For seven years the colony which Champlain founded at the rock of Quebec lived without priests. [Footnote: For the general history of the period covered by the first four chapters of the present narrative, see ’The Founder of New France’ in this Series.] Perhaps the lack was not seriously felt, for most of the twoscore inmates of the settlement were Huguenot traders. But out in the great land, in every direction from the rude dwellings that housed the pioneers of Canada, roamed savage tribes, living, said Champlain, ‘like brute beasts.’ It was Champlain’s ardent desire to reclaim these beings of the wilderness. The salvation of one soul was to him ’of more value than the conquest of an empire.’ Not far from his native town of Brouage there was a community of the Recollets, and, during one of his periodical sojourns in France, he invited them to send missionaries to Canada. The Recollets responded to his appeal, and it was arranged that several of their number should sail with him to the St Lawrence in the following spring. So, in May 1615, three Recollet friars—Denis Jamay, Jean d’Olbeau, Joseph Le Caron—and a lay brother named Pacificus du Plessis, landed at Tadoussac. To these four men is due the honour of founding the first permanent mission among the Indians of New France. An earlier undertaking of the Jesuits in Acadia (1611-13) had been broken up. The Canadian mission is usually associated with the Jesuits, and rightly so, for to them, as we shall see, belongs its most glorious history; but it was the Recollets who pioneered the way.
When the friars reached Quebec they arranged a division of labour in this manner: Jamay and Du Plessis were to remain at Quebec; D’Olbeau was to return to Tadoussac and essay the thorny task of converting the tribes round that fishing and trading station; while to Le Caron was assigned a more distant field, but one that promised a rich harvest. Six or seven hundred miles from Quebec, in the region of Lake Simcoe and the Georgian Bay, dwelt the Hurons, a sedentary people living in villages and practising a rude agriculture. In these respects they differed from the Algonquin tribes of the St Lawrence, who had no fixed abodes and depended on forest and stream for a living. The Hurons, too, were bound to the French by both war and trade. Champlain had assisted them and the Algonquins in battle against the common foe, the Iroquois or Five Nations, and a flotilla of canoes from the Huron country, bringing furs to one of the trading-posts on the St Lawrence, was an annual event. The Recollets, therefore, felt confident of a friendly reception among the Hurons; and it was with buoyant hopes that Le Caron girded himself for the journey to his distant mission-field.