Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child

Life Imprisonment?

After her death sentence was commuted, Marie-Anne Houde was transferred from the Quebec City prison to the Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario. This federal penitentiary had had a section for women since 1839 and this notorious figure (at least in French-speaking Quebec) would live there for 15 years.

Saved from the gallows at the last minute by a reformist campaign, was Marie-Anne Houde satisfied with her lot? Did she resign herself to her status of murderess and life prisoner? Not at all! As early as 1923, Marie-Anne Houde was writing letters in which she expressed the desire to return to her family and take care of her home. She wrote appeals for her release every year, but they were always rejected. During these same years, members of her family wrote to her and appealed to the Minister of Justice to express their desire to have their family member back with them. Finally, in 1935, no doubt because she was in a critical state of health, Marie-Anne Houde received a positive response from the remissions office. She was thus released on July 3, 1935, and went to stay with a female cousin in Montreal, where she spent the last months of her life. Marie-Anne Houde died on May 12, 1936, probably because of breast cancer which had spread to her lungs.

In the letters she wrote during her years in Kingston, Marie-Anne Houde regularly brought up her husband’s situation – he had been released after serving five years in prison – and complained of the unequal treatment she claimed to have received in the Gagnon affair. Did she have a point, to a certain extent? What do you think of the way in which she formulated her appeals for release? Does it seem strange to you that she evoked her motherly duties, considering that she had been found guilty of killing a little girl she was taking care of? We invite you to read this fascinating correspondence and formulate your own conclusions.

Government Documents


Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History