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For the sailors’ salvation: the Saint-Joseph-de-Soulanges church

Color photograph, long shot, in the foreground, a river, riverside and trees, in the background, the façade of a large stone church and steeple.

Saint-Joseph-de-Soulanges Catholic church, Les Cèdres, 2004

Les Cèdres is a village established on the shores of the St Lawrence River rapids whose first inhabitants arrived in 1717. For centuries this area existed essentially for maritime purposes, even though it is one of the most difficult areas to navigate.  Nevertheless, for many years, most men from the village became familiar with this river at a very young age.

Color photograph, aerial view of an urban area on the waterfront of a large river, in the center, a church and its steeple, in the background, extensive farm lands.

Aerial view of Les Cèdres municipality, 2015

The parish of Les Cèdres was founded in 1752 and its first chapel was built in 1771. However, it is believed, and certain archives confirm this, that a place of worship was built and visited by travelling priests earlier. This site would also have been used for the construction of a military fort to shelter troops during the American invasion of 1775-1776. Incidentally, the Americans were defeated there.

Old watercolor painting depicting a large cross, a church, and small houses on the waterfront, with people welcoming seafarers from various vessels arriving on the riverside.

Watercolor by William Henry Bartlett (1809-1854)

Color photograph, long shot of a church steeple, a house and trees on the waterfront and their reflection on the water.

Saint-Joseph-de-Soulanges Catholic church, Les Cèdres, 2017

In 1781, a first church was built. Due to the village’s prevalent bad weather, the building rapidly showed much wear and tear, and it was decided to build a new one in the same location. The current church was completed in 1881.

On January 14, 1950, an enormous storm hit the village again with winds over 95 kilometers per hour blowing from the river. The church steeple, a 19-meter-high pyramid-shaped construction mounted by a 2.8-meter metal cross, broke at exactly 11:23. It crashed into the church above the righthand altar. Miraculously, the steeple’s fall stopped short and ended just above the altar, saving the liturgical furniture and religious objects from destruction.

Interior view of a semicircle section of a church, long shot of walls with many religious plaster statues placed on wooden pedestals, above them are sculpted wooden canopies, in the center, liturgical furnishings.

Saint-Joseph-de-Soulanges Catholic church interior, Les Cèdres, 2009

This event speaks of the perilous life of the Les Cèdres residents and explains why the church houses many objects relating to the devotion of the patron saints of travelers, sailors, and the shipwrecked.