Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child

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Le Soleil, September 30, 1920 p. 1


The special circumstances which have developed since she was sentenced have led Ottawa to reach this decision. The condemned woman weeps when she hears the news, concerned solely with her newborn twins.


Yesterday, an order in council from Ottawa commuted the death sentence of Marie-Anne Houde to one of life imprisonment. Everything was ready for the woman's execution: the executioner, Ellis, was in town yesterday, seeing to the final preparations.

When her lawyer, Maître J. N. Francoeur, brought her the happy news in jail, she broke down, tearfully crying:" I'm happy for my two children."

For some weeks now, the Gagnon woman, who was to go to the gallows tomorrow, had become quite aware of her terrible situation. She had been eating very little and sleeping hardly at all.

She had eaten nothing since last Monday. She did not seem to seek pity for herself, but was most concerned with the welfare of the twins, worrying about what was to become of them after she died.

"I would die content, if a family were to take in my children," she would often say.

The first to receive news of the commutation was Maître Francoeur, the Gagnon woman's lawyer, who had made every possible effort to obtain it. It was his associate, Maître Thomas Vien, who telephoned him from Ottawa with news of the Privy Council’s decision. Maître Vien had been waiting in Ottawa for the deliberations to end. Yesterday, Monsieur Francoeur stated that what weighed most strongly in favour of the sentence's commutation was surely the fact that ten of the twelve jurors who had condemned the woman to death had signed a request to change the sentence, the foreman and spokesman being among them. It has been impossible to reach the other two jurors, who live in the country at a far distance.


In Quebec City, public opinion is divided concerning the death sentence of the Gagnon woman. Many who, only days ago, were loudly calling for the ultimate punishment for the unfortunate woman have now, with the fateful day fast approaching, become calmer. Many who, throughout the trial, incessantly voiced their indignation and demanded the death penalty afterwards signed petitions requesting commutation of the sentence. Yet many others wished to see the law follow its course and had pity for neither mother nor children. They were unable to forget the horrible tale of suffering endured by the poor little girl, Aurore, who died as a result of her mistreatment at the hands of the Gagnon woman. The events, revealed in court, are among the most revolting imaginable. Canadian criminal history may in fact contain no sadder a tale. We all remember that the three children of Gagnon’s, who is at present in St. Vincent de Paul Penitentiary, gave testimony that led to their mother being condemned. It is believed that the woman will remain in the Quebec City jail, where she will care for her two children for some time still. She will then be sent to Kingston Penitentiary to serve her sentence. Yesterday, before receiving news of her commutation, she received a visit from her brother and, in the course of a long conversation, bemoaned at length the fate of her two children. She did not seem concerned about her own well-being.

A Quebec City family having offered to take custody of the children, it seems the mother's wish will be fulfilled, and they will not be sent to a home for foundlings.

Maître J. N. Francoeur, the condemned woman's lawyer, had done everything possible to have the sentence commuted. Having performed the most thankless job a lawyer could be called upon to do, Maître Francoeur displayed great skill in the criminal court and then went on to fulfill his duties conscientiously to the end. He deserves everyone's admiration for the great courage he has shown.


We cite hereunder the content of the telegram sent to Sheriff Blouin by the Under-Secretary of State, sometime last evening:

"I am instructed to inform you that His Excellency the Governor General has been pleased to order the commutation to life imprisonment of the death sentence handed down by the Honourable Mr. Justice Pelletier, in the case of Marie-Anne Gagnon. Communicate the contents of this telegram, which I will confirm by letter tomorrow."

Under-Secretary of State

Source: Le Soleil, "On a commué la sentence de la femme Gagnon," Le Soleil (Québec), September 30, 1920.

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Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History