60 years after Innu trapper's disappearance, family members seek closure

Two sisters stood before a packed room in the Innu community of Mani-Utenam, Que., on the second day of the hearings into missing and murdered Indigenous women to share the story of their mother, Anne-Marie Jourdain, who went missing in 1957.

Anne-Marie Jourdain was never found after disappearing near Port-Cartier, Que., in 1957

Edmund Jourdain said he remembers searching the woods with his grandfather for his sister, Anne-Marie, after she disappeared near Port-Cartier, Que., in 1957. (Julia Page/CBC)

Two sisters stood before a packed room in the Innu community of Mani-Utenam, Que., Tuesday on the second day of the hearings into missing and murdered Indigenous women to share the story of their mother, Anne-Marie Jourdain, who went missing in 1957.

Denise Fontaine moved to the Innu community of Pessamit, Que., in 1985 when she married.

She said she noticed the woman who lived two doors down from her new home — a tall, strong woman with a sharp tongue — looked just like her mother.

It's only then the neighbours realized they were sisters, adopted into different families after their mother, Anne-Marie Jourdain, disappeared in the autumn of 1957.

"Now I know who I am: I'm Jeanne-d'Arc Jourdain," said Fontaine's younger sister, who now goes by the name Jeanne-d'Arc Vollant.

Fontaine described their mother as a tall, strong woman who grew up in the bush, learning how to trap from her father.

She and her sister told commissioners they believe their mother was murdered at the end of November 1957, while she was out trapping in the woods north of Port-Cartier, about 60 kilometres southwest of Sept-Îles, Que.

 
Anne-Marie Jourdain (right) grew up in the bush and later moved to Sept-Îles, Que., on the province's North Shore. (Submitted by MMIWG inquiry)

Neither Jourdain nor the 12-year-old boy who was with her ever returned to their camp.

The boy was later found frozen under a tree, wearing Jourdain's clothes, said Fontaine.

"I am convinced she was assassinated," she said.

'They had the feeling she was hidden'

Fontaine said police never carried out an official search for her mother.

She said family members scoured the woods where Jourdain and the boy were last seen, finding footprints that led to a horse trail used by loggers. There, the footprints disappeared.
Denise Fontaine (left) and her uncle Edmund Jourdain embrace commissioner Brian Eyolfson and an Innu elder after sharing their testimony Tuesday. (Julia Page/CBC)

Fontaine said white men in a nearby cabin refused to allow the Innu searchers inside.

"They had the feeling she was hidden," she said of the search team. She still wonders about the cabin's occupants.

"Did they burn her to erase the evidence?" 

She said her mother's rifle was also never found.

'When I look in the mirror, I see her'

"I searched for her so much, and when I look in the mirror, I see her. It's her," said Vollant, reading a poem she wrote about the emptiness she has felt since the loss of her mother.

Vollant and her sister describe themselves as militants and feminists — strengths they say they inherited from Jourdain.

"We were always told that she was special," Vollant said as photos of a young Jourdain were projected onto screens behind the sharing circle in the community centre.
Every day of testimony begins with a sunrise ceremony outside the community centre, followed by prayers for the victims, the survivors and their families. (Julia Page/CBC)

Fontaine told commissioners it was important that Canadians hear their story.

"Let it be known across Canada, what we experienced as Innu. Regardless of the nation, each community has its own stories, some still hidden," she said.

Mani-Utenam, one of two small communities of the Innu Takuaikan Uashat mak Mani-Utenam, is near Sept-Îles, 900 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

​Initially, the hearings in Mani-Utenam were slated to be the only Quebec stop for the national inquiry. On Monday, commissioners announced another set of hearings will be held in Montreal, although a date has not yet been set.