L'lle-a-La-Crosse & Saskatchewan Missions
The first resident mission of Oblates in the area that would become the Diocese of St. Albert, and later, the Diocese of Saskatchewan, was the Mission of L’Île-à-la-Crosse. This Mission pushed the Oblate boundaries North and West of the Red River missions. It was also a pivotal stepping point for the Northern missions of the Athabasca and Mackenzie, and the Western missions at Lac La Biche, Lac Ste. Anne and St. Albert.
Father Thibault was the first missionary priest in the area of L’Île-à-la-Crosse. He was not an Oblate, but he recommended to Bishop Provencher that a mission be set up there, so in 1846, Fathers Laflèche and Taché, the future bishop of St. Boniface, were sent 1500 kilometres northwest to the fur trading post. Oblates studied Cree and Chipewyan languages before setting off to minister to the Aboriginal Peoples of the Northwest. Father Taché traveled to Green Lake and Caribou Lake, before making his way to Lake Athabasca, 700 kilometres Northwest of L’Île-à-la-Crosse. Direction of the mission at Lake Athabasca was given to Father Henri Faraud. These north-western missions continued despite funds being cut off in 1848, after another French Revolution reduced Oblates’ ability to fund their missions.
The mission at L’Île-à-la-Crosse, consecrated under the name St. Jean Baptiste, had many fervent Métis, Cree and Chipewyan parishioners. Oblates brought a flour mill to the settlement, as well as a school and an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity of Montreal (Grey Nuns) from 1860. But the success of the Mission was not without difficulties. After Father Taché left the Mission in 1851 to take up his post at St. Boniface, the Aboriginal Peoples of the community were angry and Taché was forced to return temporarily the next year. His replacement, Father Vegréville, encountered considerable resistance among his parishioners, and he quit the Mission in 1857, which was now under the direction of young Father Henri Grollier. Father Vital Grandin finally took charge of the Mission in 1857, and he would stay until 1869. Unfortunately, a fire at the Grey Nuns' convent, which probably included the residence for the boarding school, in 1867, killed 18 people, both children and elderly. Despite setbacks, by 1870, L’Île-à-la-Crosse had a Roman Catholic community of about 700 Chipewyan and Cree.
Oblates traveling from L’Île-à-la-Crosse founded another important mission, St. Pierre at Caribou Lake. Father Taché first traveled to the fur trading post at Lac Caribou in 1847. Father Augustin Maisonneuve took over at this Mission in 1851. Unfortunately, there had been a famine in the area and Oblates could find no Aboriginal Peoples in the area. In 1860, the Mission was restarted by Fathers Vegréville and Alphonse Gasté, and Brother Jean Perréard, who founded St. Pierre chapel. However, because of the harsh climate and poor resources of the area, Oblates faced starvation and were forced to return to L’Île-à-la-Crosse. The Mission at Caribou Lake had encountered poor success but, by 1870, 700 to 800 Chipewyan were visiting the Mission, which had a school. But the Mission at Caribou Lake did have other positive results for Oblates. Traveling 1000 kilometres north from Caribou Lake to the Inuit region of Dubawnt, Father Gasté became the first Oblate to evangelize the Inuit. He returned to Caribou Lake with five Christianized Inuit families.
Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs at Fond-du-Lac was another important mission radiating from L’Île-à-la-Crosse. Fond-du-Lac was a trading post on the north coast of Lake Athabasca, frequented by mainly by Chipeywans. Father Grollier founded the mission there in 1853, but a chapel was only built in 1865, when Father Clut was the resident priest.
In addition to these missions, Oblates traveling from L’Île-à-la-Crosse founded an important Chipewyan and Cree mission called Visitation at Portage La Loche, 200 kilometres north-west. Oblates founded the Bienheureuse Marguerite-Marie Chapel at Canoe Lake, and the Chapel of St. Julien at Green Lake.
In the 1870s, more missions were founded in the more southern part of the future province of Saskatchewan, a good distance away from L’Île-à-la-Crosse. In the Prince Albert Region, Oblates opened missions for Métis immigrants from Manitoba and for Aboriginal Peoples. St. Laurent de Grandin was founded by Fathers Julien Moulin and Vital Fourmond in 1870. There was also a mission at Duck Lake, founded in 1877 by Father Alexis André, and at Maskeg Lake, founded in 1878 by Father Mélasyppe Paquette. At Fort Carlton, Father Valentin Végréville founded a mission in 1888. Finally, Father Pierre Lecoq founded St.Louis de Langevin Mission in 1886, while Father Julien Moulin founded a mission at Batoche in 1882.
Farther west, in the district of Battleford, the Mission of St. Vital was opened by Father Joseph Lestanc in the Battleford Settlement itself in 1877. Father Louis Cochin traveled from Battleford to minister to the Cree on reserves along the Battle River. Traveling from Battleford, Oblates also opened a mission at Fort Pitt in 1877, which enabled the establishment of missions along the fur trading posts at Frog Lake, Cold Lake, Lac-en-Long, and Onion Lake.
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.
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