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Cape Breton Acadian Communities: Religious History in L'Ardoise

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

An excerpt from L'Ardoise and Its History


From a booklet published in 1983 by Paul Pâté and The L'Ardoise Acadian Historical Society. I'm working on transcribing this and other printed material, so this is one of the gems I'm working on.


L’Ardoise, since its founding, has been a Roman Catholic community. The French who settled here were all Catholics, and most of the Irish and Scottish settlers who came later were also Catholics. As time progressed, a few Protestants in the Village eventually died off, intermarried or moved away. At present, at least 98% of the village inhabitants are nominal Catholics.


The spiritual affairs of the early l’Ardoise inhabitants were taken care of by travelling missionaries. In 1820, l’Ardoise became a mission of Arichat, and three years later, on January 8, 1823, Father Henry McKeagney was made first parish priest at l’Ardoise.


The second parish priest was the famous Trappist Monk, Father Vincent de Paul. L’Ardoise was the ninth parish to be formed in the Arichat (Antigonish) diocese.


At a later period, the l’Ardoise residents built a house of worship. In the early 1900s, electricity was installed. In 1969, the building was renovated and modernised to a great degree by Les Arts Religieux. Unfortunately, this church burnt down in 1972. It was replaced by a church of the same name, Les Sainte-Agnes Gardiens in 1974. It is the present house of worship for this community.


Church Destroyed By Fire


Father Ethier, who was pastor in 1882, decided on the need of a new church in the diocese and it is to his credit along with the people of the parish Las Sainte Anges Gardiens that the church was completed in 1888.


The man responsible for the actual building of the church, Father Lachlin J. MacPherson, arrived in 1883 and was pastor at the time of the dedication by Bishop Cameron in 1883.


In 1895, Father Hugh MacPherson assumed the pastoral post from his brother and remained for 11 years.


Next to take on the pastoral duties was Father Alfred Boudreau who retained that position for nearly half a century (44 years). He was succeeded by Father Placide LeBlanc in 1950.


After 14 years of service to the parish Father, LeBlanc was replaced by Father Gerard Rogers in 1964. Father Alex MacKinnon was the next pastor for a short period.


In 1969, Father Stanley MacDonald became pastor of the parish and it was under his direction that the renovation of the church was completed.


Les Artes Religieux de Québec, specialists in church decor, began their work in March of 1969 and completed it the following June. The total cost for remodelling the church was $40,000. On April 21, 1972, a fire, discovered shortly after midnight, completely destroyed l'église des Sainte Anges Gardiens. By morning, all that remained were the ashes of the once beautiful structure of the church.


Father Vincent de Paul Merle


Father Vincent, returning from France in June, 1825, stayed for some time in the Glebe house of l’Ardoise, a mission of Father Hudson, who was the pastor of Arichat.


On his request, he and Father Francis Xavier were granted facilities to exercise the holy ministry under the direction of Father HUdson in the said village. His first entry in the records is dated July 17, 1825, and his last was on November 26, 1826.


THere are on record 28 baptisms, 5 burials, and 4 marriages, signed by Father Vincent. In 1832, his signature appeared again at l’Ardoise. On November 25 he administered a baptism and the following day he assisted at a marriage.


Father Vincent’s memory is still kept fresh in that parish through Father Vincent’s Well or Fontaine d’eau frét. It is a spring flowing with cool, fresh water all year long. It is located on the left of the Salmon River Road surrounded by spruce forests about 3 miles from the village church.


A natural rock with an inscription indicates the venerable spot which, though now somewhat neglected, was at one time apparently well kept by the owner of the house whose ruins are opposite it. The parishioners of l’Ardoise still visit it and tell how the spring came into existence.


This is the traditional story:


One day, while the men of l’Ardoise were working to cut the Salmon RIver Road through the woods, Father Vincent left l’Ardoise by this route to visit the Indians of the Salmon River vicinity. The workers had not yet reached MacIsaac’s Lake when Father Vincent passed by.


