In 1836, the Hudson’s Bay Company – located on the Quebec shore – provided chapel space to the Oblate Fathers who came to the area for a mission once a year. Hence, the Aboriginals who came to trade their furs seized the opportunity to also tend to their spiritual needs.
In 1863, the Oblate Fathers were granted permission to open a mission at the edge of Lake Temiskaming, in Ontario, in front of Fort du Québec, occupied by the Hudson’s Bay Company. After travelling for ten days, Fathers Pian and Lebret arrived, and started their chapel. Other buildings followed. Seeing so much suffering to ease, they called upon the Grey Nuns of the Cross for help.
The Nuns cared for the sick, helped the elderly, taught the orphans to read, and so much more. Settler families arrived, and would often lodge at the Saint-Claude Mission. Men who were hurt in the logging camps would go to seek medical attention. Everyone – Aboriginals, first settlers, lumberjacks and the ill, regardless of language or religion – was warmly welcomed.
An author summarized the Nuns’ work:
327 sick people treated
504 home visits
738 needy assisted
107 orphans fostered
612 girls and 434 boys educated
Average school attendance: 30 girls and 40 boys
In 1887, the Mission was moved to Ville-Marie as settlers were inclined to open up their land on the other side of the lake. The Sisters opened the hospital and their works continued there. St. Claude Mission was the embryo of Catholicity, education, hospital, language, culture and agriculture in our region.
The plaque we see on the grounds is the first bilingual plaque in Ontario erected on August 15, 1965 by the government. The cross was installed in 1991 by the Heritage Society and St. Mary's Catholic Secondary School.
The 590 km Ontario portion of the Ottawa River from Lake Temiskaming to East Hawkesbury was designated as a Canadian Heritage River in 2016 for its cultural heritage values. The cultural hearland of the Algonquin people, the Ottawa River's history also includes its role as an important travel route for explorers and the fur trade, as well as its industrial use for logging and hydro development. The Ottawa River was also important to the development of Canada and the choice of Ottawa as the national capital.