Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child

The Aftermath of the Trials

[ Maison Gagnon, février 2004, Peter Gossage,   ]

The mistreatment inflicted on Aurore Gagnon remains etched in the collective memory of Quebecers. Also remembered, to a certain point, is Marie-Anne Houde’s trial and her death sentence. However, there is little recollection of her husband’s trial or of the Gagnon couple’s fate in the months and years that followed.

What happened to the Gagnon couple after their sensational trials of April 1920? One thing is certain: media attention was much more restrained, particularly where Télesphore Gagnon was concerned. The sentence that Marie-Anne Houde received, however, was the subject of strong feelings and controversy.

Télesphore Gagnon was sent to St. Vincent de Paul prison in Laval to serve a life sentence for manslaughter in the death of his daughter. He seems to have been a good prisoner, for he was released in 1925 for good behaviour. Some versions also have it that he was stricken with throat cancer. He returned to live in Ste. Philomène de Fortierville, his home town and the place where Aurore Gagnon had died.

Marie-Anne Houde spent the summer of 1920 confined in the Quebec City prison. The judge allowed several months between the date of her sentencing and the date of her hanging, so that she could give birth to the child she was carrying and could nurse it for the first months of its life. On July 8, 1920, Marie-Anne Houde gave birth in prison to not one but two babies: a boy and a girl (Roch-Jean and Jeanne d’Arc). They were immediately baptised, with the prison guard and the prison matron acting as their godfather and godmother.

The birth of the twins awakened in the public a feeling of pity for Marie-Anne Houde, or at least for her newborn babies. This was one of the factors behind the emergence, in the summer of 1920, of a campaign for clemency in her case, organized by the Canadian Prisoners’ Welfare Association. This campaign bore fruit at the very last moment. On September 29, 1920, two days before the date she was scheduled to hang in the Quebec City prison, the federal Minister of Justice, Monsieur C. J. Doherty, decided to commute the death sentence of Marie-Anne Houde to one of life imprisonment. She was then transferred to the Kingston Penitentiary, where she spent most of the rest of her days.

Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History