Edwardian and Georgian Canadian Poets
1900-1930


 


The Ryerson Canadian History Readers


LORNE PIERCE, Editor

Endorsed by

IMPERIAL ORDER DAUGHTERS OF THE EMPIRE AND THE
PROVINCIAL DEPARTMENTS OF EDUCATION



JEANNE MANCE


By

KATHERINE HALE

Author of
Canadian Cities of Romance,” “Morning in the West,” “Legends of the St. Lawrence,” etc.

 

THE RYERSON PRESS
TORONTO
[1929?]




JEANNE MANCE

 

HUGE warehouses line the wharves of Montreal’s great harbor—the largest grain port in the world—and crowded among the warehouses is the old church of Notre Dame de Bonsecours, where the Immaculate Virgin, a golden figure on the topmost dome, set up to guard the sailors three centuries ago, still looks out toward the water with hands upraised as though in benediction.
    Behind the harbour the city is laid out terrace-like at the foot of Mount Royal. From the mountain, therefore, you look down over it all—roofs, domes, towers, skyscrapers, red, purple and brown in the sun, to the silver blade of river, and beyond that to a mist of far-off hills. Watching, it would seem as though one were reading the history of the place as it rises slowly from its huddle of roofs and shipping through squares and warehouses to the University and the modern hotels and shops, and up and up to the new houses of the new avenues that encircle the ancient mountain.
    But Bonsecours is a thing typical of Montreal—the Virgin and her angels [page 1] wedged in among the warehouses—for the island city was born out of a religious faith so extraordinary that it seems to enter the region of miracle.
    The story of its origin, which leads out into its romantic founding, has to do directly with the story of Jeanne Mance. For behind the arrival of Maisonneuve and his band of pioneers, we see an old French forest, or park, of the Chateau of Meudon, near Paris, and walking therein, two people; a Sulpician priest of Paris, Monsieur Olier, and a prosperous tax-gatherer of Anjou, Jerome le Royer de la Dauversière, who, history tells us, were separately inspired at the same time to found a mission post in the new world. “They met as if by miracle, ecstatically embraced like old friends, called each other by name, and took a walk in the woods near by to communicate the details of their vision and to suggest plans for its fulfillment.”
    Their minds dwelt upon a spot at the junction of two great rivers, the Ottawa and the St. Lawrence, at a point where the Indians came to bring their furs. It was a frontier post, and therefore exposed to hostile attack by the Iroquois. But the two visionaries [page 2] saw here a great hope of converts. They sauntered in the peaceful woods and made their plans. Their thoughts were not of savage attacks upon unprotected missionaries by barbarians whose cruelty they could not even imagine, they only saw, through the boughs of trees under which they walked, a little church arising—and they sincerely regretted that they too could not take part in a pious pilgrimage.
    At this time the Island of Montreal was owned by the president of the great Company of the Hundred Associates; but Dauversière at last obtained a grant from the Company and he and his companions became seigneurs of the new post. They soon formed another Company of devout men and women to be the patrons of the colony, which was to be consecrated to the Holy Family and to be called Ville Marie de Montreal. To act as its Governor and as the representative of the Association a Christian knight and soldier was selected, Paul de Chomèdy, Sieur de Maisonneuve, who, with the same air of that miracle about him as that of all concerned in the enterprise, steps forth “with a sword in one hand and a psalter in the other” and makes known his [page 4] willingness to assume the position of chief of the colony.
    So, in the spring of 1641 he and a small group of men were ready at Rochelle to sail for New France. But on the eve of their departure they saw that they needed an addition to the Company which all their money could not supply. This was a woman of courage and skill, equal to all emergencies, who would be willing to follow them as housekeeper to their needs, and, most important of all, would be ready and willing to nurse the sick and wounded.
    But where to turn for such an one they did not know.
    Yet, Jeanne Mance was already waiting for them. She was the daughter of a merchant of Nogent-le Roy. Her father had been dead a year, and she, at the age of thirty-five, was alone in the world and looking about to see if there was any means by which she could set out for the new continent which was a lure sizzling and mysterious to the youth of France at this time. We hear that from the age of seven she had vowed to live a religious life, and that she grew up to be a young woman of delicate appearance and graceful manner but of a [page 5] determined will. She was not, at this time, aware of the project for Montreal, but she felt that there was work waiting for her in the wilderness, and we know that she had heard of, or read, some of the inspired and urgent letters written by Father Le Jeune, of the Jesuit Mission at Quebec. A long train of events led to her final meeting with the party for Montreal, and to the endowment by the Duchess, or, as she preferred to be called, Madame de Bullion, a member of the company, of a hospital—of which Jeanne Mance was to be directress.
    In august, 1641, the party arrived in Quebec. It was considered to be too late in the season to go farther up the river, so they remained there for the winter, and from all accounts the hospitality of the Quebec colonists to the newcomers was not enthusiastic. Perhaps they were jealous of such fresh and plentiful equipment. At any rate they did not hesitate to discourage their guests in every way by awful tales of possible Iroquois raids on the exposed post to which they were bound. This was pleasant hearing for the woman of the party!…but fortunately she was joined by one of the most delightful companions in the [page 6] world, Madame de la Peltrie, of Quebec, the foundress of the first school for Indian girls in Canada, a lady of sparkling gifts, a great aristocrat, and one whose romantic history and exploits would make a complete story in itself. So they all started—Madame de la Peltrie with her servant and numerous household possessions—in a flat-bottomed sailboat and two rowboats up the St. Lawrence River.
    It was the 8th of May, 1642, a time when clouds are “highest up in air” and the murmur of the river is a background to the brief young song of birds. It was a wonderful ten days, full of the thrill of splendid adventure, for it contained youth, springtime, expectation of the unknown, and a world of service awaiting them—everything in fact that these people had crossed the ocean to experience. On the morning of the 18th they arrived at the chosen spot, and there followed one of the most remarkable of all Canadian ceremonies—a thing so much apart that it is doubtful if the history of any city in the world possesses a founding more strange and beautiful. The most important historian of early Canada, Francis Parkman, through his research among ancient French [page 7] records is able to give us an account of this ceremony which should be treasured by every Canadian. He says:

