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Which 17th century heroine is known as the "Canadian Joan of Arc"?

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Fourth of the twelve children of François Jarret de Verchères, an officer and a seigneur in New France, and Marie Perrot, Marie-Madeleine Jarret de Verchères (3 March 1678 – 8 August 1747) was only fourteen when she displayed selfless acts of heroism. Madeleine de Verchères is famous for the story of her actions at the family fort located east of Montréal on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, while her parents had left on business and to gather winter supplies. It was in the morning of 22 October 1692 that a band of marauding Iroquois had launched a surprise attack on the settlers that were working in the fields. Although in proximity to the fort, she was chased and overtaken by an Iroquois who seized her by the scarf she was wearing and escaped by loosening it and ran into the fort shouting "to arms, to arms!", closing the gate behind her. Madeleine had previously experienced the grief of the war between the French and the Iroquois as she had already lost two brothers and two brothers-in-law since 1686. Taking command of the situation, her plan was to deceive the Iroquois into believing that the fort was heavily guarded by firing muskets and cannons and encouraging the settlers to make as much noise as possible. Madeleine and those within the fort remained vigilant and defended the fort until eight days later when reinforcements from Montréal arrived just after the Iroquois left. From the 1880s to the 1920s, Verchère's growth of popular nationalism sentiment in French Canada made her a heroic symbol that became known as the "Canadian Joan of Arc".

Her sense of fortitude, heroism and patriotism was reflected in Louis-Philippe Hébert's statue of Madeleine de Verchères - Canada's second monument dedicated to a woman heroine that was unveiled on 20 September 1913 in her hometown of Verchères, Québec. In 1923, she was officially designated as a National Historic Person of Canada by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and four years later, in 1927, an official plaque was installed to that effect on the monument. This large monument faces the St. Lawrence River as it 'greets' all of the visitors at their tourist wharf. The events leading to the erection of this monument has had significant national implications as Lord Grey, Governor General at the time, wanted to realize something similar to New York's Statue of Liberty and thought that Canada should also have its own version – a statue of Madeleine de Verchères – to be located on the bluffs of the Plains of Abraham welcoming all of its arriving immigrants.

On this day, 3 March 2022, we commemorate the 344th anniversary of the birth of Madeleine de Verchères and mark more than 108 years since the unveiling of a monument erected in honour of this heroine in her namesake county town.

André M. Levesque

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