Order of Friars Minor Franciscans of Canada

The first Christmas at the Fort of Ville-Marie in 1642

The first Christmas at the Fort of Ville-Marie in 1642

The last days of the year 1642 were set in a dramatic atmosphere. The small river at the foot of which the habitation of Ville-Marie was built began to overflow, raising concerns about the dangers and the ruins that come with the floods.


Worry, speculation and anxiety took hold of the settlers! When he saw that everyone was safe in the fort and busy praying to ward off danger, M. de Maisonneuve felt inclined to do more, as leader, in light of his responsibilities.


A project came to his mind. Always modest, he went to present it to Fathers Poncet and du Perron. They approved of it, and begged M. de Maisonneuve to hurry in implementing these supernatural means of salvation. Time was of the essence.


M. de Maisonneuve brought everyone together. He asked that a statement he had written be read aloud, ‘so that his people should recognize the purity of his intention’. In it, he explained that the settlers of Montreal were praying his Divine Majesty to retain the River in his ordinary place, if this served his glory, or – if the waters destroyed the existing buildings – to let them know where he wanted the main colonial establishment to be built. The objective of these Gentlemen of Montreal was to serve the Lord.


The Governor then announced that he would leave the Fort for a moment. He wanted to plant a cross at the edge of the river ‘so unfortunately overflowed from its banks’. At the foot of the cross, he wrote the following words of conclusion: ‘God will perhaps then hear the cry of his people in distress’.

 

He did as he had said. However, when the Governor returned to the Fort, he made the solemn promise, «to carry a cross, alone, from the fort to Mount Royal mountain, if it pleased God to grant his request». This was prompted by his generosity and his Christian sense of offering and prayer. No change occurred during the following hours. ‘The waters continued to pour… Huge waves, blow upon blow, filled up the ditches of the Fort and rose up to the door of the house…; everyone watched this without trouble, without fear, without a murmur, although it was the heart of winter, in the middle of the night, and even when was celebrated the birth of the Savior.’


However, relief was on the way. ‘The waters stopped on the threshold of the door, ceased to rise, and withdrew little by little, putting residents out of danger and challenging the Captain in the execution of his promise.’ Epiphany was chosen as the day to express gratitude for this miracle. The previous days, the settlers cleared a path, cut down the trees and made the cross. M. de Maisonneuve ‘took part in the work, in order to encourage by his example’.


«On the given day, the cross was blessed and M. de Maisonneuve was made First Soldier of the Cross, with all the ceremonies of the Church: he took the cross on his shoulder, although it was very heavy, walked a full league carrying this burden, following the Procession, and planted the cross on the top of the mountain… Father du Perron presided Mass and Mrs. de la Peltrie was the first to receive Holy Communion…

Jeanne Mance by Marie-Claire Daveluy, o.f.s.

 Text presented by Georges Morin, o.f.m.