MP-0000.864.9 | Mere Veuve Gamelin, about 1890
Mere Veuve Gamelin, about 1890
Anonyme - Anonymous
About 1890, 19th century
Silver salts, watercolour on paper mounted on card - Albumen process
9 x 7 cm
Gift of Mr. Stanley G. Triggs
© McCord Museum
Keywords: Art (2774) , painted photograph (212) , Photograph (77678)
Keys to History
Émilie Gamelin (1800-1851), who was born in Tavernier, devoted her life to helping Montreal's poor at a time when death and poverty were rampant. Fires, disease and epidemics due mainly to poor sanitation hit many families and left countless unfortunates like widows and orphans in dire need.
Émilie Gamelin also mourned the premature deaths of many who were dear to her: her parents, brothers and sisters, husband and three children. After the death of her husband she devoted both time and money to helping the neediest. She worked, too, with various charitable organizations before opening her own shelter in Montreal for single, elderly and sick women. This shelter, which she managed, was built in 1842 and took the name Asile de la Providence.
The Bishop of Montreal, Monsignor Ignace Bourget (1799-1885), wanted a French order of nuns, the Filles de la Charité de Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, to come to Montreal to take over Madame Gamelin's work. After his proposal was turned down, Monsignor Bourget decided to found a religious order to keep the Asile de la Providence operating. Émilie then took the veil and became the first mother superior of an order of nuns that went by the name of the Soeurs de la Charité de la Providence. This order carried on the work begun by Émilie, labouring to help the poor, orphans, victims of epidemics and the unemployed, and opening shelters, hospices and convents.
A watercolour wash has been applied to the entire surface of this photograph, with the exception of Émilie Gamelin's face. Some photography studios of the period used watercolours to touch up photographs to make them more colourful and realistic.
Along with the Soeurs de la Charité de la Providence, Émilie Gamelin set up many institutions in Montreal, like the Saint-Joseph hospice, a shelter for elderly ailing priests, an employment and unemployment-assistance office, the Saint-Jérôme-Émilien hospice for the children of Irish immigrants who died from typhus, a quarantine station for cholera victims and an institution for deaf mutes.
In the 19th century, poverty hit almost half the population of the country. During that period, you were considered poor if you did not have the means needed to adequately house, feed and clothe yourself, or heat your dwelling.
Orphaned at the age of 14, Émilie Gamelin lost nine of her 15 brothers and sisters before reaching the age of maturity. Her three children all died young, and she lost her husband, Jean-Baptiste, after a mere five years together. Émilie died of cholera in 1851.