Memorial Honors Fur Trader LaFramboise
With some of her descendants standing by, the remains of Madame Magdelaine LaFramboise were moved to a crypt in Ste. Anne’s Church museum Friday, July 26. The influential fur trader and prominent historical figure donated the land on which the church is built. She died in 1846.
At a special devotion, the remains of Mme. LaFramboise, her daughter, and her grandchild were placed in a crypt made from recycled church materials and topped with a marble stone. It is a place for prayer, said Brother Jim Boynton, S.J.
Mme. LaFramboise prospered in a difficult situation. She was born in 1780 and, during her life, she became a successful and affluent fur trader, bridged Native American and European cultural gaps, promoted education, gave plentifully to Ste. Anne’s parish, and reared two children alone. In her will, she stipulated her wish to be buried under Ste. Anne’s Church. She was interred there until the 1960s, when her remains were moved into the garden during construction of a new basement community center.
Letters from Mme. LaFramboise’s family suggesting she be moved back to the church moved Brother Boynton initiate her return to the building.
“We are so proud, and so happy, and so grateful to all friends of Ste. Anne’s that you have kept her memory alive now and forever,” said Jan Collins, a direct descendent of Mme. LaFramboise who attended the ceremony. “Thank you so much. This is such an honor. I am just driven to tears.”
Mme. LaFramboise lived during a turbulent time on Mackinac Island, said Amy Pavlov, who gave a historical account of the woman’s life at the devotion. When her husband died in 1806, she took over his fur trading business. She was a working woman in a man’s fur trading industry, part Native American in a land becoming a white-man’s world, and had to navigate her business around impacts from the War of 1812. From the age of 26 on, a young widow, she lived a fur trader’s life and reared two children. Her daughter,
Josephine, died at age 26 during childbirth.
“I’m 27, and I could not imagine being in her shoes,” Ms. Pavlov said. “I have no idea how she could have the strength to carry on from that, but she did.”
Mme. LaFramboise flourished in her work and life, Ms. Pavlov said. Having Owada and French Canadian heritage and speaking four languages, French, English, Odawa, and Ojibwa, Mme. LaFramboise could communicate and negotiate with diverse groups, which allowed her business to flourish. She reared a daughter and a son, had grandchildren, survived “rough” days on Mackinac Island, and retired in a beautiful home that is now the Harbour View Inn. According to author Keith Widder, Mme. LaFramboise was able to maintain a “pure sense of identity” through the changing times, Ms. Pavlov said.
Mme. LaFramboise also was committed to ensuring education for young people on Mackinac Island by working with people outside of the Catholic faith for educational purposes. She even opened up her home as a schoolhouse. Mme. LaFramboise was devoted to her faith in the Roman Catholic Church and in 1820 she donated the property Ste. Anne Catholic Church sits on today.
“She did this in good faith because at that time, the church had not had a resident priest for 55 years, longer than the time she had been alive,” Ms. Pavlov said.
She eased tensions between protestant and Catholic faiths and kept hope that Ste. Anne’s would one day have a strong presence on Mackinac Island. The parish was first established on Mackinac Island in 1670. It then moved to St. Ignace in 1671, to Mackinaw City in 1743, and back to Mackinac Island in 1780, sitting at that time where Cawthorne’s Village Inn now stands. When she donated the land in 1820, a small church was constructed and the large Ste. Anne’s Church seen today was built there in 1874.
Also in her will, she left money for the poor on Mackinac Island.
Mme. LaFramboise was a philanthropist, woman of business, and a lady, Ms. Pavlov said.
The church program also honored all grandmothers. During the ceremony, members of the audience were also asked to stand and say some kind words about their grandmothers. Members of the audience were also invited to write a petition to Ste. Anne on archival paper that would be placed in the tomb.
After the ceremony, the crypt was brought down into the church basement.
“I’m very happy,” Mrs. Collins said, teary-eyed after the ceremony. “I think she’s happy, too.”