History of Île d’Orléans

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Île d’Orléans, one of the first settled sites in the New France colony, was once the home of an Aboriginal people who called it Minigo, the enchanted island.

In 1535, explorer Jacques Cartier named the island Bacchus Isle because of the many grapes growing there. 

During his second trip to the “New World” in 1536, Cartier renamed the island Orléans in honour of the Duke of Orleans, the son to the French king, François I. The island has been known by this name ever since.

In 1642, the governor of Montmagny presented the nearly uninhabited Île d’Orléans to Paul de Maisonneuve, but the latter declined the gift. Instead, he chose Montreal Island, where he founded Ville-Marie. Over the years, Île d’Orléans changed hands several times. Each owner was called a “seigneur” (a lord in French), the last being Mr. Joseph Blouin in the 19th century.

Colonization of the island proceeded slowly, with the majority of the new inhabitants being from Normandy, Poitou or Perche, France.

The Hurons (Wendats), who had been the target of numerous attacks and massacres by the Iroquois (Mohawks) since 1648, fled north to Île d’Orléans in 1651. They were given shelter at Anse du Fort by the Jesuits.

A few years later, the Iroquois attempted to convince the Hurons to live with them, though their ulterior motive was to slaughter the Hurons.

In 1656, the Hurons captured an Iroquois man whom they tortured to death to avenge the death of Hurons killed during an Iroquois attack. One night in mid-April of that year, the Iroquois crept up to the Huron village. After mass the following morning, when the unarmed Hurons were returning to their daily tasks, the signal to attack was given. The Iroquois kidnapped and massacred 71 Hurons, but left the island’s remaining inhabitants unharmed.

In 1657, the Huron tribes of the Rock and the Bear left the island to follow the Iroquois, while the Rope tribe moved closer to Fort Saint-Louis, since the Huron no longer felt safe on Île d’Orléans. As of 1667, the Rope tribe relocated its village every year, establishing the missions of Notre-Dame de Foye, Notre-Dame de Lorette and Jeune Lorette.

In 1661, known as a year of terror, the Iroquois launched a massive attack against Île d’Orléans and the towns of Montreal, Trois-Rivières, Tadoussac and Quebec City. Nearly 100 people, both French colonists and Algonquin, were slaughtered.

Sainte-Famille, the first parish on the island, was established in 1661. Construction of the first church in that parish began in 1669 under the direction of Bishop François de Laval.

François Lamy, a noted figure in the history of Île d’Orléans, worked as a missionary on the island from 1668 to November 3, 1684, when he was named the first parish priest of Sainte-Famille. He served in that capacity until his death on November 2, 1715.

Due to the frost and lack of experienced masons, the church began to degrade over the years. In 1734, Abbot Joseph Dufrost, the newly named parish priest, was given the mandate to build what would be the current church. Today, this building is the oldest two-steepled church in Canada, and the only church in Quebec with three bell towers at the front of the building.

L'église Saint-PierreConstruction on the first church in Saint-Pierre, built in half-timber and covered in shingles, began in 1673 and finished in 1676. Damaged not long after its completion, the church was replaced by a stone building in 1717 that was later designated a historical monument in 1958. In 1955, a more modern church was built next to the older house of worship. 

The first church in Saint-Jean was built in 1675, which was then replaced by the existing church in 1734. 

A chapel was raised in Saint-Laurent in 1675. It wasn’t until 1697 that a church and presbytery were built in the village on land donated by Seigneur Berthelot. The church was expanded in 1702 and demolished in 1864. The community’s second church, built in 1860, still stands today.

On April 6, 1676, Île d’Orléans became a county divided into four burgs: Saint-Pierre, Saint-Jean,Sainte-Familleand Saint-Paul (renamed Saint-Laurent in 1698). 

The first two churches in Saint-François were made of wood, the first dating back to 1678, and the second to 1707. Today, there is a cemetery where once stood these houses of worship. Construction of the first stone church lasted from 1734 to 1736. A car crashed into the church in 1988, killing two people, and the ensuing fire destroyed the inside of the building. The current church was built in 1991.

The parishes of Saint-Pierre, Saint-François, Saint-Jean and Saint-Paul were officially founded in 1679. The village of Sainte-Pétronille-de-Beaulieu was created in 1870 on land ceded from the village of Saint-Pierre.

In 1685, the Sisters of Notre-Dame established a mission in Sainte-Famille at the request of Father Lamy for the purpose of educating girls. According to the census conducted that year, the island’s population consisted of 1205 people and 917 heads of livestock.

In approximately 1730, the Canac dit Marquis family built Drouin House in Sainte-Famille and expanded it about five years later. Spared by the English army that occupied the island for a time in the 1750s, this nearly 300-year-old house and its grounds are now maintained by a group of local residents, the Fondation François-Lamy. Inhabited by the Drouin family until 1984, the house has never been modernized.

