Sophie Morigeau, Columbia Valley legend

I have lived in the Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia for almost three decades but had never heard the story of Sophie Morigeau, an Indigenous woman with Red River Metis and Quebecois roots.

Sophie Morigeau’s father, François, was a fur trader born in Berthier, Quebec. He came out west in 1819 with his first wife, Ken- Pe- Sku, a Swampy Cree woman. François is thought to have been the first white settler in the Kootenay region of what we now call British Columbia. 

According to historian Jean Barman, after three years and three children, Ken- Pe- Sku “tired of living in the mountains.” She wanted to return to her home on the plains, so the family journeyed back east. 

François returned to the Columbia Valley with a new wife, Isabella Taylor, a Red River Metis woman. François and Isabella raised many children, including Sophie, who grew up to be an independent trader, pack train runner, rancher, and bootlegger in the Columbia Valley area. Sophie and her brother, Baptiste, opened the first general store in Golden, B.C. in 1882. 

Historians have described Sophie as a “woman in a man’s world”, a “local legend”, and  “good-hearted woman” who fed the hungry and gave work to those who needed it. She died in 1916.

Community members in Fernie, B.C. opened a Francophone school in 2013 and named it after Sophie Morigeau, connecting students to the rich history of the area. L'école Sophie-Morigeau has about 40 students, ranging from kindergarten to grade 6. 

Catherine Fisher, blogger

Photo: Fernie, B.C. between 1903 and 1909. UBC Open Collections. langmann-1.0361860.ris