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DOLLIER DE CASSON, FRANÇOIS, cavalry captain, priest, Sulpician, military chaplain, explorer, superior of the Sulpicians in New France (1671–74 and 1678–1701) and as such seigneur of Montreal Island, parish priest of Trois-Rivières, then of Ville-Marie (Montreal), vicar general of the diocese of Quebec, architect, and historian; b. 1636 in the château of Casson-sur-l’Erdre in Lower Brittany, in the diocese of Nantes; d. 27 Sept. 1701 in Montreal.
François Dollier’s parents, Charles de Casson and Françoise de Cailleux, belonged to the bourgeois and military gentry and had a certain fortune. The arms of the family, “of gules with three fesses argent, bend azure brochant,” also bore spur rowels as a sign of their knightly and martial ancestry.
Dollier had at least two sisters. One of them, born in 1643 at Bellé near Nantes, became superior of the Benedictine nuns of the convent of Le Calvaire in Angers. She took the name Julienne-Angélique de Jésus Pâtissant and died on 16 Sept. 1686, loved and praised by her sisters in religion because of her humility and charity. The other married Gabriel Peschart, Sieur and Baron de Bossac, and guaranteed her brother François a life annuity of 1,200 livres. During his convalescence in France, 1676–78, Dollier withdrew to their château and acted as preceptor to their son.
Like many other young men of that period Dollier learned life by experience in the army. He was, besides, made for the job physically, possessing such extraordinary strength that he could carry two men sitting in his hands. A photograph of a painting, which may be of him, shows him to be fairly old and of what seems to be an imposing stature; the unwrinkled face, the features, strong but devoid of harshness, the lofty brow, the determined mouth and chin, and the frank look give him a virile appearance. He served as a cavalry captain under the orders of Marshal de Turenne, and his bravery won him the general’s esteem.
After three years of military life Dollier joined the Sulpicians to continue his studies and become a priest. Most of the early documents of the Sulpician seminary in Paris have unfortunately been destroyed and no trace can be found of his stay there. The reconstruction of his activities in Canada is just as difficult because of the enormous gaps in the archives of the seminary in Montreal. The correspondence of Tronson, his superior in Paris, and the Histoire du Montréal by Dollier himself constitute practically the only important sources of information that we have about him.
It is, therefore, Dollier himself who tells us that he was one of three “victims” designated by the superior of Saint-Sulpice to go to Canada. He arrived in Quebec on 7 Sept. 1666 and left a week later as military chaplain accompanying Prouville* de Tracy’s expedition against the Mohawks. He did not greatly appreciate this first contact with New France; besides the difficulties of the trip, he had to spend part of his nights hearing confessions and put up with severe rationing of victuals. He described this regime as a “noviciate in abstinence,” and his captain as “the grand master of fasting [worthy of] serving as the master in this matter among the Fathers of the Desert.” He was weakened so much by these restrictions that he was unable to go to the aid of a man who was drowning.
He had not yet recovered from this expedition and from a faulty blood-letting done by a surgeon when his superior chose him, in the autumn of 1666, to take the succour of religion to 60 soldiers garrisoned at Fort Sainte-Anne on Île Lamothe in Lake Champlain. He decided to leave despite his weakness and was successful in persuading some ten soldiers to escort him a part of the way. On his arrival he found that two-thirds of the garrison were suffering from scurvy; thanks to his zealous care he was able to save most of them.
When he arrived back at Montreal at the beginning of the summer of 1667, Dollier was sent to serve as parish priest at Trois-Rivières. For a year he carried out the duties of his charge in this small parish of a few hundred inhabitants. In the autumn of 1668 he went off as a missionary to the Nipissing Indians to learn the Algonkian language. Perhaps he also learned to smoke there, for it was later said that he was extremely fond of tobacco. He spent the winter with a chief who owned a young slave, a native of the regions to the south. His enthusiasm aroused by what this Indian told him, Dollier informed his superior of the possibilities of evangelization among the “Ottawa tribes” in the Mississippi region. Being anxious to open up new fields where the Sulpicians could carry the gospel, Queylus [Thubières*] approved Dollier’s missionary projects. Dollier then went down to Quebec to obtain the necessary permission from the civil and religious authorities and to prepare his trip and his stay among the Indians. He “had made up his mind never to return [to Montreal] if he could find a tribe that would be willing to receive him.” At the governor’s request, however, he agreed to join an expedition of the adventurous Robert Cavelier* de La Salle, But the superior of the Sulpicians, who distrusted La Salle, replaced the person designated to accompany Dollier, Michel Barthélemy, by René Bréhant* de Galinée, who had some knowledge of geography.
