Louis-Olivier Gamache | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Louis-Olivier Gamache

Louis-Olivier Gamache, sailor, merchant (born in 1784 in L’Islet, Quebec; died September 1854 on Île d'Anticosti, Quebec). Gamache lived on Île d'Anticosti at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and his exploits, either true or legend, became part of the region’s oral tradition. He is said to have joined the British navy and many years later, returned to Quebec to settle on Île d'Anticosti where he was a merchant and, according to legend, a dangerous pirate. Some accounts also allege that Gamache demonstrated supernatural powers and had a personal relationship with the devil.

Boreal Forest on Anticosti Island

Early Life

Gamache was the son of Michel-Arsène Gamache and Marie-Reine Després (or Disséré). According to historian Abbé Jean-Baptiste-Antoin Ferland, when he was 11 years old, Gamache joined the British navy. Serving as a cabin boy, he sailed around the world for several years. When finally returning home, he discovered that both of his parents had died. It was said that he opened a small store in the town of Rimouski, but a fire destroyed the building.

He married Françoise Bacelet (also known as Cassista) and they had several children. Around 1810, the family moved to Île d' Anticosti, a 225 km long, heavily forested island at the mouth of St. Lawrence River. He lived on a property on the west end of the island at Baie Ellis, a secluded and natural harbour. Gamache supported his family by hunting, fishing, and trading furs (see Fur Trade in Canada). He also established a small supply depot offering wares to passing ships and those having survived the area’s many shipwrecks.

Gamache’s wife and a daughter, Christine, died of smallpox in July 1836. It is said that Gamache married Catherine Lots in 1837. He returned from a hunting trip in November 1845 to find her dead in the house. Gamache is reputed to have had nine or ten children with his first wife and three with his second, but other than Christine, nothing is known of their lives.

Encounters with Gamache

Many of the stories that created Gamache’s legend derived from the writing of historian Abbé Jean-Baptiste-Antoin Ferland. He visited Gamache in 1852. Ferland found him living alone with his house’s windows and doors barred and shuttered, and its walls covered by an array of rifles, pistols, swords, knives, bayonets, and other weapons.

Some of the stories about Gamache reveal a reclusive man wishing to defend his secluded home, vulnerable to attacks from adventurers. For instance, Ferland related the tale of an armed Innu (Montagnais) man having once approached Gamache’s house and ignoring a warning to stop. Gamache shot him in the leg. He brought the man inside, treated the wounds, and when they were healed, helped him back into his canoe with food and provisions. Gamache pushed the canoe from shore with the instruction to warn all others that the next man who approached his house would be shot in the head.

American author and explorer Charles Lanman also visited Île d' Anticosti to learn more about Gamache. He related many tales in a New York Journal of Commerce article including that of a police officer once boarding Gamache’s ship with the intention of arresting him for the non-payment of a debt. Gamache offered him hospitality and wine on board but then kidnapped him. The two spent the winter on the island. In the spring, Gamache paid the debt and the officer returned to his family in Quebec.

Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Ferland

Gamache and the Supernatural

Some stories about Gamache tax the imagination. For instance, there are tales of Gamache attacking ships on the St. Lawrence, killing their crews, and stealing their stores. The story goes that Gamache’s crew was ruthless but invisible. In one account, Gamache was chased up the St. Lawrence but vanished when his ship suddenly burst into a fireball. His pursuers found not the wreckage of a burned ship but flames mysteriously rising from the waves. When pursued another time after sundown, Gamache launched a raft from the back of his ship that he set on fire and towed for a distance before releasing. Those chasing him were fooled into following the raft but then found nothing but flames in the water. Tales such as these developed his reputation for having supernatural powers or being a will-o’-the-wisp, a ghost from ancient folklore.

Stories about the “pirate of Anticosti” also spoke of his relationship with the devil. It was said that one afternoon Gamache’s ship and numerous others were becalmed by an absence of wind. Gamache stood and called on the devil for help. Within seconds he was underway, his sails billowing with wind, while surrounding ships remained stilled.

Gamache is said to have once checked into a hotel in Rimouski and ordered two extraordinarily large meals to his room. The innkeeper was shocked when she returned to find a second chair pulled up to a table and two sets of cutlery having been used to finish both enormous meals. The rumour spread that Gamache had dined with the devil. The next day, he did it again. His apparent relationship with the devil earned him the nickname “Sorcerer of Anticosti.”


Stories are told of a trapper named Goudreau (or Gaudreau) happening upon Gamache’s house and finding him dead. It is presumed that Gamache died in September 1854. The trapper said he buried Gamache beside his wife’s grave.