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73 – THE FIRST MASS IN CANADA CELEBRATED ON THE SOUTH SHORE OF NOVA SCOTIA

This short text was written in English by Father Clarence d'Entremont and published in the Yarmouth Vanguard on May 22, 1990. Translation by Michel Miousse


According to tradition, the first Mass to have been said in Nova Scotia and even in all of Canada took place on a flat rock near Le Havre de Port La Tour*. An article from Maclean's Magazine, October 1, 1937, under the title "Nova Scotia - First Catholic Mass", by Sara Knowles Doane, goes as follows: "It was the year 1604, when Champlain in the company of De Monts , was looking for a suitable site for an establishment in Acadia. Leaving De Monts in Liverpool, Champlain continued to navigate, following the coastline, carefully noting the typographic features of the land, and recording anything of interest he saw. Arriving in the harbor of Port La Tour on a Sunday, they land on a flat rock near a good anchorage, and the company priest says a Mass for those of their religion.


The old people of Pubnico used to say that the first mass was celebrated on one of the islands called "The Rescues", about a mile from White Island, which in years gone by apparently formed a single island. . The two largest islands, which could be classified as rocks, were known to fishermen as the two "Half-Moons." According to tradition, the first Mass would have been said on the larger of the two, the one further south, which, at low tide, emerges 10 feet above sea level. had been celebrated after Champlain and the people who were with him, on their way to Cap Fourchu and Baie Sainte Marie, had left Liverpool (although they came from La Have.


Let me tell you first that it is highly unlikely that any of the Catholic priests who accompanied De Monts on his trip to Acadia took part in Champlain's expedition in May-June, and also that Champlain was not in the Cap Sable area on a Sunday, but on a Wednesday, May 19, 1604. Around mid-June, after Champlain returned from his excursion to Baie Sainte Marie, when everyone had definitely left Port Mouton for the Bay of Fundy, the two priests too. If De Monts and the rest of his people had stopped in the Cap Sable area for the two priests to say Mass there, we can be sure that Champlain would have mentioned it in his report. But he said simply: “Following the shore, we passed near Cap Sable and Île au Phoque.


Be that as it may, it is just as improbable that the first Mass was celebrated on this occasion on the rock mentioned above, as it is as probable that it was celebrated for the first time on the East Coast of Acadia, in the area where De Monts landed, in La Have and Port Mouton.


It goes without saying that the Mass was also celebrated on Île Sainte-Croix*, in the state of Maine, at the Rivière Sainte-Croix*, which separates New Brunswick from Maine, where the group spent the winter. 1604-05.


On September 30, 1971, a commemorative stone and a plaque were erected at Red Beach, on the American shore, facing Île Sainte-Croix, on which one can read: "On this site was celebrated the first Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, recounted within the current Maine state boundaries – June 26, 1604 – erected by the Maine State Council of Knights of Columbus 1971. We can be sure that the two Catholic priests who passed a number of months on Île Sainte-Croix at the time said Mass more than once, although it was never recorded anywhere in so many words.


It should be noted that we do not take into account here what could have happened around the year 1000 and even before this time.


When Jean de Poutrincourt, mentioned in article No. 70, returned to Acadia in the spring of 1610, historian Marc Lescarbot says that on May 20, Father Jesse Flèche, who accompanied him, said Mass not far from Pentagoët (Penobscot, Maine) "for the Island to which the name of 'Ascension' was given", since that year, the feast of the Ascension fell on May 20. Note that later this whole region, at least up to Pentagoët, was to be included in the territory of Acadie. See article No. 70 in which I said that Governor Grandfontaine had made Pentagoët the Capital of Acadia.


As for the Acadian Peninsula (Nova Scotia), the first mention of a Mass here was made the following year. Father Jean Biard, who came here in 1611 with Poutrincourt, in the company of Father Enemond Masse, Jesuit, wrote on May 5 to his Province in Paris that they said Mass at Canso, which is corroborated by Lescarbot.


Some say that it was not in Acadia that the first Mass was said in what is today Canada. They say that when Jacques Cartier was in the vicinity of Labrador, on June 11, 1534, a Mass was “heard” by his people. Others object that it is nowhere mentioned that a priest would have accompanied Cartier on this expedition to Canada. Moreover, they say that it was not a real Mass, but simply the reading or singing of the prayers of the Mass, which was done at the time in the absence of a priest. This is why it is said that the Mass was "heard" instead of "said." »


That being said, in Quebec or elsewhere, the information we have concerning the first Mass indicates a later date than those given in Acadia. A Mass is mentioned to have been celebrated in 1615 in the Huron region, now in the territory of Ontario. For the Province of Quebec, it is mentioned that a Mass was said on June 25, 1636, “the first Mass to have been said in the Country. The words “au pays” cannot include Acadie. But already, the day before, a priest said a Mass at Rivière des Prairies, near Montreal, which could be the first Mass reported to have been celebrated in the current Province of Quebec.


Acadia, being closer to Europe, having been the first territory to be explored in this part of the New World, it is not surprising that we find here, in Nova Scotia, so many "firsts." »

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