The rags-to-riches story of Mary Travers Bolduc is the tale of an ordinary woman’s transformation into the Queen of Canadian folksingers.
In a small Quebec fishing and lumbering town in Newport, Gaspésie, Mary Travers was born into a large family of English descent. Although there was very little musical knowledge in her family, her natural talents could not be ignored: she learned to play the fiddle, harmonica, accordion and the Jew’s harp on her own.
At the young age of 13, Mary left home to work as a domestic in Montreal. In 1914, she married tradesman Edouard Bolduc and together they started a large family. To provide for her growing brood in a time of economic hardship, Mary turned to music.
She was first hired as a fiddler for the musical show Veillées du Bon Vieux Temps, in 1927 and it was during this time that Mary began a recording career. Unknown to her, Mary’s recordings of La Cuisinière and La Servante were issued on 78-rpm discs by the Starr recording label and sold an unprecedented 12,000 copies in Quebec alone. From these songs, her voice was heard throughout Quebec and she soon became universally known to her fans as “La Bolduc.” Historically, she is regarded as Quebec’s first “chansonnière.”
Throughout the Great Depression, Mary wrote and recorded 85 songs for the Starr label. Most of her songs were written in French and were based on everyday life, expressing the burdens and joys of the common people. Her songs contained lively rhythms and upbeat tones featuring comic vignettes and humourous working-class characters. Some recordings, including, Ça va venir découragez-vous pas featured her playing the harmonica.
With a musical career spanning more than a decade, Mary turned her simple effort to support her family into a musical legacy. With her natural and unrehearsed musical style, Madame Bolduc greatly influenced the evolution of the Quebec chanson. According to the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada (Toronto, 1992), “Though she has had many imitators, she has had no equals.”
Mary Bolduc died of cancer on February 20, 1941, at the age of 46.