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History of the Diocese Churchill-Hudson Bay

January 2017

In 1911 Bishop Ovide Charlebois, OMI of The Pas sent Father Arsene Turquetil, OMI north to assess the possibility of opening missions in the western Hudson Bay region. Favourable reports led to the foundation of Chesterfield Inlet in 1912, the first Roman Catholic “Eskimo mission” built by Father Turquetil and Armand LeBlanc, two members of the religious order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Chesterfield Inlet became the foundation and starting point for much of the missionary activity in the Hudson Bay region. Father Turquetil OMI was made Apostolic Prefect of the Hudson Bay Vicariate in 1925 and was consecrated in 1932 as its first bishop.

Pastoral work was conditioned by the seasons and the nomadic lifestyle of the Inuit. The missions were usually built close to trading posts and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) detachments. The missionaries visited the many camps scattered along the shores of the Bay and inland, by dog team during the winter and by boat during the summer.

The Inuit people which the missionaries met had varying degrees of contact with outsiders. Some had encountered early explorers and others had been involved in late 19th and early 20th century whaling activities in the Hudson Bay and Eastern Arctic. Through their dealing with the whalers, many had been introduced to the use of firearms, wooden whale-boats, metal tools and foreign clothing and foodstuffs.

As the whaling industry declined in the North, its place was taken by trade. For a while fox skins and trapping became the important source of income. This was supplemented in the Eastern Arctic by the seal pelt industry in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

By then Bishop Turquetil had retired and veteran missionary Marc Lacroix OMI had taken charge of the Vicariate (1943). Many missions had been established and St. Theresa's Hospital (later operated as a home for the handicapped) was administered by the Grey Nuns in Chesterfield Inlet (1931). Since April 2002, the institution is administered by a local development corporation on contract to the Department of Health Services in Nunavut.

The Vicariate began publishing a small magazine called “ESKIMO” which described missionary work in the North and the life of the Inuit. In 1944, a museum dedicated to advancing knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Inuit culture was founded in Churchill, which was by then the administrative center for the Vicariate.

After World Was II, a defense measure, the Distant Early Warning Line, was established. Beginning in the 1950's, the development of long range air travel broke down the isolation of the Arctic.

Rapid changes were taking place in the North. Small villages were constructed. Schools were built as well as nursing stations (now referred to as health centres). Up to this time, all these social needs had been met by the people associated with Christian missions, the R.C.M.P., and the trading post.

In a very short period of time, the Inuit had become settlement dwellers. The establishment of co-ops and other private enterprises, and the need to provide and maintain various utilities in the settlement such as fuel, electricity, water supply and garbage disposal led to wage employment in the public and private sectors. Carvings in stone and bone, and other native crafts provided the single largest form of cash income in the communities. Local hunting and fishing brought fresh food into the communities, while promoting Christian stewardship of northern lands through wise use and knowledge of the environment.

Air transportation had improved, television, telephone, local, regional and national radio services have been introduced. The improvement in communication has brought the northern communities into closer contact with each other and with the outside world. In 1990's internet communication was made available in the far north starting in major communities and year after year new features came along and today we have satellite dishes, internet accessibility in each community and cell phone communication compromising dialog between older and younger generations.

In 1968, Bishop Lacroix retired, but not before blessing the new “catechist family program”. The need to develop the local Church had given birth to a new program for local catechist families. The first training course for families was given in Kugaaruk (Pelly Bay) in 1969. Under the leadership of Bishop Omer Robidoux, OMI (1970-1986). This program continued and families were given increased responsibilities. Formation continues to be given locally where possible, at regional meetings, and at an annual session held each July. More than 20 couples have taken a significant part of the Church leadership in their communities.

In 1992 Inuit in the Central and Eastern Canadian Arctic ratified a Land Claims Agreement with the Federal Government. On April 1, 1999 the same land claims area became Canada's newest territory (Nunavut) after being split away from the Northwest Territories. This new territory was named Nunavut, which means "Our Land" in the Inuktitut language, and the community of Iqaluit, which is located on southwestern Baffin Island, was chosen as its capital. All the communities in the Diocese are located in this new territory of Nunavut except for Churchill, Manitoba. The Inuit 29,000 population (80%) form the majority of the Nunavut Area of 2,093,190 km/2 where total population today is 37,146. Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut (Our Land in Inuktitut) is located on southwest Baffin Island.

Bishop Reynald Rouleau, OMI ordained in 1987, continued bishop Robidoux's catechist family program and he made special efforts at strengthening the Christian community's apostolic commitments. Creating Mikilak Center in Arviat as a Diocesan Youth Center he introduced a program for youth leadership and training. The missionary goals focused on establishing the Local Church leaders and the fostering of community outreach.

Present Bishop of Churchill-Hudson Bay Diocese Anthony Wiesław Krótki, OMI ordained in 2013, faces the challenges in this very young Nunavut Territory coping with serious social problems where the Church is working to bring the truth and values of the Gospel into this struggle. Since the Inuit themselves must take the lead in the renewal of their families and communities, the Diocese will continue to develop and train lay leadership couples and is currently working on a program to train Inuit to be permanent deacons. The goal in all this is to help strengthen the family, to foster the unity of the people across generations, and to deepen and spread the faith of Jesus Christ.