Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child

The Trials

[ Palais de justice de Québec, Palais de justice de Québec en construction, vers 1885., ANQ, ANQ (Québec)  ]

In April 1920, before the Court of King’s Bench in the judicial district of Quebec, two criminal trials were held. Télesphore Gagnon and his wife, Marie-Anne Houde, stood accused of the suspected abuse and negligence that had caused the death of Aurore Gagnon two months earlier. Through the testimony of members of the Gagnon family, neighbours from Fortierville, and medical examiners, we can learn the details of the violence inflicted upon Aurore by her parents. After reading this testimony, we can try to answer two questions: Who? And why?

Who was guilty in the Gagnon affair? The father? The stepmother? The extended family? The neighbouring community, because they did nothing? And why did this family become so "disfunctional" — to use a modern term – to the point that one family member was the victim of blows, burns, and other scandalous abuse, the full nature and extent of which were revealed in court in April 1920?

The archives from various sources allow us to reconstitute the trials. To begin with, we have documents produced by the court: depositions and recorded testimony. These documents are generally an integral reproduction of what was said within the courtrooms. However, in this case, it seems that the court clerk did not do his job very well, since the judge complained about his work following the trial. Another source is the newspaper articles that were written about the Gagnon affair, which provide a good complement to the depositions. Through them, we can learn about the atmosphere that prevailed in court, the crowds that attended the trials, and the reactions of the spectators and the witnesses.

The trial of Marie-Anne Houde took place from April 13 to 21, 1920. Judge Louis-Philippe Pelletier presided this term of the "Assizes." Marie-Anne Houde, like her husband, was tried on the charge of murder. The trial of her husband, Télesphore Gagnon, was held from April 23 to 29 of the same year, and Judge Pelletier was replaced by Judge Joseph-Alfred Désy.

Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History