The team of explorers, composed of 22 Europeans and some Algonkian interpreters, left Montreal on 6 July 1669. The travellers reached Lake Ontario at the beginning of the month of August. The lack of a good interpreter – La Salle finally admitted his ignorance of the Iroquois language – and the unwillingness of the Senecas to supply them with a guide held them up for nearly a month. A meeting with an Iroquois who was going home and who offered to guide them got them out of their difficulty. They followed the south shore of Lake Ontario, crossed the Niagara River, and went north as far as Tinaouataoua (near the present city of Hamilton). There they met Adrien Jolliet, Louis*’ brother, who was returning from a mission to the Great Lakes. He described to them the route to follow to reach the “Ottawa tribes” and the possibilities for evangelization among the Potawatomis, and indicated to them the place where he had left a canoe. This encounter revived the missionaries’ enthusiasm. It had, however, the opposite effect on La Salle. The unscrupulous adventurer made a pretext of a slight ailment caused by fever to abandon the Sulpicians.
Accompanied by seven men and equipped with three canoes, the Sulpicians proceeded on their way as far as the north shore of Lake Erie, where they decided to spend the winter. The wealth of flora and fauna enabled them to collect rapidly a large supply of food and to spend a quiet period. Dollier often maintained that this stay in the solitude of the great open spaces was of more value for their eternal existence than the best ten years elsewhere; he even went so far as to express the wish that he might die in the middle of the woods rather than surrounded by his confrères at the seminary. This almost mystical joy did not prevent Dollier from thinking of the political aims of the trip; on 23 March 1670 he raised a cross and took official possession of the territory in the name of the king of France. He signed the act drawn up at this time, “François Dollier, priest from the diocese of Nantes in Brittany.”
The next day the missionaries set off again in order to arrive as quickly as possible among the Indians of the Mississippi country. Shortly after their departure, however, Bréhant de Galinée lost his canoe with its contents. Being left with only two canoes and no provisions, they were about to give up, when they accidentally discovered the canoe that had been left by Jolliet, at the same time as a herd of deer arrived within reach of their muskets. This was only a respite. Some days later a gale arose during the night and the raging waves carried off Dollier’s canoe. The missionary lost his most precious possession, the portable altar with all its accessories. After deliberating, the Sulpicians decided to return to Montreal.
Out of a spirit of adventure and to become widely acquainted with the region, they made their return via the “northern route,” which was well known to the Jesuits and the coureurs de bois. After going up the Detroit River and Lake Huron, they arrived at the mission at Michilimackinac, then crossed Georgian Bay and reached Montreal on 18 June 1670 via Lake Nipissing and the Ottawa River. The trip had lasted 347 days and had ended partly in failure. But if the missionary undertaking had failed, the political administrators were for their part satisfied with the results. The Sulpicians had not discovered Lakes Ontario, Erie, and Huron, but they had proved conclusively that these lakes were all connected. In addition, as the first Europeans to enter the Niagara River from Lake Ontario, they had taken official possession of this country, made an exact geographical survey, and left an account of their expedition. This journal, Bréhant de Galinée’s work, was published successively by the Société Historique de Montréal in 1875, by Margry in 1879, and by Coyne in Papers and Records of the Ontario Historical Society in 1903. Dollier, who had also written an account of the expedition, deemed his companion’s superior to his own and destroyed his manuscript.
Dollier firmly hoped to go back among the Indians shortly after his return to Montreal in June 1670, but war between the Algonkins and Iroquois forced him to put off his project. He accompanied, however, the 56 volunteers who had been gathered together by Rémy* de Courcelle to go to quiet the Iroquois on Lake Ontario in the summer of 1670. He was back from this brief expedition by mid-August, and at that time he replaced Queylus as superior at Montreal.
