Sainte-Marie Among The Hurons Museum In Midland, Ontario

Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons is a living history museum located in Midland, Ontario. For an awesome experience, take the candlelight tour offered in summer months.

When I was twelve years old, our family took a trip to northern Ontario. While there, we visited an ancient 17th Century village. Sainte-Marie among the Hurons was steeped in history.

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons is located in Midland Ontario, along the shores of Georgian Bay. It was the ancestral home of the Wendat nation, a branch of Natives of the Iroquois. Like the Iroquois, the Wendat were a matriarchal society. They were good traders and excellent farmers. They called their land Wendake, meaning "land apart."

In the 17th Century, French Jesuit priests came to Wendake. Their goal was to convert the natives to Catholicism. Explorer Samuel De Champlain, who felt that conversion was imperative to the colonization of the North American natives, encouraged the Jesuits. The Jesuits settled in Wendake and traveled from one village to another. They attempted to learn the Wendat language, customs and traditions so they would be able to better communicate with the aboriginal people.

Father Jerome Lalemant was the Superior of the Jesuits. His dream was to "build a house apart, remote from the vicinity of the villages, that would serve, among other things, for the retreat and meditation of our evangelist laborers."

In 1639, Father Lalemant's dream was realized. A mission rose in the wilderness along the Isaraqui (Wye) River. Laymen from France came to Canada to help erect the mission. It was given the name, Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, which was the name the French gave to the Wendat people.

The Jesuits were dedicated. Their endless work soon made Sainte-Marie self-sufficient. This was nothing short of a miracle, considering that the community was 1200 kilometres from Quebec.

During the 17th Century, Canada was known as New France. The population was in the low hundreds. Most of the inhabitants lived along the St. Lawrence River. From here, the French and Ottawa Rivers provided a turbulent and dangerous inland waterway that carried furs, livestock, mail, building supplies, books and priests to Sainte-Marie.

The Iroquois constantly attacked Sainte-Marie and in the spring of 1649, the inhabitants, who consisted of the Jesuits, their helpers and their Wendat followers, retreated from the mission after burning it to the ground. After enduring a harsh Canadian winter, which included constant attacks by the Iroquois and starvation, the French and surviving Wendat Christians returned to Quebec.

The Huron settled on I'ile d' Orleans, where a vicious Iroquois attack destroyed their community. In 1697, the Wendat gathered at Jeune Lorette and rebuilt the Huron culture and their nation.

The remains of martyred Jesuit Fathers Brebeuf and Lalemant were buried in an unmarked grave. This is now a place of Christian pilgrimage.

With the exception of one Italian priest, the people of Sainte-Marie were all French. No women lived at the wilderness mission. The Wendat were drawn to the village out of curiosity. They often visited with the priests hoping to learn something of their strange way of life.

After the initial problems were overcome at Sainte-Marie, the Jersuits were fairly successful in their role as teachers and missionaries. A steady influx of priests arrived at the Wendat mission to ensure a constant supply of missionaries. The experienced priests trained these newcomers. Some of the new arrivals found life in New France very difficult but served God to the best of their ability and successfully converted many of the Huron people.

A visit to the reconstructed Sainte-Marie begins with an audio/visual presentation. It uses images, speech and music to tell the story of two very different cultures in 17th Century Canada.

From here, you enter the 17th Century living history within the palisades of Sainte-Marie. Women and men dressed in period costumes welcome visitors to the community where they can take part in the activities. During July and August on-site dramas allow you to step back in time to 17th Century Sainte-Marie.

When visiting the community, be sure to participate in the canoe trip on the Wye River. The canoe is a seven-metre replica of the Huron mode of transportation. The Jesuits also learned to navigate the river by canoe. The palisades of the wilderness mission can be seen from the river exactly as it was approximately 300 years ago. The canoe trip is a one and a half-hour program, which is available both morning and afternoon during July and August, by request.

Evening candlelight tours are also available in July and August. This is an awesome experience and one that I look forward to having again one day. In fact, visiting Sainte-Marie is the experience of a lifetime.

Contact Information:

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons

Huronia Historical Parks

PO Box 160

Midland, Ontario

Canada L4R 4K8

Phone: (705) 526-7838

Resource Materials

Wilderness Mission: The story of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons - Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1969

Huronia: History and geography of the Huron Indians - Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1971

Sainte-Marie among the Hurons - Ginn, 1974

Indian Peoples of Canada - Toronto: Grolier Limited, 1982

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