DARVEAU, JEAN-ÉDOUARD, Roman Catholic priest and missionary; b. 17 March 1816 at Quebec, second son of Charles Darveau, a tanner on Rue Saint-Vallier, and Marguerite-Marie Roi, dit Audi; d. 4 June 1844 at Baie-des-Canards (Duck Bay, Man.).
Jean-Édouard Darveau began his classical studies at the Petit Séminaire de Québec in 1827. Having finished them, and having had some differences with his father, he became a sailor and went off to sea in October 1836. At one point he reached Havre-de-Grâce (Le Havre), France, by way of New York and New Orleans. Nothing was heard from him for 14 months.
During Darveau’s final voyage the captain talked to him about his education. He decided to return to Quebec to study theology and was introduced to the archbishop of Quebec, Joseph Signay, in 1838. Although his father refused to go with him to the Grand Séminaire to seek his admission, Darveau entered it on 1 Oct. 1838 upon a promise to Signay that after ordination he would devote himself to mission work. He was ordained on 21 Feb. 1841, in the presence of his family, including his father, with whom he had had a reconciliation.
A man of determined character, with an adventurous and dedicated spirit, Darveau took up the promise made to his archbishop, offering to serve in distant missions. As there was no room in the Hudson’s Bay Company brigade, he gave up the idea of leaving with the first canoes heading west and instead became assistant priest of Saint-Roch parish in Lower Town Quebec. But on 19 April 1841 he left his post to go to Lachine, near Montreal. On 1 May he set off by canoe for the Red River settlement (Man.), travelling in the place provided free of charge to priests by the governor of the HBC, Sir George Simpson*. He reached St Boniface on 22 June. Bishop Joseph-Norbert Provencher* intended to send Darveau to the missions on Lake Winnipegosis, but first the new missionary had to spend six months learning Ojibwa with George-Antoine Bellecourt*, a priest who had been serving the Red River mission since 1831 and who with Abbé Jean-Baptiste Thibault* had already visited the Maskegons (Swampy Crees), the Indians in the missions entrusted to Darveau. Darveau spent the winter with Provencher and Bellecourt.
In May 1842 Darveau left with three companions for Baie-des-Canards. The Church of England clergy, who were to make his ministry difficult, were already in the region. The local Indians were confused about what was the true religion, since the Catholic priest, just like his “rival,” the Anglican Abraham Cowley*, claimed in his sermons that there was only one. Financial resources were meagre, and Darveau subjected himself to numerous privations. He was not able to pay the Indians for the services they rendered, but his devotion to catechizing them was unbounded. He made two more visits that year to these missions.
In the spring of 1843 Darveau again left St Boniface, ministering as he journeyed. When he reached his mission at Baie-des-Canards, he built a chapel dedicated to St Norbert. During a second visit from July to October he encountered more opposition to his ministry, the Indian catechist Henry Budd* being his Protestant rival at The Pas, and he also almost drowned. He made plans to rebuild the chapel at Baie-des-Canards, which had been destroyed by a storm, and then founded a temperance society at St François Xavier before returning to St Boniface.
In March 1844 Darveau set off for his mission again with a young Indian and a Métis, Jean-Baptiste Boyer, travelling through the Waterhen Lake region. He got lost on an island and nearly froze to death but somehow managed to survive. However, as they were leaving for The Pas early in June, he and his two companions disappeared. For a long time it was believed that the three had drowned, but on the basis of testimony gathered later, in particular statements from a missionary and from Indians connected directly or indirectly with the tragedy, it was concluded that they had been murdered. According to the Indians, under the influence of Budd they had come to regard Darveau as a “windigo,” an evil spirit, and to hold him responsible for an epidemic that had struck them. The remains of Darveau, a victim of religious rivalries, were buried at St Boniface.
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