History of Ile d’Orleans

The island was one of the first areas of New France to be settled.  The original inhabitants called it Minigo, meaning the enchanted island.  On his second voyage, Jacques Cartier named it Bacchus Island because of the profusion of wild grapes growing there.  During his second voyage, 1535-36, (he spent the winter near present day Quebec City), Cartier renamed it the Ile d’Orléans in honor of the Duke d’Orléans, the son of French king, François I. In 1642, the governor of New France, Montmagny, offered the nearly uninhabited island to Maisonneuve but he declined the gift, choosing Montréal instead.  He built his colony, Ville-Marie, on that island.  Over the years, Ile d’Orléans changed had a number of seigneurs or owners, the last owner being Joseph Blouin in the 19th century.

Colonization of the island progressed slowly.  Most of its settlers came from Normandy, Poitou or Perche, provinces of France.  The Huron moved to the island in 1651 to escape Iroquois (Mohawks, Agniers ion French) attacks.  The Jesuits welcomed them and they settled as Anse du Fort.  A few years passed and then, the Iroquois tried to convince the Huron to go live in their villages.  In 1656, the Hurons captured an Iroquois man and tortured him to death to avenge the death of Hurons killed during an Iroquois attack.  In mid-April of 1656, the Iroquois crept up to the Huron village.  After Mass the following morning, the Iroquois attacked.  The Hurons were returning to their daily work and were unarmed.  The Iroquois kidnapped and killed 71 Hurons but did not harm the remaining settlers.  The Huron tribes (clans?) of the Rock and the Bear left the island in 1657 and went to live with the Iroquois.  The Rope tribe moved closer to Fort St-Louis, the reason being that they feared for their safety if they remained on the island.  In 1661, known as a year of terror, the Iroquois launched a massive attack against Ile d’Orléans, Montréal, Trois-Rivières, Tadoussac and Québec City.  Nearly 100 people, both French and Algonquin, were slaughtered.

The first parish on the island, Sainte-Famille, was established in 1661.  Construction of the church began in 1669 under the direction of Bishop François Momorency Laval, the first bishop of New France.  Father François Lamy served Ste-Famille as a missionary priest from 1668 to November 3, 1684, when he was appointed the first parish priest of Sainte-Famille.  The church began to degrade due to both frost and the lack of experienced masons. In 1734, the new priest, Joseph Dufrost, began the building of a new church, the current
church.  This building is the oldest two-steeple church in Canada and the only church in Québec with three bell towers.

The first church in Saint-Pierre was built in half timbers and covered with shingles.  Construction began in 1673 and was completed in 1676.  Damaged soon after it was built, the old church was replaced by a stone building in 1717.  In 1955, a modern church was built next to the old one but the old one still exists and can be visited.  The first Saint-Jean church was built in 1675 but was replaced  by the existing church in 1734.  A chapel was built in Saint-Laurent in 1675.  The church and parish house were not built until 1997.  The church was enlarged in 1702.  It was demolished in 1864.  Today’s church was built in 1860.  The first two churches in Saint-François parish were of wood, the first built in 1678 and the second in 1707.  Today, the cemetery occupies the land where these churches were built.  The first stone church was built from 1734 to 1736.  In 1988, a car crashed into the church.  The resulting fire destroyed the inside.  The present church was built in 1991.  The parishes of Saint-Pierre, Saint-François, Saint-Jean, and Saint Paul (renamed Saint-Laurent in 1698) were officially founded in 1679.  The village of Sainte-Petronille-de-Beaulieu was created in 1870.  In 1685, at the request of Father Lamy, the Sisters of Notre-Dame opened a school in Sainte-Famille parish to provide education for the girls of the parish.

The census of 1685 listed the population as being 1,205 people and 917 heads of livestock.  About 1730, the Canac dit Marquis family built the Drouin House in Sainte-Famille which they expanded 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 Foundation François Lamy.  The Drouin family lived in it until 1984.  The house has never been modernized. The Mauvide-Genest Manor, dating back to 1734, was built in Saint-Jean by Jean Mauvide (1701-1782), a surgeon and merchant.  In 1752, Mauvide was appointed seigneur.  It was during this period that several expansions were made to the manor.  He lived there with his wife, Marie-Anne Genest 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, the island was evacuated before 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 an eye on Quebec City and the channels of the St. Lawrence.  Most of the buildings on the island were razed (burned) after Wolfe’s defeat on July 31 at l’Ange Gardien.  Only a few homes were spared.  One of the few traces on the English occupation of the island is some graffiti on the church wall of Saint-François.  The church served as a military hospital and lodging for English soldiers. The scrawled message was left by David Chapman, the second gunner on the Neptune, the flagship of the fleet during the Seven Years’ War (the French and Indian War in American History), 1756-1763.

The first shipyard on the island was established at Anse du Fort in Sainte-Petronille in 1823 by the Wood brothers.  They were famous Scots shipbuilders.  In 1830, it became possible to cross the island from north to south with the inauguration of Mitan Road.  It replaced the earlier Ste-Famille Road.  The same year, the first elementary school was built near the church in Sainte-Famille parish.  Bowen Wharf was built in Sainte-Pétronille, in 1855, the same year that the steamship Petit-Coq, owned by Ignace Couture of Lévis, began daily crossing between the island and Québec City.  Wealthy 19th century Anglophone families owned villas and summer homes in Sainte-Pétronille.  These English families left behind many examples of English architecture as well as St. Mary’s Anglican Chapel (dating back to 1867).  In 1871, a church was built to serve English speaking Catholics.

The famous Ontario-born painter, Horatio Walker, moved to Sainte-Pétronille in 1888.  He spent the rest of his life there until his death in 1938.  Another business on the island was the Saint-Laurent Shipyard founded in 1911 by Ovide Filion.  This company was the largest on Ile d’Orléans and remained in business until 1967.  In 1935, the Taschereau Bridge, name for Louis-Alexandre Taschereau, the Premier of Quebec, was inaugurated.  Up until then, the inhabitants of the island were isolated from the mainland because the only way to reach it in

Summer was by boat.  In the winter, they could cross to the mainland on the ice bridge that formed when the river froze.  In 1940, the Royal Canadian Navy set up a monitoring station to protect the St. Lawrence from enemy ships.  At the end of World War II, the soldiers left and the buildings were transformed into a hotel complex.  It was demolished in the 1960s.  The road crossing the island from Saint-Pierre to Saint-Laurent, named Prevost Road, was opened in 1949.

In 1970, the Ile d’Orléans was declared a historic district under the Cultural Property Act.  Also in 1970, renowned Québec poet Félix Leclerc moved to Saint-Pierre, his family’s ancestral village.  He spent the rest of his life there and died in 1988.  He was buried in the parish cemetery.  In 2001, Espace Félix Leclerc was created in Saint-Pierre to commemorate him and his literary achievements.  In 1973, the Québec government built a rest area and observation tower in the village of Saint-François.  From the top of the tower one can 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 occupies the former Saint-Laurent Shipyard, opened in 1990.  The park’s mission is to preserve and enhance the maritime heritage and character of the village of Saint-Laurent and Ile d’Orléans.

Source: Official tourism site: Ile d’Orléans – Where Smiles Bloom!  “History of Ile d’Orléans.