COQUART, CLAUDE-GODEFROY, priest, Jesuit, missionary; b. 2 Feb. 1706 at Melun, France; d. 4 July 1765 at the Chicoutimi mission, Quebec.
Claude-Godefroy Coquart entered the noviciate of the Society of Jesus in Paris on 14 May 1726. He arrived at the college in Quebec probably in 1739. The following year Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye asked for a chaplain to replace Father Jean-Pierre Aulneau *, who had been massacred at Lake of the Woods in 1736; because of his youth Coquart was chosen over several other missionaries who applied for the post. On 26 June 1741 he left Montreal with La Vérendrye. But as a result of jealousies and intrigues on the part of adversaries not named by the explorer, and because the establishment of a permanent mission among the newly discovered tribes seemed risky, La Vérendrye was obliged to his great regret to leave Coquart at Michilimackinac. Coquart was there in August 1743, then rejoined La Vérendrye at Fort La Reine (Portage-la-Prairie, Man.). The missionary probably returned at the beginning of 1744 from this voyage with the explorer, who had been forced to give up his post as commandant. Coquart was the first missionary to go to present-day Manitoba and the first to reach a point so far west [see Charles-Michel Mésaiger].
Subsequently Coquart spent some time in the valley of the St Lawrence, and in 1746, on the death of Father Jean-Baptiste Maurice, he was assigned to the Saguenay mission. His first stay in this mission lasted 11 years. He was initially appointed to minister to the French in the posts along the north shore of the St Lawrence. He left Quebec on 13 May 1746 and at his return on 17 July he was re-directed to the Saguenay region. On 27 October he again left Quebec to winter at Chicoutimi, which he reached on 20 November. The following year he settled at Tadoussac, where, in keeping with his predecessor’s vow, he undertook the construction of a chapel dedicated to St Anne. Begun on 16 May 1747, the work was completed on 24 June 1750, thanks to the generosity of intendants Hocquart*, who supplied the boards, beams, shingles, and nails, and Bigot*, who contributed in 1749 a gratuity of 200 livres.
In 1748 and 1749 Coquart spent the winter at Chicoutimi, making several trips, however, to Lac Saint-Jean. He admired the Indians’ faith and their even temper in the midst of famine and trials which they endured “without complaining.” At the request of Bishop Pontbriand [Dubreil], the missionary conducted his ministry more regularly at Ile aux Coudres from 1751 to 1757. He spent the winter there in order to spare the settlers from having to cross the St Lawrence by canoe to obtain a priest, and during the summer he made the round of his missions as far as Sept-Îles.
In 1750, at Intendant Bigot’s request, Father Coquart drew up a confidential report on the administration and the output of the posts of the Domaine du Roi. The missionary drew a detailed picture of the situation at the posts of La Malbaie, Tadoussac, the Îlets-Jérémie, Chicoutimi, and Sept-Îles, suggesting incidentally several improvements which would cost the king little and were prompted by his experience, observations, and common sense. According to his report the posts did not produce as much as they ought because the tax farmers lacked initiative and the employees, badly distributed among the posts, wasted their time, except for the girls, who worked “even beyond the limits of their strength.” Coquart described La Malbaie as the Domaine’s finest tax farm because of the “richness of the land” and the suitability for raising animals. He suggested that pitch be produced from the pine forests there and that salmon fishing be encouraged. The post of Tadoussac produced few peltries. Seal hunting was important, but hunters were scarce; he suggested that orphans from the post of Chicoutimi should be sent there. The Îlets-Jérémie produced a great quantity of seal oil, whereas the Chicoutimi post was outstanding for the quantity and quality of its peltries and the size of its sawmill on the Rivière Pepaouetiche. Finally, the post of Sept-Îles supplied the finest furs, but in limited quantity; salmon fishing, he said, ought to be encouraged there.
In 1757 Father Coquart returned to Quebec. He stayed at the Jesuit college, on occasion acting as confessor either at the Hôtel-Dieu or at the Hôpital Général. In the spring of 1759 the missionary went down the St Lawrence again, following the north shore and stopping at the various posts of the Domaine du Roi. He caught sight of the English fleet along the south shore. While he was on his missionary round, the British were attacking Quebec. In the autumn he returned to a town already occupied by the enemy and he had to find shelter with friends, since the college had been taken over by the British garrison; later he stayed at the Ursuline convent.
In April 1762 Father Coquart returned to Île aux Coudres and remained there until 28 August. After that he rejoined his Montagnais Indians, who were no longer as docile in listening to their missionary. Indeed, under the British régime the sale of liquor to the Indians made the ministry more difficult, and Father Coquart had to chastize his flock several times. But the missionary nevertheless defended the Montagnais when they were disturbed at seeing their lands occupied by the English and when the rumour spread that the English intended to appropriate the lands for their own use. In 1765, some months before his death, Father Coquart sent Governor James Murray* a petition containing the grievances that his Indians had expressed orally to him.
Father Coquart died at Chicoutimi on 4 July 1765, at 59 years of age, without any of his confrères having been able to succour him. The French at the post buried him in the Montagnais cemetery. Before dying the missionary had expressed a wish to be buried in his chapel at Tadoussac, which was fulfilled in 1793.
ASJCF, 637, ff.l–16; 638, ff.2–23; Fonds Rochemonteix, 4028bis, f.28. JR (Thwaites), LXIX, 80–126, 136–40. Antonio Dragon, Trente robes noires au Saguenay, texte revu et corrigé par Adrien Pouliot (Publication de la SHS, 24, Chicoutimi, Qué., 1971). L.-A. Prud’homme, “Le P. Claude-Godefroy Coquart, s.j., premier apôtre de la Rivière-Rouge,” Revue Canadienne, XXXIII (1897), 81–92. Marcel Trudel, “Il y a Coquart et Cocquart,” BRH, LX (1954), 9–10.