We know less about Gabrielle’s father, Léon, as he doesn’t play a prominent role in her published stories. Paying tribute to him was Suzanne Kennelly’s goal while writing a monologue to be performed by Alphonse Tétrault. The play was filmed in Gabrielle Roy’s childhood home turned museum.
Gabrielle Roy’s father seems to have lived a thousand lives. I don’t want to spoil anything, but just know that his trek from Québec to Saint-Boniface was anything but linear. We learn more about his life of course, but also more about that of his family, from happiness to tragedy, through poverty and health complications.
Léon et sa maison is set in 1923. It serves as an excellent reminder of the historical events that were taking place a century ago: World War One, the Thornton Act of 1916 that outlawed education in French, the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike… simple and historically informed, the play reminds us of these important events with a conscious analysis of their societal impacts.
The play was written in 2019 and was originally meant to be presented to the public the following year. Despite the hundred year difference, certain elements in the play still resonate in a modern context. Léon talks about the Spanish Flu, its societal impact and how it affected hockey. Does that sound familiar to you? Seems like a little nod to 2020.
For forty minutes, the protagonist speaks through the camera directly to his audience. He confides in us about the education he received, his relationship with Gabrielle, and his political opinions, with emotion and outrage. He’s a proud French Canadian who has no doubt that his language and culture will survive despite the obstacles that the government has put in their way. He’s staunchly pro-immigration and works in the field for twenty years.
Without being able to visit the Maison Gabrielle-Roy in person, the play gives its audience the opportunity to explore or re-explore the house as it follows Léon from room to room throughout his monologue. We see the familiar window made famous through her writing, as well as her office and bedroom, and we learn more about the construction of the house – it cost $3,500 at the time, which is around $100,000 today!
If Léon could see the Saint-Boniface he knew 98 years later, I think he would be happy to see how the community has grown… aside from the cancelled hockey games.
To watch the play, go to the Maison Gabrielle-Roy website where it will be available until December 31, 2021. The cost to rent is $15 CAD, making the video available for 24 hours.