Every town has its tales and its secrets. The most horrific tales are often well-guarded and found in the most obscure places. However, Fortierville wants the world to know that a tomb of a martyred child deserves your love.
Aurore The Child Martyr
When one grows up in the province of Québec, it doesn’t matter which town or metropolis you’re from; you hear the name Aurore, and you know everything. Quebecers don’t need more than ‘Aurore’ to know whom one is referring to.
The story of Aurore transcends time and defies any other legend or folktale. One may ask how and why; the answer is simple: the story has next to no exaggeration. That one story of a real little girl, a child, has been told from generation to generation throughout an entire province and yet, it’s always the same story.
The undying respect the people of Québec have for Aurore is real and tangible. Although it was the actions of one father and stepmother, the entire province took the blame and carried it on its shoulders ever since. It is a dark chapter in Québec’s history that nobody here will ever forget.
A fun fact about Québec is that our vehicle licence plate, just like in the USA, has our slogan, which reads, ‘Je me souviens,’ which translates to ‘I do remember.’ The phrase comes from another dark chapter of our province called ‘Black October.’ But a part of us all thinks it was also for Aurore. Québec is a sentimental and melancholy French land that always carries its morbid history in its heart.
Here is the story of Aurore l’Enfant Martyre…
WARNING/DISCLAIMER: Child Abuse | Death | Death Penalty | Childhood Trauma | Flaying | Cancer | Whipping | Branding | Gore | Torture.
The Origin Of The Gagnon Family
Because of the era, finding a significant length of information on the families involved can take time and effort. The brief life of Aurore happened at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The farming family, Gagnon, was Roman Catholic, and Télesphore became a husband to his wife, Marie-Anne Caron, in September 1906. Both lived in Sainte-Philomène de Fortierville, a small village on the south shore of the Golf Saint-Laurent, roughly one hundred kilometres southwest of Québec City.
The couple had their first daughter and child, Marie-Jeanne Gagnon, born in August 1907. Born Marie-Aurore-Lucienne Gagnon, Aurore was the second child of the family and was born on May 31st, 1909. She had two younger brothers, Georges-Étienne Gagnon, born in 1910 and Joseph Gagnon, in 1915.
Because of the vast spread of diseases, in 1916, sadly, the kind Marie-Anne Caron had to be hospitalised after contracting tuberculosis. Because of widespread tuberculosis and living in a small community, Marie-Anne Caron passed away after fighting the illness for nearly two years. The mother and wife of the Gagnon family died on January 23rd, 1918.
Death Knocked Many Times On The Gagnon Door
Tuberculosis affects the lungs but also other parts of the body. It can affect the brain, kidneys and even the spine. People can die without treatment, which was often the case back then. Today we have vaccines to prevent such a disease from spreading again.
Marie-Anne Caron left not only Télesphore a widower, but also short of a son. They found Joseph Gagnon dead in his bed at only two years old. When the coroner investigated the infant’s death, he declared it was of natural causes. It is a strange statement for a young child without medical records.
What shows to be stranger is that Marie-Anne Houde, a woman in her thirties, was now living in the Gagnon House. She was a widow from one of Télesphore’s cousins living in Sainte-Sophie-de-Lévrard, a nearby village in Fortierville.
The Making Of A Child Martyr
Mrs. Houde entered the family, saying she wanted to care for the house and children. Mrs. Houde was a mother herself. She had two sons, Gérard and Henri-Georges Houde, from her marriage to Télesphore’s cousin.
Télesphore couldn’t care for the farm, family, and house all at once, and accepted Mrs. Houde’s offer. He even went as far as to marry her in a private ceremony. It happened the week that followed her moving into his house.
Meanwhile, for a few months, the Gagnon children lived with their grandparents in Leclercville. It was another nearby village. When the children returned home to their father in the summer of 1919, Aurore would meet her horrifying fate.
Nobody suspected that Mrs. Houde killed the young Joseph but what if she did? Aurore would be more than a victim, however. Aurore would become a martyr.
The Mother Of All Evil Stepmothers
There is not much difference between Mrs. Houde and her two sons with Lady Tremaine. The goal remained the same, traumatising and abusing one daughter, Aurore. At the very least, Lady Tremaine had the decency of having Cinderella serve them and not killing her, as far as we know, that is.
Many people in modern times compared Mrs. Houde to Lady Tremaine. Most people find connecting the dots with pop culture as a reference point easier. Sadly, Aurore’s life differed little from Cinderella‘s if one erased the happy ending.
Mrs. Houde became the face and embodiment of the perfect ‘evil stepmother’ and created nightmares for decades in all of Quebec’s families about to welcome a new mother.
What An Evil Stepmother Is Ready To Do
Many witnesses stepped forward to share their concerns about how Mrs. Houde treated Aurore. They caught her trying to force Aurore to drink detergent in order to poison the child.
What Aurore’s stepmother did wasn’t just physical cruelty, but mind games and abusing her superiority over her stepdaughter. But Aurore’s suffering wasn’t only in attempts at poisoning her. It went much further than liquids.
The accumulation of torture made Aurore a martyr in the eyes of the French province. The torture went on for a year before the authorities stepped inside the Gagnon farmhouse and found the body of Aurore.
