By Juliana L’Heureux
Legends about tragic love stories also make interesting tourist attractions, like the sad story of the White Lady of Montmorency Falls, in Quebec (a.k.a. "La Dame blanche de Montmorency).
Legends generally begin with a semblance of fact. In fact, summer was a time when Franco-Americans typically took time off from work in the New England mills to visit family and friends who lived in Quebec. Due to the close proximity of Quebec with Maine, visits North were rather easy annual reunification pilgrimages. Family reunions were common, especially when turn of the 20th century train travel became cheap enough for even the poorest Francos to travel North to visit relatives.
Franco-Americans, who visited their Quebec relatives were accustomed to seeing the lovely Montmorency Falls, located between Quebec City and Isle d'Orléans. The falls are quite high and were named by Samuel de Champlain in 1613 after Henri II, duc de Montmorency who served as viceroy of New France from 1620 to 1625.
A visit by Franco-Americans to the Montmorency Falls usually accompanied a religious pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Anne-de-Beaupré, located nearby.
In the French-Canadian legend, a beautiful Quebec maiden was very much in love with a proud and handsome French soldier. They became engaged and were ecstatically happy as they prepared their wedding plans. Unfortunately, one day the young man was unexpectedly called to military action in the colonial war against the British. Of course, the beautiful maiden was brokenhearted and feared her fiancée would not return after the summer military campaign. Sadly, following a battle at Montmorency Falls in 1759, the commanding officer came to visit the maiden to break the sad news about how her beloved lost his life on the battleground. Of course, the maiden's grief was inconsolable. Every evening she went out searching for her beloved, calling his name, convinced in her heart that he would return. After over one year of mourning, the maiden could stand her emotional pain no longer. One moonlit night, the Quebec maiden put on her wedding dress and threw herself into the Montmorency Falls. As she fell, her long white wedding veil blew off in the wind like a velvet mist and slowly tumbled down the stone wall adjacent to the falls. Her body was never recovered. Since that time, local people say they can see the maiden girl dressed in her white wedding gown through the mist created by the shimmering water cascading off of Montmorency Falls. Additionally, this romantic legend also explains how the maiden's wedding veil, which blew off as she fell into the falls, floated off and transformed into a smaller waterfall, creating still another beautiful natural attraction.
Once familiar with this legend, it is fairly easy for visitors to Montmorency Falls to understand how the two waterfalls resemble very long old-fashioned wedding veils.
This quaint legend has likely survived as a result of a related love and longing felt by separated French-Canadian families as they once waited for reunions with their loved ones during annual summer visits to Quebec. Today, family visits to Quebec take place in the form of large family reunions as Franco-Americans research their extensive genealogies while reconnecting with their French language, culture and heritage.
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Published on July 13, 2000
Copyright 1994-2000, Portland Press Herald, Portland, Maine and Juliana L'Heureux