Maillardville’s enigma: A look at the life and time of Father Maillard

Father Edmond Maillard in 1910. photo supplied City of Coquitlam Archives

In A.J. Boire’s in-depth history of Maillardville, Boire paints a vivid pictures of the village, its workers, and culture. The town’s namesake, however, remains in shadow.

“Father Maillard himself remains something of an enigma,” Boire wrote in With Hearts and Minds: Maillardville, 100 Years of History on the West Coast of B.C. “Very little information remains to reveal the man, the extent of his impact on the fledgling community or his very sudden removal as parish priest after so short a stay.”

Maillard’s name recently came up during a discussion about provincial election ridings.

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While Port Moody-Coquitlam MP described Maillardville as the “heart of south Coquitlam,” Zarrillo opposed perpetuating the Maillard name.

“Father Maillard was an oblate, he is the founding father of Maillardville but to perpetuate this name and to elevate this name in a new riding in 2023 when he was also a principal of a residential school in northern B.C., seems unconscionable,” Zarrillo said.

East of the riot

It was around the time the Vancouver Trades and Labour Council formed the Asiatic Exclusion League and the 1907 riot where thugs holding Keep Canada White signs rampaged Vancouver’s Chinese and Japanese communities.

In the village soon to be known as Maillardville, Fraser River Sawmills Ltd. was establishing a new policy.

“A major goal of the new owners was to reduce the number of Asiatic labourers employed at the Mill. This was done in view of the growing racial problems in the province at the time,” wrote historian Sharon LeClair in an article entitled Maillardville and Millside, published in a journal from the B.C. Historical Federation.

In 1907, the mill was taken over by an investment syndicate with the assets transferred to the Canadian Lumber Company. However, the aim of employing fewer workers of Indian, Chinese and Japanese descent continued.

“The racial tensions evidenced in the Vancouver Riot of 1907 served to support and reaffirm the mill’s policy of reducing the numbers of Asians they employed,” LeClair wrote. “French Canadian lumbermen were the solution to a growing problem.”

In 1909, the company dispatched a night watchman to accompany an Oblate Priest, Father William Patrick O’Boyle, on a tour through lumber camps around Quebec to find white workers who would put in 60 hours a week at the Maillardville mill.

They were looking for men who will go to unexplored and uninhabited areas, O’Boyle said. “He will camp in the woods and live on hard tack until the railways and civilization arrive.”

The idea of recruiting French Canadians to supplant the current workers, “was lauded by the press everywhere in the province and by no less a figure than the Premier, Sir Richard MacBride,” wrote historian John Ray Stewart in his thesis: French Canadian Settlement in British Columbia.

“Since wages in Quebec at the time were only about $39 per month the 25 cents hourly wage offered was attractive,” Stewart added.

To sweeten the deal, the company set aside some one-acre lots for the workers, offering free lumber to build houses and a church.

While the lumber was free, incidentals like shingles and nails came with a charge, LeClair noted.

About 110 workers arrived at the end of 1909, with close to 200 more arriving in 1910.

According to Stewart’s figures based on the payroll, there were 173 workers from India at the mill in the fall of 1911. By March of 1912, the number of workers from India dipped to 153.

Over the same period, the number of workers classified as British, European or French-Canadian increased from 261 to 317.

Stewart does not emphasize the point, but in the payroll figures from fall 1911 he counts 19 Chinese employees at the mill. Five months later there is no mention of any Chinese workers.

“The total number of recruits was estimated to be enough to replace most of the Asians at the mill,” LeClair wrote. “Reverend Father O’Boyle asserted that this was the solution to the Oriental labour problems in British Columbia. He declared that an effort would be made to create the same social and religious conditions for the French Canadians, to which they had been accustomed.”

Maillard arrives

Ordained in France, Father Edmond Maillard was about 26 years old when he arrived at St. Louis College in New Westminster.

He was named first parish priest for Maillardville, which at the time was known as French Settlement, or sometimes Frenchtown, according to Paul Villeneuve’s piece Maillardville: All Quiet on the Western Front.

Maillard demonstrated “a zeal for both faith and culture,” Boire wrote.

A religious process winds through Maillardville in 1929. photo supplied City of Coquitlam Archives

While information is sparse, Boire quoted first-hand accounts that described Maillard as “not very strict” and an effective preacher.

