Long forgotten library opens doors to early Canadian history

Pipes that burst in the basement of the diocesan offices of Bathurst, N.B., led to the discovery of books dating back to the 16th century.

Pipes that burst in the basement of the diocesan offices of Bathurst, N.B., led to the discovery of books dating back to the 16th century.

July 27, 2015
EVAN BOUDREAU
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

For years the outdated library in the basement of the Bathurst, N.B., diocesan offices saw more mice and rats than readers, said Bishop Daniel Jodoin. But when pipes burst during the spring thaw, new doors were opened to our nation's past.

The flood waters brought closer inspection of the library and the discovery of historical texts dating back to Canada's earliest days.

"I was here for more than two years in the house and I found the basement was the former library of the diocese," said Jodoin. "It was full of junk and everything you don't need along with these books."

Jodoin had planned a major cleanup over the next year, but the burst pipes called for immediate action. He rallied a crew to remove the books from the mould-infested library, which is to be converted into a conference room. Little did he know they were embarking on a treasure hunt.

"We were getting rid of most of the books that we didn't need . . . when one of the cleanup guys found these old books," he said. "He showed them to me and (asked) 'What do you want me to do with these?' I opened them and I read the dates, and I was so surprised. I couldn't believe that these books were here."

Some of the texts dated back to the late 1500s.

"To think that here in Bathurst, N.B., that you can find books from 1589. When you do a little clean up you never know what you are going to find," said Jodoin.

The 16th-century texts are the oldest of the finds. A number of others, published in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s, make up the rest of the historical collection.

"There are books about theology in Latin or Greek . . . and catechisms in Mi'kmaq," the language of the local First Nations, said Jodoin.

Contained between the hand-bound covers, which Jodoin said appear to be lamb skin, are the works of St. Augustine, St. Thomas and the Borgias.

But not all the books focus on the Church. There are two fully intact collections published in 1770 by France's King Louis XVI, "a big collection about trees, flowers and minerals."

The diocese has amateur historian Albert Dugas working on the exact origins of the texts. An archivist with the Bathurst Heritage Museum, Florence Gray, also spent a number of days carefully examining the texts and diligently thumbing through the old records.

"We are trying to figure out how they got here and who brought them here," said Jodoin.

All three are inclined to believe that Father Pierre Maillard brought the works with him from Europe by boat in the 18th century.

"But we are not sure," said Jodoin. It is believed that Maillard, dubbed the Negotiator of the Mi'Kmaq, did the translation for the catechisms that were found.

Although the books are not original prints or first editions and therefore hold little monetary value, Jodoin sees them as a priceless treasure.

"It is amazing to touch books that were here at the beginning of the colony here," he said. "It is precious because it is something special. It is very special."