History of Lac Le Jeune.

Father Le Jeune

Reverend Father J.M.R. Le Jeune was born at Pleybert Chris, France in April 1855. He studied for priesthood at Saint Pol de Leon Finistere. Completing his studies in 1879, he was ordained a priest on June 07, 1879 at Autun, France by Cardinal Perreand. At this time Father Le Jeune joined the Order of Oblates of Mary Immaculata (O.M.I). Almost immediately upon his ordination he volunteered for service as a missionary to British Columbia.

In October 1879 Father Le Jeune, in company with Father Chirouse O.M.I, arrived at New Westminster, B.C. There he wintered. The following spring he set out for the interior of the province. Father Le Jeune arrived in Kamloops in June 1880, and here he worked for the next forty-nine years. His immediate stewardship was with the Salish Indians of the interior. Father Le Jeune’s ability to learn languages put him in good stead for this. In a short period of time he was able to speak not less than five of the different dialects. It was part of his job to be the travelling missionary priest to the Indians; he had a circuit of some six hundred miles to cover. In this capacity Father Le Jeune quickly learned of the area. His usual modes of transportation consisted of walking, Indian pony or canoe. While on foot he would often travel twenty or more miles each day. Life was hard but simple, his diet usually consisted of bread, rice or dried fish. Father Le Jeune increased his understanding of the Indian Lifestyle by living among them, thereby sharing in their difficulties and hardships.

In 1891 Father Le Jeune succeeded Father le Jacq as rector St. Joseph’s Church on the Kamloops Reserve. In this capacity he still did some travelling, though not to the same extent as before. In 1892 Father Le Jeune became the Superior of the St. Louis Mission.

Father Le Jeune was a man of many accomplishments. He developed a suitable church design, which was used in many villages. Many of these churches still survive. He supervised the building of many of these churches, however, it must be noted that he got in and worked as hard as the next man. One of the more interesting of Father Le Jeune’s achievements was the creation of the Kamloops Wawa, advertised in the 1890’s as “the strangest newspaper in the world”. The script used was a modified form of French shorthand, and with a short course of instruction it was quite easy for the Indians to master the symbols. The Wawa was a composite language that had little regard for grammar; it consisted of slightly more that five hundred words taken from French, English and variants of several of the area’s dialects. Part of the purpose of this paper was to facilitate trade and communication between the Indians and Whites. The paper began with a circulation of one hundred and eventually grew to two thousand. Each copy was passed around so that most of the area’s Indians were able to become regular readers. The paper was primarily religiously oriented, however, in later editions general news and some photographs were included.

In June of 1929 Father Le Jeune became too weak to carry on with his work in the interior, so he was transferred to New Westminster, much to the sorrow of his friends in the Kamloops area. He died in November of 1930 in New Westminster. His name is now known to us through the exquisite lake that was named to honour him and his fifty years of service amongst the Indians.