A story about a woman who was forced into slavery and who may or may not have set Montreal on fire: Marie-Joseph Angélique.
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French subtitles by: Marika Lapointe
Special thanks go to the Center d’histoire de Montréal for permission to film on location. If you are interested in the history of Montreal, you should definitely visit the museum – you will see the model we show in the episode shown.
* Correction: Mathieu Léveillé’s name is mispronounced in the video. We sincerely apologize for the mistake due to a missing accent on the second ‘e’ in our script.
* Note: Today’s Basilica Nôtre-Dame in Montreal is a reincarnation of the building that Angélique was brought to in 1734. The ruins of the original building are located under the Place d’Armes just in front of the entrance to the modern cathedral. The construction of the current building was completed in 1829.
* Disclaimer: Since archive images were not recorded for any of the topics in this story, the character designs are fully fictitious for illustration purposes only (created with a mixture of faces from historical photo archives).
Mathieu Léveillé was an executioner in New France from 1733 to 1743, suffering from constant illness and severe melancholy. He hated the work he was forced to do. He had spent the first twenty-four years of his life in the Caribbean and had difficulty adapting to climate change – he was hospitalized in Québec and Quebec City almost immediately after arriving at the Hôtel-Dieu (the oldest hospital north of Mexico) in Quebec City again on numerous occasions. Léveillé died of pneumonia on September 9, 1743.
In Canada, unlike the south, the majority of enslaved people were Aboriginal. The term “panis” in the narrower sense actually referred to the Pawnees, a nation that lived in the Missouri basin and was consistently targeted by the French. Colonists, however, soon began to use Esclave Panis as a generic term for any Aboriginal slave.
In 2012, a public square opposite the Montreal City Hall was named in honor of Marie-Josèphe-Angélique. However, the place was under construction when we filmed there in May 2017. A new unfinished public space called Place des Montréalaises was inaugurated in November 2017 and will be dedicated to Angélique among several other women.
“The place is named after women who shaped the history of Montreal. Fortin mentioned Jeanne Mance, Marie-Joseph Angelique, Jessie Maxwell Smith, Ida Roth Steinberg and the 14 engineering students who were murdered at the Montreal Polytechnique in 1989.”
The Hôtel-Dieu burned and was rebuilt three times between 1695 and 1734. In 1861 it was moved from Old Montreal to its current location near Mount Royal.
One of the best sources for this story was an award-winning website: Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History. You can read the actual transcripts of the process, look through maps and pictures, and try to find out the truth in this terrible story yourself. We will never know for sure who started the fire, but we do know that Angélique has been brutally punished for standing up for her own freedom in one way or another. You can sort everything here: https://goo.gl/1G9nB2
The torture scene comes from a public domain film from 1922 called Häxan. It is a Swedish-Danish silent film that borders between documentary and horror. It was just that there was a perfect representation of ‘The Boot’.
A few tangents (more on this in a future blog post):
– Marie-Josèphe-Angélique was silent during her trial, consistently claiming that she only lit the fire when she was brutally tortured. She screamed at Marie-Manon when she felt betrayed by her testimony, and asked the widow’s niece not to incriminate her for fear that she would be forced against her will.
– Claude Thibault’s timeline changes slightly in accounts. He was released either on the day of the fire or on or before the second day. In one case he was seen eating a sandwich in an inn. When he was told that the commercial district was on fire and Angélique was the main suspect, he fled. Was he part of another escape plan? ,