The southern area of the Laurentides was inhabited by the nomadic Montagnais and other First Nations, until French Quebecers settled it in the first half of the 19th century, establishing an agricultural presence throughout the valleys. During the 20th century, the area also became a popular tourist destination, based on a cottage and lake culture in the summer, and a downhill and cross-country ski culture in the winter. Ski resorts include St-Sauveur and Mont Tremblant.
The Laurentides still offer a weekend escape for Montrealers and tourists from New England to Ontario, though with the building of a major highway through the area in the 1970s (Autoroute 15), the area has experienced a lot of growth. Its largest city is Saint-Jérôme, in its extreme southeast, with a 2006 census population of 63,729 inhabitants.
The territory where the present city of Saint-Jérôme now stands was granted in 1752 by the marquis de la Jonquière, governor of New France, as the seignory of Augmentation des Mille-Iles (literally "enlargement" of the seignory of Mille-Iles). From the 1760s to the 1840s, the seignory was owned by the Dumont and Lefebvre de Bellefeuille families, living in the town of Saint-Eustache, 25 kilometers (15 miles) to the south. The Dumont and the Lefebvre conceded the farmland to colonists coming mostly from the region lying north of Montreal. The emerging town was then known under the name of Dumontville. The Catholic parish of Saint-Jérôme was constituted on November 15, 1834 and the village itself was constituted on July 1, 1845 by governor Metcalfe.
François-Xavier-Antoine Labelle (November 24, 1833 in Sainte-Rose-de-Lima – January 4, 1891 in Quebec City) was a Roman Catholicpriest and the person principally responsible for the settlement (or "colonization") of the Laurentides. He is also referred to as "Curé Labelle" and sometimes, the "King of the North".
He was born in Sainte-Rose-de-Lima, the son of Maher Angelica and Antoine Labelle, who were not very well off. He studied at the Sainte-Thérèse seminary. Little is known about the first years of his life but it is known that he liked to read Auguste Nicolas and Joseph de Maistre. He added François-Xavier to his name in honour of Saint Francis Xavier. He was ordained as a priest on June 1, 1856 after a comparatively brief theological education from 1852 to 1855. His physical size made him a giant: he was 180 cm tall (6 ft) and weighed 152 kg (300 pounds). He was first appointed vicar at the parish of Sault-au-Récollet by bishop Ignace Bourget, and later to the parish of Saint-Antoine-Abbé, near the United States border, where he worked until 1863, after which he was assigned to the parish of Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle. About 1867, frustrated by his debts, he asked to be transferred to an American diocese or a monastery. Instead, Bishop Bourget asked to him to remain, assigning him to the more prosperous parish of Saint-Jérôme. Read more...