“Saint Anne is the patroness of the Canadians, in all their travels by water.”
That’s what Alexander Henry (the Elder) wrote in his 1804 journal about his 1761 venture into Canadian fur country.
I also read about her in various fur trade histories. So I believed that Ste. Anne was the patron saint of voyageurs. In “Treacherous Waters,” Book 2 of the Chronicles of An Unlikely Voyageur, André’s fellow milieux (middlemen paddlers) pray to her at several key moments.
Did other voyageurs say the same thing? I decided to check it out.
When I searched my copy of “Five Fur Traders of the Northwest,” I found two, Peter Pond and John Macdonnell, who mentioned Ste. Anne.
French people had long appealed to Ste. Anne, so the French soldiers and pioneers, who first settled in Canada, continued to ask her protection. Certainly they had enough reasons — the harsh climate, lack of food or medicine and uncertain relations with the neighboring Iroquois, Erie and Huron Indians.
Brigades stopped at a small chapel dedicated to Ste. Anne, some miles on their journey to the rendezvous.
From the Narrative of Peter Pond, a founding partner of the North West Company:
“…thare Stans a Small Roman Church Aganst a Small Rapead this Church is Dedacateed to St Ann who Protescts all Voigeers* heare is a Small Box with a Hole in the top for ye Reseption of a Lettle Muney for the Holy father to Say a Small Mass for those who Put a small Sum in the Box Scars a Voigeer but Stops Hear and Puts in his mite and By that Meanes thay Suppose that they are Protacted while absant
“The Curch is not Locked But the Munney Box is well Sacured from theaves after the Saremoney of Crossing them Selves and Rapeting a Short Prayer we Crost the Lake…”
Pond, an American born in 1740, wrote this at age 60 of his experiences in 1773. (Hope you enjoyed his original spelling.)
* The editor of “Five Fur Traders,” Charles M. Gates, mentions in a footnote that the Church of Ste. Anne is the customary stopping place for fur brigades on their way to the interior.
John Macdonnell made note of Ste. Anne in his Diary.
“May 27 ~ At nine A.M. Crossed over to St. Anns, where we found the Priest saying mass for one Lalonde who had been drowned, by the mens account, 100 leagues above this place, at Roche Capitaine.* Tho drowned near 12 months ago, his remains were only brought down by his brothers this spring on their return from the upper country in a coffin made for the purpose in order to give him Christian Sepulture, according to the Catholic Rites. At the church of St. Anns the crews of the Canoes collected a voluntary donation amongst themselves to which I contributed my mite, in order to have prayers said for the prosperity of the voyage and a safe return of those engaged in it, to thier friends and families.”
Macdonnell, just starting as fur trade clerk in 1797, was about 25 years old.
* Gates again points out that St. Anne Church, located on the western end of the island of Montreal, was where voyageurs sought prayers before embarking on an expedition.
Canoemen especially sought Ste. Anne’s help while navigating fast rivers, thundering rapids and vast inland lakes. When they saw the lashed-together paddles marking the site of where a fellow voyageur drowned, they appealed to Ste. Anne.
Voyageurs made Ste. Anne their patroness. They said it. Must be true.
Hedging their bets
Voyageurs also tossed offerings of tobacco for safe passage along the worst of those waterways, a custom borrowed from the Aboriginal Peoples.
Thinking about the danger the brigades encountered daily, doubling up on protection seems like a good idea. More so, given that many voyageurs were of mixed heritage, Native and French-Canadian. The Micmaq tribe was particularly devoted to Ste. Anne. So, yes (or oui), Ste. Anne, she certainly watched over voyageurs.
But make your own decision and read their accounts. The book “Five Fur Traders of the Northwest” is available on Amazon at $12 and your library might have a copy.
“Five Fur Traders of the Northwest; Being the Narrative of Peter Pond and the Diaries of John Macdonnell, Archibald N. McLeod, Hugh Faries and Thomas Connor” by Charles M. Gates, editor. Minnesota Historical Society (St. Paul, 1965)