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BLAIN, JOSEPH (baptized Marie-Joseph-Théophile), Roman Catholic priest, Jesuit, teacher, lecturer, and astronomer; b. 30 Oct. 1859 in Saint-Rémi-de-La Salle (Saint-Rémi), Lower Canada, son of Théophile Blain, a farmer, and Apolline Martin; d. 18 Sept. 1925 in Sault-au-Récollet (Montreal).

After studying at the Collège Sainte-Marie in Montreal from 1870 to 1878, Joseph Blain entered the noviciate of the Society of Jesus in Sault-au-Récollet on 30 July 1878. He pronounced his vows there in 1880 and embarked on the study of arts. He then took three years of philosophy, spending 1882-83 at the Collège Sainte-Marie and the next two years at Stonyhurst College in England. In 1885 he was sent with the first contingent of Jesuits to the Collège de Saint-Boniface in Manitoba, which Archbishop Alexandre-Antonin Taché* had recently entrusted to the Society of Jesus. After teaching various subjects there until 1889, he studied theology for four years (1889-93) at the scholasticate on Jersey, under the direction of Jesuits from Paris, and for another year (1893-94) at the Scolasticat de l’Immaculée-Conception in Montreal. On 3 Sept. 1893 he was ordained to the priesthood in Montreal by Archbishop Édouard-Charles Fabre*. He undertook theological studies in Sault-au-Récollet in 1894-95, and taught philosophy at the Scolasticat de l’Immaculée-Conception from 1895 until 1898.

In 1898 Blain returned to the Collège de Saint-Boniface as prefect of studies and teacher of natural science and mathematics. His competence in these fields was recognized and appreciated by the students, who also enjoyed his fine qualities as a pedagogue and his intelligence. In the years that followed he was responsible for reforming the science curriculum. He also provided the college with an outstanding physics and chemistry laboratory.

Blain was an honest, upright man, and his advice was highly regarded. While he lived in St Boniface (Winnipeg), he contributed to the town’s intellectual life by giving lectures on literary, religious, and scientific topics. He also wrote occasional poems in French and Latin. His scientific interests, combined with his nationalistic convictions - “the language guardian of the faith; the faith guardian of the language,” he would declare in 1916 in a lecture on the French Canadian parish - led him to take part in expeditions that would result in the discovery of Fort Saint-Charles on Lake of the Woods. The first expedition, undertaken in 1890, was unsuccessful. It was followed in 1902 by a second, headed by Archbishop Adélard Langevin*, during the course of which the Société Historique de Saint-Boniface was founded, with Blain as one of its charter members, for the purpose of highlighting the contribution of francophones in the Canadian west. It was necessary to wait for the expeditions that took place in the summer of 1908 before the anticipated results were achieved; excavations then made it possible to identify Fort Saint-Charles and the remains of Jean-Baptiste Gaultier* de La Vérendrye and his companions, including the Jesuit priest Jean-Pierre Aulneau*, who were killed in 1736. Father Blain undertook to photograph the bodies and the objects unearthed. He and Father Julien Paquin gave a lecture on these discoveries on the occasion of the blessing of the new cathedral in St Boniface in 1908.

Blain was interested in astronomy and in 1908 he became a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, before which he read a number of papers. The following year he installed western Canada’s first seismograph in the Collège de Saint-Boniface. He was the director of the college’s seismographic observatory for more than ten years. This observatory, which formed part of the Jesuit Seismological Service, would unfortunately be destroyed when the college burned down in 1922. In 1909 he helped found the Association des Anciens Élèves du Collège de Saint-Boniface, becoming its first chaplain.

In 1911, after a year’s rest in Fort William (Thunder Bay), Ont., Blain was sent to Edmonton, along with Father Gustave Jean, to conduct negotiations for the founding of the Jesuit Collège d’Edmonton, which would enrol its first students in 1913. He then returned to his position as a teacher at the Collège de Saint-Boniface and he remained there until 1920, when he left to teach philosophy at the Collège d’Edmonton until 1925.

