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Curé Labelle, a Formidable Unifier

Black & white photograph of a crowd outdoors, surrounding an imposing figure, Curé Antoine Labelle. Several men are seen, along with a few women and children, all well dressed. Labelle wears a black cassock and black hat and is giving a speech; his mouth is open and his right arm is raised beside his head. His left art rests on his hip.

Curé Labelle addressing a crowd at Chute-aux-Iroquois


Engraving published in a newspaper, showing the façade of a rectangular one-and-a-half storey house with a steeply pitched roof having three dormers. A porch extends the full width of the house, with the roof overhanging it. A wooden fence runs along the dirt road in the foreground.

Engraving of the former Presbytère de Saint-Jérôme

If Curé Labelle were alive today, he would have hundreds of Facebook friends and his statuses would go viral. But he lived in the 19th century and, more often than not, his group of friends, allies and collaborators met in his presbytery in Saint-Jérôme. A talented, clever, tenacious unifier, he won over people from all walks of life to his cause to promote settlement of the Laurentians. Influential figures, politicians, clergymen, and ordinary settlers—everyone, without exception, was invited to Labelle’s presbytery table.

To lead people north and help them settle their land, it wasn’t enough to hand them an axe and a bundle of provisions. The territory had to be explored; negotiations had to be conducted with logging companies. Funding had to be secured, as well as government support. And willing settlers had to be recruited, along with priests to open parishes. This was far too ambitious a task for one man alone.

Transcription of the video: Curé Labelle, a Formidable Unifier

Labelle’s genius lay in his powers of persuasion and his infectious enthusiasm. He was also very skilled at bringing together collaborators who at first glance seemed incompatible. He himself developed a close friendship with Arthur Buies, a well-known anticlerical journalist of the day, who became his “Laurentian eulogist.” His most devoted disciples were his mother, whom he affectionately called “Mouman” and who was known as “Madame Curé,” and Isidore Martin, his loyal right-hand man.

Sepia-tone photograph of an elderly woman, clad in a long black dress with a wide lace collar. Her white hair is tied in a bun behind her head and covered in a black lace bonnet (a béguin) tied with a large ribbon under her chin. Her hands, crossed on her lap, reveal fingers twisted and worn by old age.

Portrait of Angélique Maher, mother of Curé Antoine Labelle

Black & white photograph of two men standing in photographer’s studio. One of them, a priest, wears a black cassock and is leaning on a pommel cane. The other wears a light-coloured three-piece suit and stands with his hands in his pockets. Both wear top hats.

Photograph of Curé Antoine Labelle with Arthur Buies