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"Grandmother of the Winds"

For the week of Monday, July 18, 2016

On July 19, 2011, Catherine Beaulieu Bouvier Lamoureux became the first woman from the Northwest Territories to be designated as a national historic person. She represents a nearly forgotten generation of Métis matriarchs whose Aboriginal and European connections and skills fostered Mackenzie Basin culture. Aboriginal women’s stories are rarely part of mainstream history. Much of what we know about Beaulieu comes from oral tradition and by piecing together a small number of historical records.

Catherine Beaulieu (far right) with her second husband and her family, 1912
© Parks Canada

Catherine Beaulieu was born in 1836, near the border of what are now Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Her father, François Beaulieu II, controlled a vast northern trading system. In 1848, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) put him in charge of the Fort Resolution trading post, and the family moved to Great Slave Lake at the mouth of the Salt River.

When she was 16, Catherine Beaulieu married Joseph Bouvier, and they raised five children. Committed to the Catholic Church, the family helped to establish the first Oblate mission in the North in 1862. Situated on the Mackenzie River about 80 kilometres from Great Slave Lake, this became Fort Providence, and the family’s new home. Joseph Bouvier died in 1877 and two years later Catherine Beaulieu Bouvier married Jean-Baptiste Lamoureux.

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This photograph, taken by Oblate Father Duchaussois at Providence ca. 1900, may be of Catherine Beaulieu Bouvier Lamoureux and her dog team
© Parks Canada

Like many in the Canadian northwest, Beaulieu likely spoke Michif, French, Cree, Chipewyan, and Slavey. Her Dene and French-Canadian background helped her to make connections with the Métis, First Nations, the Catholic Church, and the HBC. Beaulieu not only gardened and raised livestock; she also hunted, trapped, and fished. She taught the missionaries First Nations languages and customs, and her family hunted for the mission. She also used her connections among the Dene to encourage them to trade directly with the mission rather than with the HBC. When the Grey Nuns set up a school and a hospital at the mission, Beaulieu was a strong supporter of the initiative and was among the first to send her children.

Even at an advanced age, she often made the 230 kilometre trip to Fort Rae with a dogsled team in order to deliver mail and visit family. These immense trips earned her the name Ehtsu Naast’i, “Grandmother of the Winds.” Also known as Kokum Baie, “One who sustains life,” she died August 24, 1918, at the age of 82.

To learn more about northern women, please read The Interpreter in the Golden Dress, Sketches from the Life of a Labrador Woman, and Ambassadress of Peace, in the This Week in History archives.

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