Mrs. Houde beat Aurore daily with a log poker and often branded her so the child’s skin would melt and stick to the iron pike. The evil stepmother would also use a leather belt to whip the child on top of her burned and raw skin. Mrs. Houde had no limit to what she would have Aurore suffer through for her own amusement.
Aurore The Perfect Disney Princess
Aurore Gagnon was only ten years old when she was admitted to the Hôtel-Dieu de Québec in September 1919. One of Aurore’s legs had a severe infection that followed the multiple branding inflicted by her evil stepmother. However, once released from the hospital, the nightmare turned into terror.
Aurore was deprived of food and often locked away and forgotten for a day or two. She would then suffer the wrath of Mrs. Houde. Between the psychological trauma of witnessing her father taking part in her daily whipping and beating and branding, Aurore feared something worse. The flaying of her skin was a practice Mrs. Houde inflicted upon the child.
This is the reason the entire province feels such guilt when the name Aurore is mentioned. Nobody intervened. They abused Aurore for an entire year, and was most likely all she could remember. For a year, she knew nothing else than pain, hatred, desolation, and despair. That little girl most likely never remembered love or what it was.
Trying to poison Aurore by forcing her to drink or eat poisonous elements was a game between Mrs. Houde and her father, Télesphore. Upon refusing to comply, Mrs. Houde would often hold Aurore’s hands over the stove centimetres from the flames until it would blister and slap her palms until the bleeding would follow.
The Death Of Aurore Gagnon
On February 12th, 1920, Aurore Gagnon passed away from sepsis—blood poisoning and exhaustion. Dr. Albert Marois of the church sacristy led the autopsy on Aurore’s body. The doctor quickly noticed over fifty visible wounds spread over her petite body.
He confirmed the wounds resulted from several blows spread over time. The wound that stood out the most was a blow to Aurore’s head that cracked her skull and was left unattended or cleaned. He saw dried blood, scabs, and puss. He then focused his attention on Aurore’s left thigh, which was obviously swollen.
Her hands and wrists had no more skin as they ripped it off. In other words, they flayed them down to the bone. Aurore was ten years old, flayed, burned, and ‘stoned’ alive. Not only was she covered in mortal bruises, but it also covered her in blood, and her head spat pus. Ten years old…she was ten years old.
The condition of Aurore’s body was a nightmare and had officials working on the case trembling. Many vomited at the view and images of what Aurore went through. Most officials were parents, and knowing such evil existed under their noses made them sick to their stomachs. Aurore’s body was a monument to Fortierville’s failure to save an innocent child.
Aurore Never Knew Justice
On February 14th, 1920, Valentine’s Day, Aurore Gagnon’s funeral took place. The mass was led by Father Ferdinand Massé. Once the funeral ended, Télesphore Gagnon and Marie-Anne Houde were under arrest and charged with Aurore’s death.
Mrs. Houde had no mercy for the jury. Her sentence was death by hanging, as they still practised the death penalty. However, the final verdict changed, and Mrs. Houde would instead serve her sentence in prison for the remainder of her life.
Yet, the verdict changed again, as Mrs. Houde was released on July 3rd, 1935. However, her release was due to her health, as Mrs. Houde was diagnosed with breast and brain cancer. The evil stepmother died on May 12th, 1936, at forty-six.
As for Télesphore Gagnon, Aurore’s father, he was charged with manslaughter and sentenced to life in prison. Strangely enough, the jury did not charge him with Aurore’s murder, as they believed his wife, Mrs. Houde manipulated him to abuse his daughter.
Télesphore walked out of prison in 1925 because of his good behaviour. Someone then diagnosed him with a throat tumour. The doctors who saw him believed he would die within the year. The evil father was luckier than they thought and survived the tumour and regained his health.
Télesphore moved back into his house and continued farming. He would even write to his wife, Mrs. Houde, for a while before he remarried.Télesphore Gagnon passed away on August 30th, 1961, and was seventy-eight years old.
Aurore Would Haunt Télesphore’s To His Death
Despite trying to live a life away from curious eyes and maintaining a low profile, Télesphore couldn’t avoid the media. His name was in the spotlight, spread throughout the province, and reached the rest of Canada.
Télesphore tried to put a stop to a film production based on Aurore’s life that would tarnish his name and Mrs. Houde’s. The Gagnon family tried to step in to stop the film as well, fearing for their reputation associated with Télesphore, but the movie went on and was released.
Aurore’s life knew many adaptations from theatre, ballet, movies, the silver screen, and books. She became a great inspiration to many authors and writers. I refuse to spend time on those who say her life was pathetic or embellished for dramatic purposes. If one goes to Fortierville, one can still feel her melancholia. Aurore always stayed.
Finding Aurore’s tombstone would be easy if you ever walk by the Fortierville Cemetery. They drowned it in gifts, plushies, dolls, flowers, and letters. To this day, strangers leave something to the little girl who suffered so much and never knew justice.
Aurore is a hero, an icon, a child martyr Québec will never forget, but the entire world should know about her story. Remember the name Aurore The Child Martyr, if not for me, for all the children that die in silence because one of us closed their eyes to their suffering.