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NOUVEL, HENRI, priest, Jesuit, missionary; b. 1621 or 1624 at Pézenas (department of Herault); d. some time between 8 Oct. 1701 and 28 Oct. 1702, probably at Baie des Puants (Green Bay, Wis).

Henri Nouvel entered the noviciate of Toulouse on 28 Aug. 1648 and arrived in New France on 4 Aug. 1662. He appears to have spent the first year at Quebec studying the Amerindian languages. The Journal des Jésuites mentions no sermon by Father Nouvel or any particular ministry by him among the whites at this time.

This Jesuit became famous for his voyages to the countries of the Montagnais and Papinachois, among whom he spent many years. He has left us the complete account of his first voyage. He set out from Quebec on 19 Nov. 1663, accompanied by Charles Amiot*, and went to Île Verte, where 60 Montagnais and Papinachois were waiting for him. On 8 December they reached Île Saint-Barnabé. It was not until 21 December, after they had made certain that the Iroquois were no longer in the vicinity, that they went inland, following the Rimouski River, which was already frozen, to its source. They spent the Christmas season near a large lake which is difficult to identify; it is possible that it was Trout Lake or Lake Ferré, or else Lake Macpès. On 5 Jan. 1664 they left this resting-place to go to look for a livelihood in a more comfortable spot. It was not until 27 February that they began to return to the St Lawrence, and in March they reached its shores. They spent the Easter fortnight on Île-aux-Basques. Father Nouvel wrote: “It bears the name of Île-aux-Basques because of the whale-fishing which the Basques formerly carried on there. . . . All around can still be seen the big ribs of whales that they killed.”

On 21 April Father Nouvel began the second part of his voyage. He accompanied the Papinachois on a most difficult trip on the north shore of the St Lawrence. He wrote: “We made a full day’s portage, sometimes climbing mountains, sometimes traversing woods through which we had difficulty making our way, since we were all as heavily loaded as we could be.” They reached the Rivière Manikouaganistikou (Manicouagan), “which the French call the black river because of its depth,” and it was there, facing a high mountain, that he celebrated “the first sacrifice which has been offered in this country, where no European had ever been seen.” On 9 June he reached Lake Manicouagan, which he named Lake Saint-Barnabé, and on 23 June they started on the way back. “The river is so rapid that in four days we arrived back safely on the shore of the great river, where we found the French and Papinachois waiting for us. Finally, two days and two nights of a good northeast wind brought us to Quebec.”

This voyage, which lasted seven months, was a real achievement, especially if one takes into account the fact that Father Nouvel, who came from the south of France, was ill prepared to face variations of temperature ranging from the extreme cold of winter to the extreme heat of summer. His companions had first excluded him from the trip to Lake Manicouagan, alleging the fatigues and dangers which it entailed. But he insisted, and pleaded his case so well that he was accepted and bore a large share of the labour. Before coming back he gathered information about the tribes farther north who would one day have to be evangelized. He had no regrets. In fact, he thanked his superior for having chosen him for this mission: “It seems to me that I have never known God except in the dense forests of Canada, where all the eternal truths that I have meditated upon elsewhere appeared to me with extraordinary clarity.” Father Nouvel remained in these missions until 1669, making occasional trips to Quebec. The most important event was no doubt the visit which Bishop Laval made to Tadoussac in 1668. The bishop was received with great pomp; he visited the sick and the chieftains, and administered the sacrament of confirmation to some 150 neophytes who had been prepared by Father Nouvel.

