Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in early British Columbian History (Excerpts)
I. - Vancouver Island.
(…) In 1775, Antonio Maria Bucereli sent an expedition to explore our shores. The members placed themselves under the protection of Our Lady of Bethlehem and promised a High Mass in her honour should they achieve their goal. Their commander, Haceta, called the mouth of the Columbia « Assumption Bay ». (…) The Spaniards named Mount Baker « Mount Carmel » and called the Gulf of Georgia « Grand Canal of Our Lady of the Rosary ».
(…) These Spaniards arrived at Nootka during the month of Mary, 1789, but did not take formal possession until June 24th which was not only the feast of St. John the Baptist, son of Mary’s cousin, but also, being a Wednesday, a day dedicated to Mary’s Most Chaste Spouse. On that day, assisted by Father Jose Maria Diaz and four Franciscans, Father Jose Lopez offered « the first Mass… said in this Land. »
Mass was not celebrated again on Vancouver Island until the feast of Mary’s Spouse in 1843.
Father Norbert Blanchet, later Archbishop of Oregon City, and Father Modeste Demers, who died Bishop of Vancouver Island, are rightly regarded as the pioneer missionaries of the Pacific Northwest.
(…) Bishop Demers entered his diocese for the first time exactly two weeks after the feast of the Assumption, 1852. His first act was to kneel on the shore and to beg God and « Mary, the Mother of Mankind » to aid him in his work. Three weeks later, he wrote : « This 19th day of September, 1852, we have solemnly blessed the first bell in the diocese of Vancouver Island which (bell) we have placed under the protection of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and which we have christened Mary ».
II. – The Mainland of British Columbia.
(…) On the second Saturday of the month of the Rosary, Father Blanchet and Father Demers reached what is now British Columbia and, on the morrow, October 14th, 1838, offered the first Mass ever celebrated on the mainland of the Province. During this Mass, « the missionaries consecrated themselves to the Queen of Angels, begging her to take them under her protection ».
(…) Father De Smet celebrated Mass on the shores of Columbia Lake in the southeastern part of British Columbia, on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, September 8th, 1845, and called the surrounding prairie « Plains of the Nativity ».
Some three years before that, however, Father Demers had visited Stuart’s Lake, in the Far North, and had spent a good deal of the winter (1842-1843) at nearby Fort Alexandria on the Fraser. That he there planted devotion to the Blessed Virgin is shown by the fact that, when the first Oblate to visit that territory reached Fort Alexandria, the Indian Chief, in an appeal for a resident priest, held out his rosary and pictorial catechism, saying : « Look at this rosary ! Look at this catechism ! I used to know them by heart and to understand them, but now I have forgotten everything ».
As there were no priests on the mainland of British Columbia in 1858 to minister to the Indians and to the thousands of immigrants attracted by the discovery of gold, Bishop Demers confided this vast territory to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. They built their first mission near Kelowna (1859) and dedicated it to Mary Immaculate. They established mission-centres at Mission (on the Fraser), near William’s Lake and at Stuart’s Lake, and these they placed under the protection of St. Mary, St. Joseph and our Lady of Good Hope. By 1868, within nine years of their coming to the mainland, they had erected fifty-five churches.
(…) That the Indians have great confidence in the Blessed Virgin and the Rosary is evident from these stories told by Father Thomas, O.M.I., of St. Joseph’s Mission : Jennie Baptiste, of Sugar Cane, was picking berries near St. Joseph’s Mission when she looked up and saw a large cinnamon bear about to hurl himself at her. This bear, which attacks without provocation, is feared even by the best indian hunters. Unable to defend herself, or to flee, Jennie calmly held out her Rosary towards the bear. He looked at it, dropped to his four paws and walked off.
An Alexandria couple were fleeing from another Indian they had grievously offended and who intended to kill them. Finding that she could go no farther, the woman placed her beads around her neck with the crucifix on her back and knelt in the middle of the trail. Her enemy arrived, took aim and was about to shoot when he saw the crucifix and beads. He lowered the gun and forgave the couple.
Some years before that and before the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Father Pandosy, O.M.I., abandoned by his guide and lost in a blizzard, sought in vain for his guide’s footsteps which were covered by deep snow. With death staring in the face, he knelt in snow, made a profession of his belief in the Immaculate Conception and begged Mary to help him. He arose and, right before him, he saw the footsteps which had not been there a moment before and which led him to safety.
Source : Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Early British Columbia History by Rev. Father George Forbes, Études oblates, 1952, tome onzième, pages 52-60.
The full article online : https://www.omiworld.org/wp-content/uploads/estudes11.pdf (from page 56 to page 64).