Agathe de Saint-Père de Repentigny (1685–1747)

HSMBC plaque for Agathe de Saint-Père de Repentigny in Montréal, Québec © Parks Canada

For the week of Monday, November 22, 2021

On November 28, 1685, Agathe de Saint-Père married Pierre Legardeur de Repentigny. In the years that followed, she became known for her entrepreneurial skills, founding and managing one of the earliest textile factories in Montréal.

Born in 1657 in Ville-Marie (Montréal), Agathe de Saint-Père lost her father, grandfather, and godfather at an early age to wars with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Her mother, Mathurine Godé, subsequently remarried. Her marriage to Jacques Le Moyne de Sainte Marie, brother of wealthy merchant Charles Le Moyne, allowed Agathe de Saint-Père to become part of the colonial elite in New France. After her mother’s death in 1672, the young Agathe had to take care of her younger siblings and manage the family finances. Her responsibilities grew after her marriage to Pierre Legardeur de Repentigny, a military man who was often away from home, leaving Agathe de Saint-Père in charge of his affairs, including the management of seigneuries and fur trade licenses.

In the early 18th century, New France faced an economic downturn as the price of beaver furs dramatically declined and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) spread to North America. To make matters worse, in 1705, the colonists of New France learned that the vessel La Seine, carrying much-needed food and supplies from France for the coming years, had been intercepted by the English fleet. To offset a shortage of textiles in the colony, the King of France temporarily authorized local manufacturing, contrary to the prevailing doctrine of mercantilism, which had protected the French monopoly. 

Agathe de Saint-Père de Repentigny seized this opportunity. With financial support from the King, she established a “cloth, drugget, cross twill and blanket factory” that used local materials, such as nettles, bark fibres, and cottonweed, in place of the traditionally used hemp and flax. She was unable to find skilled workers, so she paid the ransom for nine New England weavers taken captive in New France and assigned local apprentices to assist them. Building upon knowledge from Indigenous nations, she innovated in dyeing fabrics with a variety of materials and expanded into the production of maple sugar, maple syrup, and brown sugar. 

Her success inspired many craftspeople to enter the textile industry. In 1706, there were 28 cloth looms on the Island of Montréal. With the end of the War of the Spanish Succession and the return of mercantilism, Agathe de Saint-Père ceased her operations.

Agathe de Saint-Père de Repentigny is a designated national historic person. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) advises the Government the Government of Canada on the commemoration of national historic persons – individuals who have made unique and enduring contributions to the history of Canada. 

The National Program of Historical Commemoration relies on the participation of Canadians in the identification of places, events and persons of national historic significance. Any member of the public can nominate a topic for consideration by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Learn how to participate in this process.

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