Abbe Maillard, missionary in Nova Scotia

Abbe Maillard, missionary in Nova Scotia

A fascinating story of a French Catholic missionary priest in Nova Scotia whose work in the 18th century brought together in peace the British, the Acadians, and the Indians, and if you know anything about the history of Nova Scotia/Acadia you know how remarkable that feat was.

It was into this world that the British powers had invited a Roman Catholic missionary. After having travelled a few days over land and by river from the ancient Mi’kmaq settlement known as Merigomish Island, located at the northeast part of mainland Nova Scotia, he arrived and was greeted at the gates of the town’s northern palisade walls. The missionary was the Abbé Pierre Antoine Simon Maillard.

The invitation Maillard had accepted came from the British Governor, Charles Lawrence, who had requested his consideration to come to Halifax to act as a British agent to conduct peace treaty negotiations with the various Mi’kmaq tribes. Lawrence had long heard about Maillard and the respect the missionary had amongst the Mi’kmaq peoples. Maillard was a 24-year veteran of missionary life with the Mi’kmaq, from Isle Royale (present day Cape Breton), to Isle St. Jean (P.E.I.), and Bear River (southwest Nova Scotia); and had served many Acadians who had been on the move in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick due to the Deportation orders of 1755, or who had escaped from Louisbourg after its fall in 1758.

[...] It was in the worst winter recorded at the time, in late 1759, after 24 years of working as a missionary, and experiencing much hardship and witnessing too much bloodshed, that Maillard entered the final chapter of his life and accepted Governor Lawrence’s invitation to come to Halifax and conduct peace treaty work for the British. But for Maillard, his decision to come to Halifax was also in the service of the Mi’kmaq peoples he loved and had served. And the treaties he eventually secured would endure into the 21st century, becoming the legal basis for many important Mi’kmaq land claims.

After arriving at the northern gates of Halifax, and conducting many treaty negotiations, Maillard died two and a half years later at the age of 52, in August of 1762, completing 27 years of dedicated missionary life. He was buried in the Old Burying Grounds with full official honours, with British, Mi’kmaq and Acadian peoples in attendance at the first ecumenical service in North America.

Melanie and I saw many of the places mentioned in the article on our honeymoon to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in August 2005. There is a Catholic cemetery in Halifax that holds the bodies of many of the priests and bishops of Halifax (and the nation’s first Catholic prime minister) as well as many of the ordinary folk. This is not the cemetery Maillard was buried in because it was founded only after he had laid the groundwork for acceptance of Catholics by the British in Halifax.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli