The tourist who by chance stops at the Amerindian village of Betsiamites, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence river can read the following inion on a commemorative plate of the Commission of Historic Buildings: “In honor of the Rev. Oblates of Mary Immaculate, missionaries on the North Shore since 1845 and to most famous of them, the Rev. Fr. Charles Arnaud, ordained a priest in 1849.”


Fr. Arnaud was a missionary among the Montagnais for sixty-five years. He was called King of the Betsiamites. King, because he won the hearts of all by his great kindness and his tireless devotion. He was born on February 3, 1826 near Avignon in southern France. From an early age Charles Arnaud showed promising signs of piety and service of the altar. The young vicar of his native parish, Fr. Jean Françon, gave him his first Latin lessons. A few years later this same Françon, became an Oblate and led his young protégé to the novitiate of Notre-Dame de l’Osier. In 1847, we find him in Marseilles studying theology. After only one year he left for Canada. Ordained a priest in Ottawa by Bishop Eugene Guigues on April 1, 1849, he set out the same year on a first trip to James Bay accompanied by another great missionary, Fr. Nicolas Laverlochère.

From 1851, together with his inseparable companion, Fr. Louis Babel, his apostolate was mainly on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. Each year he traveled the immense area from Tadoussac to Ungava Bay. “Our mission extends over 800 miles (1300 km),” he wrote. “We see with haste hundreds of families that receive the visit of the priest only once a year. In this short lapse of time, we baptize, preach and hear confessions. We are welcomed everywhere like the Messiah.”

His life was a long martyrdom, a continual exercise of patience and self-denial on the road as well as in the tents of the Amerindians. He was happy all the same, full of the happiness and joy of an apostle who works hard for his Master. In only a few years he became the idol of the Montagnais. In Betsiamites, where he established his residence, he built a school and a hospital for his dear Amerindians. To accustom them to pray to Mary, he put up a splendid statue of the Blessed Virgin in a small grove facing the sea. Later, he set up an impressive museum of natural history. During his long voyages on foot or by canoe he endured fatigue and deprivations of all kinds. He faced a thousand and one dangers but his confidence in God made him forget them. Providence never abandoned him as the incredible following adventure shows.

One summer, he was visiting the families spread over a distance of 1000 kilometers. Bad weather had slowed him down. His provisions had run out two days earlier and he was still far from any dwellings. The apostle walked and walked. The roads were dreadful and he was weak. Like the prophet Elias of old, tired from the travel, exhausted by the forced fast, he could go on no longer.… He lay down thinking only of dying. A last hope: Divine Providence! He prayed and implored with confidence: “Lord, help me!” And behold a cormorant suddenly appeared in the air. It dropped near the poor missionary a beautiful big fish that it apparently carried to devour someplace at its leisure. “Thank you, Lord! This fish arrived in the nick of time.” Thus a cormorant saved his life.

Fr. Arnaud, also called the Pope of the Montagnais, died at Pointe Bleue, on June 3, 1914, at the age of eighty-eight.