The Labrador Boundary

Privy Council Documents

Volume VI

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could not go so far inland, and as the Indians could come out to the Gulf, they were imperilling their eternal happiness by refraining from doing so. When the Hudson's Bay Company heard of this, they were alarmed at the imminent exodus from the fur country, and offered to take the missionaries into Esquimaux Bay in their trading vessels, and carry them back to Quebec at the end of the season.
In 1852, the subject became matter for discussion between the Archbishop and Father Durocher, who was serving on the North Shore. Father Durocher was opposed to sending missionaries to so distant a field as Esquimaux Bay, which was not in the diocese of Quebec, while many Naskapis, who were in this diocese were being neglected.1 The Archbishop agreed with Father Durocher ; but an event was in course of realization, which presented the question to the Archbishop under a different aspect. The Archbishop of Quebec had shortly before received a letter from the Bishop of Newfoundland, asking him to join in a petition to the Holy See to attach to the Quebec diocese the section of the Labrador Coast between St. John River and Blanc Sablon.2 In December 1852, the Archbishop informed the Secretary of the Propaganda at Rome of his willingness to take over this new territory.3 Thereupon, the desire to serve these Indians at Esquimaux Bay was translated into a binding duty.4 He conceived that the extension of his jurisdiction embraced the district about Esquimaux Bay and that he had no option but to provide missionaries for it.
In 1853, it was determined to send a missionary into the interior. Father Arnaud who was chosen to “ follow the Indians in their remotest forests,” made his preparations for the journey. He made prompt preparations, and set out from Les Escoumains, the head-quarters of the Oblate Missions. Reaching the Manicouagan river, he commenced the ascent, but the over-turning of his canoe and the dispersion of his Indians compelled him to return to Les Escoumains. Some Naskapis who had come down from the interior, learning of the mishap, persuaded him to make another attempt. This time he got as far as Lake Mushualogan, preceded by six canoes manned by Naskapis, and accompanied by eleven other canoes. Lake Mushualogan is one of the lakes at the headwaters of the Manicouagan, and was a notable gathering place of the Naskapis. Father Arnaud could get no further, however, and after wintering there, returned to Quebec.5
In the following year (1855) Father Arnaud made another attempt, but the upsetting of his canoe, and the loss of his supplies obliged him to abandon the journey.6
It was not until 1859, that preparations were made for another effort to reach the Naskapis in their homes, and again the undertaking ended in failure. On this occasion it was the combined representations of the chiefs of the Montagnais and Naskapis, whom he met at Seven Islands, that induced Father Arnaud to give up the attempt. At Fort Nascopie, said the Nascopie chief, starvation awaited him. He could not reach that point until winter had set in. The chief would not accompany him. Indeed, in words that voiced hopes long deferred, he declared: “ Father, I have left these places because

