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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 supplied title proper: Title based on contents 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
      • 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/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/D2.3,3 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 campaign for the legal equality of Canada's First Nations women, particularly with regard to maintaining the First Nations status of women who have married non-Aboriginals.
        • It is composed primarily of correspondence between Thérèse Casgrain and representatives of First Nations communities, the federal government and First Nations and Métis groups.

        • Language: The documents are in French and English.

      • 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 family and, more particularly, with her friends, acquaintances and colleagues from the worlds of politics and culture such as William Lyon Mackenzie King, federal MP Ernest Lapointe, Pierre-Elliott Trudeau, Lieutenant Governor Pauline McGibbon, Georges-Henri Lévesque and Gabrielle Roy.

        It covers more than 65 years of correspondence about topics like Thérèse Casgrain's marriage and 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.

      • 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: August 30, 2017