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The "White Lady" of the West

For the week of Monday August 11, 2003

On August 16, 1780, Marie-Anne Gaboury was baptized in the Quebec community of Maskinongé. Marie-Anne, who in 1806 would become one of the first Euro-Canadian women, and certainly the first Francophone woman, to settle in Western Canada, had numerous adventures worthy of a storybook heroine throughout her life.

Drawing: Marie-Anne Gaboury and Jean-Baptsiste Lagimodière arriving in the Saskatchewan valley.
© Collection of the Saint-Boniface Museum (0437)
Her adventure began when she met Jean-Baptiste Lagimodière. When this coureur de bois, unable to resist the call of the West, told Marie-Anne about his impending departure, she decided to follow him to those far away lands. They married on April 21, 1806, and the following month the couple embarked on a long, three-month canoe trip. Along rivers and portages, the now pregnant Marie-Anne had to fight exhaustion and the whims of Mother Nature. Once they arrived in the area where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet, now Manitoba, the Lagimodières set out for Pembina where they planned to settle. The young catholic woman then had to adapt to this rudimentary new lifestyle; she did not speak the same language as her Aboriginal friends and could not practice her religion because no missionary had yet set foot in this area.

View in Selkirk Settlement, Manitoba
© Library and Archives Canada / C-008714
In 1807, Jean-Baptiste took his wife and newborn child to Fort des Prairies, in the Saskatchewan Valley. For four years, Marie-Anne led a nomadic life, accompanying her husband on his numerous hunting trips. When Lord Selkirk of the Hudson’s Bay Company founded a Scottish settlement on the Red River in 1812, the Lagimodières were among the first permanent settlers in the area. Marie-Anne could then look forward to the arrival of missionaries and other white women. However, the first years of the new settlement were perilous. The violent conflict between the Hudson’s Bay and the North West fur trading companies put the settlers in danger. After peace was restored in 1817, poor crop yields followed. However, with much determination, life in the settlement soon became pleasant.

In December 1875, Marie-Anne Gaboury passed away at the age of 95. She left behind eight of her 10 children, the first three having been, respectively, the first white babies of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. She was a pioneer in the history of Western Canada. Marie-Anne and her husband played an important role in the development of the Red River Settlement and the fur trade there. She was also the grandmother of Louis Riel, following with interest the outcome of the Métis rebellion of 1869-70. Marie-Anne Gaboury was thus designated a person of national historic significance in 1982.

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