Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wednesday’s Child: Aurore, l’enfant martyre

Aurore Gagnon gravemarker
Gravemarker of Aurore Gagnon*
* Image courtesy of

Aurore Gagnon lived a brief life. Her last few years were filled with pain and abuse. She died too young at ten years old, 94 years ago this month.

It wasn’t until I prepared this article that I discovered that Aurore and I are related. We share a distant (17th century) common ancestral couple, Jean Gagnon and his wife Marguerite Cauchon, which makes me Aurore’s 9th cousin once removed.

My Experience

I was about 8 to 10 years old when I first heard of Aurore, l’enfant martyre [Aurore, the child martyr]. My best friend, Joanne, asked if I wanted to see a movie about a little girl. I don’t remember if she told me other details about the story, but since it was being shown in the basement of our parish church a block from where we lived, I said I’d go.

Joanne and I walked to the church, Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes, opened the big double doors, and went down the stairs to a semi-darkened basement. Rows of chairs were arranged facing the film screen. We took our places, and soon the movie began.

It was in black-and-white, and in French. There wasn't any problem understanding the language, since Joanne and I were French-Canadian. But, soon, a problem manifested itself. You see, I didn’t know anything about this little Aurore. I also didn’t know anything about child abuse. It wasn’t long into the movie before I got so uncomfortable and frightened with the story and images that I decided I had to get out of there before the picture was over. I don’t know if I even bothered to tell Joanne that I was leaving, but I got up and made my way back to the staircase and out of the church.

I felt a great sense of relief as I stepped into the daylight and fresh air of that afternoon. As I walked home, my mind was filled with thoughts of that poor child and the horrible pain she suffered. It’s with hindsight that I wish someone would have told me about the movie before I agreed to see it, that an adult could have been present with my friend and I to watch over us, and that prior to the showing, someone could have told the audience that the film might not be suitable for children under a certain age. (I don’t think I told my mother much about the movie before I went to see it that day, otherwise I doubt she would have let me go.)

The movie I saw all those years ago in the 1960s was probably the 1952 version titled La petite Aurore: l'enfant martyre. A few years ago, another version was released in 2005, simply called Aurore. I saw this French-language colour production on television, and this time, was able to sit through to the end. I was very moved by it, but not distressed in the same way I was when a young child.

Aurore’s Story

Aurore Gagnon was born on 31 May 1909 in Fortierville, Lotbinière County, Quebec. She was baptised there at Sainte-Philomène church and received the names Marie Aurore Lucienne.

When she was about seven years old, her life changed. Her mother Marie-Anne Caron became ill with tuberculosis and was hospitalized. Another woman, Marie-Anne Houde, a widowed mother related by marriage to Aurore’s father Télesphore Gagnon, moved in. Aurore’s youngest sibling, Joseph, died suddenly in November 1917; he was only two years old. Soon afterwards, Aurore’s mother died in January 1918. One week later, on 1 February, Télesphore married Marie-Anne Houde.

Aurore suffered physical abuse from her step-mother, as well as her father. After years of mistreatment, Aurore fell into a coma. She died at home on 12 February 1920. The coroner’s report noted “54 wounds, which ‘could only have been the result of the blows to the child’s body’.” [1]


Télesphore and Marie-Anne were arrested, sent to trial, and found guilty. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, but released after serving five years. She was sentenced to be hanged that fall. In the intervening time, Marie-Anne gave birth to twins; not long after, her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. However, she was released in 1935, and died the following year. For his part, Télesphore married a third time, and died in 1961.

Further reading

• Aurore Gagnon, l'enfant martyre in “Histoire” at [in French]

• Généalogie de Aurore, l'enfant martyr at FrancoGène [in French]

• “Aurore Gagnon” at Dictionary of Canadian Biography

• "Aurore Gagnon" at Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

• Aurore! The mystery of the martyred child at Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History


1. Dictionary of Canadian Biography ( : accessed 8 February 2014), “Gagnon, Aurore”.

Copyright © 2014, Yvonne Demoskoff.


  1. Oh, what a sad saga of a short, unhappy life. I would have done just what you did, walk out of the movie that first time. Now, so many years later, I'm glad you shed light on Aurore's situation.

    1. I had long thought about writing something to remember Aurore; now I'm pleased that I did. Thank you for commenting, Marian.