Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child

The Archives

[ Intérieur de l'église de Fortierville, février 2004, Peter Gossage,   ]

Archives house collections of documents which enable us to reconstruct and relive our collective past. The documents upon which this site is based come from various archival collections and are, moreover, of a very varied nature. You can find, for example, personal documents, photographs, books, newspapers and, of course, court documents.

Each Canadian province is in charge of the archives arising from its administrative functions, including its judicial system. In Quebec, there are nine regional archival centres. Generally, each centre keeps the archives for its territory. Since the trials of Marie-Anne Houde and of Télesphore Gagnon took place in Quebec City, the archives concerning them are in the Quebec National Archives ( in Quebec City, situated on the campus of Laval University. Among the documents in the Quebec National Archives regarding the Gagnon affair, we find the following items: depositions, letters, warrants for arrest, bills of indictment, lists of witnesses and of exhibits, and other judicial documents.

One witness followed another into the witness box during the two trials, resulting in the production of many documents. In particular, there are a large number of depositions, which are official transcripts of the testimony, and whose length can vary between several pages and several dozen pages, according to the importance of the witness. For practical reasons, we could not include this entire body of documents on this site. Choices were made in order to build comprehensible and representative "virtual archive." We have therefore selected the depositions that reveal the most about the family's functioning, the relationship between the Gagnon family and its relatives (those who lived with the family and who were therefore direct witnesses of the mistreatment), the ties with the neighbours (who were aware of events or who heard the parents declare that they had to beat Aurore), as well as those that are of interest from a medical standpoint.

Although the documents from the Quebec National Archives are our principal source, we have had recourse to other archival collections, in particular the National Archives of Canada ( Following a trial that ended with a death sentence -- if the trial took place anywhere in Canada -- the relevant files were transferred to the Ministry of Justice in Ottawa, where they were placed in the "Capital Case Files." Since Marie-Anne Houde had been sentenced to be hanged, the trial's entire file, as well as the petitions from the campaign for commutation and the correspondence produced during all the years of imprisonment, are at the National Archives of Canada. These documents provide abundant information on the commutation of the death penalty, as well as on the correspondence regarding Houde's release. This file is all the more valuable since it also contains personal letters from Marie-Anne Houde and members of her family.

When historians speak of "primary sources," they mean not only archival manuscripts, but also documents printed and published during the period in question, including newspaper articles. The trials of Marie-Anne Houde and of Télesphore Gagnon aroused the interest of journalists and were covered intensely by the mass-circulation dailies in the province of Quebec, particularly the French-language ones. These newspapers systematically followed the progress of the trials by introducing their readership to all the actors directly or indirectly linked to this family tragedy, and by presenting excerpts from the most incriminating testimony. For the purposes of this site, we have chosen four newspapers in order to learn about the media coverage of the Gagnon affair in a selective but balanced way. They are: two Montreal newspapers aimed at different audiences, that is to say, La Presse and Le Devoir; a newspaper published in the city where the trials were taking place, that is to say Le Soleil from Quebec City; as well as a regional newspaper, La Tribune from Sherbrooke.

Quebec's National Archives, the National Archives of Canada, and the newspapers therefore make up the largest sections of these "virtual archives." We also include a large number of documents, of varying natures and origins, pertaining to the Gagnon affair, and particularly to its echoes in Quebec popular culture. These range from an excerpt from the text of the stage play Aurore l’enfant martyre (Aurore the Child Martyr) (1921), to a copy of the poster announcing the 1952 film, to images taken from a souvenir album published in 1982 by the Municipality of Fortierville. You are invited to glance through this heterogeneous section of our archives by clicking on the various document types presented on the menu at the left of the screen.

Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History