History of French-Speaking Canada

Nothing Frightens Mrs. Tremblay: Portrait of a Pioneer

FORTIN (TREMBLAY), Émilie — This heroine of the North was born on January 4, 1872, in Saint-Joseph-d’Alma, Quebec. When Émilie was 15 years old, her family emigrated to Cohoes, New York (U.S.A.). There she met Nolasque Tremblay, whom she married on December 11, 1893. On June 16, 1894, after a 5000-mile honeymoon journey replete with amusing incidents, Émilie arrived in Fortymile, Yukon. In so doing she became the first white woman to have crossed the Chilkoot Pass.

The couple spent a winter in Miller Creek, in a little log cabin with a sod roof and a window made of glass bottles. That year, Émilie sent out invitations written on birch bark to all the miners in the region, inviting them to share Christmas dinner.

The menu included stuffed rabbit, roast caribou, boiled brown beans, King Oscar sardines, dried potatoes, butter and sourdough bread, and prune pudding.

In the spring, Émilie and her husband made a garden on the roof of their cabin and harvested an abundance of radishes and lettuce. From the fall of 1895 to the spring of 1898, the Tremblays visited their families in the United States and Quebec. They returned by the Chilkoot Pass in the middle of the Gold Rush. In 1906, they travelled in Europe for four months. Up until 1913, Mr. and Mrs. Tremblay moved from one mining claim to another in the Klondike. Following financial difficulties, Émilie and Nolasque came to settle in Dawson. There Émilie opened a women's clothing store. Today this store is a heritage building in Dawson City.

Émilie Tremblay was a very courageous woman who distinguished herself by her social involvement and devotion to others. She was the founder of the Ladies of the Golden North, President of the Yukon Women Pioneers and a life member of the Daughters of the Empire. The numerous medals she received for her good deeds, and some of her souvenirs, have been entrusted to the Saguenay Museum in Quebec. She was the godmother of 25 children, in addition to raising one of her nieces from the United States, the daughter of her sister, who had been left a widow with nine children. She brought the young girl to the Yukon upon her return from Europe. The Tremblay home was always open to travellers, missionaries and widows. Monsignor Bunoz called Émilie the "mother of the Klondike missionaries." During the war, she knitted 263 pairs of socks for the soldiers, not to mention the many she gave away as gifts.

A year after the death of her husband in 1935, Émilie visited her family and friends in Quebec and the United States (1936-1939). Back in Dawson, she married Louis Lagrois in 1940, at the age of 68. The mass was celebrated by Father Leray. Following her second marriage, she left her business and moved into Mr. Lagrois' cabin at Grand Forks in the Yukon. In August 1946, she went to San Francisco to attend the annual convention of former Yukon pioneers. She spent the last years of her life in a retirement home in Victoria, British Columbia. Émilie Tremblay died on April 22, 1949, at the age of 77.

The French-language school in Whitehorse was named in honour of this pioneer. Moreover, a videocassette recounting the important moments in Émilie Tremblay’s life has been produced with the participation of the students at this school (BOBILLIER, M. Une pionnière du Yukon, AFY, Entrevue avec Émilie Tremblay, Chicoutimi, Quebec, April 1937, p. 8; GIRARD, C., and R. LAROCHE. Un jardin sur le toit, p. 90 ).

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