserved