Compulsively readable, this first social history of the opening up of the Canadian West is a triumph of historical detective work and gives us Siggins at the top of her game.
While researching the biography of Louis Riel, Maggie Siggins became aware of a figure lurking in the background who had had a profound influence on the great Canadian reformer. This was his grand-mother Marie-Anne Lagimodière, née Gaboury. As Siggins’ research progressed, she came to regard Marie-Anne as the most exceptional Canadian woman of the nineteenth century. The perils of Laura Secord and Susanna Moodie paled in comparison, yet she remains largely unknown.
Beautiful and rebellious, Marie-Anne was still unmarried at twenty-five — unheard of in 1800s Quebec habitant society. Furthermore, once she did marry Jean-Baptiste Lagimodière, she insisted on accompanying her fur trapper husband to the uncharted wilderness of western Canada. The year was 1807, and no European woman had yet ventured west of the Great Lakes region. For the next thirty years, she would live among the native people or at fur-trading forts from Pembina to Edmonton House, leading an undoubtedly difficult life but one with freedoms unknown to women in western societies of her time.
Drawing from primary sources, Siggins paints a vivid portrait of life in the West, from survival on the plains and bison hunts to the tribal warfare triggered by the fur-trade economy. Through it all, Marie-Anne survived and thrived, living to ninety-six, the matriarch of a large and diverse family whose descendants still live in Manitoba.
Paperback, 328 pages