Port Toulouse

Parish of St. Pierre

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In 1713 Monsignor Saint-Vallier, the second Bishop of Quebec, sent two missionaries to Cape Breton. Father Dominique de la Marche and Father Jean de Capistran were priests from the the Paris province of the Récollet order and they arrived on the island in August of the same year. At the same time, the civil authorities of the new French province appointed a commission to make a survey of the island and Fr. Dominique was appointed a member of that commission. Received in September, the report told of one French family and about 25 to 30 Indian families on the island, who may, or may not, have been permanent settlers due to Mi’kmaq habit of moving inland during the winter months. Shortly after, (probably the following Spring) an Indian missionary was established at the entrance of the Denys Basin on the west shore of Bras d’Or Lake.

The following year, Lieutenant Governor Philippe Pastour de Costabelle of Newfoundland was appointed Governor of Isle Royale and sailed from Plaissance with the contingent of French colonists who were re-locating to Louisbourg from Newfoundland. With the approval of the French Minister of the Marine, Récollets from the Province of Brittany also arrived on Isle Royale.

According to A. J. B. Johnston’s Life and Religion in Louisbourg, 1713-1758, “The minister’s reasoning in requesting religieux from two different Récollet provinces was based on simple logic. Isle Royale was to be settled by French subjects relocating from the English colonies of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. The Acadians of their
former region had been served for years by the Paris Récollets while the parishioners of the former region had been served by the Brittany Récollets since 1701. The minister thought it prudent to offer the settlers Paris priests from the same Récollet provinces with which they had been familiar in their former homes. In that way, he hoped to minimize some of the reluctance the subjects might feel about relocating to Ile Royale.”

The above was intended to be a temporary arrangement until the new Governor was able to determine which province would be more suitable to the settlement. Under these conditions, the Bishop of Quebec agreed to the interim arrangement by appointing two vicar-generals to Isle Royale - one from the Brittany province and one from the Paris province. This decision would come back to haunt everyone, but initially the small parish of Port Toulouse was served by the Paris Récollets.

The parish of St-Pierre was established about 1715 when a small number of Acadians settled there along with a garrison of about 40 military personnel area at responsible for protecting the area of Port Toulouse. Father Jean de Capistran, appointed King’s Chaplain, was sent from Louisbourg to serve both the fort and the new community. The Mi’kmaqs had their own chapel and their own missionary, the most prominent being Abbé Pierre Maillard.

Rev. Angus Johnston tells us in his History of the Catholic Church in Eastern Nova Scotia that “The first parish church at Port Toulouse was a house which had been built for the future use of Costabelle, the governor of Ile Royale, who planned to stay there while determining the amount of fortification necessary for the defense of Ile Royale. The building....was better built and situated more advantageously than other habitations of the place, which were wretched log cabins.....In the winter of 1716-17 this building was loaned to Father Jean de Capistran to serve as a church until such time as he could build one.”

Of course, conflicts between the two religious provinces were inevitable. They had different outlooks, approaches, customs and superiors. Eventually the Paris Récollets decided to withdraw from Port Toulouse, other settlements on Isle Royale and elsewhere in the colony. Their request was approved by the Minister of the Marine in 1731 and, at that time, the Brittany Récollets were given the right to serve the entire colony. Father Capistran had served the parish of Port Toulouse for 15 years and it must have been very difficult for the Acadians to bid him farewell. Again, from Reverend Angus Johnston, “His successor was Father René Servel who served as Chaplain and curé from 18 July 1731 to 8 October 1733. The only other Récollet mentioned as missionary at Port Toulouse was Father Chérubin Ropert. He was there in 1753 and probably remained until the final fall of Louisbourg.” What the religious scenario might have been between 1733 and 1753 remains a mystery, although I did see somewhere that another Récollet, Fr. Alexis Guillon, was chaplain in Port Toulouse from 1736 through an unknown date. Thus far I have been unable to validate it.

In 1752, Sieur Joseph LaRoque reports that, in Port Toulouse, there were 26 heads of families, 18 of whom were Acadians, 30 housewives and 113 children, settled there from 1719 onwards. In the immediate surrounding area there were an additional 74. So at that time the parish of St-Pierre was ministering to approximately 225 souls. By 1758, the area was practically deserted.

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