David Ménard: the story of Aurore's stepmother

David Ménard: the story of the stepmother of Aurore


After talking about Corriveau in Rust Doll, writer David Ménard uses a double time frame to tell the story of the youth of Marie-Anne Houde, “the stepmother”, the woman who killed Aurore Gagnon in her new novel, The dawn martyrs the child. Reflecting on his childhood of misery, his status as an outcast, he recounts the events that marked his life before committing the irreparable.

Marie-Anne Houde is recognized as one of Canada's most heinous criminals for having killed her stepdaughter, Aurore Gagnon, Aurore the child martyr. Her crime is one of the worst known cases of child abuse in Canada and the novel is loosely based on this horrific story.

In David Ménard's novel, Marie-Anne Houde, the “slut of Sainte-Sophie”, “the stepmother”, awaits death in her dying room in Montreal. In loneliness and illness, she writes to her old love, Télesphore, who has not always shared her feelings.

Unprecedented lighting

This drama marked the Quebec imagination… and marked the writer. 

“Like everyone else, I saw this in my childhood. I was at my grandmother's house and the first black and white movie was playing… with organ music playing in the background. It was disturbing and I had been traumatized by it. Like many others, I wanted to find out about it,” he said in an interview.

This story stayed with him for a long time. David Ménard wanted to know why Marie-Anne Houde had taken these actions. Why she was “mean”. “It makes for good novels, 30 years later,” he agrees.

“I think I came to put a balm on this story. I wanted to get as far away as possible from the movies, where we are in a horror story. And it's a horror story. I'm not trying to excuse his actions or make them legitimate. This is Aurore Gagnon, the victim. But I wanted to shed new light on a story that had long been filed away. »

David Ménard has extensively documented. 

“What fascinated me was that we knew next to nothing about this woman. We didn't know much about his existence before his crime and that's what interested me the most. »

He also collected testimonies from the family of Marie-Anne Houde. 

« She came from an extremely poor background. She lost her mother at the age of 10 and was raised by her siblings. She herself suffered abuse, and poor women at the time did not have much choice. »

The Fortierville museum dedicated to the history of Aurore put him in contact with a descendant of the family. 

« I met an extraordinary lady and she gave me inside information. From the start, she asked me what my intentions were, telling me: if you want to make a monster out of it, I'm not interested in talking to you.

“She told me: my family has suffered a lot from this. I told him that I wanted to try to understand. I dare to hope that my book has been done with respect. »