For most of the 17th and 18th century, Québec City was the capital of a vast, new French empire. At its largest – around the year 1700 – New France extended from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains, from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. It was a virtual empire, however, as there were relatively few Frenchmen west of Montréal.
Those who did venture there were mainly fur traders and missionaries, but they left their mark on the toponymy of an enormous chunk of North America. There are lakes: Lac Courtes Oreilles, Lake Le Homme Dieu, Lake Pontchartrain. Rivers: the Des Plaines, the Cache la Poudre, the Brule. Cities: Detroit, Baton Rouge, Des Moines. And there is at least one service station.
Eleven hundred miles straight west of Québec City, you can have your oil changed at Allouez Auto Repair in Superior, Wisconsin. No French spoken here, to be sure, but you will get professional automotive care with a smile.
Claude Allouez was a Jesuit missionary. Born in southern France in the 1620s, he arrived in Québec City in the summer of 1658. By 1663, he was a person of importance in the church hierarchy, sent to Trois-Rivières as Vicar General. In 1665, he was doing missionary work at the western end of Lake Superior, hazardous duty only fifteen or so years after the martyrdom of eight of his colleagues.
The mission he established on Madeleine Island was short-lived, as were most projects of that sort. But his name lives on throughout this part of the world, a part of the world that I visit every fall: Allouez Bridge, just outside of Green Bay, Allouez Township, on Michigan’s upper peninsula, …and Allouez Auto Repair, in Superior, Wisconsin.