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b. 24 Feb. 1853 in Halifax


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McGUCKIN, JAMES MARIA, Oblate of Mary Immaculate, Roman Catholic priest, and educational administrator; b. 30 July 1835 in Cooleystown (Sixmilecross, Northern Ireland), son of James McGuckin, a cloth merchant, and Bridget Trainor; d. 7 April 1903 in Vancouver.

After attending a Catholic parochial school, James McGuckin went to work as a bookkeeper with the family firm in Dublin when he was 14. At age 21 he applied to join the Oblates and was sent to the noviciate at Lys Mary, in Sicklinghall, England; he completed his studies at Inchicore, the site of the new Oblate scholasticate near Dublin, and in France at Montolivet. Having received his minor orders back in Dublin in 1863, he left for Vancouver Island and British Columbia to answer the call issued by Louis-Joseph d’Herbomez*, the Oblate superior there.

On his arrival at Victoria in 1863, McGuckin was assigned to help Julien Baudre found St Louis College, a boys’ school. The students were recruited from among various religious and racial groups in the community. Once classes began, McGuckin succeeded Baudre as principal. After his ordination on 1 Nov. 1863, he also assisted with services for Irish sailors at Esquimalt and for English-speaking settlers at Fort Yale (Yale).

Over the course of 1865 d’Herbomez withdrew the Oblates from Victoria to his new mainland headquarters at New Westminster. He had ambitious plans for mission work among the Indians; Oblate priests based at regional posts would tour their territories to catechize, promote temperance, and initiate model villages. In August 1866 he assigned McGuckin to the Cariboo–Williams Lake mission district under a veteran missionary, François Jayol. It was McGuckin who selected a location in the San Jose valley near the post of Williams Lake as a centre, and the choice proved wise. The site was convenient for gatherings of Shuswap and neighbouring bands, yet not too close to white settlements. Nearby lands could be used for a school and a farming village. Although McGuckin did not become the sole superior until 1873, the tasks of founding St Joseph Mission, which initially covered the entire western and northern interior of British Columbia, were his. He administered the central mission, began a farm and schools, served mining towns, and evangelized Indian bands.

McGuckin, with his mercantile experience and liking for discipline, was a “desk man.” As a native English-speaker and an Irishman, he was used to the idea of petitioning the government for lands and rights. He played an important role behind the scenes in gaining official acceptance of Oblate activities, and he interceded with the government on behalf of Indians. For example, he wrote to the chief commissioner of lands and works, Joseph William Trutch, in 1868 to prevent a settler from intruding on land occupied and cultivated by the Soda Creek band, and he helped another Shuswap band get a reserve near the mission. He also corresponded with the senior superintendent of Indian affairs, Israel Wood Powell*, and with mainland superintendent James Lenihan regarding the size of reserves and Indian land title.

Believing that mission schools had to be founded quickly to head off Protestant competition and state-run common schools, he started a boys’ school in 1873 and helped persuade the Sisters of St Ann to start a girls’ one in 1876. At first these institutions enrolled children of both Indian and white descent, but McGuckin recommended that eventually, as schools were established in towns for settlers’ children, the school at St Joseph Mission should become exclusively for the Indian children of the district. The change would be made in the 1890s.

In 1882 McGuckin was transferred to New Westminster as diocesan bursar and pastor of St Peter’s. There, in addition to managing Oblate accounts, he renovated the parish church as a cathedral suited to the growing English-speaking settlements of the Fraser valley. He also taught at St Louis College, a boys’ school, and at the local Oblate noviciate, and he served as a chaplain to other institutions. He was known for converting many to the Roman Catholic faith, most notably judge John Foster McCreight*, and for encouraging religious vocations.

McGuckin’s record and the Oblate order’s need of a new head for the University of Ottawa led to his appointment as rector there in 1889. Founded some 40 years earlier by French-speaking Oblates, the institution had been through a difficult time in administration and finances. A shift to an English-language curriculum begun under Joseph-Henri Tabaret* was not welcomed by the French-speaking college community, yet financial mismanagement had created the need for Irish Catholic support. McGuckin, who spoke French and was accustomed to working in a francophone milieu, rescued the university from near-bankruptcy but was perceived by the francophone majority on staff as lacking education and competence in academic administration. On the other hand, many Irish Catholics welcomed his championship of their cause, an English Catholic university. Linguistic tensions shadowed McGuckin’s term and meant that, when his health collapsed in 1897, his protégé Michael Francis Fallon* would not succeed him.

McGuckin asked to go back to British Columbia, with which he had maintained links, and Bishop Paul Durieu* named him to the debt-ridden parish of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Vancouver. Soon McGuckin planned construction of a cathedral suited to the city’s importance. The building, opened in 1900, was praised by some, but others saw it as too grand for the relatively small Catholic population and named it McGuckin’s Folly. The name stuck, for one of McGuckin’s contractor-friends failed to come up with the money he had promised. The Oblate congregation had to mortgage its mother house, and in later years complications of this arrangement led to the Oblates’ departure froth Holy Rosary parish.

