Jean de Quen

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Lac St Jean

Jean de Quen (May, c. 1603 at Amiens, France – 8 October 1659 in Quebec) was a French Jesuit missionary, priest and historian who discovered Lac Saint-Jean. As head of Jesuit missions of New France, he founded the missions to Saguenay. Jean de Quen was the first European to see Lake Piékouagami (Lake Saint-Jean).

Early life[edit]

Born around 1603 in Amiens, Picardy, Jean de Quen was about 17 years old when he joined the Jesuits on 13 September 1620. He taught for three years at the Collège in Eu, and then left for Canada. He arrived at Quebec 17 Aug. 1635,[1] where he taught at the College of Quebec opened that same year for French and Amerindian boys. He taught there for two years before joining the Sillery mission, an initiative aimed at educating local peoples. He later left the mission and went back to Quebec to minister to the parish of Notre-Dame-de-la-Recouvrance. After a fire destroyed the school, chapel and Jesuits’ residence in 1640, he resumed his service in Sillery before venturing on to the Trois-Rivières post, where he was involved in the establishing another mission.

22-Feb-1639 Handwriting Sample

In 1640 he went back to Sillery, and concerned himself more particularly with the hospital. There he wore himself down to the danger point; he recovered fairly quickly, and was sent to the Trois-Rivières residence. He returned the following year to Sillery, and was in charge of that important mission centre for eight years (1642–49). He fulfilled a very active ministry there, which brought him into contact with Indians from almost everywhere, more particularly the Montagnais, whose language he learned perfectly.[1]


In the spring of 1642 Jean de Quen was entrusted with the Montagnais mission, with which he concerned himself for 11 years. This mission had been founded the preceding year at Tadoussac, where between spring and the end of August the fur trade brought Indians from all parts of the vast territory of the Saguenay. Father de Quen was highly esteemed by the Montagnais; with the aid of Fathers Jacques Buteux, Gabriel Druillettes, Martin de Lyonne, and Charles Albanel, he created a form of summer mission suited to the existence of these nomadic peoples, and made a success of it. He formed a solid nucleus of Christians who helped him to reach the most distant groups. It was at Tadoussac that the first stone church in Canada was constructed, in 1646.[1]

Lac Saint-Jean[edit]

No one – whether French, Basque or British – had as yet officially explored the entire length of the Saguenay. No one had seen the great lake that appeared on a map produced in 1544 by geographer Jean Alfonse. Previous explorers' attempts at getting to the lake proved futile, because of the reluctance of the Natives to let the “white men” see the lake. Jean de Quen expressed a desire to visit the members of the Porcupine nation who were prevented from coming to Tadoussac because of disease. He left the Tadoussac mission on 11 July 1647 in a small bark canoe.[2]

Bringing two Montagnais with him as guides, Jean de Quen travelled up the Saguenay to Chicoutimi, and took the river of the same name as far as lakes Kenogami and Kénogamishish. The group then entered Lake Saint-Jean via Belle-Rivière.[2]

Traversée-Lac St-Jean-Québec

Upon seeing Lac St-Jean, Quen wrote in his journal:

“This lake is so large, that one hardly sees its banks; it seems to be round in shape. It is deep and very full of fish; they fish here for pike, perch, salmon, trout, dories, white-fish, carp, and many other kinds. It is surrounded by a flat country, terminating in high mountains, distant 3, four or five leagues from its shores. It is fed by the waters of fifteen rivers, or thereabout, which serve as highways for the small nations which are back in the country, to come to fish in this lake, and to maintain the intercourse and friendship which they have among themselves.”[2]

In 1651 Father Jean de Quen founded the Ange-Gardien mission, The first permanent European settlement at Sept-Îles.[3]

Quen died of fever on October 8, 1659 and was buried in Quebec. His remains were discovered in 1878 and were transferred to the Ursuline chapel in 1891.[4]


The Centre d'histoire et d'archéologie de la Métabetchouane contains an exhibition discussing the life and works of Father Jean de Quen, as well as a memorial for the explorer.[5]

The AV Jean de Quen in Quebec is named for him.