Chute de la Dame Blanche or the White Lady Waterfall is a legend of a grieving bride to be in the midst of the battle of Canada.
Taller than the Niagara Falls, the Montmorency falls towers 83 m over the city of Québec. It flows downstream from the city and into St. Lawrence. It is a majestic sight, the veil gushing and all sound but the masses of water is heard when standing close to it. But next to it, another lesser known waterfall falls. From ground water it connects with the Montmorency River along the way as water does. When the waterfall hits the river below the water spreads out, like a wedding veil. This particular waterfall is called Chute de la Dame Blanche or the White Lady Waterfall.
Stories from waterfalls have always been connected with grief, love and death. At least in European folklore. Tales like the Banshee is steeped in water imagery and female ghost stories, and many waterfalls tells a sad tale of a bride to be that died too soon. And this one about the Chute de la Dame Blanche, is just that.
The Bride to Be
But who is this woman in the waterfall that came to be known as The White Lady Waterfall more than her original name? A banshee? According to legend, it is the spirit of a young Canadienne woman. An ethnic group of French colonists who settled in Canada from the 17th century. Or as they were known back then, French. In a time when Québec was called Nouvelle-France, or, New-France, the state was in an unrest and in the middle of a war that was going to last for seven years against the British empire.
The story tells about Matilde Robin, living near either Côte-de-Beaupré or Île d’Orléans, close to Québec. At the end of the summer in 1759, she was meant to marry her beloved Louis Tessier. Through the summer, she tailored her own white wedding gown, in anticipation of her wedding.
But the unrest in the country was creeping in and about to disrupt the romantic notion of a happily forever after. Canada, being under French government was in a state of unrest as the British wanted a piece of the land and there were whispers about them going to attack soon. On the night of 8th or 9 July, British forces landed on the north shore, some 1.2 km (1 mi) east of the Montmorency Falls, east of where the French west-east defense line ended, at the mouth of the Montmorency River. They met no opposition from the French for the landing, but the armed forces prepared for battle.
Battle of Beauport
The 31th of July, at the cusp of fall, the British attacked. In what was going to be known as the Battle of Beauport or the Battle of Montmorency. The British had been mostly successful in their attacks with their aggressive battle strategy, sending 40,000 soldiers to New-France. For the campaign against Québec, General James Wolfe was given command of an army of about 7,000 men.
The women and children took cover from the battle in the forest to hide from the bloody battle that raged on. And according to legend, so did Mathilde. The French army, as well as soldiers was volunteers in a militia as well as around 500 natives. Louis was one of the militia men and assisted the French in the following days the battle raged on.
The attack was a fail for the British. Wet air from the falls nearby and a sudden storm ruined the English gun power. The British troops were forced to retreat and admit defeat for the time being. Wolfe recorded 210-deaths in this journal. The French leader, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, recorded 60.
The White Lady Waterfall
It was a French victory though, and they returned to their loved ones in the forest. Mathilde also waited for her Louis. But he was one of those that were never going to return from the battlefield. He died in the battles according to the legend. The deaths of the soldiers during this battle were mostly attributed to the fire coming from the great battery of the Montmorency camp of the British. Perhaps that’s how it also happened for Louis.
In some version of the story, it is Mathilde that finds his dead body, floating on the shores of the river banks after the battle. Perhaps she did, perhaps it just makes a better story.
No matter of the manner she learned about the death of Louis, it was more than Mathilde could live with, and she ran home, grieving while the rest was celebrating French victory. In some version the houses was on fire after the battles, although it seems unlikely, given of the summer rain storm that ended the attacks.
In either case, she ran to save her one beloved item, the dress. She put on her gown as well as the veil. She went to the Montmorency Falls were she and Louis used to go to be alone. She threw herself from the cliff into the water, her white bridal veil becoming one with the gushing waterfall, becoming Chute de la Dame Blanche or the White Lady Waterfall.
Only a couple of months later, the French were defeated on the Plains of Abraham, and the dream of a New France died as it ended under the British crown.
Today, especially during the summer and early fall, reports of seeing the young girl in her wedding dress lives on around the Montmorency Falls. And the small sister waterfall, Chute de la Dame Blanche, is all hers.
The Truth of the Legend
The legend has definitely gone through some changes over the years. It is nevertheless a persistent one, and it even made the cut to be put on Canadian post stamps, making Chute de la Dame Blanche or the White Lady Waterfall somewhat of a national treasure.
A female ghost in the waterfalls is a common enough myth, especially with the dramatic flare of a wedding veil, fitting the aesthetic of a waterfall. But looking at the timestamp of the legend, such a veil is unlikely as brides didn’t wear white until after Queen Victoria’s wedding in 1840. But could it just be the wedding dress that is the truth?
One thing that actually is true, is the battles, and it is definitely true that that happened, and that young men died and that women were left, longing after their lost ones. But was a man named Louis Tessier one of them?
According to a database of the French and British army soldiers in Québec in 1759 and 1760, there were no French volunteered named Lois. According to them there are no official military documents clearly identifying Canadian Militia members. And if our Louis did exist, he probably would have been one of them. However, some combat participants have been identified using historical and genealogical research. Biographical information will be posted as it becomes available.
From the French army, on the possibility he could have been one of those, there were not many Tessier. We found a Jean Tessier, born in France and part of the French army. Only 26 years old, he was Mortally wounded in the battle of the Plains of Abraham 13 September 1759, not in the Battle of Beauport.
On the account of Louis, there were a lot of them. Most of the Louis that showed on record they died in 1759, died in the battle of Plains of Abraham or the days leading up to it. The only ones dying up to French victory of Beauport were:
Louis Saint-Jean Date : 1759-07-26
Louis Billaut Date : 1759-07-22
Both French born and in the French army, not in the militia. And therefore unlikely of being the Louis marked up in the legend.
As for Mathilde Robin, no such name has come up in the research in and around the time of the battle. Considering there is no certain sources as to their names, we have to consider the research and their story, inconclusive.
Chute de la Dame Blanche
However the legend, be it true or not, the waterfall stands. The water keeps flowing, the veil creates the mist everything can hide in, perhaps even ghosts. But it isn’t all doom and gloom around the waterfall, but rather, the first source of light.
In 1885 on the 29th of September at eight o’clock, a crowd is gathered on the Dufferin terrace in the city, 12 km away from the waterfall. For the first time in Canada at that distance, electrical light is powered from the power of the waterfall, bringing light again to the country, bringing Canada into the modern world.
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