At the time of McGuckin’s death from pneumonia in April 1903, the cathedral was considered a monument to his life’s work in British Columbia. If historians mention him at all now, it is for what he ought to have done there or in Ottawa. They should also note what he did in pioneering education at Victoria and in the Cariboo-Williams Lake region; in developing Indian land claims; in cultivating good relations with Victoria and Ottawa; and in bringing new members to the Roman Catholic Church and the Oblate order.

Jacqueline Gresko

Arch. Deschâtelets, Oblats de Marie-Immaculée (Ottawa), Oregon, c-vii, 2 (Durieu’s system), Durieu à Le Jacq, 23 nov. 1883; 23, 25 févr. 1884. Arch. Générales des Oblats de Marie-Immaculée (Rome), Dossier Paul Durieu, Durieu à d’Herbomez, 15 janv. 1871; Dossier L.-J. d’Herbomez, d’Herbomez aux Conseils centraux de la Propagation de la Foi, 21 oct. 1864; d’Herbomez à Fabre, 4 févr., 1 juin 1864; 12 août 1867; 12 déc. 1873; 14 déc. 1874; 27 sept. 1884 (copies in Arch. Deschâtelets). Arch. of the Diocese of Prince George, B.C., Paul Durieu, acte de visite, Notre-Dame de Bonne Espérance, 28 sept. 1876; lettres à Bunoz, 1892–95; L.-J. d’Herbomez, lettre à Durieu, 12 mars 1882; circulaire, 7 févr. 1888 (copies at St Paul’s Prov. Arch., Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Vancouver). BCARS, GR 494, box 1, file 37: 332–39; file 41: 358; GR 1372, F 198/19; F 199/1; F 503/1a–2, 4; F 1047d/1. St Paul’s Prov. Arch., McGuckin file; St Joseph’s Mission, Williams Lake, acts of visitation, 1875–82; council meetings, 1878–82. B.CCatholic (Vancouver), 29 June 1986: 2. British Columbia Catholic (Vancouver), 4 Oct. 1953 (jubilee ed.): 5–9, 13. British Columbian, 13 Feb. 1861–27 Feb. 1869; 22 Oct. 1886; 8 Feb., 12 Sept. 1887; 12 June 1888; 29 May–2 June, 6, 21 June 1899; 7 April 1903; (weekly ed.), 14 April 1903. Cariboo Sentinel (Barkerville, B.C.), 23 Aug., 20 Sept., 11 Oct. 1866; 13 Sept. 1868; 7 July 1869; 15, 22 Oct. 1870; 22 Feb., 8 July, 9 Sept., December 1871; 24 Aug., 7 Dec. 1872; 7 Aug. 1875. Daily Colonist (Victoria), 22 Aug. 1863; 23 Jan. 1873; 8, 16 Feb. 1877; 23 May 1878; 14 Oct. 1879; 11 Sept. 1889; 8 April 1903. Mainland Guardian (New Westminster, B.C.), 31 Dec. 1873; 1 Sept. 1875; 18 Oct. 1882; 7, 28 April 1886. Vancouver Daily Province, 17 July 1899; 7–8, 13 April 1903. Vancouver Daily World, 7 Sept. 1889; 1, 5–6 June 1899. Victoria Daily Standard, 8 Dec. 1884.

B.C., Papers connected with the Indian land question, 1850–1875 (Victoria, 1875; repr. 1987). R. E. Cail, Land, man and the law: the disposal of crown lands in British Columbia, 1871–1913 (Vancouver, 1974). Can., Parl., Sessional papers, reports of the Dept. of Indian Affairs, 1872–1900. Robert Choquette, La foi: gardienne de la langue en Ontario, 1900–1950 (Montréal, 1987). R. [A.] Fisher, Contact and conflict: Indian-European relations in British Columbia, 1774–1890 (Vancouver, 1977). Roger Guindon, Coexistence difficile: la dualité linguistique à l’université d’Ottawa (1v. paru, Ottawa, 1989–  ). P. M. Johnson, “McCreight and the church,” BCHQ, 12 (1948): 297–309. [François Lardon], “The Rev. Father McGuckin,” Missionary Record of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (Dublin), 13 (1903): 242–47. Missions de la Congrégation des Missionnaires Oblats de Marie Immaculée (Marseille; Paris), 1 (1862)–40 (1900). A.-G. Morice, History of the Catholic Church in western Canada from Lake Superior to the Pacific (1659–1895) (2v., Toronto, 1910), 2. Owl (Ottawa), 3 (1889–90), no.2–3; 11 (1897–98), no.6. A short account of the work of the Congregation of the Oblates of Marie Immaculate, 1860–1910, to commemorate the golden jubilee of their permanent establishment on the mainland of British Columbia (Vancouver, 1910). Univ. of Ottawa, Annual catalogue of the officers, faculty and students (Ottawa), 1890–91. Margaret Whitehead, The Cariboo Mission: a history of the Oblates (Victoria, 1981).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Jacqueline Gresko, “McGUCKIN, JAMES MARIA,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 24, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcguckin_james_maria_13E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcguckin_james_maria_13E.html
Author of Article:   Jacqueline Gresko
Title of Article:   McGUCKIN, JAMES MARIA
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1994
Year of revision:   1994
Access Date:   February 24, 2024