The Hudson’s bay Company wanted to be alone in the Columbia area. Sharing the territory with others could threaten the monopoly on the fur trade that the company enjoyed. Chief Factor John McLoughlin felt that he had all the civilization he wanted at Fort Vancouver and he was not enthusiastic, therefore, when French Canadians in the Willamette Valley petitioned the Bishop of Juliopolis at St. Boniface of the Red River in the late 1830’s to send in a priest or two.
Some of the Willamette settlers were former employees of the company who had a good record and upon retirement were given the opportunity to settle on lands governed by the company. It was decided to establish the first mission on the Cowlitz River, instead of the Willamette Valley, which was still in disputed territory, because of the controversy between England and the United States. As the Catholic missionaries moved westward across the land, Native American Indian people identified and referred to them as "The Black Robes."
Father Norbert Blanchet had attended seminary in Quebec and then in 1827 he was sent to the Parish of the Cedars in Montreal. "What Quebec was to the church, as a center of culture and education, Montreal was to the fur trade. During Abbe Blanchet’s term of service at The Cedars, he came in contact with many men, both executives and humbler servants of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Little by little he gained he gained from them a knowledge of that far flung empire which lay to the west … the seed thus planted grew, stimulating a natural curiosity for a wider knowledge of this land which lay on the Pacific slope of the Rockies."
Father F. N. Blanchet was the first Catholic priest to arrive in Western Washington. He was notified of his appointment as Vicar General to this far western empire on April 17, 1838. His appointment was to that area "which is contained between the Rocky Mountains on the east, the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Russian possessions on the north, and the territory of the United States on the south." It was probably the largest diocese in the world.
The story of Father Blanchet’s trip is a fascinating one. First, he traveled from Quebec to Lachine by boat. At Lachine he was assigned to a canoe in which he spent eight days on the Ottawa River. The company traveling with him portaged from river to lake and lake to river eventually arriving at St. Boniface where Father Modeste Demers awaited him. Father Blanchet spent five weeks at St. Boniface preparing for the remainder of the long journey. On July 10, the two men left St. Boniface by canoe with the aid of the now famous "French Voyageurs." These French Voyageurs were fur traders who were highly skilled experts with their large canoes and also with their knowledge of the country and the Indians. Their canoes were up to thirty feet long, and there were up to thirty canoes in a brigade. These canoes were used for both cargo and passengers. There was much portaging from river to lake and lake to river as they traveled ever westward. They reached the continental divide by horseback on October 10th, and three days later arrived in Oregon country, at the western foot of the Rockies near the source of the Columbia River. The river became challenging to the travelers because it could be very swift and turbulent at times. On October 14, they traveled on a very swift portion of the river which allowed them to cover 165 miles in just ten hours. At another time they lost several members of the party in the turbulent waters of the river at the big bend where the river flows through a very narrow and deep gorge. He arrived at the fort in November of 1838, and celebrated the first mass on the Columbia on Sunday, November 25.
Chinook Jargon phrase for the week: "Hyas kloshe yaka spose halo snass," meaning, "Very good it if not rain," or, "it is very pleasant if it does not rain."