Rue Deschambault, at Gabrielle Roy’s house

(continuer en français) – Last updated: December 4, 2022

At the beginning of the 20th century, Deschambault Street was a quiet and remote location on the outskirts of Saint-Boniface, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Winnipeg. It still is a bit like that today.

375 Deschambault Street is the birthplace of Gabrielle Roy, the great Franco-Canadian writer. A home that is present in her work, as well as in her memories of childhood and youth in a Manitoba that was both rural and francophone.

Gabrielle Roy was born in 1909, the youngest of eleven children. She grew up in Saint Boniface, Manitoba in this house on Deschambault Street, which she left only in 1937. She then travelled and lived in Europe for several years before settling in Montreal and then in Quebec City. Her parents were originally from Quebec before moving to Manitoba.

Gabrielle Roy’s mother, Mélina, was the model for her many characters of determined and courageous mothers. As the youngest child, Gabrielle remained very close to her mother with whom she lived for many years. It was she who first encouraged her writing talents and pushed her to turn to teaching as a more stable profession.

After Normal School teacher training, Gabrielle Roy taught for several years in rural schools in Manitoba and then in Saint-Boniface. The teaching profession allowed very young women to become financially independent and to pursue a respected occupation. However, she was passionate about theatre, dreaming of a career in it, and writing, beginning to publish in local newspapers.

Gabrielle Roy’s father was for many years a colonization agent, he was in charge of settling and guiding new immigrants to the prairies of western Canada, which led to long absences. He also owned a concession himself. His daughter later became interested in this aspect of Canada, the large agricultural areas where the newcomers settled.

He was also a strong supporter of the Liberal Party. However, he was deeply affected when the Manitoba government removed French as the province’s official language and limited its teaching. The federal Prime Minister did not oppose it, although it was the Liberal Wilfrid Laurier, the first Prime Minister of Francophone origin. Instead, he took advantage of his opponents’ division on the language issue to come to power, refraining from interfering in the Manitoba school dispute.

The Roy family lived without opulence but with most of the middle-class comforts available at the beginning of the 20th century. The railway had greatly facilitated the distribution of domestic goods produced in the large industrial cities of the East to the more distant cities in the West.

However, this situation changed when Gabrielle Roy’s father lost his job as a civil servant in 1915. From that time on, financial issues returned regularly. After her father’s death in 1929, her mother tried to cope financially but was forced to rent part of the house and then sell it to become a tenant.

As a result, the layout of the rooms changed and the house was eventually divided into four independent units. During the restoration of the house to become a museum, the original layout was re-established, as Gabrielle Roy knew it in her childhood. Today, the visit is made with the help of an audio-guide, but the memories of the reading are often enough to make it come alive.

The elders having left the family home, the attic floor became Gabrielle Roy’s realm. She took refuge and played in the attic when she was a child. The window overlooking the trees and the fields, then the infinite horizon inspired her many dreams. It was from this vantage point that she started her first creative writing attempts.

The typewriter used for the Bonheur d’occasion is on display. It was the first novel written by Gabrielle Roy. It was published in 1945 and was an immediate bestseller. Two years later it was presented with the Prix Fémina, one of the main French literary prizes. It was soon published in English under the title The Tin Flute and its rights reserved for a film adaptation.

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