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- Memoir - 5/7 -


together by sea and by land. When there are _portages_, that is to say lands to cross, in order to regain the sea or lakes, they put their canoes on their heads and carry them to the water, and if they are overtaken by rain or by bad weather, they turn them over and take shelter underneath them.

Without counting the Indians who in 1818 numbered many thousand souls in Nova Scotia and in Cape Breton, which Province alone, is almost as large as France, there were at least twelve hundred and fifty Catholic families scattered over these two large Provinces. At that time we numbered only seven priests, two of whom were very infirm, which was the reason of my being obliged to leave the Halifax mission and to repair to a place two hundred miles from there, on the coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and in the neighborhood of Cape Breton, This part of Nova Scotia (to which I was sent by Bishop Burke on his return from his visit to Europe, where he had been made Bishop of Sion and Vicar Apostolic of this Province), was without a priest, although it contained a great number of Catholics. On my arrival I found three parishes abandoned and deprived of the precious consolations of religion. Many children were brought to me for baptism, and I had numerous confessions to hear, &c. They came from great distances to take me to visit the sick who had ample time to die before I could get near them.

I was given especial charge of three parishes composed of Acadians and of natives of France, to whom the English Government had given land, and who still remain in this country. The Acadian portion of my charge having intermarried with the Indians, had become half savage, and had adopted many of the Indian customs. [Footnote: Le peuple Acadien s'etant allie avec les Sauvages, est devenu moitie Sauvage, et a pris beaucoup de leurs manieres.] There is a tribe of the Indians called _Micmacs_ in one of these three parishes that is named Pomquet (an Indian word) and I was in a position to observe them as they were only ten miles from Tracadie, which was my ordinary place of residence. They there possessed a considerable property given to them by the Government. They cultivated it, planted potatoes and cut hay. When I arrived among them I found great disorder. Many had given themselves up to drunkeness, and they were without a chief. One day I assembled them together and spoke to them strongly about these matters. Since then I have seen with pleasure that they have not opposed me, but that they have chosen among themselves a chief whom they obey,--not all of them unfortunately, for there are some of them who are wicked and have always given me much trouble; their love for brandy is their ruin.

I have often crossed an arm of the sea in order to visit other Micmacs who live in Cape Breton. This Cape is surrounded by little islands, and there is there a lake seven leagues in length and five or six in width; on which I was once shipwrecked. We were two priests in a bark canoe, paddled by two Indians, and were carrying the consolations of religion to many families of Indians who lived on the other side at the foot of a mountain. A storm suddenly arose, a long stick, which served as a mast and carried a sail, was broken, and during the two hours that the bad weather continued, we momentarily expected to be engulfed by the immense waves that rose like hills and fell, breaking against our feeble bark, although the pilot endeavored to avoid them as much as possible, while the other Indian tried to break their force by means of his paddle. One of these Indians, the elder of the two, and the more experienced, trembled, fearing every moment that we should be lost, and he was not so afraid for us as we were for ourselves. However, thanks to Providence, and to the wood of the True Cross that I had with me, we were delivered from danger, and arrived safely in port.

We found a new plantation made by the Indians, that is to say, some tracts of cultivated land, some animals and some frames of houses. The Indians received us with great joy, especially when they learned that we were two priests who came to visit them; but in nearing their habitations we were exposed to great danger from the horns of a bull that was ferocious and was in the habit of rushing at passers by. God delivered us from this peril also, although the animal in question was quite near to us.

These Indians set before us for our supper, tea, milk, butter, potatoes and some fruit that resembled small apples (petites pommes). We were hungry and tired. We ate with good appetites, and were anxious to retire for the night. But what beds! Appropriate truly for a Trappist. They were made of grass and of branches of trees thrown on the ground. And what a house! It had no chimney and scarcely any roof, so that we were all night exposed to the snow and rain which was falling. My companion who was suffering from lung complaint was injured by this, while for my part, I shivered all night and could not get warm, although quite near to a fire that had been kindled in the centre of the cabin.

The next morning we rose before daybreak and baptized several Micmac children, (for these Indians were of the same nation as those of Nova Scotia) and confessed others. After that we prepared to re-cross the lake, which was not easy, as the sea was still very high.

Another time that I started on a mission to this same Cape (Breton) the Indians who conducted me in a canoe perceived three monstrous fish called _maraches_, and they were frightened, as these fish are very dangerous. Their teeth are made like gardiners' knives, for cutting and boring, or like razors slightly bent. They are extremely voracious, and often follow boats, attacking them with violence. Bark canoes cannot resist them, they rend them open with their teeth, so that they sink to the bottom, which is why the Indians have such a terror of them. Happily for us these fish did not follow us, we arrived, thank God, in good health.

