In looking back over the work of the missionaries in New France, it would seem that their visible harvest was a scant one, since the Indian races for whom they toiled have disappeared from history and are apparently doomed to extinction. This, of course, is due to natural causes over which the priests had no control and which they would thankfully have had otherwise. It cannot be questioned that their work operated for the benefit of the natives. But the priceless contribution of the missionaries lies in the example which they gave to the world. During the greater part of two centuries in the wilds they bore themselves manfully and fought a good fight. In all that time not one of all the men in that long procession of missionaries is known to have disgraced himself or to have played the coward in the face of danger or disaster.
The influence of the priests, however, was not confined to the Indians. It permeated the whole colony and lives to the present day. In no country in the world is there a more peaceable and kindly or moral and devout people than in the province of Quebec, largely because they have kept in their primitive simplicity the lessons taught by the clergy of New France. When the Revolution swept away religion and morals in Old France, it left untouched the French of Canada; and the descendants of the peasants of Anjou, Picardy, and Poitou kept alive in the New World the beliefs and customs, the simple faith and reverence for authority, of their ancestors in the Old World. Throughout the length and breadth of New France the priests and nuns were the teachers of the people. And the seminaries, schools, and colleges which they founded continue to shape the morals and character of the French Canadians of to-day.
It may be doubted whether the British government acted wisely after winning Canada in suppressing the religious orders. At any rate, after the unhappy rebellions of 1837 the government adopted a more generous policy; and the Jesuits and the Oblates came to Canada in ever-increasing numbers to take up missionary work anew. Like the priests of old they went into the wilderness, no difficulty too great to be overcome, no peril too hazardous to be risked. In the Mackenzie valley, in the far Yukon, and among the tumbled hills of British Columbia they planted the Cross, establishing missions and schools.
But the great age of the Church in Canada was the heroic age of Lalemant and Brebeuf, of Jogues and Bressani, of Allouez and Marquette. Their memories are living lights illuminating the paths of all workers among those who sit in spiritual darkness. The resolution of these first missionaries, not to be overcome by hardship, torture, or threat of death itself, has served in time of trial and danger to brace missionaries of all churches. Brebeuf still lives and labours in the wilderness regions of Canada; Marquette still toils on into the unknown.