Mauvide-Genest Manor, which dates back to 1734, was built in Saint-Jean by Mr. Jean Mauvide (1701-1782), a surgeon and merchant. In 1752, Mauvide was appointed Seigneur. It was during this period that he had several expansions made to the manor, where he lived with his wife, Marie-Anne Genest (1709-1781), and their six children. The manor was restored in 1925 by Judge Joseph-Camille Pouliot. A chapel was added in 1929.

In the summer of 1759, Île d’Orléans was evacuated prior to the arrival of the Royal Navy and the English troops under the command of General Wolfe. He established a military camp on the island to keep watch on Quebec City and the channels of the St. Lawrence River. The buildings on the island were nearly all razed after Wolfe’s defeat on July 31 at L’Ange-Gardien. Only a few homes were spared, including Mauvide-Genest Manor and Drouin House. One of the few traces of the English occupation remaining today is some graffiti on the wall of the church in Saint-François, which served as a military hospital and lodgings for English soldiers. The scrawled message was left by David Chapman, the second gunner on the Neptune, the flagship of the Saunders fleet during the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763). Another artefact from this period is a very detailed map of the St. Lawrence from the Beaupré Coast to Île d’Orléans drawn by explorer James Cook, who served as an officer under General Wolfe.

The first shipyard was established at Anse du Fort in Sainte-Pétronille in 1823 by the Wood brothers, who were famous Scots shipbuilders.

With the inauguration of Mitan Road in 1830, it became possible to cross the island from north to south. Mitan Road ran throughSainte-Familleand Saint-Jean-de-Île-d’Orléans, replacing the earlierSainte-FamilleRoad. The same year, the first elementary school in Saint-François was built near the church. The school building was designated a historical monument in 1966.

Bowen Wharf was built in Sainte-Pétronille in 1855, the same year that the steamship Petit-Coq, owned by Ignace Couture of Lévis, began to offer daily crossings between the Finlay Market in Quebec City and Île d’Orléans.

Wealthy nineteenth-century Anglophone families owned villas and summer homes in picturesque Sainte-Pétronille. The heritage left behind by the island’s once large English-speaking community includes many examples of English architecture, as well as St. Mary’s Anglican Chapel (dating back to 1867). English-speaking Catholics had to wait until 1871 before they had their own house of worship.

Horatio Walker, the famous Ontario-born painter, moved to Sainte-Pétronille in 1888. He spent the rest of his life in this village, which served as his muse, until his death in 1938.

In 1911, Ovide Fillion founded the Saint-Laurent Shipyard. This company was the largest on Île d’Orléans for over 50 years and closed its doors in 1967.

The bridge to the island, originally called Taschereau Bridge in honour of Louis-Alexandre Taschereau, the Premier of Quebec and MPP of Montmorency at the time, was inaugurated in 1935. The building of the bridge significantly altered the way of life of the island’s inhabitants who, until then, were relatively isolated in the middle of the St. Lawrence. The only way to reach the mainland in the summer was by boat, and in the winter, by crossing the ice bridge formed when the river froze up.

In 1940, the Royal Canadian Navy established a monitoring station, Chaleur III, in Saint-Jean to protect the St. Lawrence River from enemy ships. Once all of the soldiers stationed on the island had left after the end of World War II, the buildings at the station were transformed into a hotel complex that was later demolished in the 1960s.

The road crossing the island from Saint-Pierre to Saint-Laurent was inaugurated in 1949. It was named Prévost Road in honour of Yves Prévost, the MPP for the riding of Montmorency from 1948 to 1962.

Île d’Orléans was declared a historical district in 1970 under the Cultural Property Act. The same year, renowned Québec poet Félix Leclerc moved to Saint-Pierre, his family’s ancestral village, where he spent the rest of his life. He died in 1988 and was buried in the parish cemetery. In 2001, Espace Félix-Leclerc was created in Saint-Pierre to commemorate the poet and his literary achievements.

In 1973, the Government of Quebec built a rest area and observation tower in the village of Saint-François. From the top of the tower, it is possible to see Madame and Ruau islands, Argentenay Point, the St. Lawrence River and the flocks of migrating birds nesting at Cap Tourmente.

The Maritime Park, which opened in 1990 and became incorporated in 1995, is located at the site of the former Saint-Laurent Shipyard. The Park serves to preserve and enhance the maritime heritage and character of the village of Saint-Laurent and Île d’Orléans.

The historical borough of Île d'Orléans celebrates Québec's rural tradition with its gorgeous scenery stretching along the banks of the St. Lawrence River, only a few minutes from Québec City. Visitors are encouraged to experience the rich and vibrant culture of this island jewel, which is the birthplace of New France. Inhabited since time immemorial, Île d'Orléans has a diverse offer of first-rate attractions.