Saint John New Brunswick

The story below was taken from the Times Globe, Wednesday, March 18/98

Our Lady of Mystery

Madame La Tour

    After 43 years, the verdict is in on fragments of bone found at Fort La Tour: They could belong to any Caucasian female.

By Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon
Times Globe staff writer

    The mystery of Madame La Tour remains just that - a mystery.

   Amateur and professional archeologists were hoping a recent analysis of bone fragments found during a 1955 excavation of Fort La Tour would reveal more about the 17th century site and the people who lived an died there.

   The only conclusion that could be drawn, however, was that the bone fragments were probably Caucasian and possibly a woman. But the anthropologist who studied the bones stressed one shouldn't assume they must be Madame La Tour's.

   Professor Moira McLaughlin was quick to say there is "absolutely no way of knowing" if the two mandibular bone fragments (from the jaw area), as well as cranial (skull) and tibial (leg) bones, were those of Madame La Tour.

   "There's been so many different kinds of occupations and the site is so disturbed... It could be anybody," she said.

   This inconclusiveness has left some historians a bit disappointed.

   "It would have been interesting if she could have said they belonged to a lady in her 30's, for example, but she told me there was not enough there to say," said Fidele Thériault, a historian with the province's archeological services, who requested that the bones be analyzed.

   Asked whether he had hoped the findings would point to Madame La Tour, Mr. Thériault replied, "Now we know what they are. We have a report from a professional, that's all I wanted to know."

   Next month marks the 353rd anniversary of the fall of the fort and the death of Françoise Marie Jacquelin, more commonly known as Madame La Tour. She died at the site in April of 1645 after leading a valiant defence of the fort against attack by a rival French lord during her husband's absence.

   Charles de Saint-Etienne, better known as La Tour, and Charles de Menou d'Aulnay were both governors of Acadia and quarrelled over their jurisdictions as well as the division of the valuable fur trade.

   For three days, Madame La Tour and the garrison held the traitorous d'Aulnay at bay as he bombarded the fort from the mouth of the Saint John river.

   Betrayed by one of her own men, a Swiss guard who opened the gates to the attackers, Madame La Tour finally surrendered to d'Aulnay on Easter Sunday on the condition that the lives of her men would be spared.

La Tour forced to watch the hanging of her men

   But d'Aulnay went back on his word. Madame La Tour, bound and with a rope around her neck, was forced to watch as her remaining loyal supporters were hanged and strangled one by one.

   Three weeks later, she died of "a broken heart." D'Aulnay reportedly ordered her burial behind the fort among the dead soldiers and allowed her honours for the courage she had shown.

   So the grave of Madame La Tour, arguably the first heroine in Canadian history, is somewhere on Portland Point.

Click here for the full History of Fort LaTour.

   In her report, Prof. McLaughlin concluded that the bone fragments were probably Caucasian because there were wear facets on the molars consistent with the presence of an overbite, most commonly found in Caucasian populations.

   Vascular depressions in the cranium indicated the person may have been between 40 and 50, while the small size and slightness of the bones suggested the individual may have been female, she said.

   All the fragments showed patches of a dark reddish patina stain, which is often found on the bones of individuals who have been buried in coffins made of a soft wood that darkens with age, such as cedar or pine.

   The staining was not consistent with the stain usually produced on bone by red ochre, which was commonly used in native burials.

   Aside from Madame La Tour, the only women in the fort when it fell were her maid and another woman who may have been her son's nurse.

   But Prof. McLaughlin could not determine whether the bones were even from that time period. And the site of the fort has been occupied by numerous peoples both before and after Madame La Tour's death including Maliseet, pre-Loyalists, Loyalists, and Acadians.

   To further complicate matters, the bones were not found in the original place they were buried. Archeologist Russell Harper discovered the bones in the southwest corner of what he believed was the cellar pit of the Simonds, Hazen and White Trading Post. They were lying in what he referred to simply as "fill" in his report, which doesn't make Prof. McLaughlin's job any easier because she must analyze the bones according to the context in which they were found.

   And while a process called radio carbon dating could possibly determine the age of the bones, Prof. McLaughlin believes there's a high likelihood they have been contaminated by other, younger substances such as plant roots, which would interfere with the reliability of any date result.

