FORETIER, MARIE-AMABLE (Viger), humanitarian; b. 2 Aug. 1778 in Montreal, 11th of 14 children of Thérèse Legrand and Pierre Foretier*, businessman and landowner; m. there 21 Nov. 1808 Denis-Benjamin Viger*, and they had one daughter, who died in infancy; d. there 22 July 1854.
Marie-Amable Foretier lost her mother when she was five and her father remarried four years later, taking as his wife Catherine Hubert, widow of Thomas Baron. Marie-Amable and her four sisters, the only surviving children of the first marriage, grew up in comfortable circumstances in the large home which her mother’s parents had ceded to her father in 1778. Pierre Foretier was a man with a penchant for amassing extensive landed property and he also possessed a large library of books and maps. In this atmosphere Marie-Amable may have been introduced to the administrative skills she would use in later life.
In 1808, at 30, Marie-Amable married Denis-Benjamin Viger, a lawyer with some financial ability, who would inherit considerable property in Montreal in 1823. During her husband’s sojourns in England in 1828 and from 1831 to 1834, Mme Viger, who had been granted power of attorney, managed the leases on the land and buildings. From 1816 to 1842 she, her husband, and other members of the family would be involved in a prolonged legal battle over the settlement of her father’s estate. Among the clauses of Foretier’s will which the legatees refused to accept was one which placed Mme Viger’s share of the inheritance under the management of the executor, Jean-Baptiste-Toussaint Pothier*, until the death of her husband, so as to exclude Denis-Benjamin Viger from exercising any control over the legacy.
Often left alone after her marriage, because of her husband’s frequent absences as a member of the House of Assembly and later as a member of the Legislative and Executive councils, Marie-Amable turned to the aid of the less fortunate as a way of giving meaning to her life. During the 1820s and 1830s Montreal began to experience an increase in population as a result of emigration from Great Britain. Realizing that few charitable institutions existed to meet the needs of the destitute, Angélique Blondeau, widow of Gabriel Cotté*, challenged the women of Montreal in December 1827 to seek means of easing the suffering of the poor. Members of the Association des Dames de la Charité, founded as a result of Mme Cotté’s initiative, chose different fields of concentration for their efforts: young women in trouble, orphans, or the aged and infirm. Mme Viger, through the generous use of her wealth, her administrative ability, her social position, and the political influence of her husband, offered sustained support to all of these concerns.
Mme Viger was also among the women who petitioned the assembly for the incorporation of the Charitable Institution for Female Penitents in 1833. She served as president of the institution from 6 Oct. 1836 until the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd assumed charge in 1846. In that same year, continuing her support for the work, she donated a property on Rue Sherbrooke to the institution. In January 1841 she had been elected president of the Association des Dames de la Charité. She served as president of that association’s home for orphans, the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum of Montreal, from its incorporation in 1841 until her death. She also served until her death as a member of the corporation of the Montreal Asylum for Aged and Infirm Women founded by Émilie Gamelin [Tavernier]. It may have been his wife’s influence that led Denis-Benjamin Viger to introduce the bill for incorporation of this asylum in 1841 and to lend his support to both it and the bill to incorporate the orphanage. In addition, from the beginnings of the Association des Dames Bienveillantes de Saint-Jacques in July 1828, Mme Viger had served on the executive committee overseeing the society’s work for the education of poor girls. On 15 Nov. 1828 she was elected treasurer and assistant of the association, a position she held until 23 July 1831.
According to historian Joseph Royal*, Marie-Amable Viger deserved the title “mother of the poor” of Montreal. Louis-Joseph Papineau* wrote, “How inclined she was to believe the best of a person and how ready to do good; how far removed she was from thinking evil possible, and how incapable of speaking ill of anyone at all.” Papineau’s description coincides with the impression given by a portrait of this gentle person. The small painting by an unknown artist reveals a pleasant, self-assured woman with intelligent eyes, a woman who might well merit the confidence of her friends and associates in work for the unfortunate.
ACAM, 525.107, 835-1; 846-3. ANQ-M, CE1-51, 3 août 1778, 21 nov. 1808, 1er déc. 1813, 7 juill. 1814; CN1-134, 22 janv. 1816, 22 nov. 1827; CN1-295, 19 nov. 1808, 4 févr. 1828, 7 mai 1831. AP, Notre-Dame de Montréal, reg. des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 24 juill. 1854. Arch. des Sœurs de la charité de la Providence (Montréal), Assoc. bienveillante Saint-Jacques, reg. des procès-verbaux, 1828. PAC, MG 24, B46, 1: 95–98. Can., Prov. of, Statutes, 1841, c.62, c.67. L.C., Statutes, 1832–33, c.35. Mémoire de Denis Benjamin Viger, écuyer, et de Marie Amable Foretier, son épouse, appellans; contre Toussaint Pothier, écuyer, et autres intimés, à la Cour provinciale d’appel, d’un jugement de la Cour du banc du roi de Montréal, pour les causes civiles, du 20 février 1827 (Montréal, 1827). La Minerve, 25 juill. 1854. M.-C. Daveluy, L’orphelinat catholigue de Montréal (1832–1932) (Montréal, 1933). Joseph Royal, “Biographie de l’hon. D. B. Viger,” L’Écho du cabinet de lecture paroissial (Montréal), 3 (1861): 68–71.