The new superior’s task did not promise to be an easy one, for the population of Montreal had tripled since his arrival in Canada and was composed in large measure of soldiers, who were more interested in the fur trade than in farming. Moreover, this outpost received every year a large contingent of Indians who had come to bring their furs. As superior, Dollier had to carry out the duties of a seigneur with powers of haute justice; these made firmness and diplomacy necessary, and he acquitted himself honourably.
Following his appointment as superior, Dollier devoted his time to various tasks that he had his heart set on: the organization of the town, the construction of a church, and the writing of his Histoire du Montréal. As the population of Ville-Marie was approaching 1,500, the construction of a parish church was imperative. Dollier drew up the plan for it, chose and blessed the site, and laid one of the first stones on 30 June 1672. The church of Notre-Dame was opened for services in 1678 and was completed on 16 June 1683 with the consecration of its bell. It served the parish until 1829.
Wishing to organize the development of the town, Dollier laid out the first streets in 1672 with the help of the notary and surveyor Bénigne Basset*. He marked out the Rues Saint-Joseph, Saint-Pierre, Saint-Paul, Saint-Charles, Saint-François, du Calvaire, Saint-Lambert, Saint-Gabriel, and Notre-Dame and forced acceptance of his work by refusing to let the inhabitants sow crops where he had laid out these streets. In addition, he gave a stern reminder to the holders of land grants of their obligation to take up residence.
Meanwhile Dollier wrote his Histoire du Montréal. Pierre Margry discovered this manuscript in Paris in 1844 and Louis-Joseph Papineau* had it copied on the government’s behalf. The Société Historique de Montréal published it in 1868. It was reprinted the following year in the Revue Canadienne and in 1871 by the Quebec Literary and Historical Society. The most recent and best edition of this text is, however, that published by Ralph Flenley in 1928.
Being the first historian of Montreal, Dollier gives us information unavailable elsewhere about the founding of the town, its pioneers, and the first quarter-century of its existence. Following the model of the famous Relations, he summarizes the main events of the colony year by year and goes well outside the limits of his society’s activities. If, in imitation of the Jesuits – and of most of his contemporaries – he gives way to the desire to edify the reader and makes providence the prime cause of events, he nevertheless gives more importance and space to the political, economic, and military factors which had an influence upon the development of the colony.
Dollier endeavoured in addition to bring forward only indisputable facts, facts that were based upon authentic witness and were often recounted by the very people who had played a role in Montreal’s beginnings. Despite his good faith and his desire to stick to the truth – he warned his readers that his account might contain errors and omissions – he could not, however, discern the element of distortion or exaggeration that sentimentality and an interval of 20 years had been able to add to the oral tradition concerning certain facts, such as Dollard*’s exploit.”
“Without any doubt Dollier was not a professional writer,” as Roger Duhamel notes; however, he did manifest some concern for the way he wrote: “If the manner of writing history allowed me . . . , but since historical discourse no longer allows me this liberty This Sulpician, neither a mystic nor a poet, knew how to observe, listen, and relate, and was not afraid to sprinkle his account with anecdotes, such as that of the woman who remarried even before her first husband had been buried, and that about Martine Messier*, who saved herself from death thanks to a firm grip on a particularly sensitive region of an Iroquois, but who boxed the ear of a Montrealer who had embraced her to show his joy. Dollier also made use of irony, attributing the origin of the place name Lachine to the derision that greeted La Salle’s failure to find a passage to China. He also left behind him unforgettable phrases that historians and patriots delighted in citing later. Among them is Chomedey* de Maisonneuve’s proud reply to the governor: “My honour is at stake, and you will consider it right that I go there [to Montreal] to begin a colony, even if all the trees on this island were to be transformed into Iroquois.” For these reasons and because it is an indispensable source for the history of Montreal and the colony, Dollier’s work has had considerable influence on French-Canadian historiography. In general Dollier established for a long time the character, the achievement, or the reputation of the inhabitants of Montreal.
