Gabriel Sagard

We don't know anything about the first years of Gabriel Sagard. We may conclude however, from an allusion by Sagard to Father Daniel Saymond, superior of the monastery of Verdun, who died in 1604, that Sagard was already a Recollect by that year. In 1623, he obtained permission to sail to Canada.

He landed at Quebec on 28 June, after a crossing made up of three months and six days.

As soon as he arrived to Canada, he and other priests joined the French boats leaving for the exchange of furs, and after a most arduous journey, he the Huron country, where he established in the village of Ossossanë In May 1624 Gabriel Sagard, together with the Huron who were going to exchange furs, set off for Quebec.

There, Sagard received a letter from his superior, Father Polycarpe Du Fay, instructing him to come back to Paris. In 1636, some months after the publication of his Histoire of Canada, Sagard left the Recollects, and he died as a Franciscan the same year.

Three works of Sagard, dealing with the early days of Canada, were published: Le grand voyage du pays des Huron (A Big Journey to the Huron Country), 1632, appeared in two volumes in six chapters. It recounts the ocean crossing, the life among the Huron and the author’s return to France. He depicts the Huron customs and way of life, the flora and fauna. Four years later Sagard published L’histoire du Canada (History of Canada).

This book is in four parts. The first books deals with the apostolic activity of the Recollects in Canada from the beginning in 1615 up to Sagard's journey in 1623.

The two following parts constitute the revised and enlarged version of The Big Journey. The last part is about the arrival of the Jesuits, the capture of Quebec by the English, and the temporary abandonment of the colony, as well as political, commercial, and agricultural events in which the Recollects played a part in Canada.

He also publishes Dictionnaire de la langue huronne (the Dictionary of the Huron language). In fact, this work is a collection of French expressions translated into the Huron language. It contains a few errors, but Sagard never had any pretensions in this respect.

He acknowledged that the language was very difficult, and he didn't have time to learn it well, but he tackled this thankless job because he was eager to supply those who were labouring to implant faith among the Huron with the rudiments of the language. Today, some historians reprove Sagard for a credulousness, as he cites unlikely cases of possession by demons and of diabolical apparitions, but we must not forget the period when Sagard was writing, when a fervour not firmly established lent too ready credence to spells and interventions by the devil.

Anyway, Sagard is gives us detail of things, to the daily life of the Indians. Whether he is studying the habits and customs of the First Nations, or tracing the topography of places, or describing the nature, Sagard is precise and exact, he is a reliable, competent, and honest witness of the early days of New France and Canada.

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