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ALLAIN, JEAN-BAPTISTE, Roman Catholic priest and missionary; b. 26 Oct. 1739 in Granville, France, son of Pierre Allain, a carpenter, and Jeanne De Lille; d. 19 June 1812 at Quebec, Lower Canada.

After studying with the Spiritans, Jean-Baptiste Allain was ordained priest on 24 Sept. 1763 and then served in the bishopric of Coutances, France. In 1786 he readily accepted his assignment as a missionary to the islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, going there that year. He sought letters patent as vice-prefect apostolic for the mission on 10 October of the next year and subsequently obtained them. In 1792, at the time the shock waves from the French revolution were reaching those distant islands, Allain refused to take the oath to the new Civil Constitution of the Clergy, as did his young colleague François Lejamtel*, who also came from the diocese of Coutances. In August the two priests assembled a few dozen Acadian families who had taken refuge on the little islands and fled on fishing smacks to the Îles de la Madeleine. They may consequently be considered the first French priests to seek haven in Canada from the revolution.

The two priests’ first concern was to find a ship so they might go to the bishop of Quebec, Jean-François Hubert*, and secure his protection. Unable to locate one, they could not make the voyage and, it being autumn, they put themselves at the disposal of Father James Jones in Halifax, N.S. Jones was happy at the arrival of priests in the Gulf of St Lawrence region, for the Catholics there, though few in number, were nevertheless widely scattered. He entrusted to Allain the mission of Îles-de-la-Madeleine, with responsibility for ministering to the Acadians at Chéticamp, on the west coast of Cape Breton Island. Allain had himself requested this mission; he had even made arrangements with a score of families living on the islands. Lejamtel was entrusted with the missions at Arichat, on Cape Breton Island, and Tracadie, in Nova Scotia. Because the British authorities considered these French priests better suited than Irish Catholic missionaries to keep the Acadians in hand, they allowed them to settle in the country after taming the oath of allegiance.

In the summer of 1793 Allain went to Quebec for various ordinances and objects needed in the two priests’ pastoral activities. Upon his return to the Îles de la Madeleine, he set to work from his residence at Havre-Aubert to organize his little mission. He saw to the election of the first parish council and the building of a chapel and presbytery. In June 1794 he was granted supplementary pastoral powers by Bishop Hubert. He went to Chéticamp and also to Magré (Margaree) on several occasions during the summer, and he took the opportunity to visit his companion Lejamtel at Arichat.

Indeed Allain was thinking of settling down permanently with his colleague. “The fatigue of the trip [to Cape Breton] and the infirmities of old age and my constitution lead me to join him as soon as I can. Besides, this place could lose a certain number of its inhabitants,” he wrote. The latter observation was prompted by the difficulties being faced by the 500 or so Acadians living on the Îles de la Madeleine, about 200 of whom had come from Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. The new seigneur, Isaac Coffin*, was demanding substantial rents from his censitaires for lands they had occupied since their arrival. This situation of conflict seems to have played a part in Allain’s decision to leave in the autumn of 1797 for Chéticamp, where he spent the winter before joining Lejamtel. The coadjutor designate of Quebec, Joseph-Octave Plessis*, noted in a letter: “However useful your residence among that small flock was, you cannot be blamed for having put some distance between it and yourself for your own safety.”

In July 1799 Allain expressed a wish to settle among the 25 families at Chéticamp if no missionary was available for them. In the spring of 1800 a delegation from the locality sought him out at Arichat. The old missionary, however, turned down their request, which would have meant sharing his ministry and his upkeep with the people of Magré; he had little respect for Magré people and did not feel able to travel. Consequently the messengers went away empty-handed. In their disappointment they complained about the matter to the bishop, and this the priest did not at all appreciate.

Allain, who suffered from asthma, seems to have been a burden to Lejamtel. In the spring of 1808 Bishop Plessis of Quebec asked him to return to the Îles de la Madeleine, because the priest in charge, the Frenchman Gabriel Champion, had recently died. Allain obediently left at the beginning of the summer, stopping on his way to minister to the people at Chéticamp. Reaching the Îles de la Madeleine, he settled in with a nephew who later helped him in his mission. Allain noted that there were 68 families living on the islands when he arrived.

Subsequently he asked several times to be recalled. He was suffering from lapses of memory and was afraid of dying without receiving the last sacraments. But a successor was hard to find. In 1808 Bishop Plessis noted: “The account Mr. Allain gives us of the state of the Isles de la Magdeleine is hardly the kind to attract a missionary to them. No chapel, no adequate presbytery, a small group of people [living] in fear of being oppressed by Admiral Coffin. All that has frightened M. le François [Alexis Lefrançois], who was to go there this autumn or next spring.” It was not until 1812 that, some time after obtaining permission from Governor Craig to recall Allain, the bishop called upon the missionary, who was then 72, to give up his post. Allain left the islands in the spring and retired to Quebec, where he died on 19 June at the Hôpital Général.

Marc Desjardins

AAQ, 12 A, E: f.37r.; G: f.21r.; 20 A, II: 162; III: 75; IV: 12; 210 A, II: ff.25, 64, 78, 138; III: ff.33, 79, 82, 111; IV: ff.256–59; VI: f.268; VII: ff.25–26, 32, 55, 307, 337, 449; 1 CB, II: 18, 29; 301 CN, I: 2, 4, 7, 9, 11–14, 18; 312 CN, VI: 23, 25, 29, 34, 43–44, 46, 48–50, 70. AN, Col., E, 3 (dossier J.-B. Allain). Arch. municipales, Granville, France, État civil, Granville, 27 oct. 1739. Mémoire sur les missions de la Nouvelle-Écosse, du Cap-Breton et de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard de 1760 à 1820 . . . (Québec, 1895). Quebec Gazette, 25 June 1812. Allaire, Dictionnaire, vol.1. Antoine Bernard, Histoire de la survivance acadienne, 1755–1935 (Montréal, 1935). Anselme Chiasson, Chéticamp: histoire et traditions acadiennes (Moncton, N.-B., 1961). N.-E. Dionne, Les ecclésiastiques et les royalistes français réfugiés au Canada à lépoque de la révolution, 1791–1802 (Québec, 1905). Noël Falaise, “Les îles de la Madeleine: étude géographique” (thèse de d. ès l., univ. de Montréal, 1954). Paul Hubert, Les îles de la Madeleine et les Madelinots (Rimouski, Qué., 1926). Johnston, Hist. of Catholic Church in eastern N.S., vol.1. H. J. Koren, Knaves or knights? A history of the Spiritan missionaries in Canada and North America, 1732–1839 (Pittsburgh, Pa., 1962). Frédéric Landry, Capitaines des hauts-fonds (Ottawa, 1978). Robert Rumilly, Histoire des Acadiens (2v., Montréal, 1955), 2. Albert David, “Les spiritains à Saint-Pierre et Miquelon,” “Les spiritains dans l’Amérique septentrionale au xviiie siècle,” and “Les spiritains en Acadie,” in BRH, 35 (1929): 439, 314, and 460 respectively.

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Marc Desjardins, “ALLAIN, JEAN-BAPTISTE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 23, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/allain_jean_baptiste_5E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/allain_jean_baptiste_5E.html
Author of Article:   Marc Desjardins
Title of Article:   ALLAIN, JEAN-BAPTISTE
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   June 23, 2024