Dollier also concerned himself with enforcing respect for the seigneurial rights of the seminary of Saint-Sulpice. In 1672 he protested vigorously to the governor of Montreal. François-Marie Perrot*, who had imprisoned the attorney of the bailiff’s court, Jean-Baptiste Migeon* de Branssat, without good reason. Two years later he sent a formal remonstrance to Buade* de Frontenac, who had empowered Gilles de Boyvinet, the lieutenant-general of the jurisdiction of Trois-Rivières, to hear cases concerning coureurs de bois of Montreal. Dollier wrote that he would have brought the matter into the open by applying to the Conseil Souverain if his respect and deference for the governor, together with his distrust of him since Perrot’s imprisonment, had not held him back, especially since Frontenac might have thought that the seigneurs of Montreal Island were trying to prevent his orders from being carried out. Three days later Abbé Salignac* de La Mothe-Fénelon preached his famous sermon which appeared to all to be an attack against the use of authority as practised by Frontenac. The latter’s vigorous reaction is comprehensible; informed of Fénelon’s sermon at the same time as he received Dollier’s notice, it was easy for him to believe that this was all part of a concerted attack by the Sulpicians and to take Dollier’s allusions for threats. Exasperated by the superior’s refusal later to come to Quebec to give evidence about the Fénelon affair because of illness – Dollier had fallen through the ice on the preceding 14 February, had remained partially immersed for several hours, and had not yet recovered from this accident – Frontenac obliged him to comply with the subpoena on pain of seizure of his community’s temporalities. The Sulpician stayed at the seminary at Quebec, where two legal officers had to go to obtain his version of the matter. His testimony added nothing since, being ill, he had not heard the sermon. He requested, however, and obtained an indemnity of 100 livres for his trip.
In the autumn of 1674 Dollier went to France to complete his convalescence. There is no evidence that he wanted to get away to calm people’s minds or to lend support to the version of the facts that Fénelon and Perrot, who accompanied him on this voyage, were going to give. He did not reach the home of his sister, Madame de Bossac, until the spring of 1676. He then acted as preceptor to her son. Having recovered his health he obtained his superior’s agreement and left his family surreptitiously to return to Montreal in 1678.
At the time of his arrival in the colony tension was running high among the administrators: “I found there,” he wrote to his sister, “a general estrangement and a state of disunion which extended over the whole of Canada . . . The governor [Buade de Frontenac] and the intendant [Duchesneau*] were on very bad terms. I ventured to intervene in this matter, and God gave it his blessing. These two great Canadian trees are already uniting their branches.” Dollier’s superior in Paris recognized the importance of his intervention, saying that Dollier had been received as an angel of peace. A conciliatory spirit was, moreover, one of the outstanding characteristics of Dollier’s personality and won him the praise of all his contemporaries. He was a great diplomat and was successful in winning Bishop Laval over to his side after Queylus’ departure in 1671. Although he was a friend of the former, he was nevertheless the confidential agent of Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix], who appointed him vicar general and wrote as a compliment to him: “Their superior [of the Sulpicians] is a person of merit and grace, who has received from God a marvellous gift of discernment for putting those under his direction in posts according to their various talents. He possesses the art of humouring persons of all sorts, and his prudence, together with his gentleness and his other virtues, has won him the esteem and affection of all manner of people.” Dollier maintained excellent relations with the religious in New France: Jesuits, Recollets, and the priests of the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères; with the latter, moreover, he entered into a spiritual union in 1688.
Dollier was involved in only one serious conflict, the crisis of 1694–97, which grew out of the “affair of the prie-dieu.” In 1694 the Recollets had invited the governor of Montreal and the bishop to the inauguration of their church, but Saint-Vallier was relegated to the background. A quarrel resulted the following year which was strewn with accusations, ordinances, and even interdicts; the situation had become so bitter by the fall of 1694, the bishop had to go to France to justify his conduct. Dollier, who was vicar general at the time, was drawn into the quarrel. He supported the bishop and put pressure on the minister for Saint-Vallier’s return to Canada. He did this on Saint-Vallier’s express order, said Laval, and perhaps also through fear of seeing a Jesuit appointed bishop. Dollier, however, remained objective and honest. He considered for a moment taking advantage of this crisis and of his powers to take over the missions which were being disputed by the Jesuits and Recollets, at least according to Laval, but he thought better of it, allowed the Recollets to settle with the Ottawas, calmed people’s minds, and brought about a general reconciliation.
This gift for bringing people together again and making himself liked by all was not, however, exercised in a way that would be detrimental to the Sulpicians, for Dollier could be firm when need arose. If he supported Saint-Vallier at the time of this crisis, he nonetheless made clear to him how he thought when he wrote to him that the bishop of Quebec would be acting in a cowardly manner if he resigned his functions because of the opposition of a community, which, however, Dollier does not identify. He had used the same firmness and frankness with the Indians when the great chief Garakontié* asked him for land on Montreal Island, on the plea that his lands were not as good; Dollier replied to him in public that he was lying.
