The magic of La Maison Gabrielle-Roy

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/02/2022 (370 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Gabrielle Roy was an award-winning Canadian author, novelist and teacher from St. Boniface, Man., and a major figure in French Canadian literature. Born in 1909, the youngest of 11 children took to writing early on and produced a tremendous body of work before she died in 1983 Quebec at the age of 74.

The celebrated author spent all of her youth and the first years of her adult life in the home which still stands at 375 Rue Deschambault. Through multiple transformations over the years, La Maison Gabrielle-Roy, now a heritage site and museum, pays homage to Roy by showcasing her birthplace, promoting her work and encouraging French writing and artistic expression in Manitoba.
Executive director Sébastien Gaillard fully appreciates the history of the building and the literary work of Gabrielle Roy.

“All our artifacts date from 1910 to 1920. The house reflects this era inside and out,” he said.  
“Built in 1905, the birthplace of Gabrielle Roy is a very important and recurring symbol in the work of the notorious French-Canadian author. Her books and the descriptions we find there allow us to mentally recreate the home of the time of Gabrielle Roy.”

Supplied photo The St. Boniface home of renowned French-Canadian author Gabrielle Roy on Rue Deschambault has been restored to the way it looked in the early 1900s.

According to historical documents, Léon Roy, Gabrielle’s father, acquired, for approximately $600, a large piece of land which he subdivided into five lots around 1903. He sold four and kept the fifth, at the corner of Rue Des Meurons and Deschambault, to create his home. Construction began in 1904 and the Roy family moved in August, 1905. The house cost $3,200 to build.

In 1911, there were five houses on the north side of Deschambault. For many years, Gabrielle would think of that corner as a great forest with a field inhabited by the music of frogs, a reference included in her book Rue Deschambault. The house saw few changes during Gabrielle’s childhood.

In 1915, Léon Roy lost his job with the department of immigration and was not eligible for a pension. At the time of his death in 1929, he left his widow with a mortgage debt. With the Great Depression being felt throughout North America, Gabrielle’s mother Mélina transformed the upper floor of the house into apartments to be rented out. The house was sold numerous times over the years, and in 1997 the Maison Gabrielle-Roy Corporation, founded for the purpose of converting the house into a museum, purchased it for $155,000 and invested nearly $650,000 to restore it. The house, designated a provincial historic site in 2006, opened its doors as a museum in June, 2003 and has since greeted visitors from all over the world.

The 117-year-old, six-bedroom house features a kitchen, summer kitchen, dining room, office, living room parlour and a vestibule at the main entrance. The attic dormer window provided inspiration for the young author as she spent countless hours enjoying its view. In two of her books, she describes that window as the space where she would go to regain strength. The expansive verandah surrounding the home adds even more dimension to this house of many stories.

Over the years, restorations returned the house it to its original layout. It now sits on a concrete foundation but its hardwood floor is original to the house. The wall colours throughout the house are authentic to the colours and shades that adorned the walls when the Roy family lived there. More than 15 layers of paint were removed during restoration. Upgrades to ensure it meets code requirements as a museum include a water sprinkler system, public washrooms and an emergency exit on the east side.

Gaillard says that, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, La Maison Gabrielle Roy will remain closed to individual visitors and groups, as well as to meetings and workshops until March 31 and encourages those with an interest to take advantage of virtual tours in French and English by visiting www.maisongabrielleroy.mb.ca

Supplied photo The 117-year-old, six-bedroom house features a kitchen, summer kitchen, dining room, office, living room parlour and a vestibule at the main entrance.

Janine LeGal is a freelance writer who loves Winnipeg’s homes and architecture. If you have a suggestion for a house to be featured in this column, please contact her at: janinelegal@gmail.com

Janine LeGal

Janine LeGal
St. Boniface community correspondent

Janine LeGal is a community correspondent for St. Boniface who also writes the These Old Houses column for our Community Homes section.

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