“Under his guidance, a church was built at what is now known as Laval Square and Mass was celebrated there for Christmas 1910,” Boire wrote.

However, by the end of 1911, Maillard was gone from French Settlement.

“Admittedly the blow was harsh, that very night I was back in New Westminster,” Maillard later wrote in a letter to a friend.

He remained in New Westminster until 1914, occasionally filling in at his old parish, according to Boire. Maillard was given a chance to return but refused, not explaining the reason in his correspondence.

After spending about 12 years at a mission in Cariboo, Maillard went to the Sunshine Coast where he took a position as principal of St. Augustine’s Residential School.

Unmarked graves

Last April, researchers identified 40 unmarked children’s graves in Sechelt at the former site of St. Augustine’s school.

Using ground penetrating radar, researchers found graves on or near the school grounds, according to a report published by Global News.

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate ran the school from 1924 to 1969.

Published by UBC Press in As I Remember It: ISBN 9780774861250 (HTML)

Maillard was principal at the school from December 1930 to March 1934, according to records compiled by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

Most of the records of Maillard’s time at the residential school refer to infrastructure including a new water pipeline, the building of a manual training shop, and a chicken coop said to be “full of disease.”

In 1931, there was an outbreak of typhoid at the school.

” … School authorities are of the opinion that effluvia from these lavatories caused the typhoid, but medical opinion does not support such contention,” stated a record written by an Indian agent.

In 1935, an inquiry was held into the death of a student who died after an operation in St. Paul’s Hospital. The cause was said to be intestinal obstruction, according to the records.

The centre’s records describe students being abused and forced to conduct harsh physical drills.

‘Like being in jail’

Residential school survivor Elsie Paul spent two years at the school in the 1940s.

“You’re homesick. You’re lonely. You don’t know many of the people. And you’re not allowed to speak your language,” she said. “It’s almost, I guess, like being in jail. “

Paul described her time at the institution in: As I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder.

Telling her story about 70 years after her time at St. Augustine’s, Paul described days full of work and prayer and a little bit of education.

“It was more like a labour camp. There was very little time for classroom. Might be two hours in the morning, and the afternoon, maybe an hour, hour-and-a-half. The rest of the time was work. “

Published by UBC Press in As I Remember It: ISBN 9780774861250 (HTML)

Some of that work, she remembered, was meant to benefit the people who ran the school, not the students.

“If you happened to work in the dining room of our caregivers, everything is set in white linen and napkins and placemats and silverware and good food. Butter, real butter. The butter that I churned for hours by hand. Never tasted butter. It was for someone else,” she said.

Through it all, Paul said, she was always addressed by her number.

“They didn’t use your name: ‘Eighteen, come here! Eighteen, go do this! Eighteen, it’s your turn to go do this.’ She recalled. “So I wasn’t a person anymore, I was a number.”

During her two-year stretch at the school, Paul said she lived on a state of high alert.

“I always had to be on guard that I’m going to get hit with that ruler or a book in the back of my head, ’cause I couldn’t do my math. . . . Boy, that sure hurts. You know? And not to mention embarrassment. You get whacked in the head in front of your peers in the classroom – that you’re stupid.”

She remembered seeing children who were five- and six-years-old suffering abuse.

“And it was really sad to hear them crying at night and wetting their bed ’cause they were so scared. And having to walk around with a sheet on their heads the next day and parade around in front of the kids ’cause they’re wetting their bed. It’s most humiliating for them.”

Years later, Paul said she heard other residential school survivors talk about suffering sexual and physical abuse.

“I was just lucky that I didn’t get those kinds of abuses,” she said.

Decades later, Paul was still struggling with her memories of the school.

“And I’m not just blaming the Catholic Church. They were all like that! The other churches that were put into place in the communities were all like that. Why? Why were they mean?” she asked. “But, to me, I’m thankful that I was only there for two years, where I was still able to maintain my language and my culture.”

Maillard’s death

Edmond Maillard spent the last 30 years of his life in France. He died on Aug. 3, 1966, at the age of 86.

A colleague described Maillard as thinking often of Maillardville, but seldom speaking of his namesake village, according to Boire.

“It caused him a sadness of heart; but he collected everything we sent him on the life of his village . . . I know that he was invited in 1959 to the Fiftieth Anniversary celebrations . . . he didn’t have the desire to go: too long a trip, too many emotions . . . But he often lived with the thoughts of all the things he left there.”


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