“Well, Father, it is a pretty hot day today.” One of them said. “And not a drop of cool water around.”


“Let’s see,” Father Vincent replied, “whether we can find a place to get water.”


So the priest walked up the little slope there, bored a small hole into the soft, green moss and said, “Dig here! You’ll get all the water you want with which to quench your thirst, and good water too!”


At once, the men took their picks and shovels and dug for only a minute when fine, cool spring water issued from the ground. Thus Father Vincent found the spring at the Salmon River Road. Though the original spring was a bit farther up the slope than the present one, the water comes from the same source.


Father Julien Courteau


Father Courteau who had set out in 1826 had to give all of his priestly life to the Cape Breton Missions. For 15 years he served the missions of Cheticamp and Margaree which were the most distant in the vicarate, and in 1841, Msgr. Fraser entrusted to him the mission of ;Ardoise which was only 30 miles from Arichat.


The l’Ardoise mission at that time comprised a territory of 40 miles in length, inhabited by Acadians and Catholics, Irish and Scots. The Catholics were grouped at l’Ardoise , St. Peter’s, and River Bourgeois. Two chapels had been built, one at l”adroise and the other at River Bourgeois. The inhabitants made their living by the fisheries, which at that time were more extensive than they are today.


Father Courteau took possession of his post in the spring of 1841 and served it until his death. All of the entries inscribed in the register of baptisms, deaths, and marriage at l’Ardoise from July 3, 1841 to April 5, 1869 were made by him. Father Courteau used to officiate at l’Ardoise for two consecutive Sundays and go to River Bourgeois for the third Sunday.


During the winter, Father Courteau used to travel this distance to River Bourgeois on horseback - in the summer he made use of a modest wagon he had made with his own hands. On Saturday he heard confession there. On Sundays he held the usual services, baptised children born since the last visit, solemnised marriages and officiated at funerals. On Tuesday or Wednesday he would return to l’Ardoise which was his habitual place of residence.


When Father Couteau could not go to River Bourgeois, the faithful used to go to l’Ardoise which was only 15 miles away. This happened often enough for marriages.


It was said that in January 1869, several couples intent upon contracting marriage in the presence of Father Courteau could be seen on the road leading to l'Ardoise accompanied by their witnesses and relatives. On the snow covered road, they wore moccasins which were much better adapted for walking, and they put on their French boots only for the marriage ceremony. After the marriage, they once more put on their moccasins to return to River Bourgeois.


About the middle of April 189 in the 72nd year of his life, Father Courteau felt the approach of the illness which was to cause his death. In his last moments he was assisted by Father L.R. Fourneir, a priest of the province of Quebec. He died on May 6, 1869. Five days later, on May 11, 1869, Father Courteau’s funeral took place.


The Founding of the L'Ardoise Convent


The Reverend A.A. Boudreau, priest of the beautiful parish of l’Ardoise, carried for a long time the project of having religious people in the parish for instructing and educating the children. To begin with Father Boudreau, Father Mombourquette and the inspector invited to l’Ardoise Sister Marie Francoise De Chantel and Sister Marie Ste. Agathe who were situated in Arichat at that time. They arrived and could not resist the impression which the parish had on them - they accepted and prepared for the founding of the convent.


When the sisters arrived, the 23rd and 26th of August 1943, they took possession of the convent which had been Mrs. Mombourquette’s residence at an earlier time. Beds, bedclothes, dishes, furniture and certain provisions were all put at their disposition. The founders, Sister Maris de l’Assomption and sister Marie Bertille arrived on the 23rd of August 1943. Sister Frisca joined them 4 days later. The parish priest, Father Boudreau welcomed them most graciously.


In the convent, the water system had to be renovated, for the old hand pump had well served its time. The house had never experienced the advantage of electricity. The sisters were therefore obligated to bring out the kerosene lamps in order to get light. This residence had been closed up for 4 years and caused some inconveniences.