   M.A. MacDonald, a local expert on Fort La Tour and author of Fortune La Tour - The Civil War in Acadia, doubts the Harper bones belonged to Madame La Tour. She said it would be "unlikely and against all accounts," since they were found in the immediate area of the fort.

    Mrs. MacDonald, who has done extensive research on the subject, said all documents of the time state Madame La Tour and the executed garrison were buried behind the fort, "which would make it perhaps unlikely it's her.

   "Of course, everything's very confused there from use. The site is so disturbed," she added, citing an anti-aircraft gun placed there during World War II as an example.

   "She could be as far back as Keddy's. Who knows?" said Mrs. MacDonald. "We can't know and we won't know until there's further excavation."

   That's exactly what George Fisher is hoping for. Mr. Fisher, a local amateur archeologist who worked on the 1955 excavation with Russell Harper, wants the Department of Municipalities, Culture and Housing to send some archeologists to excavate behind the fort near the railroad tracks this summer.

   He says it would have been nice if the analyzed bones had proved conclusively to be those of Madame La Tour.

   "It would certainly draw more interest to the fort," said Mr. Fisher, who has been trying for years to get the site developed, with the remains of the fort placed under a dome for viewing and an interpretation centre displaying some of the artifacts from the 1955 dig.

   At the same time, he noted that the possibility of the bones being Madame La Tour's has not been ruled out completely either. So the mystery of Madame La Tour and her final resting place lives on - at least for now.

   "I get so discouraged over the fact that after all these years still nobody's doing anything . . .," Mr. Fisher said of his beloved site. "It's older than Louisbourg, which they keep dumping money into, and yet they choose to ignore it."

    A full-scale reproduction of Louisbourg, a fort used almost 100 years later than La Tour, has long been attracting tourists to Cape Breton.

    Mr. Fisher was pleased, however, to learn that the artifacts found during the 1955 excavation and a subsequent excavation in 1963 by Norman Barka are finally being catalogued and conserved.

    It seems appropriate the work is being done now, close to the anniversary of the fall of the fort - the first long-term European settlement in New Brunswick, built in 1632.

   The work also ties into the fascination with the death of Madame La Tour, the feisty historical heroine who was ahead of her time.

    She had a marriage contract that guaranteed she would retain all her property and any inheritances, kept her maiden name throughout her married life, undertook arduous trips on family business, and won a court case against a sea captain who took her to Quebec instead of New Brunswick.

   The former French actress has been immortalized many times in prose and verse. There is also a portrait of her in the New Brunswick Museum Collection - a head and bust in the makeup of Bellona, goddess of war, one of the roles she played on stage.

    The fall of the fort and Madame La Tour's subsequent demise were among the first historically important events in the annals of Saint John. It reminds us that Saint John's history did not begin with the landing of the Loyalists, or even with the traders Simonds, Hazen and White.

   To celebrate the anniversary, a public ceremony will be held at Fort La Tour Park on April 16 at 6pm. Stevedor Steve will co-host the event with Gail duJohn and sing his ballad to Marie La Tour.

   Direct descendants of La Tour, who live in Saint John, will raise the flag of King Louise XII of France; members of the New Brunswick aboriginal community will preform a sweetgrass, chanting and drumming ceremony; and Stage Three Productions will preform a short re-enactment.

   Emma McCready, 95, who has portrayed Madame La Tour for the city for the past 60 years, will lay a wreath and another wreath will be tossed into the harbour.

   The Samuel de Champlain choir, Rodney Sea Cadets, and 527 Simonds Squadron Air Cadets will also preform. Alfred Silver, author of "Acadia," will do a reading and author Mrs. Mac Donald will deliver a short speech.

   On April 14, the New Brunswick Museum will display a showcase entitled :Fort La Tour - Then and Now" in the foyer. It will focus on the people and life at the fort as well as the archeological work done at the site over the years.

   On April 18, the museum hosts a talk by Mrs. MacDonald. The free presentation will be held at 2:30pm in the Mary H. Oland Theatre.

A ceremony was held April 16/98 to honour Madame LaTour, who defended the site on this date in 1645. The event, organized by the Citizens For Fort Latour Committee, was attended by Stevedore Steve (who preformed an original piece dedicated to Madame Latour} and the Lieutenant-Governor. The event took place at 6 pm on the Fort LaTour site, off Chesley Drive, next to the HMCS Brunswicker.