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Casgrain, Forget and Berthelot Families Fonds (P683)

Letter written by Thérèse Casgrain to Marc Lalonde, Minister of National Health and Welfare (detail), 1975. Gift of Mrs. Claude Loranger Casgrain, Casgrain, Forget and Berthelot Families Fonds P683, M2007.61.6.1 © McCord Museum

Thérèse Casgrain's fight for the rights of First Nations women

"What's the point of saying that International Women's Year is a catalyst, if Canada allows Aboriginal women to be treated as second-class citizens?"

The campaign for Aboriginal women's equality, led by inspirational figures like Michèle Audette and Mélissa Mollen-Dupuis, has been a long and tortuous process. Today, a woman's right to transmit her cultural heritage to her children is seen as inalienable. However, when Thérèse Casgrain wrote this impassioned letter to Minister Marc Lalonde, some 40 years ago, First Nations women's groups had been fighting for legal equality with men for nearly a decade. Their leader was activist Mary Two-Axe Early, who headed the association called Equal Rights for Native Women. Early was threatened with expulsion from Kahnawake, her birthplace and childhood home, because her marriage to a non-Aboriginal man had caused her to lose her First Nations status and the right to transmit this status to her children.

A pioneering feminist activist, Thérèse Casgrain was drawn to this cause, taking an active role as of the mid-1970s. Her correspondence chronicles the sometimes heated exchanges she had with elected and unelected representatives of the federal government, members of First Nations communities, women's groups and First Nations and Métis groups.

Finally, in 1985, the Parliament of Canada adopted Bill C-31, which restored "Indian status" to women who had married non-Aboriginals.

P683 Casgrain, Forget and Berthelot Families Fonds. - 1801-2005. - 130 cm of textual records and other documents.

Biographical Sketch

This fonds documents the history of three related families, several members of which had a significant impact on the political, social and economic life of Quebec in the 19th and 20th centuries. The biographies of the most famous members are summarized below.

Born in Montreal, MARIE-THÉRÈSE FORGET CASGRAIN (1896-1981) was the daughter of Rodolphe Forget and Blanche MacDonald. She married lawyer and politician Pierre-François Casgrain in 1916.

A memorable figure in 20th-century Quebec history, this feminist activist and politician was involved in numerous social and political causes throughout her life. Named president of the League for Women's Rights in 1928, she played an active role in various campaigns for social and legal reforms, notably the suffrage bill that gave Quebec women the right to vote. She headed the Quebec wing of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (which later became the Social Democratic Party of Quebec, and then the New Democratic Party) from 1951 to 1957, becoming the first woman to head a political party in Quebec (and Canada).

During the second half of the 20th century, Thérèse Casgrain helped found the Fédération des femmes du Québec (1966) and the League for Human Rights (1960), which she served as president from 1966 to 1970. In 1970, she sat as an Independent senator for nine months, until she reached the mandatory retirement age of 75.

PIERRE-FRANÇOIS CASGRAIN, fils, (1886-1950) was a lawyer in Montreal, a federal Liberal MP as of 1917, Speaker of the House, and Secretary of State under Mackenzie King. He was appointed a judge of the Superior Court of Quebec in 1941.

Born in Terrebonne, RODOLPHE FORGET (1861-1919) was an influential and controversial financier, who served as president and director of several major commercial and industrial firms. For example, he became a controlling shareholder in the Royal Electric Company in 1898, was vice-president of the Montreal, Light, Heat and Power Company and, from 1908 to 1911, chaired the board of the Montreal Stock Exchange. Serving as a Conservative MP in the House of Commons from 1904 to 1917, he was also a major philanthropist.

Businessman and Conservative politician LOUIS-JOSEPH FORGET (1853-1911) founded (in 1876) and ran major brokerage company L. J. Forget, in addition to being active in numerous financial and industrial companies. He was appointed to the Senate in 1896.

A notary who practised in Saint-Eustache, JOSEPH-AMABLE BERTHELOT, père, (1776-1860) was active in the Patriot movement. He was charged with high treason and imprisoned from December 1837 to July 1838.

A judge and lawyer, JOSEPH-AMABLE BERTHELOT, fils, (1815-1897) practised with Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine and George-Étienne Cartier. He was also active in the Patriot movement.

Scope and Content

The fonds documents the genealogy, personal and family lives, as well as the social and professional activities of members of the Casgrain, Forget and Berthelot families.

Records from the Casgrain family focus primarily on the life and work of Thérèse Casgrain. Her personal and professional relationships, involvement in various social causes and political career are chronicled in biographical texts, voluminous correspondence, published articles and conference proceedings, parliamentary publications, press clippings and numerous tributes. Biographical documents, financial records, newspaper clippings and correspondence also recount the personal life and professional activities of Pierre-François Casgrain, fils.

Documents from the Forget family deal primarily with the life, professional activities and estate of Rodolphe Forget, as recorded in scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, correspondence and notarial acts.
Berthelot family archives are comprised mostly of genealogical documents, wills and photocopies of correspondence.

The fonds also contains photographs (primarily portraits), many of which are collected in albums.

