Malachite’s Big Hole
Marie-Anne Gaboury was a young French Canadian woman who grew up in the village of Maskinongé near Three Rivers. As she grew up she was employed as an assistant housekeeper at the local abbé. In April of 1806, she married a freeman trapper named Jean-Baptiste Lajimonière. Lajimonière had returned to civilization the previous autumn, apparently with the intention of settling down, but with the spring break up of the ice in 1806, found that the call of the wild was too strong. He informed his new bride that he would be returning to Indian Country, and might be gone for as many as several years. After all efforts to change his mind were unsuccessful, Marie-Anne decided to accompany her husband to the wilderness. Undoubtedly she was well aware that hivernants would often take a "Country Wife" and perhaps this was part of her motivation.
In the summer of 1806 Marie-Anne and Lajimonière made a long trek with a North West Company brigade to Pembina. Here Lajimonière joined a group of free trappers, exposing Marie-Anne to hardships of a nomadic hunting existence. For the birth of their first child, Marie-Anne sought shelter at the Hudson's Bay Company post at Pembina, where on January 6, 1807 a daughter was born.
In the spring of 1807 the couple left Pembina for Fort des Prairies (Fort Edmonton) traveling by canoe with three other French Canadian freeman who were accompanied by their Cree women. Marie-Anne became friends with these women, and adopted some of their ways. She had to endure months of hardships while living on the prairies. One terrifying experience she had in August of 1807 while she was pregnant with her second child. She was riding a buffalo horse (that is a horse trained to chase buffalo) with her daughter tucked in a saddle bag when they suddenly came on a herd of buffalo. The horse, knowing what to do without any guidance, immediately gave chase to the buffalo, with the desperate woman clinging to its back until she and her daughter could be rescued by Lajimonière. That night she gave birth to a son, and three days later was back in the saddle riding to Fort Edmonton.
When the Red River settlement was founded in 1811, Lajimonière moved there to establish a permanent home for his growing family. However, the early years of the settlement were the scene of almost continual conflict. In the summer of 1815, the settlement was destroyed by Nor'Westers and the Métis, but was re-established in the fall of that year. In October of 1815, Lajimonière was asked to carry dispatches to Lord Selkirk in Montreal to inform him of the condition of the colony, a task which carried much risk.
Marie-Anne and the children were to stay at the Hudson's Bay Company post in his absence: in the event of his death, the Company would pay her an annuity of seven pounds per year for ten years. Lajimonière was successful in delivering the dispatches, however he was captured by the Nor'Westers on his return and held at Fort William. While there he heard reports of the Seven Oaks massacre and the capture of a Hudson's Bay Company post by the Nor'Westers. While Lajimonière feared that his family was captured or killed in the raid, Marie-Anne had fled at the approach of danger down the river and received refuge with Ojibwa Indians who had sided with the settlers in the conflict. It was not until the autumn of 1816 that Marie-Anne and the children were re-united with Lajimonière, when he returned to the Red River colony.
Marie-Anne and Lajimonière settled on a tract of land on the east bank of the Red River, which had been granted to Lajimonière by Lord Selkirk. She was the first "white" women to live in Western Canada, and would live here for the next fifty years.
For more information about Marie-Anne Gaboury see:
Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society in Western Canada, 1670-1870; by Van Kirk, Sylvia, published by Watson & Dwyer Publishing, 1981.