June 6, 2019 — The Jesuit presence in Canada dates back to 1611 and their first short-lived mission in Port Royal. But the stories of those first companions and all who followed live on at The Archive of the Jesuits in Canada. Located with the Provincial Curia in Montreal, the Archive is responsible for the preservation of documents which reveal that Jesuit history. Every year, over 300 researchers contact the Archive to consult those precious records. And every year, the collection grows to document the ongoing work of the Society of Jesus, its collaborators and its institutions.
Thanks to the documentary traces in our archives, we can reflect on the Jesuit journey through Canada’s history and the longstanding contributions of Jesuits as missionaries, explorers, theologians, linguists, educators, scientists, and activists for social justice. While the administrative configuration of the early Jesuit missions in North America and the subsequent Provinces has changed over the course of centuries to best suit the times, the Jesuit influence on society remains as constant as their spiritual values. The archival record serves as testimony and touchstone–reminding us of the achievements and the lessons of the past.
Until 2009, the Jesuits of English Canada and the Jesuits of French Canada each operated separate archival repositories, in Toronto and Saint-Jérôme respectively. Jesuits in both Provinces had dedicated themselves to building and caring for their archival collections. A respect for history, an interest in scholarly research and professional stewardship characterized their work. Among the longest serving English-speaking Jesuits, we recognize Edward J. Dowling, SJ, whose association with the Archive dates from the late 1940s through to the late 1990s. Jacques Monet, SJ, as a former archivist and the current historian at the Archive, has made a significant contribution not only to archival preservation, but also to the analysis of these records and in the writing of the history of the Jesuits in English Canada.
In 2006, the Provincial superiors of the then separate Provinces broached the subject of a joint endeavour: to bring the holdings of both Provinces together under one roof at Maison Bellarmin in Montreal. Careful planning took place to determine renovation requirements, with Bibliothèque et archives nationales du Québec providing expert advice on best practices and operational standards. The Province now has a magnificent home for the Archive with a professional climate-controlled vault and a welcoming consultation room. Researchers will find manuscripts, maps, photographs, artworks, and media materials at the Archive, as well as an extensive library of books. In addition to collecting the papers of individual Jesuits, their institutions and their apostolic works, the Archive serves the Jesuit administration. Records pertaining to governance, decision-making, reporting, and accountability are preserved for their evidential value.
Each religious community is characterized with its own organizational structure and its own special values. Each has carved its own role in the history of Quebec and Canada, as well as relationships with the Indigenous peoples of North America. While some are more focused on pastoral activities, others focused on health care and social services, the Jesuit focus includes education, scholarly research, Ignatian retreats, and ministry with Indigenous peoples.
This history is one of the defining factors that has shaped the nature of the collections that remain to this day. It has had a huge impact on how the collections were built over the years. From the early Jesuit Relations to today’s student yearbooks from Jesuit schools, the Archive is a source of memories and a home for treasures of the past.
Centuries of archival records give us the long view. They broaden our perspectives. A legacy to share. A place for learning and discovery. Over 400 years and counting.