Our Founding Mothers and Fathers

Gerald Tremblay and the city of Montreal has moved to officially recognize Jeanne Mance as a co-founder of the City of Montreal, along with Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve. This bold move goes beyond honouring Jeanne Mance’s memory – her name is already immortalized in over forty local place-names – it’s about recognizing the true value of her contribution to the establishment and survival of the city at its origins.

What does it take to found a city? Certainly more than the words of one man. Certainly the work of more than one woman… You don’t have to dig deep to discover that, in Montreal’s case, it took a lot of religious zeal, money, and brutal warfare.

Jérôme le Royer de la Dauversière, a French tax collector, and Jean-Jacques Olier, a priest, hatched a plan for creating a permanent settlement on the island of Montreal with the triple objectives of converting savages to Christianity, caring for the sick, and educating the young. They pulled together the funds to do so by forming the Société de Notre-Dame de Montréal pour la conversion des Sauvages de la Nouvelle-France.

De Maisonneuve was hired to govern and defend the colony. He founded Ville-Marie immediately upon his arrival in 1642 – but keeping the colony alive was a whole other matter. At this time, the population consisted of 58 people, of whom four were women.

Among them was Jeanne Mance, who had been invited to join the Société de Notre-Dame as the bursar and nurse. At this time, Jeanne Mance had independently raised $22,000 livres within circles of wealthy Parisian society women, in order to found a hospital in Montreal. As bursar for the colony, Mance was responsible for distribution of basic day-to-day goods such as gunpowder.

The colony clashed violently with the Iroquois residents of the area, and Mance also tended to many battle wounds. In 1651, the violence got so bad that Mance had to abandon her newly built hospital and retreat into the fort. De Maisonneuve was losing hope, when Jeanne Mance intervened.

Mance made the decision to pour all of the health-care money into the defence budget, sending De Maisonneuve back off to France to recruit a hundred additional soldiers, a move that is credited with saving the small colony.

Along with this second contingency of soldiers travelled Marguerite de Bourgeoys, perhaps Montreal’s second founding mother, who took up the educational mission of Ville Marie.

Source: Dictionnay of Canadian Biography, Jeanne Mance and Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve (it is notable that a good deal of de Maisonneuve’s entry actually talks about Mance!)


  1. Ummmmmm – converting savages?

    Not to get all PC here but this is a bit much no?

    I think their mission was to evangelize the native inhabitants of the region and convert them to Christianity as a means to ‘save their souls’. At least, this is how it’s described in the Jesuit Relations.

    Admittedly, the Jesuits referred to Aboriginal Canadians as ‘savages’, but then again they thought the Canadiens were godless, proud and tending towards hedonism.

    And given the near-lunatic frenzy by which Europeans had been slaughtering each other during the Counter-Reformation, I doubt our Aboriginal ancestors lived an existence any more savage than theirs.

    And if anyone is truly deserving of a new memorial, it’s probably the nameless thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dead Aboriginals we don’t bat an eye about.

    I recognize the importance of recognizing Jeanne Mance’s contribution to establishing the City of Montréal, and for that reason, we should speak of our ‘founding Mothers and Fathers’ – but more than simply recognizing an individual for a particular contribution, would it not be better to recognize a large group contribution?

    Most of the Aboriginal nations we married-in to and subsequently wiped-out via disease and warfare were largely governed by matriarchal, socialist meritocracies, in which a man’s prestige and honour was based largely on selflessness, generosity (to the point of personal poverty) and courage. What ideals to live by!

    John Ralston Saul argues that the underlying current of national social-democratic theory is based in large part to the creation of a new Canadian ‘race’ (and its a Métis race to be precise) which occurred when the Voyageurs began infiltrating the Canadian hinterland. In order to survive and prosper they had to change who they were and adapt to the majority population. Often, this meant becoming the ‘adopted son’ of an Aboriginal nation via marriage. Where’s the statue to Saul for pointing this out so eloquently in A Fair Country? Why aren’t their monuments to Kondiaronk across the land? And where are the tributes to all the missing-and-presumed-dead Aboriginal women our police forces are apparently unable to ever find?

    At the end of the day – all the tributes are mere tokens of appreciation. If this publicity stunt encourages even half of all residents to start saying ‘founding Mothers and Fathers’ or results in the 41st tribute to Jeanne Mance, it still won’t mean much.

    But if the mayor came out with a new corporate tax-based funding plan to build new community medical centers to alleviate over-crowding in CLSCs and hospitals, well, that would make a difference and truly honour Jeanne Mance’s memory.

    Food for though…

  2. Comment on Spacing Montreal – The national Portrait Gallery
    Excellent comment Mr. Noakes. It is a while since I heard of Kondiaronk. He certainly deserves great recognition. He deserves an essay any day. One of the ways that proper recognition of greater and even minor historical figures can be taught is, in many countries, the existence and the promotion of National Portrait Galleries. Canada was going to have one, probably a good one, until the current government took over. Our National Portrait Gallery was the first of many socio-cultural initiatives cancelled (20 million wasted on that one, just for the building). Then its staff and Directors were fired, the exhibits crated. It is actually much easier to learn History and its details for many people when images of historical personages are linked to their deeds and their places in time. To have deprived our country and its regions of this resource, so precious to the development of our people is one of the unforgivable vandalisms to which the country has been subject for the last few years. A National Portrait Gallery would have undoubtedly spawned other regional galleries around the country, so the knock on effect has to be counted as well. Looking for a word, Scandalous.

  3. In response to Taylor Noakes comment… sure the Jesuits thought they were saving the souls of native inhabitants. Interesting that he brings J.R. Saul’s brilliant national social-democratic theory and the creation of a new Canadian ‘race’ into the discussion. I think that Saul’s way of seeing things could liberate us from the us-them dichotomy and recognize that we were (and still are) needing to live togehter. It would be great if we could celebrate the adoption and blending of bold ideals adopted from other groups of inhabitants in this great land – instead of valuing only some peoples’ missions which were pretty deadly by today’s standards. I suppose this act of officially recognizing Jeanne Mance is meant to acknowledge the role of one woman at least in establishing Ville-Marie, and her dedication to its survival. I agree with you that it could seem mere tokenism in the grand order of things- that many other individuals and peoples have made valuable contributions that remain unacknowledged.
    Thanks Michael Fish for supporting this grave omission by recalling the dashed plans for the National Portraits Gallery, which dould have been an educational resource. May the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, mandated to contribute to the collective memory and sense of identity of all Canadians, can begin to draw a more inclusive portrait of our country and who we are.

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