Oblate presence 1969

In 1908, Father Jean Marie Étienne Blanchin was at Great Lake. He witnessed a disruption in the region: the arrival of a railway at Senneterre at the junction of the Bell Waterway, and the beginning of colonization. Trade turned away from the Hudson Bay Company post on Great Lake in favour of the new city. The natives were moving closer by migrating to Lac-Simon. Thus, in 1923, the first leader of this new Amerindian group, Ignace Papatie, invited Father Blanchin of Great Lake to give a mission in his house. We can read in that year’s register the records of the first three baptisms.

In March 1925, the Department of Indian Affairs decided to build a hospital-house at Lac-Simon for the elderly, infirm and sick. It began on a small scale to address the precarious situation of the Aboriginal people. If successful, it would have served as a model for other Amerindian communities in the region. It was a failure and the building became a community centre.

At the same time, and at the request of the people, Father Blanchin took steps with the ecclesiastical authorities to erect a church at Lac-Simon. The Eagle Lumber Company provided the lumber that was transported during the winter from Senneterre. The church was built in the summer of 1925 and the presbytery in 1926. Father wrote to the Oblate Provincial, Father Georges-Étienne Villeneuve, on February 8, 1925:

“1. I believe it is necessary to erect a chapel at Lac-Simon to properly serve 30 Indian families in the area. Would you allow me to talk to Bishop Rheaume about it?

  1. A sum of money has been entrusted to me for this purpose by the Indians. Do you authorize me to deposit this money in the bank in the name of the Episcopal Corporation and, with the Bishop’s permission, to manage on his behalf all matters directly related to my missions?
  2. From 1908 to 1923 inclusively, all the money from my missions, the support and money given for the church, was deposited in Maniwaki with the agreement that this house would provide for the maintenance of the chapels.

When the church’s share is done, can I add this amount to the amount I mentioned above in #2 and manage it under the same conditions? To avoid carrying the money with me, can I open an account at the Banque de Senneterre in the name of the Oblate corporation? If so, I would need written authorization to withdraw all or part of it as necessary. According to your wise suggestions, I will submit the question of Indian schools in writing to the Bishop and I will absolutely follow his directions.

N.B. With regard to the construction of the chapel, the lumber must necessarily be transported in winter and this winter, according to the wishes of the Indians and the consent of the Bishop. In addition, as I told you, Bishop Rhéaume would allocate the money on deposit in Maniwaki for this construction. I am therefore asking you for an almost immediate decision on the authorizations requested and the final settlement of accounts concerning the deposit made in Maniwaki.” (Provincial House Archives, 3D4/ 1 – Lac-Simon, correspondence – 1969-1990)

The project was approved on February 19 and the document was signed by Father G.-É. Villeneuve.

On December 3, 1925, Father Blanchin made a new request, namely to build a house-sacristy behind the Lac-Simon chapel. It was granted. See the letters at the same reference as above.

Since then, and until the 1960s, the missionary was able to visit the Lac-Simon Amerindian group regularly and stay there for a few weeks each time.

However, this religious establishment stagnated around the 1950s. It is because working in Senneterre in the summer, Amerindians cannot regularly participate in the missionary activities. A subordinate companion, Father Deschênes, wanted to rent the houses of the Lac-Simon mission to the parish priest of Louvicourt. But Father Beaudet cut short the negotiations. Here is what he replied to the Provincial on January 26, 1961 on this subject. “I took time to report to you on my trip to Father Deschênes’ missions because I did a survey. The latter was in the process of selling or leasing the Lac-Simon mission to the priest of Louvicourt; I cut short the negotiations for the good reason that the Indians did not accept the project, any more than they accepted the rental of the residence to tourists in 1959. All are keen to gather for the mission at Lac-Simon as in the past; obviously the Senneterre house will serve occasionally, but not as a stable and official mission post. The situation has reached the point where we wonder who the owner is, the Oblates or the current tenant. The missionary is well received, but he must take the little corner that has been reserved for him, and his sacristy is inhabited by the children who are still sleeping when the Mass begins.

There is a plan to make a reserve at Lac-Simon for the two groups of Senneterre and Lake Victoria; to this end, I want to interest the Highway Department in making a passable road from Louvicourt to Lac-Simon. I will keep you informed about it.” (Oblate Provincial Archives, 3D 4.1- 07.)

Thus, in a letter to Lucien Cliche, M.P., of Quebec City, dated January 26, 1961, the Father wrote: “There has been talk for quite some time about finding a reserve for the Lake Victoria and Senneterre Indians; all agree on the Lac-Simon and Guegen Lake sites. I once consulted Mr. Hervé Larivière, the regional agent; he is ready to continue this project, provided that I take care of the construction of a road linking Louvicourt to Lac-Simon, a distance of three miles. The federal government, he said, could not agree to build this provincial road.

