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Françoise-Marie Jacqueline De La Tour

April 13, 2012 by staff 

Françoise-Marie Jacqueline De La Tour, Francoise Marie Jacqueline, who is more commonly known as Madame La Tour or Madame De La Tour is considered Canada’s first heroine. She had long curly hair and often wore an old fashion gray gown. Madame LaTour was born in 1602 and was the wife of Charles La Tour. They were married in 1640 at Port-Royal and it was his third marriage, they had one child, but he died very young. In 1645 Charles LaTour left her in charge. While Charles was away, her husband enemy D’Aulnay de Charnisay showed up at the Fort. Madame LaTour rose to the occasion and led the fort’s small garrison of about 45 men for three days. The fourth day, the fort finally fell by treason. Madame De La Tour was spared the massacre that followed, but died three weeks later of unknown but probably natural causes at Fort La Tour in 1645. She was buried there, but her grave has never been found.

In 1631, the self-appointed governor of Acadia, Charles de LaTour, established a fort at Portland Point near the mouth of the St. John River. Fort LaTour (also called Fort Sainte Marie) was a strategic location to facilitate fur trading in New France. When one self-appoints himself governor, there’s a good chance that another might step up and feel more entitled. Such was the case with D’Aulnay de Charnisay, who also claimed the governorship of the region. Charles de LaTour’s wife, French actress Madame Francoise Marie de LaTouris considered Canada’s first heroine because of the way she gallantly defended the fort from Charnisay’s four-day attack while her husband was in Boston.

On Easter Sunday, the fifth day of battle, the fort was finally captured while the men were praying at their Easter service. Charnisay bribed his way into the fort, and Madame de LaTour agreed to surrender on the condition that the men’s lives would be spared. Charnisay agreed, then immediately broke his word. He forced Madame de LaTour to watch as he had each one of her men hung in front of her. Within three weeks, Madame LaTour died—one bit of lore says her death was caused by a broken heart, another says she was poisoned by Charnisay.

She was buried near the fort, but her gravesite has been lost to history. Charnisay built Fort Saint Jean on the western side of the harbor. Soon after, he met with his own untimely death by drowning while canoeing off the coast. Charles de LaTour then married Charnisay’s widow and became the undisputed Governor of Acadia. But Madame LaTour’s story didn’t end with her death, if we’re to believe some of the local legends.

Some locals have repeatedly seen a woman in an old-fashioned gray gown strolling along the bay close to the former Navy Island in Jervis Bay. Several people have uncovered some pine coffins in the area while excavating, though historians knew of no graveyard nearby. Some of the workers who made the discovery were quick to spread the word that the remains were that of Madame LaTour’s, but none of the claims have ever proved to actually be true—they were some other woman’s bones.

Fort la Tour itself was razed. Its location was lost in the fogs of history. With it, unfortunately, disappeared any knowledge of the resting place of Madame la Tour, who has often been called “Canada’s unknown heroine.” She is believed to be buried near the fort site. Throughout 1898 two prominent historians, Dr. W.F. Ganong and James Hannay, waged a polite and scholarly but bitter debate in the public prints of New Brunswick. Dr. Ganong cited old maps and quoted Nicholas Denys’ early descriptive writings to prove Fort la Tour was “behind Navy Island” on the east side of the harbour. Mr. Hanny did the same to prove it was “behind Navy Island” on the west side of the harbour. “They continue relentlessly to argue the exact meaning of the old English word ‘behind’,” a contemporary account straight-facedly said.

Mrs. Huia Ryder, an authority on New Brunswick furniture who is also an historian, recalls an old West Side man who claimed he had incontrovertible proof Madame la Tour was buried on his side of the harbour and so the fort must have been there too. On the other hand, historical researchers in recent years excavating on the east side of the harbour have unearthed ancient wall foundations and chimney bases and artifacts which convinced them Fort la Tour was there, in the shadow of today’s great curvaceous harbour bridge. Meanwhile the whereabouts of Madame la Tour’s grave is still a mystery. Just possibly, however, significant clues have come to light.

Mrs. Ryder relates a strange story which she heard around the year 1965, but which cannot now be verified by its original source. Canada’s first heroine may still be walking the bay, waiting for her grave to be found so she can receive a burial and the original site of Fort LaTour was finally discovered by archaeologists. Today, a fenced-in grassy hill with a plaque and a Canadian flag flying proudly overhead marks where the fort once stood. Nearby, the Harbour Bridge casts its shadow over the site.

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