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the clerks have for a long time deceived me; they have led us to hope that the black robe would come and teach us the holy prayer. We have waited in vain every Spring; we have grown old ; our children have grown up, and still we do not know how to pray or sing the Holy Prayer. I told my children, we shall never return to this place, we shall go down towards the sea, where we shall see the black robe every year.” The Naskapi chief advised him to go by way of the sea to Esquimaux Bay, from which place he could reach Fort Nascopie in a fortnight.1
In 1866, Father Babel managed to reach the Hamilton River at Lake Winokapau after a journey of 510 miles up the St. John's and Romaine rivers and across the height of land. On sight of the river he recommended “ to the Holy Mother's protection the many Naskapis frequenting the shores.” But at the post disappointment awaited him. The post was entirely deserted, the officer in charge having gone to North West River, and the Indians “ tired with waiting for the Missionary and believing that they had been once more deceived,” accompanied him. From the observations he was able to make, he formed a high opinion of Lake Winokapau as a mission site. He expected to meet fifty families there at once, and an increasing number thereafter.2
It fell to Father Babel to win success in 1867 after the many fruitless attempts to reach Esquimaux Bay and establish a mission there. The Hudson's Bay Company made this possible by extending their hospitality to him, and conveying him in their steamer to Esquimaux Bay. He is generous in praise of the kindness and good will shown him by Mr. D. A. Smith, and the captain of the steamer. After a week spent at Rigolet, he pushed on in a canoe to North West River, where he met a number of Montagnais, and, also, twenty-two Naskapis. He was undecided as to whether he would go on to Ungava or Fort Nascopie, but the Naskapis insisted that he should accompany them to the latter place. He spent 39 days in these labors. The result in baptisms, marriages and in the discouragement of irregularities of life gave him great satisfaction. He returned to the Gulf by an overland route.3
Father Babel returned to this mission in the following year and achieved a success equal to that of 1867.4
The next pastoral visit paid by missionaries to the Naskapis in the interior was made by Father Arnaud in 1871. From his report it would appear that a principal object in this visit was to inspect the several sites for a permanent station. His conclusion was that the site chosen by Father Babel had all possible advantages. It was close to the post opposite which he steamer anchored ; was nearer to St. Augustine by the overland route; vas a good centre for the assembling of Montagnais and Naskapis, and could be reached from Sandy Lake, Petitsikapau and Winokapau.5
Arnaud went to Esquimaux Bay in 1872, and was gratified with everything he saw. Mr. Connolly, the factor of the Hudson's Bay had superintended the building of a church at North West River, and presented the mission with a bell, weighing 110 pounds, which he procured in England. The mission was given the name of Notre Dame des Neiges, Baie des Esquimaux.

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The Montagnais and Naskapis welcomed him as a father. Arnaud proceeded from his mission centre to Ungava, but he had little or no success to report. He took the opportunity of confirming a statement made in his report of 1871.1 In that report he noticed that at Rigolet there were a few Esquimaux families ; “ they never go up any further in the bay, as they are not on good terms with our. Montagnais, who come here to do their trading.” While at Ungava he observed that, “ the Esquimaux always stay on the coast, and unlike our Nascopies or Montagnais do not venture inland to hunt.”2
It is clear from the foregoing that in the past the Canadian missionaries had a large share in the establishment and maintenance of relations between Canada and the Indians of Labrador. They labored among them at the posts on the coast, and at the places of exchange up the great rivers ; followed them into the woods ; and founded missions in the centre of the peninsula to which they attracted them from the remotest parts.3 The influences they set up were felt by many who had never seen a missionary, and were so potent that numbers abandoned their hunting grounds in order to be near the priests.
The activities of the Church among these Indians are still continued.4 The district of Labrador was erected into a vicariate apostolic in 1906 and its boundaries are thus described in Canada Ecclésiastique (1921) the official list of the Roman Catholic Church :—“ On the South, from Portneuf river (including the Island of Anticosti) to Blanc Sablon ; on the east, from Blanc Sablon to the northern extremity of Labrador ; on the north, from this extremity to the entrance of Hudson's Bay; on the west, from the shore of Hudson's Bay to James Bay.” 5 Within this territory there are 12 priests settled, besides the Vicar Apostolic. These include missionaries to the Montagnais, Naskapis and Esquimaux. The relations that were established by the Church with the Indians of Labrador are indicated by the fact that, in all representations to the Government respecting them, it was a member of the Church who was their spokesman. In 1760, after the reduction of Canada, when the Indians were in deep distress, through the suspension of the leases of the King's Posts, it was the Indian Chief and the missionary who were deputed to call upon the Governor to ask that the Indians might be taken under the protection of his Britannic Majesty, and supplied and maintained as they had been in the time of the French.6
The petitions of the Indians to have certain sections of territory assigned to them as reserves were vigorously supported by the Archbishop in representations to the Governor General ; 7 and the first funds were appropriated for the relief of destitute Montagnais in 1851, on the report of Father Arnaud which was transmitted to the Department of Indian Affairs by the Archbishop.


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