The History of Sainte-Marie
The spell of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons lies in the very land upon which it stands. Located along the shores of Georgian Bay - Samuel de Champlain's "mer douce" - and surrounded by wooded hillsides, this was the ancestral homeland of the Huron Wendat nation, a branch of the Iroquoian family. The Wendat were a matrilineal society of good traders and skillful farmers who called their land Wendake - the land apart.
French Jesuits came to Wendake in the 17th century. As an international order, the Society of Jesus operated like an army dedicated to spreading Catholicism throughout the world. They believed, with their founder Ignatius Loyola, that the first step in saving one's neighbour was to educate him.
With the exception of one Italian priest, the only people who lived at Sainte-Marie were Frenchmen. No women accompanied them. The Huron-Wendat, drawn by curiosity, often came to visit the priests and their helpers to learn about their strange and different ways.
The Huron Wendat nation occupied the area north and west of Lake Simcoe and south and east of Georgian Bay. About 70 percent of this area was arable land and was well described by a 17th century Recollet, Brother Gabriel Sagard.