The Wendat shared their knowledge with the European newcomers, and the little mission struggled to become self-sufficient. The Frenchmen planted gardens and imported livestock from Quebec by canoe. In 1648, Sainte-Marie was home to one-fifth of the European population of New France
However, as Sainte-Marie appeared to prosper, despair and resentment grew in many Wendat communities. Cultures and ideologies were in almost daily conflict. Epidemics of influenza, measles and smallpox proved deadly to the Wendat. The situation was compounded by the rekindling of traditional rivalries between the Wendat and Iroquois.
A chance rediscovery in Europe of an old process for felting beaver fur set off a fashion trend for beaver hats. This fad was to have desparate consequences for the Wendat people. The burgeoning fur trade pitted the Iroquois, backed by Dutch merchants along the Hudson River, against the Wendat who traded with the French merchants along the St. Lawrence.
In July of 1648 the Iroquois attacked the village of St. Joseph and Father Antoine Daniel lost his life. A year later, Fathers Jean de Brefeuf and Gabriel Lalemant, along with hundreds of Wendat, were captured and killed. Survivors scattered; some to Michigan and Ohio (three hundred years some of the descendants of these Wendats would become members of the Wyandot Nation of Kansas). Meanwhile, Sainte-Marie waited tensely for an attack that never came.
Later that spring, the Jesuits and some of their Wendat followers abandoned Sainte-Marie, setting fire to the mission, and traveled by canoe to an island (today called Christian Island). There, they established Sainte-Marie II. After a winter of terrible hardship and starvation at Sainte-Marie II, the Jesuits decided to abandon their mission in Wendake. Accompanied by a few hundred Christian Wendat, they returned to Quebec in 1650.
The wilderness claimed the ruins of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons.
A visit to Sainte-Marie can be completed by embarking in a seven metre canoe for a paddle on the Isaraqui (Wye) River. The palisaded mission can be viewd as the 17th century travelers saw it, rising on the banks of the river. En Canoe is a 1 1/2 hour program, available mornings and afternoons in July and August by request.
Evening candlelight tours are available in July and August. Editor's note: The Wyandot Nation of Kansas wishes to thank Bob Broder of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons for his generous assistance in providing the following material. Further information may be obtained from:
Sainte-Marie among the Hurons
Huronia Historical Parks
P.O. Box 160
Midland, Ontario L4R 4K8