Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Alone in an Untamed Land: The Filles du Roi Diary of Helene St. Onge

Alone in an Untamed Land: The Filles du Roi Diary of Helene St. Onge

Maxine Trottier
Historical Fiction  Series
For ages 10 and up
Scholastic Canada, 2003   ISBN: 978-0439989695

When Helene and her older sister Catherine's beloved father dies, their future suddenly becomes very uncertain. Their father left a great many debts behind him, which the sisters are in no position to pay off. It is therefore decided that Catherine will take advantage of the King's generosity and go to New France as a fille du roi or fille a marrier to marry a settler in the French province. The King wants to have his new lands settled quickly to consolidate his position there, and the best way to do this, he feels, is to populate it as fast as possible. He needs the men who go to New France to find wives and to have children. So, the King will provide young women who agree to marry settlers in New France with a dowry to encourage them to leave their homeland and to risk the long journey across the Atlantic to the wild lands of New France.

Catherine's younger sister Helene is going to accompany her, though is agreed that she is too young to be married herself. Then disaster strikes while their ship is at sea - Catherine dies of a fever and Helene is left alone in the world except for her cat Minette. Helene is now faced with the problem as to what she should do next. Should she take Catherine's place and become a fille a marrier?

After much agonized thought Helene decides that she will take Catherine's place, though she will take her time in choosing a husband. In the meantime she develops a special friendship with a half Mohawk girl, Kateri, and this relationship helps her cope with all the changes in her life. Once she arrives in Montreal, Helene is taken into the ample and loving arms of her Tante Barbe and she soon settles down, getting used to living and working in her aunt's tavern. It isn't long before Helene has several adventures which show her that her ultimate destiny may not in fact lie as far away as she thought it would.

The author skilfully brings to life the very odd practice, which was popular in the mid 1600's, of sending young single girls and women to Canada. We see how hard it must have been for the young women, who were sent away from everything they knew to this new land that was so alien and often so dangerous. At the same time, many of the girls saw the journey is as a grand adventure and a great opportunity. As a fille du roi they were able to start a new life and to have a dowry, something that they otherwise would not have been able to have.

This is one of the titles in the Dear Canada series.