If you think you could get the local Highway Department interested in this project, I would be very grateful; the land is sandy except for about three hundred feet of swamp.

Or suggest how to proceed in order to get what I am asking for from the government; this is the only obsstacle to the project of settling these abandoned Indians.” (Oblate Provincial Archives, 3D 4, 1- 08.)

On April 24 of the same year, the Father explained the lamentable state of the chapel and presbytery that he would like to restore to Bishop A. Sanschagrin. He is now in charge of the Lac-Simon mission where he wants to stay permanently. “As I am still young [he is 59 years old], I see myself being entrusted with the Lac-Simon mission because I don’t feel any problems; gained a few pounds, but the jackass still goes…. The chapel and the residence are in a lamentable state: the roofs are leaking; the foundations are in danger of collapsing and the paint shines because of its absence. I estimate the cost of the repairs to be a thousand dollars. Since this charming mission is not mine but yours, I thought you could give me some financial help. Was I dreaming? You tell me. Mr. Larivière, the Indian Agent, and I are seriously considering making Lac-Simon, Guégen and Matchimanito an Indian reserve, which would be an excellent way to get our hands on the Senneterre Indians who are being courted by the Protestant minister, and who are responding lovingly.

Whatever you decide, we will still be good friends; the only disadvantage of a negative answer would be the length of the work, given my meagre salary.” (Provincial Archives, 3D 4, 1- 10.)

As a result of his efforts, on August 30, 1961, the Father received a cheque for $600 from the Department of Highways for the work he had done to build the Louvicourt to Lac-Simon road. On October 19, it was the turn of the charitable organization, The Catholic Church Extension Society, to send him a cheque in the amount of $661, out of a total of $1161, for the repair of the church and the presbytery. (Provincial Archives, 3D, 1- 13.)

Finally, he informed the Department of Highways in a letter dated February 14, 1962 that “the establishment of a reserve at Lac-Simon for Indians is now officially decided.” (Provincial Archives, 3D 4, 1- 14.)

Once the reserve was established, it became necessary to organize the Catholic mission in a more definitive way. It took 7 years for the Government to build houses on the new site (about one kilometre from the Lake). In 1969, 23 houses were moving along quickly, and the first ones were to be inhabited before the fall of the same year. The Band Council transfered a piece of land of 375 by 195 feet to the mission. Father Ed. -C. Brouillard who succeeded Father Beaudet, who had died the previous year, wrote to the provincial, Father Aurélien Giguère:

“On your last visit, you noticed that the current mission is built for the summer only, that the rectory is unhealthy, and that the Indian village will be moved to the new development. This fall, 34 families will live at Lac-Simon, not to mention the Indians of Great Lake Victoria who pass through here or who winter here.

To facilitate the work, we are asking for a coordinator or an architect. If the provincial administration agrees, it would be good to start studying the project this month, so that construction can begin in the spring. This month I will be available to meet the coordinator. I await the response from your provincial administration.” (Provincial 3D Archives, 1- 30.)

Negotiations are initiated, various plans are devised and designed, rejected or accepted, funds are voted for their implementation and finally the project is implemented. All this took time. The final project, which was completed in 1971, was as follows:

  1. Construction of a presbytery in the style and at the approximate price of the houses that the government builds for the Indians.
  2. Moving the current church to the reserve site with minimal repairs. But the foundations required the construction of a basement.
  3. The total cost was $117,741 (Provincial Archives, 3D 4, 1- 49.) Today this church and presbytery still exist and have been used for the purpose they were given. Since then, several resident missionaries have succeeded one another, some for a few years, others on a part-time basis, including Fathers Ed. Brouillard, Rémi Cadieux, and Vincent Cadieux, who is now the Bishop of the dioceses of Hearst and Moosonee. Father Lionel Lajeunesse was the penultimate resident but died early because of an accident that should not have happened. Father Eugène Lapointe was the last Oblate to stay at Lac-Simon, from 2009 to 2012. During his three years, he took the opportunity to form a few pastoral agents: Bella Gunn and Monique Papatie and a pastoral committee led by a religious, Sister Renelle Lasalle, j.m. A priest from the parish of Val d’Or visits the mission once a month for the celebration of the Eucharist, while a pastoral worker presides over the funerals and the celebrations of the Word on the other Sundays.

The inhabitants of the Lac-Simon Reserve always remain in contact with the inhabitants of Great Lake Victoria and Lake Dozois since most of them are related to each other in all three groups.

Let us wish long life to the Lac-Simon Aboriginal group and a constantly improving human and religious development.

Eugène Lapointe OMI