Source of title proper: Title based on the creators of the fonds.
Language: The majority of the documents are in French, but some are in English.
Restrictions on access: Some records have been photocopied so that the originals, which are very fragile and brittle, are not handled. There is also limited access to scrapbooks that show traces of mildew.

The fonds is divided into the following series, subseries, sub-subseries and files:

  • P683/A Documentation and genealogy

  • P683/B Berthelot Family

  • P683/C Forget Family
    • P683/C,1 Documentation about Rodolphe Forget. - 1900-1998. - 9.5 cm of textual records.
    • Scope and Content: This file chronicles the life of Rodolphe Forget, a prominent financier and politician. It is composed primarily of press clippings.

      Many of these clippings have been compiled into a scrapbook documenting the high points of his career. There are articles about the 1909 creation of the Quebec Railway, Light, Heat and Power Company, following the merger of several public utilities. Other articles published primarily in 1915 and 1916 report on the completion of the Quebec-Saguenay railway line and the controversy surrounding the federal government's purchase of the Quebec & Saguenay Railway. The scrapbook also recognizes his philanthropy in several 1918 articles highlighting his major contribution to the Notre Dame Hospital fundraising campaign. There are articles reporting his death in 1919, his funeral and the numerous pubic personalities who took part, and posthumous tributes, like the 1923 unveiling of a monument to his memory in Charlevoix county, where he was an MP in the House of Commons from 1904 to 1917.

      Among the documents in the file besides the scrapbook is a deed of sale for a property in Saint-Irénée dated September 30, 1900, between Normel Perron and Rodolphe Forget. There is a copy of a letter from the Archdiocese of Montreal, dated January 28, 1902, confirming that Forget was granted the privilege of a private chapel (authorization given by the pope allowing mass to be celebrated in a chapel located inside a private residence). A text about the construction of the new Notre Dame Hospital notes that Rodolphe Forget made a major contribution to the project by donating a property on Sherbrooke Street. There are other press clippings, including some about a reception given in the Forget home on March 6, 1916, in honour of the 150th Battalion, as well as a private ledger and a diploma in Latin issued in 1913 in Chicoutimi.

      The file also contains several documents produced after his death, including three copies of a 1984 City of Montreal Executive Committee resolution to name a boulevard after him in the Rivière-des-Prairies parish (now the borough of Rivière-des-Prairies-Pointe-aux-Trembles), a fax dated March 25, 1998, from William Fong, the author of a biography of Montreal businessman J. W. McConnell, and the plan of a proposed theatrical and audio-visual project by Léo Simard about the life and career of Rodolphe Forget. Finally, the file is completed by an undated press clipping that recounts how Rodolphe Forget, his wife Blanche, and his daughter Thérèse (Casgrain) were almost passengers aboard the ill-fated Titanic.

      Source of title proper: Based on the contents of the file.

      Physical description: Some documents are photocopies.

      Physical condition: The scrapbook binding is damaged so the pages fall out easily. The ledger shows signs of mildew.

      Language: The documents are in English and French, with the exception of a diploma written in Latin.

      Restrictions on access: Access to the ledger, which shows signs of mildew, isrestricted.

      • M2005.28.2 Scrapbook. - 1909-1923. - 1 textual record ; 31,5 × 36 cm.
        Digitized document

      • Scope and Content: This scrapbook focusses on Rodolphe Forget's professional activities and philanthropic work, illustrating the formidable reputation of this businessman and politician. It also documents his death and the posthumous tributes paid to him. The scrapbook is made up of newspaper articles dated 1909 to 1923.

      • Language: The document is in French and English.

    • P683/C,2 Succession of Rodolphe Forget
    • P683/C,3 Professional life of Rodolphe Forget
    • P683/C,4 Blanche Forget

  • P683/D Casgrain Family
    • P683/D1 Pierre-François Casgrain
    • P683/D2 Thérèse Forget Casgrain
      • P683/D2.1 Biographical information
      • P683/D2.2 Financial records
      • P683/D2.3 Social and political commitment
        • P683/D2.3,1 Women's rights
        • P683/D2.3,2 Senate
        • P683/D2.3,3 Status of Aboriginal women. - 1975-1980. - 1 cm of textual records.
          Digitized documents

        • Scope and Content: This file documents Thérèse Casgrain's involvement in the movement to have Canada recognize the legal equality of the country's Aboriginal women. Although she was nearly 80 years and at the end of her career, Thérèse Casgrain played an active role in the fight against a law that discriminated against these women. Under the terms of the Indian Act, First Nations women, unlike the men, lost their Indian status and the right to live on reserves when they married outside the community. Covering the period of April 15, 1975, to June 9, 1980, the file is composed primarily of correspondence, along with several press clippings and excerpts from parliamentary publications and reports.

          Several documents in the file chronicle Thérèse Casgrain's legal and political efforts to change the law as she approached the Canadian Human Rights Commission and representatives of the federal government, including Marc Lalonde, Minister of National Health and Welfare, Judd Buchanan, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (now Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs and Department of Indigenous Services) and Liberal Senator Joan B. Neiman. The file also includes correspondence exchanged among Thérèse Casgrain, Marguerite Bergeron-Tremblay, a feminist activist from the Lac-Saint-Jean region, and Marthe Gill Dufour of the Quebec Native Women's Association in Pointe-Bleu (Mashteuiatsh reserve).

