LEMAIRE, MARIE-MARGUERITE, superior of the Sisters of Charity of the Hôpital Général in Montreal; b. 14 May 1769 in Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes (Oka), Que., daughter of Ignace Lemaire, a merchant, and Marie-Louise Castonguay; d. 12 April 1838 in Montreal.
Marie-Marguerite Lemaire showed ability as a student when she attended a school run by the Congregation of Notre-Dame. Her studies completed, she helped her father in his business and her mother with the housework. She read in her spare time, mainly the lives of the saints. As gifted as she was serious, she longed for the religious life. When she was 16, she sought admission to the Hôtel-Dieu of Montreal, but she was rejected because of a slight infirmity that made her limp. She then applied to the Hôpital Général of Montreal and was accepted because of her many talents. She entered the convent on 21 Nov. 1785 and took perpetual vows on 24 Jan. 1788.
Sister Lemaire was driven by an extraordinary passion for work. Having devoted herself to humble tasks for about ten years, she was named bursar of the community in 1798. In this capacity she managed the seigneury of Châteauguay and Île Saint-Bernard, both owned by the Hôpital Général. She drew up the land roll of the seigneury herself and hired a surveyor to determine its boundaries officially. She also had to stand up to the Indians of nearby Caughnawaga (Kahnawake), who were trying to take over Île Saint-Bernard. She even defied them by pulling out the crops they had sown, and they decided to beat a retreat. Another threat came from the seigneur of Beauharnois, who wanted to have his agent take possession of the Îles de la Paix (which were part of the seigneury of Châteauguay) and had some of the trees cut down. The matter was taken to the courts, which decided in her favour; the community received damages for the losses suffered.
When the Lachine canal was being built, Sister Lemaire was vigilant and firm. Learning that the engineers were determined to encroach upon the community’s lands at Pointe-Saint-Charles (Montreal), she went to the work sites and protested energetically. The offenders acknowledged that the nuns were within their rights.
In addition to being enterprising and determined, Sister Lemaire was recognized for her kindness. During the War of 1812, for example, her efforts in nursing a British soldier to recovery brought his enthusiastic gratitude. Another time she bravely went to the rescue of some travellers in peril on ice-floes in the St Lawrence, and she offered them hospitality in the manor-house of Châteauguay.
On 20 July 1821, three days after the death of the superior, Thérèse-Geneviève Coutlée*, Sister Lemaire was elected as her successor. Contrary to custom she retained the office of bursar. Like her predecessors she applied herself to recovering the annuities that the community held in France. She succeeded in this endeavour through the help of Sulpician Jean-Baptiste Thavenet. Mother Lemaire used these funds to enlarge the Hôpital Général, supervising the work herself. In addition she had extensive improvements made to the seigneury of Châteauguay. In 1823 she agreed to shelter 40 Irish orphan girls at the request of the Sulpicians, who undertook to pay for part of their keep. During her tenure as superior the community received Scottish and Irish women into its ranks.
On 3 Sept. 1833 Marie-Marguerite Lemaire resigned as superior because of ill health, and Marguerite Beaubien replaced her. She spent the last five years of her life in the hospital’s infirmary, where she died on 12 April 1838. She is remembered as an intrepid woman, attentive to the nuns’ living conditions and filled with compassion for the poor. She had contributed greatly to improving the material circumstances of the community.
Arch. des Sœurs Grises (Montréal), Dossier de sœur M.-M. Lemaire, corr.; hist. personnelle, doc.3, 5, 7–8; post mortem, doc.2; Reg. des baptêmes et sépultures de l’Hôpital Général de Montréal. [Albina Fauteux et Clémentine Drouin], L’Hôpital Général des Sœurs de la charité (Sœurs Grises) depuis sa fondation jusqu’à nos jours (3v. parus, Montréal, 1916– ).