Maisonneuve spring ashore and fell on his knees. His followers imitated his example, and all joined their voices in enthusiastic songs of thanksgiving. Tents, baggage, arms and stores were landed. An altar was raised on a pleasant spot near at hand, and Mademoiselle Mance with Madame de la Peltrie, aided by her servant, Charlotte Barré, decorated it with a taste which was the admiration of the beholders. Now all the company gathered before the shrine…Maisonneuve, a warlike figure, erect and tall, his men clustered around him—soldiers, sailors, artisans and labourers—all alike soldiers at need. They kneeled in reverent silence as the Host was raised aloft, and when the rite was over the priest turned and addressed them:
    “You are a grain of mustard seed that shall rise and grow until its branches overshadow the earth. You are few, but your work is the work of [page 8] God. His smile is on you, and your children shall fill the land.”
    The afternoon waned; the sun sank behind the western forest and twilight came on. Fireflies were twinkling over the darkened meadow. They caught them, tied them with threads into shining festoons and hung them before the altar where the Host remained exposed. Then they pitched their tents, lighted their bivouac fires, stationed their guards, and lay down to rest. Such was the birth-night of Montreal.

    Is this true history, or a romance of Christian chivalry? It is both.
    Then, as though to give the settlers time to adjust themselves to the strange life of the wilderness, an adventure in which beauty and terror always mingled, things went on peacefully in the little colony for a time. The first serious misfortune that befell them was the overflow of the St. Lawrence in the following December. The little company of settlers were, of course, powerless in the face of the approaching water. But they had great faith in prayer, and so the Governor, [page 9] taking a cross in his hand, stepped toward the advancing tide and in a solemn voice made a vow to place it on the summit of the mountain if the floor would spare the town. Yet on came the river to the very edge of the powder magazine. Then it paused as if stayed by the power of the upraised Cross, turned, and slowly receded.
    So the second ceremony in the founding of Montreal was a little procession up the steep ascent of the mountain, Maisonneuve carrying the heavy cross on his shoulders. At last the top was gained, and the ceremony performed in which Jeanne Mance, several women who had now joined her, and Madame de la Peltrie devoutly took part, and the great Cross was planted, the first, though not the last, to be placed on Mount Royal.
    As months followed and peace still prevailed in the settlement to which more colonists were ever arriving, there seemed to be no patients ready for the little hospital–in-embryo. Mademoiselle Mance therefore wrote to her benefactor for permission to give the money intended for its endowment to some needy Huron Missions. But this was met with refusal. The money must be used for a hospital and nothing else. [page 10]
    Alas, it was soon enough needed!
    One day, through the treachery of some Huron fugitives, a band of wandering Iroquois was led to the Montreal settlement, and six unsuspecting settlers were taken captive—three of them killed outright. After this, a young man named Mercier, and his wife, Catherine, working in their field near the Fort, were also surrounded, the husband instantly massacred and the wife carrier off to be tortured in the forest. From now on Montreal was never without fear of the Iroquois, a danger which was met by increased bravery, and with fervent prayer for protection against the enemy. Jeanne Mance did not delay a moment longer in the building of a hospital. It was completed and ready for occupancy within the year and its object, as stated by the “unknown benefactress” herself, was to “nourish, treat and cure the poor sick people of the country, and to instruct them in the things necessary to their salvation.”
    We can imagine that these imposing buildings made a deep impression upon the friendly Hurons of the neighborhood, for they knew that their only protectors against the Iroquois were these strange Palefaces [page 11] with their uncanny resources. To find shelter with them in time of danger, and also perhaps through genuine conversion, many of the Chiefs now hastened to the Mission to be received into the Faith. The conversion of one in particular is recorded by many historians. Tessouat, or Le Borgne, as he was called by the French, came walking over the ice of the St. Lawrence one winter day and asked to be baptized. He was turned over for instruction to Mademoiselle Mance, who could now speak the Huron tongue fluently. She taught him the creed and the gospel, after which he would spend whole nights preaching to his fellow-warriors.