In 1669–70 Father Nouvel was at the college of Quebec. The parish register of Boucherville records his passing through during the summer of 1671. He was at that time on his way to the missions to the Ottawas on the Great Lakes. He was to devote the last 30 years of his life to these missions, of which he was the superior from 1672 to 1681 and again from 1688 to 1695. During that time he had under his direction a whole team of remarkable missionaries, among whom were Fathers Jacques Marquette*, Claude Allouez*, Claude Dablon*, Claude Aveneau, Étienne de Carheil. This apostolate was much more difficult than that to the Montagnais; the Ottawas were much less prepared to receive the faith, were divided among themselves, and were under the influence of the English and the Iroquois. The 1672 Relation gives us the account of Father Nouvel’s first voyages to his new missionary territory. He left Sault-Sainte-Marie on 31 Oct. 1671 and in six months travelled through the missions north of Lake Huron as far as Lake Nipissing, a distance of more than 600 leagues. Even when he was superior he followed the Indians during the winter, as he had done formerly in the region of Tadoussac, and he was always an attentive observer of the beauties and riches of nature. In his capacity as superior he sent a letter on 29 May 1673 to Governor Buade* de Frontenac, in which he praised his Indians and drew the governor’s attention to the efforts of the turn-coat Médard Chouart* Des Groseilliers to sow dissension among the Indian allies of New France and to detach them from the French. It was also Father Nouvel who in 1677 received at the Saint-Ignace mission the remains of Father Marquette, which had been buried two years earlier at the place of his death, near Ludington, Mich.

During Father Nouvel’s second term of office, in 1694, Cadillac [Laumet], Frontenac’s friend and protégé, was appointed commandant at Fort Michilimackinac, the centre of the Ottawa missions. Although the commandant did not have the same ideas as the missionaries of how to behave towards the Indians, at the beginning all went as well as could be wished. Cadillac’s great concern was to protect the fort against English and Iroquois marauders and to keep the sympathies of the friendly Indians. One day he asked the Ottawas to make a raid against the Iroquois. They returned victorious and presented the commandant with some 30 scalps. The chieftain asked Cadillac to regale his valiant warriors with spirits. Cadillac assented to this request. The Indians were not content with that but also obtained spirits from other Frenchmen, and the festivities went on noisily all night. According to Cadillac, everything went off in an orderly fashion. But the missionaries thought otherwise. In unequivocal terms Father Carheil reproached Cadillac with having disobeyed the king’s orders and compromised the results of the missionaries’ work. Father Pierre-François Pinet took up the matter in two sermons which Cadillac considered insulting to him personally and to the authority vested in him. He demanded a complete apology. For the sake of keeping peace, or because he was convinced that his subordinate had gone too far, Father Nouvel offered his apologies to Cadillac. After 1695 he became a simple missionary and applied himself with his customary zeal to the duties that were assigned him.

Father Nouvel, one of our great missionaries, gave 40 years of his life to Canada. The pages of his journal, preserved for us in the Relations, reveal a man of courage, with a serenity that nothing could perturb, and with a remarkable unworldly mind. In 1676 he wrote: “O missionary vocation, how precious you are to these dear missions! How many treasures you conceal amidst your pains and fatigues!” He was a missionary to the end. Indeed, the uncertainty which formerly prevailed concerning the place and date of his death seems no longer to have any basis today. Margry has published a letter sent by Father Jean Mermet to Cadillac and dated 8 Oct. 1701, at Michilimackinac. In it we read that Father Jean-Baptiste Chardon sailed for Baie des Puants in order to bring aid to Father Nouvel, “who is burdened with his more than 80 years and several infirmities.” In addition, in a letter which he sent from Quebec to the general of the Society of Jesus on 28 Oct. 1702, Father François de Crespieul lamented the recent death of Father Nouvel. Father Nouvel died then some time between 8 Oct. 1701 and 28 Oct. 1702. Until evidence to the contrary is received, it is permissible and even normal to think that he died at his mission at Baie des Puants.

Léon Pouliot

ASJCF, D-7, Crespieul, 6. Découvertes et établissements des Français (Margry), V. JR (Thwaites), XLVIII, XLIX, LVI, LVII, LX. Mission du Canada. Relations inédites de la Nouvelle-France (1672–1679) pour faire suite aux anciennes relations (1615–1672), [éd. Félix Martin] (2v., Paris, 1861), I, 343; II, 126. NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow). George Paré, The Catholic church in Detroit, 1701–1888 (Detroit, 1951). Rochemonteix, Les Jésuites et la N.-F. au XVIIe siècle, III, 480ff.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Léon Pouliot, “NOUVEL, HENRI,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed February 22, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/nouvel_henri_2E.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/nouvel_henri_2E.html
Author of Article:   Léon Pouliot
Title of Article:   NOUVEL, HENRI
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1969
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   February 22, 2024