Father Jean-Baptiste Bolduc was the first Catholic priest to visit the Victoria area when he accompanied James Douglas to survey the site for Fort Victoria in 1843. His first reports were not unlike the renderings of a salesman reporting back to his head office.

At an Indian palisade at the northeast corner of Cadboro Bay, Bolduc claimed to have shaken hands with 525 (Songhees) Indians who stood in two lines to meet him. "I spoke to them of a God, Creator of all things, Rewarder of good acts, and punishing evil by eternal retribution." Their encampment or stockade was built for defence against the warlike 'Yougletas', a tribe that attacked them at night and destroyed their villages, killing as many men as possible, taking their women and children as slaves. "On top of posts in the fort," Bolduc recorded, "one sees many human heads sculptured and painted in red or black, and occasionally both colors together." With the help of several men provided to him by 'M. Douglass', he constructed a temporary altar before which--Bolduc claimed--some 1200 Kawitshin, Klalam and Tsamish Indians respectfully assembled. "It was among this numerous gathering that, for the first time, our holy mysteries were celebrated on that ground, for so many years the theatre of hell's abominations."

Apologists for, and proponets of, the Hudson's Bay Company, have since attempted to glorify Bolduc's role in bringing Christianity to Vancouver Island, in accordance with his own reportage. In his 1904 history of the HBC, George Bryce writes: "Gathering the three tribes of the south of the island, the Songhies, Clallams and Cowichans, into a great rustic chapel which had been prepared, Father Balduc [sic] held an impressive religious service, and shortly after visited a settlement of the Skagits, a thousand strong, and there too, in a building erected for public worship, performed the important religious rites of his Church before the wondering savages."

Bolduc and other Catholic missionaries came to the Pacific Slope in the 1830s and 1840s largely due to the influence of John McLoughlin at Fort Vancouver. As a former Catholic, McLoughlin sent appeals to the Rt. Rev. Joseph-Norbert Provencher, Co-adjutor Bishop of Québec, and Vicar General for the Northwest, and through him to the Archbishop of Québec, the Most Reverend Joseph Signay, asking for priests. The Hudson's Bay Company initially declined to provide transport for any Catholic priests but McLoughlin persevered.

In 1837, François-Norbert Blanchet and his assistant Modeste Demers arrived from Quebec and celebrated mass at Fort Vancouver. By 1840, Demers had established a mission at the Nesqually (in present-day Washington State) and built the first Puget Sound church on Whidbey Island. Blanchet dedicated the first Catholic Church in Oregon at St. Paul on the Willamette and he became the first Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oregon City and the Dioceses of Walla Walla and Vancouver Island on July 25, 1845. [See Blanchet entry] On November 30, 1847 he consecrated Modeste Demers as first bishop of Vancouver Island. [See Demers entry] Following a meeting of Blanchet and Demers in 1842, a Jesuit named Father Pierre DeSmet was sent to Europe to contact the Pope and ask for more priests. Archbishop Signay of Québec subsequently dispatched Fathers A. Langlois and J.B. Bolduc to the Pacific Northwest.

Bolduc, a Jesuit, was given the task of introducing Roman Catholicism to Vancouver Island. His original impressions of the Fort Victoria vicinity can be found in Notices and Voyages of the Famed Quebec Mission to the Northwest (Portland: Oregon Historical Society, Champoeg Press, 1956).


Bolduc, Jean-Baptiste. Notices and Voyages of the Famed Quebec Mission to the Northwest (Portland: Oregon Historical Society, Champoeg Press, 1956).

[BCBW 2004] "Missionaries" "Early B.C."