Father Boudreau acted reverently towards the founders whom he considered as his own daughters. Many times Father Boudreau had been seen going to the convent in a raging storm to make sure the sisters had everything they needed.


During her visit in 1945, the Provincial Mother Superior, Marie Ste. Agethe decided to transform the parlour into a chapel. The sisters were filled with joy when they realised their greatest desire was being fulfilled. Henceforth, they had Mass in the convent chapel three times a week.


The year 1948 was probably one of the most important years of the foundation. The construction of a large school reunited all the students from the whole parish, permitting our dear sisters to take great measure of their beneficial instructions.


Since the founding of the convent in 1943 up to 1950, four students, (boys) attended Université Ste. Anne et Pointe-de-l'Église, Nova Scotia, a young girl took a commercial course and two others studied nursing in Antigonish. Seven little Ardoisiennes entered apprenticeship at Les filles de Jésus. Marie Pâté (Soeur Marie Katheleen Labouré) Rose Marie Mombourquette (Sister Anthonie Marie), Jacqueline Martell (Sister Marie Florentia), Jeanne Martell (sister Marie Charles Henri), Marguerite Marie Wincy (Sister Valerie Marie), and two other young candidates of 1952-53, Anne Marie Mombourquette and Jessie Sampson.


For many years since its foundation in 1943, the convent has been continuously occupied by sisters of Les Filles de Jesus who came from different provinces of Canada, Quebec, and France. As of today, after a period of 40 years, the sisters no longer reside in the community for the convent will be transformed into a medical centre.


Priests of the L'Ardoise Parish

  1. Father Henry McKeagney (1823-1825) Father McKeagney made his first entry in the mission books o nJanuary 8, 1823. On account of the accelerating increases in population in Eastern Cape Breton, a priest was urgently needed there and l’Ardoise was again left as a mission of Arichat.

  2. Father Vincent de Paul (August 14, 1825-June 3, 1826) L’Ardoise remained without a priest until October.

  3. Father Potvin - (October 1828-September 1829)

  4. Father Trudel (October 1829-September 1832)

  5. Father Patrick McKeagney (December 1832-June 1841) He was the younger brother of Father Henry McKeagney - the first parish priest of l’Ardoise.

  6. Father Julien Courteau (1841-1869) There is a special article written on him on page 4 of this book.

  7. Father James Quinan (1869-1876)

  8. Father Daniel G. MacIntosh (19877-1878) He left to become a pastor in North Sydney.

  9. Father Ethier (1878-1883) - It was Father Ethier, who along with the wardens, decided in 1882 on a new church for l’Ardoise.

  10. Father Lauchlin J. MacPherson (1883-1895) - He was the man responsible for the building of the church.

  11. Father Hugh P. MacPherson (1895-1909) - He was the brother of Father Lauchlin J. MacPherson.

  12. Father Alfred Boudreau (1909-1953) - He was destined to have the longest sojourn in l’Ardoise. He was here for a total of 44 years.

  13. Father Placide LeBlanc (1950-1967)

  14. Father Gerard Rodgers (1964-1967) Father Rodgers came to l’Ardoise as assistant in 1964. On the retirement of Father LeBlanc, January 1967, Father Rodgers was appointed administrator until September 1967 when he was appointed to the extension staff of St. Frances Xavier University.

  15. Father Alex MacKinnon (1967-1968) - He resigned to assume his duties in Central America where he had previously spent fruitful years.

  16. Father Stanley MacDonald (1968-1972)

  17. Father O’Brien (1972-1975)

  18. Father Clarence MacDonald (1975-1983) He has just completed eight fruitful years with our parish. He will be missed.

  19. Father Basil Boudreau - He is the present pastor of our parish. This is his first appointment as pastor, his work previously has been as assistant. He was ordained on June 24, 1979. He has been ordained for 4 years now.

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