Almost simultaneously with the arrival of Noyrot and Noue a flotilla of canoes laden deep with furs came down from the Huron country. Brebeuf had made up his mind to go to far Huronia; Noue and the Recollet Daillon had the same ambition; and all three besought the Hurons to carry them on the return journey. The Indians expressed a readiness to give the Recollet Daillon a passage; they knew the ‘grey-robes’; but they did not know the Jesuits, the ‘black-robes,’ and they hesitated to take Brebeuf and Noue, urging as an excuse that so portly a man as Brebeuf would be in danger of upsetting their frail canoes. By a liberal distribution of presents, however, the Hurons were persuaded to accept Brebeuf and Noue as passengers.
Towards the end of July, just when preparations were being made to break ground for the residence of Notre-Dame-des-Anges, the three fathers and some French assistants set out with the Hurons on the long journey to the shores of Georgian Bay. Brebeuf was in a state of ecstasy. He longed for the populous towns of the Hurons. He had confidence in himself and believed that he would be able to make the dwellers in these towns followers of Christ and bulwarks of France in the New World. For twenty-three years he was to devote his life to this task; for twenty-three years, save for the brief interval when the English flag waved over Quebec, he was to dominate the Huron mission. He was a striking figure. Of noble ancestry, almost a giant in stature, and with a soldierly bearing that attracted all observers, he would have shone at the court of the king or at the head of the army. But he had sacrificed a worldly career for the Church. And no man of his ancestors, one of whom had battled under William the Conqueror at Hastings and others in the Crusades, ever bore himself more nobly than did Brebeuf in the forests of Canada, or covered himself with a greater glory.
The journey was beset with danger, for the Iroquois were on the war-path against the Hurons and the French, and had attacked settlers even in the vicinity of Quebec. The lot of the voyagers was incessant toil. They had to paddle against the current, to haul the canoes over stretches where the water was too swift for paddling, and to portage past turbulent rapids and falls. The missionaries were forced to bear their share of the work. Noue, no longer young, was frequently faint from toil. Brebeuf not only sustained him, but at many of the portages, of which there were thirty-five in all, carried a double load of baggage. The packs contained not only clothing and food, but priestly vestments, requisites for the altar, pictures, wine for the Mass, candles, books, and writing material. The course lay over the route which Le Caron had followed eleven years before, up the Ottawa, up the Mattawa, across the portage to Lake Nipissing, and then down the French River. Arrived in Penetanguishene Bay, they landed at a village called Otouacha. They then journeyed a mile and a half inland, through gloomy forests, past cultivated patches of maize, beans, pumpkins, squashes, and sunflowers, to Toanche, where they found Viel’s cabin still standing. For three years this was to be Brebeuf’s headquarters.