The mission of Saint-Jean-Baptiste was founded in September 1846 by Father Alexandre Taché and Abbé Louis-François Laflèche. It is situated about 1,500 kilometres North-West of Saint-Boniface, on an island near the mouth of the Beaver river where it flows into Churchill river and Hudson Bay. According to Father Théophile Ortolan, o.m.i., Île-à-la-Crosse on the river that bears the same name, was given its name because the Amerindians used to assemble there to compete in casting balls or stones by striking them with a cruciform stick. The name suits the place for another reason. A number of the first missionaries became bishops: Alexandre Taché, Louis-François Laflèche became bishop of Trois-Rivières, Henri Faraud and Vital Grandin.
Île-à-La-Crosse, First Mission
Since 1791 there had been an important centre for skin trading, where hundreds of Montagnais and Cree Amerindians came to sell their goods. On arriving. The missionaries built a dwelling, which measured twelve metres by eight. They lived on the produce of hunting and fishing and later they cultivated a small vegetable garden. Some years later a church was built and then a convent school, which was run by the Grey Nuns of Montreal who arrived in 1860.
The mission is sometimes mentioned by Bishop de Mazenod in his letters. On March 25, 1847, for example, he wrote to Father Guigues: “I can not believe what Father Bremond says about the carelessness of Father Aubert in founding these missions. On the contrary, I see that he has sent Father Taché to Île-à-la-Crosse. However, I sigh to think of such a young priest, scarcely out of novitiate, separated from us by such a long distance.” The missionaries regularly visited many distant mission stations: the mission of Portage La Loche 200 kilometres to the North, of Blessed Margaret-Mary on the shores of Lake Canoe Lake about thirty kilometres to the West, of Saint-Julien near Green Lake, of Saint-Raphael near Cold Lake to the South etc. At first the mission of Île-à-la-Crosse belonged to the Saint-Boniface mission. Later it passed over to the apostolic vicariate of Saskatchewan (which became Saint-Albert in 1871), to Keewatin in 1911 and to Saint Mary’s Province in Saskatoon in 1984.
In his report to the general chapter of 1920, Bishop Charlebois wrote: The mission of Île-à-la-Crosse is well known… Its illustrious founders, Bishops Laflèche, Taché (Faraud) and Grandin are sufficient to give it enviable fame. Some relics are kept there: a wooden crosier and a mitre in cardboard manufactured by a Brother for Bishop Grandin… The mission can boast of the most beautiful church in the Vicariate… There is a population of about 1,200 Catholics.”
In 1946 the centenary of the mission was celebrated solemnly in the presence of Cardinal Jean-Marie Rodrigue Villeneuve, o.m.i., Archbishop of Quebec. The Oblates from Beauval and Buffalo Narrows continue to serve the mission.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.