Childhood in Gaspésie and departure for Montreal

Mary Travers' birth certificate, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

Mary Travers was born in Newport on the Gaspé Peninsula on June 4, 1894. She was one of six children born to Lawrence Travers, and Anglophone of Irish heritage, and French-Canadian Adéline Cyr. Their house was also home to Lawrence’s six other children from his first marriage. Raised in English, Mary attended a French school and spent much time with her father who, over the years, would share with her many of his passions.

Taller than other girls her age, Mary was unusually strong. Nicknamed Franck by her father, she would set snares, hunt and bring in the firewood with him. He was also the one who instilled in her, while she was still very young, a passion for the violin as well as for the mouth organ (harmonica) and Jew’s harp. Considered a child prodigy by the inhabitants of Newport, she very soon started to play at evening get-togethers and weddings. Her repertoire at the time included Irish tunes, learned from her father’s side of the family, and Acadian songs, a legacy from her mother’s family.

n 1907, Mary left the Gaspé to begin the next phase of her life, alongside her half-sister, Mary-Ann, as a maid with a well-to-do family. After that, she worked for Doctor LeSage, who lived on St. Louis Square in Montréal, earning 15 dollars a month plus room and board. At the time, like most young people in her situation, she sent half her wages home to her parents. When she turned 16, Mary decided to leave her job to try out a new experience, factory work. Over the years, her parents’ financial situation improved and consequently, Mary’s did as well.

Later, whenever Mary ran out of inspiration for her lyrics, she would always return to her first love, the Gaspé Peninsula. For instance, when writing her song, “La morue”, sitting at her kitchen table, Mary would think back to her childhood and begin simply by telling her own story, “Moi, j’m’appelle la petite Mary, je suis née dans le fond de la Gaspésie…”.

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