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The story below was taken
from the Times Globe, Wednesday, March 18/98
Our Lady of
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
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.
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.
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.
so many different kinds of occupations and the site is so disturbed... It could
be anybody," she said.
inconclusiveness has left some historians a bit disappointed.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
here for the full History of Fort LaTour.
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
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.
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.
was not consistent with the stain usually produced on bone by red ochre, which
was commonly used in native burials.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
"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."
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.
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
reproduction of Louisbourg, a fort used almost 100 years later than La Tour,
has long been attracting tourists to Cape Breton.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
|UPDATE - MADAME LATOUR HONOURED
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
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