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Founding Lorette, 1697

image name: founding_wendake.jpg

This illustration depicts the Wendat community at Lorette shortly after 1697.
Illustration copyright Frank Gregory.

Starting Over

After years of searching for a viable village location, in 1697, nearly 300 Wendats arrived at a site near the Karbir Kouba falls on the Akiawenrak (St-Charles) River, eight miles north of Quebec. This group had left their homeland of Wendake in 1649 after recurrent Iroquois attacks disbanded the Wendat confederacy, already besieged and weakened by decades of disease and factionalism, stemming from the introduction of Christianity brought by French Jesuits in 1634.

Long-standing traditional enemies, the Wendats and Iroquois became embroiled in ceaseless warfare in the early 1600s. At the heart of these conflicts was an escalating cycle of mourning wars spurred on by wide-spread death from epidemics and wars. As part of the mourning war ethos, the Iroquois goal was to absorb enemy nations, including the Wendat, by attacking villages, with the goal of killing or capturing thousands of people. Some of those captured were tortured in condolence rituals, but most were integrated into Iroquois families and communities, thus bolstering Iroquois populations and society.

Following the Wendat dispersal in 1649, thousands fled west to the upper Great Lakes and became known as the Wyandots, while the 300 Christian Wendats north of Quebec went east with the Jesuits to live near the French at Quebec. The French, however, were too weak to protect their Wendat allies even in their own backyard. It took these Wendat almost 50 years to reach a permanent and secure location.

In 1651, the Wendats set up a palisaded village on the Ile d'Orleans in the St. Lawrence River, but the Iroquois nations continued to pursue them, killing 70 of those who refused to join their kin in Kanienkehaka and Onondaga communities. The embattled Wendat community then moved closer to the walls of Quebec, where they stayed until 1668. Over the next decades, the group went from Beauport to Notre-Dame-de-Foy (Sainte-Foy), and in 1673, to Anciente-Lorette. Finally, in 1697, the Jesuits established the Wendats at their present location at the falls on the St-Charles River, where they came to be known as "Lorettans" or "Hurons of Lorette." This town was called Jeune-Lorette or "Village-des-Hurons" until 1986, when the Wendats changed the name of their town to Wendake.

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This altar dates from 1680 and is still used in the Notre-Dame de Lorette Chapel in Wendake (formerly named Lorette).
Courtesy Notre-Dame de Lorette Chapel

Blended Cultures

In eighteenth-century Lorette, traditional life blended with Catholicism and European culture. Upon arriving at Lorette, work commenced on a mission church. The church was designed as a replica of the Holy House (Sancta Casa), which was believed to be the house where Mary, the mother of Jesus, was visited by the angel Gabriel, and the home where Jesus grew up. The house, according to tradition, had later flown out of the holy land and landed in the Italian village of Loreto. This church and associated story gave the Wendat village its name. Alongside this Italian-styled mission church, Wendat men erected longhouses, as well as a few French-styled homes; the women turned to cultivating new fields using their long-practiced slash-and-burn agricultural techniques. They continued to grow corn, as their food staple, but they adapted wheat and rye, as well as sunflowers, whose oil they added to their corn soup. Some families began raising a cow or two in the manner of their French neighbors. Otherwise, women performed their traditional roles of cooking, caring for children, making clothes and pottery, and weaving mats, cord, and baskets. The men trapped furs in the nearby Laurentide forests for trade in Quebec's lively market. They took further advantage of the resources of the forest by making salable products such as moccasins, sleighs, and especially snowshoes, which were instrumental in military expeditions.

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This image, rendered in the mid-1700s, shows how the Wendats incorporated European goods into their traditional forms of dress.
City of Montreal Recornds Management & Archives

Wendat men served in a critical capacity by fighting alongside their French allies. Alliance remained central to Wendat society, the people prizing men who were skilled diplomats, orators, and traders. Trade and reciprocal gift-giving continued to secure close social and political alliances with other Native nations. The Wendats considered ties between trading partners as similar to the bonds that connected relatives together. In their new situation and location, they reached out to other Native peoples living along the St. Lawrence River, including Kahnawake (Sault St. Louis), La Montagne, and Sault-au-Récollet. These Iroquois villages had a number of Wendat kinsmen, captured in previous wars and adopted into Iroquois families. The Wendat also pursued alliances with their old allies at Odanak (St. Francis). Other communities later joined this alliance, which over time became known as the Seven Fires Confederacy, or the Seven Nations.


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