The mission of Saint-Pierre is situated at the most northerly point of Lake Caribou, more that 500 kilometres North-East of Île-à-la-Crosse. Bishop Taché visited the region in 1847 and 1848. It seemed less than suitable for a foundation: not much timber for building or arable land and an icy wind from Hudson Bay, which made the climate every bit as rigorous as that of the Arctic Circle. Father Valentin Végréville visited it in 1851 and in 1860. He then founded the mission in 1861 with Father Alphonse Gasté and Brother Jean Perréard. Pierre Morin, who was in charge of the Hudson Bay Company’s supply centre had build them a house of wooden beams and measuring five metres by five. There were about 1,000 Montagnais Indians who visited the place from time to time.
The mission was attached to the vicariate of Saint-Boniface. It was attached to Saint-Albert in 1868, to Saskatchewan (Prince-Albert) in 1891, to Alberta-Saskatchewan in 1906, and to Keewatin in 1911. Bishop Grandin visited it for the first time at the end of 1866. He wrote that this mission was as painful as that of Good Hope. Mercury froze there and it was scarcely possible supply to what was strictly necessary to the missionaries.
The principal missionaries were: Fathers Albert Gasté (1861-1901), Joseph Egenolf (1905-1957), François-Xavier Ancel (1884-1905). The duration of the stay of the respective missionaries was 40, 52 and 21 years. Brother Célestin Guillet was there for 25 years (1869-1894) and Brother Urbain Drouin for 52 years (1912-1964).
At the beginning, the Montagnais showed little interest in religion. Nevertheless, the chief received Baptism in 1875 and some years later the whole tribe was baptized. On the occasion of his fourth visit in 1884, Bishop Grandin wrote that he found 600 good Christians, a good residence and a new school built by Brother Augustin Némoz. On his arrival at Saint-Pierre mission in 1895, Father Joseph Rapet noted that “the little chapel is really nice and the altar illuminated by two wonderful stained glass windows is a real gem… The house of the missionaries, in the shadow of the bell-tower, is very comfortable.” Bishop Albert Pascal, Vicar apostolic of Prince-Albert, visited it a few times. In his report to the 1904 General Chapter he wrote that the mission was at “an enormous distance” from Prince-Albert. The journey took 18 days by dog sled and 40 by canoe.
Father Arsène Turquetil worked in this mission from 1900 to 1912. It was from there that he set out, in 1912, to found the first establishment in Eskimo territory at Chesterfield Inlet, on Hudson Bay, more than 1,000 kilometres to the east.
The Oblates still serve the Saint-Pierre mission, at Brochet, Manitoba.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.