Tracadie was usually my starting place when I left for the Indian mission of Cape Breton. I had from eighteen to twenty leagues to journey by water, making long circuits and paddling round twelve or fifteen little islands, and passing near many others. Nevertheless it only takes one day to make the journey in a bark canoe, that is if the wind be not contrary. The Micmacs of the Cape (Breton) knowing that I was on the road and would soon arrive at the mission [Footnote: This place is called "Mission" or "The Mission of the Bras d'or," because it is there that the missionaries are accustomed to confess, baptize and administer the Sacraments to the Indians, and to those who present themselves to receive them. It is a pretty little island on which they have built a nice chapel, and a house sufficiently commodious for the priest.] would all gather there to the number of five or six hundred. On the occasion referred to above, three canoes came to meet us. (I was then accompanied by another missionary). This was to do honor to us, to show respect and gratitude. When we approached near to the island two of these canoes were sent on ahead to announce to the king that we would arrive immediately, The king had all his braves armed (for they all have guns) and the moment we landed he commanded them to fire, after which he formed them into two lines and made them kneel to receive our benediction; they then rose and we passed between them. They accompanied us to the church where we chanted the _Te Deum_, or rather it was chanted by themselves in thanksgiving for our arrival. This is about the ordinary ceremony to honor the arrival of a missionary. When the mission was opened, after having implored the light of the Holy Spirit, they all confessed, and a great number received Holy Communion. I made the Stations of the Cross partly in their own Micmac language. I know that they understood me by the signs that they made, as well as by their devout appearance in following the procession. Afterwards each one came to make the Stations himself the best way he could. This went on for six days, during which time I left the pictures of the Stations in the church. I put a high indulgence on their crosses, crucifixes, beads, &c., by virtue of a power that I received from Rome since I came on this mission. Some Indians had given bad example and had openly sinned; these made public reparation, promising to correct themselves and praying the king, who was present in the church, to punish them, if they again fell into the same fault. I was obliged to leave, and had not time to erect fourteen large crosses which I had intended to place in the middle of the island to serve as a Calvary. They, themselves, made three crosses, probably by this time they have set them up (as I instructed them how to do) before leaving.

The Cape Breton Indians are the best of all the Micmacs, they are sober, obedient to their priests, exact in the observance of the smallest articles of religion (if indeed there be any small). It is true that they are ignorant, but this is pardonable in them because of the difficulty of their language. One day I had given Communion to an old squaw who was ill. They were all alarmed as she was not fasting when she received; they thought that both the priest and the squaw had been guilty of great disrespect to the Blessed Sacrament. In order to quiet them, I said to them in Micmac: "_Kijidou_," which means: "Be easy, there is no harm in that, it is permitted, I know what I have to do." Immediately they looked at each other and smiled, their consciences at rest. The missionary who was with me once said to them: "I want you to make me a road in the woods one or two miles long." The next day, very early in the morning, one or two hundred Indians, each armed with a hatchet, began to cut down the trees, and at the close of the day the road was finished. This incident alone will serve to illustrate their good will and devotion.

During the five years and a half in which I worked at the holy ministry in this second mission, I had consolations and God delivered me from many dangers besides those of which I have spoken. One winter when I went to one of the three Acadian parishes to hold a mission there, I fell between two large cakes of very thick ice; this was on the sea, for every winter in this part of the world the water freezes sufficiently to allow a man and even a horse and sleigh to pass over it. A young man with whom I was travelling, came to my assistance, and by his help, but more by the help of God, I drew myself out. I was safe, but very wet and benumbed with cold. Some days after I was seized with a violent sore throat, which I attributed to the accident that had happened to me a short time previously. Many times I have been on foot and on horseback night and day, going on sick calls in the most severe weather. I have walked upon the frozen sea on one day, and have passed the same place on the day following and seen that it would not then bear me, and should I have attempted to cross it then, I would have perished. When the navigation was open, almost all the journeys rendered necessary, by the wants of my people, I made by sea, sometimes going in a boat, sometimes in a larger vessel. Besides the general risk that one always runs on this perfidious element, I have often experienced bad weather and long and perilous passages, but the Lord has preserved me in the midst of the waters. I must not omit to mention a most critical moment when Monseigneur Plessis, Bishop of Quebec, with several other priests and myself were in danger of losing our lives in 1815, while going by sea to Chezzetcook, a parish situated twenty-one miles from Halifax, and of which I have already spoken. Monseigneur, two priests and myself, were in the same boat, we had just quitted a long boat that had brought us from the town to the harbor. We were about landing, but had still some breakers to avoid. Two totally unexperienced young Englishmen who were rowing us led us suddenly into grave danger. The sea rose very high, and we found ourselves crossing the breakers, so that we momentarily expected to have our boat upset and ourselves sent head over heels into the midst of the waters. All who saw us, or knew of our situation, thought that we ran the greatest risk; but we held on, thanks to Providence, who arranges all, and nothing was lost but my hat, which was struck by a breaker and carried into the sea.


Memoir - 5/7

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