    But in spite of these encouragements, the French were perpetually reminded of the savagery of the land by the fact that the Iroquois were always at the door. They had been supplied with firearms by the Dutch of New York and were evidently eager to try them out, so that the Colonists were afraid to venture beyond the fort except in squads, well armed, and protected by the faithful dogs brought over from France for this purpose.
    These dogs were the part-protectors of early Montreal, and one especially, Pilote, [page 12] has become an almost legendary figure. More than once she and her little family saved the settlement from unexpected attack. It is said that she could scent the Iroquois for a long distance and would take her children into the forest and search for them, biting them fiercely if they hesitated to go. And if a timid puppy, frightened at the moving shadows of the great forest, should sneak back to the Fort it was sure of some punishment on Pilote’s return.
    One day in March, 1644, she and her puppies came rushing into the Fort, barking furiously, to tell the settlers that their enemy was near. The soldiers, crowding impatiently about Maisonneuve, asked him if they were never to have a chance to fight. He replied that they should now be able to prove their valour. So with thirty soldiers, preceded by the dogs, they sallied forth and got some distance from the safety when they suddenly found themselves surrounded by yelling savages. Holding back the Indians by a continuous shower of bullets they began to retreat, but soon their ammunition was exhausted and the men turned about suddenly and fled to the Fort, leaving their commander alone to face the enemy. With [page 13] a pistol in each hand he kept them back, all the time himself retreating. Finally as the Indian chief rushed forward, Maisonneuve raised his postal and shot him through the heart. At the sudden disaster the Indians turned in a panic to seize and carry away the body of their chief, at which moment Maisonneuve ran to the Fort in safety.
    In the heat of the city of Montreal, the Place d’Armes, the supposed spot where it took place, this episode is celebrated by a statue of Maisonneuve, beautifully designed by the French-Canadian sculptor, Louis Hebert. It is of bronze, and represents him in the cuirass and costume of the 17th century, holding the banner of the fleur-de-lys. At the four corners of the base are life-sized figures representing an Indian, a soldier, the figure of Jeanne Mance binding up the wounded hand of an Indian child, and a colonist, accompanied by the noble Pilote.
    From this, and other affairs of the same nature that followed, it can be seen in what danger the helpless settlement now lay. And out of the group of soldiers, citizens and priests it was the slender young woman who devised a plan for their defense that saved the situation. In fact, in the language of [page 14] to-day, Jeanne Mance was an extremely good business woman. As we study her life, which from now on became more and more dramatic, we find the qualities of many French women—wit, brilliance, a sense of thrift, and great physical courage, mingled with the qualities of a mystic whose vision was always upon things unseen. It is a remarkable combination, and seems to have been shared by many of these first ladies of Canada.
    At this particular juncture, she went to Maisonneuve and suggested that he should go to France and raise a company of soldiers to protect Montreal, offering him twenty thousand Francs which has been given her by Madame de Bullion to carry out this plan. As security for the money she asked and was given a large tract of land which, with soldiers and settlers brought over the cultivate it, she reasoned would produce a better income than the money at interest. So Maisonneuve departed for France and was absent from Montreal for nearly two years.
    And now the little hospital was inadequate for all the wounded and dying that were brought into it. More funds were needed, which presently arrived from France; also [page 15] furniture for the hospital and chapel and, above all, two oxen, three cows and twenty sheep; so that they could no have such luxuries as milk and wool of which they had before been sadly in need. All the domestic animals except the horse had now been introduced into New France. The horse was not brought over until 1662, and when they Indians saw it for the first time they were filled with admiration for the “Frenchman’s moose.”
    The nurse’s life soon became identified with the most vital interests of the colony, she was physician, financier, and friend.