          Several documents focus more specifically on the expulsion of activist Mary Two-Axe Early instituted in June 1975 by the Kahnawake band council following her marriage to a non-Aboriginal man. Thank-you letters from a variety of sources and letters of protest from members of First Nations communities, including one from Clive Linklater, vice-president of the National Indian Brotherhood, and several from Frank Taiotekane Horn of the Kahnawake reserve, reflect the impact of Thérèse Casgrain's media activities. Among these activities was a June 9, 1975, appearance with Mary Two-Axe Early on CTV television's morning show Canada AM, along with newspaper articles, including one written by Donna Gabeline that was published in The Gazette on October 27, 1975, under the title, "Unjust law angers Casgrain."
        • Finally, the file documents the relationships that Thérèse Casgrain developed through her involvement in various Aboriginal and Métis groups, such as the Association des Métis et Indiens hors réserves du Québec and the Comité de la Fête abénakise (now known as the Abenaki Pow Wow of Odanak) in the county of Yamaska. Documents sent by the Indian Rights for Indian Women organization recount the Sandra Lovelace case. After losing her status due to her marriage with a non-Aboriginal, this activist addressed the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 1977 to argue that her rights were being violated under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

        • Language: The documents are in French and English.

        • P683/D2.3,4 Bilingualism
        • P683/D2.3,5 Fédération des femmes du Québec
        • P683/D2.3,6 Status of senior citizens
        • P683/D2.3.7 Pension for widows of judges
        • P683/D2.3.8 Foundation of UQÀM
        • P683/D2.3,9 Quebec sovereignty and referendum movement of 1980
      • P683/D2.4 Official correspondence
      • P683/D2.5 Personal correspondence. - [1915-1981]. - 4.5 cm of textual records. - 2 photographs.
        Digitized documents: Part 1 - Part 2

      • Scope and Content: This sub-subseries documents Thérèse Casgrain's relationships with her friends, acquaintances and colleagues from the worlds of politics and culture. The collection is composed primarily of original letters sent by various correspondents and typewritten copies of letters written by Thérèse Casgrain. It also contains greeting cards, postcards, press clippings and two photographs. Covering a span of over 65 years, Thérèse Casgrain's correspondence occasionally addresses personal topics. For instance, following the announcement of her engagement to Montreal lawyer Pierre Casgrain, she received a letter in September 1915 from her friend Adolphe Routhier. However, the sub-subseries mainly documents her social activities, her involvement with women's and human rights groups, and her stances on the advancement of women in politics and Canadian unity. It also contains many letters of friendship and thank-you notes.

        The collection includes several letters from federal MP Ernest Lapointe, some of which address the issue of women's suffrage. In a letter dated May 30, 1932, Lapointe discusses the theme of an address Mackenzie King is planning to deliver at a breakfast event. Lapointe believed that a speech about the evolution of liberalism would be too theoretical, given the hardship gripping the country, and would add nothing new. He proposes that Thérèse Casgrain ask the head of the Liberal Party to talk instead about "the need for cooperation among the classes" during the Great Depression. He says that this would enable King to "counter the accusations of socialism and communism directed against us, and to reiterate some of his points from Industry and Humanity." In addition, the sub-subseries contains several letters between Thérèse Casgrain and Pierre Elliott Trudeau, including one in which she laments his defeat in the May 22, 1979, election. A 1973 exchange with astronomer Carlyle Smith Beals mentions the publication of Casgrain's book A Woman in a Man's World (1972). Trevor Moore and Maurice Bellemare wrote to applaud her remarks at the April 1980 "Yvettes" rally in the Montreal Forum. For her part, in a letter dated March 27, 1980, Thérèse Casgrain reassures Senator Eugène Forsey about his daughter Helen, who he reports has become an "all-out feminist." On October 19, 1976, she expresses outrage at what is happening to the elderly in a reply to Marie Guimond, who had written to deplore the fact that seniors must often live in residences far from younger family members and their former homes. Senator Casgrain appears to have had some difficulty accepting old age, as evidenced in a letter from Roger Ouimet, who writes shortly before her 80th birthday to comfort her, recalling all her accomplishments and expressing his tremendous admiration for her courage, sincerity, energy and generosity.

        Among Thérèse Casgrain's many other correspondents were Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, Lieutenant Governor Pauline McGibbon, federal MP Iona Campagnolo from Skeena, British Columbia, Dominican priest and sociologist Georges-Henri Lévesque, and author Gabrielle Roy.

      • Language: The documents are in French and English.

      • P683/D2.6 Invitations
      • P683/D2.7 Speeches, texts and publications
      • P683/D2.8 Tributes, testimonials and accolades
      • P683/D2.9 Death notices, condolences and sympathy cards
      • P683/D2.10 Other documents

  • P683/E Other Related Families

  • P683/F Audio-Visual Materials

  • P683/G Photographs


Last update: February 26, 2019