French school named after pioneering woman

After years of campaigning and trying to get enough numbers, the Francophone school in Fernie, Ecole Sophie Morigeau opened last week.

  • Sep. 9, 2013 7:00 a.m.


After years of campaigning and trying to get enough numbers, the Francophone school in Fernie, Ecole Sophie Morigeau opened last week.

For those wondering how the school got its name, Sophie Morigeau was something of a pioneer in the area, and Heather Kerr, president of Association Francophone des Rocheuses due Sud said they chose her because she was a woman who used her multicultural background to succeed.

“Naming our school after Sophie Morigeau started with an innocent enough query on my part to the Société historique francophone de la Colombie-Britannique (BC Francophone historical society) as to whether our region had been home to any notable francophones in history,” said Kerr. “I knew that a lot of David Thompson’s right-hand men had been French.

“Although she was a minority on several levels in the business world, being a woman, being francophone and being aboriginal, Sophie saw the opportunities that all these different components of her identity could bring to her in terms of success, which I think is an excellent parallel for children growing up speaking French in B.C.”

Sophie also has a local connection in the sense that she had a trading post near Grasmere and a cabin in Eureka and many of her descendents live in the East Kootenay.

“That Sophie grew up around here in the latter part of the 19th century brings an element of new frontier spirit to the pioneering nature of our school, being the only francophone public school in the East Kootenay,” said Kerr.

“It also connects students at ÉSM to the rich history of our area and the many families around here who can trace back six or seven generations to that same time in history.

“Many of École Sophie-Morigeau’s students have backgrounds rooted in Canada, but some don’t. For most of these children, French and English are the languages they hear the most at home, but for some there are many other languages and cultures mixed in as well. For these children to attend a school named after a figure who used her multicultural background to succeed shows them that preserving and celebrating their languages and cultures makes good sense.”

Sophie Morigeau moved to the mountains from Quebec with her mother nearly 200 years ago and learned the Kutenai women’s work of foraging for camas root and bread root with a digging stick and preparing meals in a fire pit. She could skin game and tan skins. She also learned to move the teepee and set it up with animal skins for flooring and cedar boughs for structure. Her skills were very handy as part of a family of a free trapper.

The family moved to Washington to raise cattle and horses and Sophie was sent to Catholic School, and her eyes were opened up to the difference in attitudes and treatment by her father towards white and First Nations people.

Sophie spent years leading a pack of horses carrying supplies into the gold fields. Eventually she set up a trading post on the southeast side of Lake Windermere, doing business with both First Nations and white people.

She supplied tobacco, and finally set up home in the Tobacco Plains, building a cabin next to Indian Creek, which she turned into another Trading Post, hiring First Nations women to make leather clothing, jerky and pemmican. She also operated a toll on fishing.

She was described as a “good-hearted woman” feeding the hungry and giving work to those who wanted it.

She made her way in a man’s world by being a crafty businesswoman. Sadly, she lost 100 heads of livestock during a harsh winter in 1892-93 and her friend Olga Johnson reported at the time that, “Many of her friends, both Indian and white, seemed to forget her after her wealth and vitality were nearly spent.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City seeks public input on new cannabis retail license

The application must first gather approval from city council before being approved by the province

City of Fernie responds to high water levels

The city is monitoring water levels daily in order to keep residents safe

Ready, Set, Learn bus excites incoming students

EIDES’s Ready, Set, Learn bus delivered early learning packages throughout Fernie

Deer fawning season begins in B.C.

WildSafeBC is reminding people how to react if they come across a deer fawn

The Fernie Academy hockey players sign to play in the NA3HL

Dylan Baker, Chris Consolozio, and Bowen Arola continue their hockey careers in the NA3HL

If Trudeau won’t stand up to Trump, how will regular people: Singh

Trudeau did not directly answer a question about Trump’s actions amid protests

VIDEO: Internal investigation into aggressive arrest by Kelowna Mountie

A video allegedly shows a Kelowna Mountie striking a man several times

22 new COVID-19 test-positives, one death following days of low case counts in B.C.

Health officials urged British Columbians to ‘stand together while staying apart’

John Horgan says COVID-19 restrictions won’t be eased regionally

B.C. Liberals urge ‘tailored’ response based on infections

Feds get failing grade for lack of action plan on anniversary of MMIWG report

‘Instead of a National Action Plan, we have been left with a Lack-of-Action Plan’

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

B.C. ranchers, lodge operators say Indigenous land title shuts them out

Tsilhqot’in jurisdiction affects grazing, access to private property

As two B.C. offices see outbreaks, Dr. Henry warns tests don’t replace other measures

Physical distancing, PPE and sanitizing remain key to reduce COVID-19 spread

Greater Victoria drive-thru window smashed after man receives burger without mustard

Greater Victoria Wendy’s staff call police after man allegedly rips Plexiglas barrier off window

Most Read