    When Maisonneuve returned he brought with him a hundred picked soldiers, and more funds, which were used to fortify the little settlement now grown to fifty houses. It was afterwards acknowledged by those versed in the affairs of Canada that this support at such a critical time saved Montreal, and in truth all of New France, from certain ruin. Marguerite Bourgeois, who had accompanied the party, now began her work in opening the first school in Montreal, and while she and Jeanne Mance were carrying on their labours other young women were [page 16] being educated in France by M. Dauversière to assist and support them.
    For seventeen years the patient work of those two women went on. Hospital and school were like glowing beacons of help, always shining further into the dark forests of the new world. Then, early in 1659, the two “mothers of Montreal” revisited France, each for the purpose of gaining recruits for her particular work. Three of the young women at the Dauversière school had already been selected for Canada. They were Catherine Mace, daughter of a rich merchant, Mademoiselle Maillet and Judith de Bresoles, who has been in this school for seven years studying chemistry and medicine. Marguerite Bourgeois has succeeded in getting her teachers, and besides there was a small company of young women, called the “king’s girls,” for whom Marguerite was to find husbands in New France.
    But the departure of the three from La Flèche was made very difficult on account of the growing prejudice against Dauversière, who seems to have been one of those persons who has a great sense of vision for unselfish acts on the part of others, while keeping tolerably [page 17] comfortable himself. The citizens of La Flèche were not all sure in their own minds that these students were destined to a happy life in Canada, and so they attempted to detain them by force. A company of soldiers was ordered to protect their departure, however, and finally the party for Canada was complete and they all met at Rochelle to take ship—the parties of women being joined by two Sulpician priests and a hundred and ten colonists who were to settle in Montreal, besides two girls who were accompanying Mademoiselle Mance as servants at the hospital.
    But just as they were about to embark the captain appeared and refused them passage. It seems that he had heard that they had no money for the journey, and the truth was that after several months’ delay and many expenses they found themselves in a state of destitution.
    Again, Jeanne Mance’s business ability prevailed, for she induced the captain to take her and her companions on trust, giving as security the note of an honest merchant of Rochelle. The Bourgeois party was equally fortunate, for at the last moment a sum of money was found sewed into the bodice of [page 18] one of them, whose father had placed it there instead of the income that the girl had renounced when leaving home. So they all thanked St. Peter who was instrumental in the happy outcome of the affair, as it was on his day that they successfully bargained with the captain, and prepared for the long voyage.
    Just before departure Dauversière appeared among them for the last time (for he was suffering from a mortal disease) and proceeded to give them final instruction and blessing. Mademoiselle Mallet, the treasurer of Jeanne Mance’s company, took this opportunity to ask him where she should apply for the interest on the twenty thousand francs which had been placed in his hands for investment. A cloud passed over the brow of the pious gentleman but he immediately regained his composure and replying, “God will provide it, my child,” continued his conversation on the goodness of divine providence, and waved them a protecting adieu.
    That journey across the Atlantic was the most terrible ordeal of any that these women had yet experienced. The ship, although enthusiastically designated by the Sulpicians [page 19] “the cradle of the Holy Family,” proved to be the cradle of all misery, for it once was a floating hospital and many varieties of infectious diseases still clung to it.
    Jeanne Mance became very ill. In addition to infection she suffered great agony from a crippled arm. She had broken it three years before on the ice of the St. Lawrence, and it had been badly set by a surgeon from Montreal. During this visit to France it had been treated in Paris with no effect. But miracles were always occurring in the life of this saintly woman, and one day as she went to pay a dutiful visit to the tomb of one of the founders of Montreal, Monsieur Olier, she beheld a seraphic vision, and instantly came to the inspiration to ask this vision to restore to her the use of her paralyzed arm. She was given a box that contained Olier’s heart, and placing it upon the withered arm we are told by her biographer that “she immediately felt a warm glow thrill through it to the very finger tips. Her hand regained its strength and she found herself able to lift a heavy box.” Nevertheless, this arm is said to have caused her great suffering to the day of her death, and on this voyage added agonies to her other trials, so that [page 20] when the ship finally arrived at Quebec she was obliged to remain there several weeks before she was able to go to Montreal.
