It’s tough to complain about life after reading about Marie Rose Delorme Smith. The French-Métis woman was nearly 100 when she died more than half a century ago. In her years, she experienced – and endured – more than most.
What’s more is that she did it all with grace and still had her fair share of successes.
Local history buffs and literature fans can hear all about Smith this weekend when Calgary author Doris Jeanne MacKinnon stops by the MusĂ©e HĂ©ritage Museum to talk about her new book, The Identities of Marie Rose Delorme Smith.
She said that she first heard about the remarkable woman while she was engaged in her post-graduate studies at the University of Calgary.
“My supervisor had an interest in biography as much as I did,” she began, explaining that she had a strong interest in Métis history and wanted to focus on a Métis woman. Any Métis woman.
“I found that most of the focus (in general Métis history records) was on Louis Riel and the 1885 Rebellion. What of the women in this history? Where are they? Did they have a voice?”
She was directed to Marie Rose’s biography, Fifty Dollar Bride, written by her granddaughter, Jock Carpenter.
“It was just a brief memoir. It opened the door. I thought, ‘Wow! This sounds like a fascinating story.’ ”
Born during the fur trade era, she was 16 when her mother sold her to a robe and whisky trader who was twice her age. She spent most of her adult years as a pioneer rancher in the Pincher Creek area. She had 17 children, established a boarding house, set up a homestead, and was a medicine woman and midwife.
That was all before she started her career as a writer for Canadian Cattlemen. Everywhere she went, she earned a reputation for being stalwart, a survivor of the highest calibre, someone who persevered even in tough conditions and predicaments, and smiled all the way through.
When MacKinnon went through Marie Rose’s manuscripts at the Glenbow Museum, she realized that this was just the character on which she wanted to write her master’s thesis.
In her ensuing research, she learned that Smith’s uncles were part of Louis Riel’s militia.
“People should know her story. It should be read by a wide audience. Her story is really important.”
She elaborated that the most important part of the biography is how Smith adapted to all of her life’s circumstances, starting with the decline of the fur trade era. Her family was displaced from its position of prominence, the precipitating factor that led her to be sold into marriage.
“Obviously she didn’t want this marriage in the first place but she had few options. She, basically, made the best of it. She had 17 children and her husband continued with his nomadic lifestyle. He would go off for months on end. She was left behind on the ranch. The skills that she learned on the trail with her parents were still extremely valuable.”
Her husband was no prince. There was drinking in the house. He bound her feet at night. Later on in her life, she was hospitalized and ended up impoverished.
“That aspect of how she forged a new role for herself in the new society but still relied on the culture of her youth shows her perseverance and her ability to transition quite successfully in some ways. It was a very difficult life for her. She did it with a certain grace. I didn’t detect any bitterness throughout her manuscripts.”
MacKinnon added that she is making St. Albert her first stop of presentations because of how significant it was to her subject. Marie Rose was married at the Father Lacombe Chapel and some of her family still lives here.
She added that she continues to study Smith’s life and has other stories to share that didn’t make it into the book.
Author Reading <br />The Identities of Marie Rose Delorme Smith: Portrait of a Métis Woman 1861 - 1960<br />with author Doris Jeanne MacKinnon<br />Saturday, Oct. 27 from 1 to 3 p.m.<br />MusĂ©e HĂ©ritage Museum in St. Albert Place<br /><br />208 pages<br />$34.95<br />CPRC Press<br />Available at the museum's gift shop.<br /><br />Call 780-459-1528 or visit www.MuseeHeritage.com for more information.