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The Explorer

Before a region can be cleared and settled, it must first be explored. Its geography must be known, along with its strengths and weaknesses, and land suitable for farming must be identified.

Photograph of a page from a notebook. Handwritten in pencil are the words “Les voyages du Nord. 1877, Premier voyage sur la rivière du Diable” (“Travels Northward. 1877, first trip on the Diable River”). A number of other destinations follow.

Page from the travel diary of Isidore Martin, Curé Labelle’s faithful travelling companion

From the time he arrived in Saint-Jérôme in 1868, Labelle began organizing explorations of the area then known as the Northern Townships. He hired experienced guides, including Isidore Martin, who would soon become his right-hand man, the “official” organizer of the expeditions and, above all, a loyal friend devoted to the cause of colonization. Together, the two men led some 50 expeditions aimed at determining the economic and agricultural potential of the regions targeted by the colonizing missionary.

Labelle made regular visits to the settlers already established north of Saint-Jérôme. He consoled and encouraged them and brought them support and aid. Sometimes, he pushed farther north, into logging camps, to celebrate Mass and “cleanse the souls” of these isolated workers.

Sepia-tone photograph of a winter scene in a lumbermen’s camp. In the middle ground is a long windowless building of log construction, its roof covered in snow. In front of the building are thirty or so men, a dozen horses and two yoked oxen. In the background is a forest.

Lumbermen’s Camp


It was said that when he returned from these expeditions, his cassock was so dusty and dirty that he was nicknamed the “éminence grise.” For a man so attached to his dear colonists, sharing all their woes and misfortunes, his dirty, sweat-stained cassock was the noblest attire he could wear.

Black & white photograph of a group of people standing on a riverbank by a canoe: two priests, two women, a child, two men holding rifles, a man taking notes, and another man. Some wooden buildings and a wooden bridge are seen in the background.

Curé Labelle on an expedition to Chute-aux-Iroquois, 1889


Testimony of the daughter of Isidore Martin:

Transcription of the Testimony of the daughter of Isidore Martin