    Soon after her arrival there, with the news of Dauversière’s death (of the gout) there came the news of the loss of the entire endowment for the hospital, which he had used to pay his own debts. There was now nothing with which to keep up the expenses of the institution. This, an end to all her dreams, was a terrific blow. But her amazing spirit rose to overcome it. She always had the strength of her convictions and now, in her extremity, she appealed to the colonists for aid. Realizing what the loss of these heroic nurses would mean to them, they agreed to bear the expenses of their living for a time, and donations began to pour in, sometimes taking the agreeable form of roasted pumpkins and cakes of Indian meal.
    But in the winter conditions were not so good. Their lodging was an upper room which had to be reached by a ladder, and during the bitter cold there was no fire. In fact we are told that they were obliged to thaw out their bread before eating it, and to sweep out the snow which had accumulated in drifts through the cracks in the walls. [page 21] But they went bravely on in their work for the hospital. We are told that one of the nurses, Judith de Bresoles, developed a remarkable talent for making soups out of almost nothing, such as people had never tasted before. Food that seemed the best in the world was placed before the wondering patients, who considered their origin nothing less than divine.
    “This comes from the infant Jesus, does it not?” asked a half-delirious bushranger, tasting with delight a dish prepared by Judith’s hands.
    “From Him indeed,” she replied, “let us thank Him together.”
     The nurses found happiness in performing the menial duties of the hospital and, needless to say, they were often granted celestial visions to encourage them in their labours. Olier, and even the disappointing Dauversière would appear to declare that their work would never perish, that all the tempests that assailed it would not uproot it from the soil in which it was planted like a rock, and that anxiety and suffering were necessary to its existence.
    The Governor and others officers of the colony frequently visited them, and they [page 22] would all joke on the poverty of their surroundings. They vied with one another in guessing the original colour and material of their caps and gowns in which patches of cotton and leather now predominated.
    But after two years of intense privation the conditions of the hospital became more prosperous through various endowments and benefactions in France. Yet, as though they were never to feel secure, almost simultaneously, with this good fortune the Iroquois swooped down upon them, and for a time all peace was at an end.
    And so the strange conflict went on, in terror and beauty, for ten years more—when Jeanne Mance completed her work on earth. She was very feeble during her last years, but was surrounded by many friends to whom her faithful service had made her infinitely dear. She died in 1673, two years after her friend, Madame de la Peltrie, and one year after Mother Marie Guyard.
    It was done—that which she had set herself to accomplish. Montreal was founded, and the hospital—Hôtel-Dieu—the hope and culmination of her life, was firmly established.
    And now, as we look down again over the [page 23] panorama of the modern city of Montreal, let us explore the eastern slope of the mountain until somewhere between St. Urbain Street and Fletcher’s Field we can see a great pile of stone buildings surmounted by a done. This is the present Hôtel-Dieu, removed now from its original site on St. Paul Street, not far from what is known as Customs House Square.
    Let us pass through the gateway, up the broad flight of stairs and into the long corridor. Facing us there is a portrait of Jeanne Mance. In the delicate face with its clear, dark eyes a world of purpose lingers. But there is curly hair, escaping from the close-fitting cap, and there is a dimpled chin. A short cape is pinned around the shoulders, and the face looks downward as though she were contemplating all sorrow with a calm and merciful gaze.
    For Canadian nurses everywhere she is a symbol for that which makes their profession ideal, and to us all she says to-day, just as she did over two centuries ago, that a country founded on faith and flaming zeal must be worth our love and loyalty.