His frankness, his understanding of problems, and his office, along with his experience of life in Canada, brought him great authority. Thus, when the governor, Le Febvre* de La Barre, convened in 1682 an assembly of the notables of the country to discuss the Iroquois peril, Dollier was requested to set forth Montreal’s situation. On the religious plane his competence was similarly recognized by Bishop Saint-Vallier, who made him his vicar general for the Montreal region and who, at the time he returned to France in 1694, ordered the vicar general for the region of Quebec to get in touch with Dollier if need arose.
As superior Dollier had to organize the internal life of his religious institution. According to Tronson, the superior in Paris, and Souart*, a former superior at Ville-Marie, the seminary of Montreal functioned well under him. But Dollier was above all a man of action. He built a new seminary, into which the Sulpicians moved in 1686. He gave his support to the other religious communities in the Montreal region. He organized a collection which brought in 8,000 livres for the rebuilding of the Hôtel-Dieu, obtained spiritual and material aid for the Congrégation de Notre-Dame, and accepted the office of administrator of the Hôtel-Dieu on Jeanne Mance*’s death. Finally the superior in Paris asked him to limit his activities and ordered him to give up his office as administrator of the hospital. Nevertheless Dollier helped François Charon de La Barre to prepare the founding of his institute of the Brothers Hospitallers of St Joseph, even to the extent of sheltering them for a while. He also founded parishes around Ville-Marie and administered the Sulpician missions at Montreal and in Acadia. He was appointed parish priest of Ville-Marie in 1694 but does not seem to have exercised this ministry; in the act of creation of the Bureaux des Pauvres in 1698 M. de Breslay’s name was inserted as assuring the functions of parish priest at Ville-Marie.
Dollier also gave his attention to encouraging education in Montreal. Ever since they had been invited to do so by the king in 1668, the Sulpicians had been teaching the Indians. If it is doubtful that Dollier himself taught them, he nevertheless gave a great deal of attention to this activity, which gave an opportunity for evangelization. A few days before his departure for the west in 1669 he had offered to the young Indians showing the most talent and goodwill two prizes of 1,000 livres to assist them in pursuing their studies. Governor Courcelle, moreover, entrusted him with 1,000 livres for the education of a young Iroquois girl. For another young Indian girl who had been educated at Montreal Dollier obtained a dowry of 150 livres to allow her to marry a Frenchman. He welcomed the Charon Brothers’ primary school into the seminary itself, lodging both masters and pupils there. But Tronson censured this initiative: “It had been decided to accommodate the children in the house and to take charge of feeding them without having obtained permission from here . . . That a spiritual union be established with the Charon Brothers or Hermits, that responsibility be assumed for their conduct and their rule of life, that they be aided with advice: all very well; but that is enough!”
The superior in Paris was going to have other difficulties with his confrère in Montreal, for Dollier’s prodigality did not extend only to religious institutions. Being a man full of life and fond of company, Dollier extended liberal hospitality to the governor, the intendant, and the ecclesiastical dignitaries when they were staying in Montreal. It even appears that certain people carried off valuable articles, for money was the least of the worries of the superior of Montreal. Tronson finally warned Dollier: “If the seminary of Montreal is ruined through lack of funds, I wash my hands of it.”
This man who enjoyed life was nonetheless respectful of religious principles and strict in their application. For example he opposed the churchwarden, Jean Arnaud, who wanted to increase the receipts of the church by allowing the ladies to distribute in turn bread which had been blessed and to take up the collection, as in France of yore. But Dollier saw in this custom a cause of sin rather than a source of revenue: the persons chosen were selected more for their beauty and their charms than for their upright life, and he always refused to grant the ladies this favour.