Throughout his time at the Collège de Saint-Boniface, Blain took a keen interest in its development. With regard to the college’s difficult financial situation in the second decade of the century, he deplored the fact that there were four colleges in St Boniface. In 1914, when the question arose of requesting that the college become independent from the University of Manitoba (to which it had been attached since the establishment of the latter in 1877), Blain, as his institution’s representative on the university’s commission on studies, recommended that the college have some degree of autonomy within the university. When the government of Tobias Crawford Norris* amended the Public Schools Act in 1916, abolishing bilingual schools in Manitoba, he came to the defence of the classical colleges. The University of Manitoba granted him an honorary lld in 1922.

Joseph Blain died on 18 Sept. 1925 at the noviciate of the Society of Jesus in Sault-au-Récollet, to which he had recently returned. A cultured man, he was an outstanding scientist and an exceptional pedagogue. In the field of education he took a particular interest in the development of science, which he had tried in many ways to make more widely known.

Gilles Lesage

Joseph Blain is the author of three articles: “Au fort Saint-Charles,” Les Cloches de Saint-Boniface (Saint-Boniface [Winnipeg]), 13 (1914): 177-79; “Centenaire de l’église de Saint-Boniface; sonnet à S.G. Mgr Arthur Béliveau, archevêque de Saint-Boniface: in veritate et charitate,” Les Cloches de Saint-Boniface, 17 (1918): 173; and “Le givre,” Le Manitoba (Saint-Boniface), 11 févr. 1914. He may also have written “Au lac des Bois: découverte du site de l’ancien fort Saint-Charles,” La Presse, 27 déc. 1902.

ANQ-M, CE604-S14, 30 oct. 1859. Arch. de la Compagnie de Jésus, Prov. du Canada Français (Saint-Jérôme, Qué.), BO-17 (Joseph Blain). Le Devoir, 19 sept. 1925. La Liberté (Saint-Boniface), 8 févr., 28 mars 1916; 23, 30 sept. 1925. Le Manitoba, 9 août 1908, 2 nov. 1910, 10 févr. 1915, 24 mai 1922. Manitoba Free Press, 22 Oct. 1910, 13 May 1911. La Semaine religieuse de Québec, 1er juin 1922. “À la mémoire du R.P. Blain, s.j.,” Les Cloches de Saint-Boniface, 24 (1925): 214. J.-B.-A. Allaire, Dictionnaire biographique du clergé canadien-français (6v., Montréal et Saint-Hyacinthe, Qué., 1908-34), 2: 61. T. J. Campbell, “Out of the grave: the discovery of Fort St. Charles in 1908,” Soc. Hist. de Saint-Boniface, Bull., 5 (1915). Canada ecclésiastique, 1899-1911. “Découverte historique - 1908,” Les Cloches de Saint-Boniface, 78 (1979): 34. “Ding! Dang! Dong!,” Les Cloches de Saint-Boniface, [9] (1910): 128; 17 (1918): 212. “Feu le R.P. Joseph Blain, s.j.,” Les Cloches de Saint-Boniface, 24: 185-87. “Former college teacher honored,” Pennant (St Boniface), 1 (1922): 19. Gérard Jolicœur, Les jésuites dans la vie manitobaine (1v. paru, Saint-Boniface, 1985-?). L.-A. Prud’homme, “Découverte historique: le fort Saint-Charles retrouvé,” Les Cloches de Saint-Boniface, 7 (1908): 205-34; “La littérature française au Nord-Ouest,” RSC, Trans., 3rd ser., 9 (1915), sect.i: 247-64. “Le R.P. Joseph Blain, s.j.,” Les Cloches de Saint-Boniface, [9]: 281-82. “Le R.P. Joseph Blain, s.j., ll.d.,” Les Cloches de Saint-Boniface, 21 (1922): 115-16. Soc. Hist. de Saint-Boniface, Bull., 1 (1911).

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Gilles Lesage, “BLAIN, JOSEPH,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 16, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/blain_joseph_15E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/blain_joseph_15E.html
Author of Article:   Gilles Lesage
Title of Article:   BLAIN, JOSEPH
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2005
Year of revision:   2005
Access Date:   June 16, 2024