A botanist at the Mingan archipelago

Brother Marie-Victorin holding a Mingan thistle (Cirsium minganense) during a plant collection at Grande Île à la Vache-Marine, 1928. © Université de Montréal archives division
Limestone monoliths at Anse des Érosions on Île Quarry. © Parks Canada. All rights reserved. / Éric Lajeunesse

For the week of July 27, 2020.

On July 28, 1924, Brother Marie-Victorin and his colleague Rolland-Germain identified the Mingan thistle, a plant that is today a symbol of the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve, which is part of the Nitassinan territory. According to Brother Marie Victorin, it was the “most spectacular scientific finding of our explorations in the Anticosti Minganie region.”

Brother Marie-Victorin was born Conrad Kirouac in 1885 in Kingsey Falls, Quebec. He studied at the Québec City commercial school and later at Mont-de-la-Salle, a novitiate of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in Montréal, where he was given the name Brother Marie Victorin in 1901. After two years at the novitiate, he became a teacher at Saint-Jérôme and then at the Longueuil commercial and industrial college. During this time, Brother Marie Victorin developed a genuine passion for botany, which led him to publish scientific articles and La flore du Témiscouata (1916), which details the plants he collected from the region.

In the hopes of identifying the flora of Quebec, in 1924, he started exploring the Mingan archipelago, part of the Innu traditional territory, which had been largely unvisited by Western botanists. Aboard Virginia, and with the help of Brother Rolland-Germain, Brother Marie Victorin completed the first of what would be many trips to the Anticosti-Minganie area. Their first few days in the region proved successful. The two botanists identified several species of interesting plants and identified rock formations that are specific to the Minganie area: limestone monoliths that bore witness to water and wind erosion.

While he was collecting plants on Île Quin (Île du Fantôme, according to current toponymy), Brother Marie Victorin identified a thistle unknown to Quebec botanists at the time, which he named the Mingan thistle, or Cirsium minganense. He was confident that this was a new species for science, only later learning from his research that an almost identical thistle can be found thousands of kilometres away in the Rocky Mountains. The scientific data collected by Brother Marie-Victorin remains important, not only for Canadian botany, but also for the Mingan archipelago. It reflects the unique characteristic of the flora in the region’s limestone islands.

Brother Marie-Victorin is a designated national historic person. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) advises the Government of Canada on the commemoration of National Historic Persons—individuals who have made unique and enduring contributions to the history of Canada.

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Learn more about Parks Canada’s approach to public history by checking out the Framework for History and Commemoration (2019) on our website.

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