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1697 - The Life of a Montagnais Missionary
by François de Crespieul (1639-1702)

Presented to his Successors in the Montagnais Mission for Their Instruction and Greater Consolation by Father François de Crespieul, Jesuit, and an Unprofitable servant of the Missions of Canada from 1671 to 1697, which completes the 26th wintering in the Service of the Tadoussac Mission, and the 4th at the Mission of St. Xavier at Chicoutimi April 21, 1697.

The life of a Montagnais missionary is a long and slow martyrdom:

Is an almost continual practice of patience and of mortification:

Is a truly penitential and humiliating life, especially in the cabins, and on journeys with the savages.

1. The cabin is made of poles and birch-bark; and fir-branches are placed around it to cover the snow and the frozen ground. 2. During nearly all the day, the missionary remains in a sitting or kneeling position, eased to an almost continual smoke during the winter. 3. Sometimes he perspires in the day-time and most frequently is cold during the night. He sleeps in his clothes upon the frozen ground, and sometimes on the snow covered with fir-branches, which are very hard. 4. He eats From an ouragan (dish) that is very seldom cleaned or washed, and in most cases is wiped with a greasy piece of skin, or is licked by the dogs. He eats when there is anything to eat, and when some is offered to him. Sometimes the meat is only half-cooked; sometimes it is very tough, especially when smoked (dried in the smoke). As a rule, they have a good meal only once - or, when provisions are abundant twice; but it does not last long. 5. The savage shoes, or the dogs' hairy skins, serve him as napkins, as the hair of the savage men and women serves them. 6. His usual beverage is water from the streams or from some pond - sometimes melted snow, in an ouragan that is usually quite greasy. 7. He often scorches his clothes, or his blanket, or his stockings during the night - especially when the cabin is small or narrow. He cannot stretch himself, but he curls himself up, and his head rests upon the snow covered with fir-branches; this chills his brain, and gives him toothache, etc. 8. He always sleek with his clothes on, and takes off his cassock and his stockings only to protect himself against vermin, which always swarm on the savages, especially the children. 9. Usually when he wakes he finds himself surrounded by dogs. I have sometimes had 6, 8, or 10 around me. 10. The smoke is sometimes so strong that it makes his eyes weep; and when he sleeps he feels as if some one had thrown salt into his eyes; when he awakes, he has much difficulty in opening them. 11. When the snow thaws, while he is walking upon lakes or long rivers, he is so dazzled for 4 or 5 days by the water that drops continually from his eyes that he cannot read his breviary. Sometimes he has to be, led by the hand. This has happened to Father Silvy, to Father Dalmas, and to myself; while on the march I could not see further than the edge of my snowshoes. 12. He is often annoyed by little children, by their cries, their weeping, etc.; and sometimes he is made ill by the stench of those who have scrofula, with whom he even drinks out of the same kettle. I have spent more than 8 days in the cabin of Kawitaskawat, the chief man among the Mystassins, and have slept near his son, who was troubled with that disease; and the stench from him often caused me nausea, both by day and night. I have also eaten and drunk from his ouragan. 13. He is sometimes reduced to drinking only water obtained from melted snow, which smells of smoke and is very dirty. For 9 weeks I have drunk nothing else, while 1 was with strangers in the region of Peokwagamy. I have never seen savages dirtier than these, as regards eating, drinking and sleeping. Among them the meat was often covered with moose-hairs or sand. An old woman, with her long nails, gathered up handfuls of grease in the kettle into which snow had been thrown, and then offered it to us to eat, in a very dirty ouragan: and all drank broth out of the same kettle. 14. In the summer-time, while travelling, especially on the Saguenay and on the great River, he often drinks the very dirty water obtained from ponds. During 9 days, while detained by contrary winds, we drank no other water. Sometimes the wind compels him to take refuge in places where there is none at all. This has happened to me more than once - indeed, more than 9 times. I have been obliged to drink from ponds in which I saw toads, etc. 15. In most cases during the winter, while on long and difficult journeys, he does not find a drop of water wherewith to quench his thirst, although exhausted with toils and fatigues. 16. He suffers greatly from cold and from smoke, before the cabin is finished, for 2 or 9 hours when the weather is very severe in winter. His shirt, which is wet with perspiration, and his soaked stockings, render him benumbed with cold; he suffers also from hunger, because in most cases he has had nothing but a piece of dried meat, eaten before the camp was struck. 17. Suffering and hardship are the appendages of these holy but arduous missions. Faxit Deus ut iis diu immoretur et immoriatur Servus Inutilis Missionum Franciscus, S.J. (God grant that in them may long remain and die the Useless servant of the missions, François, S.J.).

***

Source: The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, ed. R.G. Thwaits, Secretary of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin; or The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents (1954), edited by Edna Kenton.



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