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The Annual Innu Missions at Musquaro (1800-1946), Quebec
Between 1800 and 1946, Musquaro, a trading post and former gathering place located between Natashquan and La Romaine in present-day Quebec, was the main site for summer meetings between Lower North Shore Innu and missionaries. These meetings brought together Innu families from Nutashkuan (Natashquan), Unamen Shipu (Musquaro/La Romaine), Pakua Shipu (St. Augustin) and occasionally Sheshatshiu (North-West River). They allowed matrimonial alliances to be forged and continued the social and cultural functions of the pre-existing traditional summer gatherings. The annual missions at Musquaro enabled the Innu to forge a lasting relationship with the missionaries who worked there: secular priests, followed by Oblates and later Eudists.
In 1805, only five years after a missionary had first visited the site, a chapel was built in Musquaro. During the first forty years of the mission, the secular priests who were responsible for missionary activities baptised all the coastal Innu. Between 1853 and 1881, the missions at Musquaro were suspended but meetings with the missionaries continued on the Lower North Shore in other locations. A new chapel was built in Musquaro in 1882 and this event marked the start of the long-term resumption of summer missions there. By that time, the tradition of the Musquaro mission had become deeply rooted in the Innu way of life. Every year, in mid-June families gathered when the missionary visited, for a week or sometimes two. The missionary presided over baptisms, marriages and, less commonly, funerals. The days were organized around religious services, confessions, prayers and processions, together with religious instruction, catechism and reading lessons.
In the early 1940s, the Innu of Nutashkuan and Pakua Shipu began to abandon the mission. In 1942, after a family almost perished at sea on the trip home from Musquaro, they decided not to return. By that time, they had easier access to religious services offered by priests serving the Euro-Canadian community of Natashquan. A final mission was held in 1946, attended only by people from Unamen Shipu. When the chapel was dismantled and taken to Unamen Shipu in 1949, this effectively marked the end of the Musquaro missions and with them the tradition of the large summer gatherings on the Lower North Shore.
Although the missions ended over 50 years ago, they remain today a recurrent element in the oral tradition of the Lower North Shore Innu. The Innu values of helping and sharing with one another are strongly associated with the time and place of the missions.
Title of the Image: Group of Aboriginal People on church steps
Source of the Image: Collections Canada, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3517343
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Hon. Catherine McKenna Parks Canada History and Archaeology
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