Dollier realized, however, that there is some distance between principles and practice, and when he was face to face with actual reality he sometimes became less unbending in his position. Thus, in his Histoire du Montréal he violently denounced the use of spirits, without which, he wrote, “we would have thousands of conversions among the Indians.” He recognized, nevertheless, that he could do nothing to prevent this trade. He even went further: at the same time as he was severely criticizing the traders’ behaviour, “he felt that he had to give in to the settlers by granting them, in a document signed by himself, the right . . . to sell wine, spirits, and other beverages generally at retail.” In commenting upon this authorization Faillon wrote that, according to Dollier, “Canada had greater need of fat purses than of empty ones.”
The former cavalry captain did not disown his previous military history. He did not accompany La Barre, but he probably took part in Brisay de Denonville’s expedition.
During his last 20 years Dollier devoted much time and money to a project that was dear to him, the digging of the Lachine canal. The idea of constructing this canal was not Dollier’s; nor did Abbé Fénelon, who had spoken of it in 1670. attribute to himself the credit for this idea. In 1680 Dollier popularized the subject again, worked out schemes and plans, and immediately embarked upon the digging. In the realization of this project he saw two important advantages: it would allow canoes coming from the Great Lakes to avoid the rapids at Sault-Saint-Louis in travelling to Montreal, and it would permit the building of flour mills on the banks of the canal. Dollier also hoped that the receipts from these mills would make up for the expenses incurred in the construction work. The superior in Paris, however, refused to give his approval, for fear of entering into too great expense. Dollier, who was already busy finishing the parish church and assuring the security of Montreal against the Iroquois, put off the realization of his project.
The idea was taken up again in 1689. The intendant, Bochart de Champigny, Abbé Pierre Rémy, and the engineer Gédéon de Catalogne supported it, and the intendant facilitated the task by issuing an ordinance instructing the settlers of the Sulpicians’ seigneury to pay their dues. The same day Dollier ordered his copyholders to go to work digging the canal. The massacre of the inhabitants of the village of Lachine by the Iroquois in 1689 put a brutal end to the work.
Dollier was not discouraged. His superior’s opposition did, however, dampen his ardour. In 1692 Tronson wrote to him: “I cannot hide from you that you have the reputation of undertaking too much, and among the examples given of this people do not fail to mention the canal which you have undertaken and which you want to continue.” The project seemed to have come to nothing.
The enterprising and strong-willed Sulpician could not, however, accept defeat. In 1697 he undertook a more modest project, the Saint-Gabriel canal, which would connect the waters of Lac Saint-Pierre with those of the Petite Rivière to supply more water for the town mill. Once again Tronson expressed his disapproval, wanted assurances about the chances of success of the project, and expressed concern about the cost of completing this canal. The lack of money and the hardness of the rock brought about another failure.
The stubborn superior of Montreal made another attempt the following year, venturing upon the “great undertaking.” Gédéon de Catalogne had given him a detailed report – although it was frequently inaccurate – about the possibilities of digging the Lachine canal. Subsequently Catalogne was accused of having tried to take advantage of Dollier’s senility to enrich himself at the Sulpicians’ expense, but this accusation was false, since the superior, attended by the bursar, Michel Caille, signed on 30 Oct. 1700 a detailed contract before the notary Antoine Adhémar and laid down deadlines for the progress of the work before payment would be made. Catalogne contracted to dig a channel 12 feet wide and 9 feet deep and to finish the work in June 1701. For their part the Sulpicians supplied all the tools, provisions, and money to the amount of 13,000 livres in deferred payments. In Paris a reprimand followed the initial astonishment. Tronson complained that “in Montreal the practice is always to go ahead and do what one wants to do first, and then to let us know about it here.” If he had believed for a moment that “necessity would teach him [Dollier] to be economical,” he was quite wrong. The work did not proceed as had been foreseen; the difficulties piled up. When it ran into rock, the work was delayed and the cost grew. Dollier did not live to see the end of the work, for he died on 27 Sept. 1701, when it was two-thirds completed. Shortly after the project was abandoned.
Dollier was buried in the parish church and Grandet, who had known him well, eulogized him in the following terms: “He had acquired universal esteem and repute in the whole of Canada through the tactfulness of his address, his open and polite manners, and his conversation, which was easy and full of kindness and accompanied by an air of nobility, a bearing and a dignity that, devoid of pretence or affectation, won him all hearts and conferred upon him a commanding authority which was irresistible.” But all this literature – these repetitious praises, the admiration which he roused through his many qualities combined – all this was expressed much more simply by the Indians, who said: “There is a man!”
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