Chartrand, Dorothy


Dorothy Bellerose was a Metis of Cree and French descent. She was born in St. Albert, Alberta, on August 15, 1918, the 11th child of a family of 13 born to Pierre Bellerose and Justine Beaudry. The Bellerose family is one of the early and founding Metis families of the settlement of St. Albert. The family patriarch in the region was Olivier Bellerose (1809-1891), Dorothy’s great grandfather, who came to the region from Quebec in 1833, in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company.The family had lived on the same lot of farming land for three generations. It was located along the Sturgeon River, in Saint Albert.

Dorothy first attended the Guilbault School for girls in her home town, then the Colinton School, in Colinton, Alberta, where the family lived for three years after the death of her grandfather, Octave. The family then returned to Saint Albert where she completed her 12th grade. She then followed a business course at St. Mary’s High School in Edmonton. In those days, the pursuit of such an education presented quite a challenge for a Metis woman, but she claimed to have but one goal, and that was to find a good job. And she succeeded. In 1939, she found a job with the Alberta Department of Trade and Industry.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, many young people enlisted in the military forces. On September 11, 1941, Dorothy herself followed suit enlisting in Edmonton with the Alberta Women’s Service Corps which belonged to the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC). This Corps had been established on July 30th, 1941. She was the 9th woman to join the new Corps and one of only 25 Native women to serve in the Canadian military during World War II. She later related that she was among the 200 to 250 women who received training in different communication systems such as the telegraph system, Morse code and semaphore. She underwent her military training in Calgary, Alberta, after which she got posted in Red Deer. Later, she returned to Calgary. She was promoted to sergeant in 1942, and then to the rank of staff sergeant in 1943.

As Aboriginals were not allowed in the army in those early days, Dorothy had to deny her Metis identity to join up. It was also the first time in history that women had been allowed in active service, so the army had to come up with uniforms for them. “The uniforms … were so stylish,” Dorothy writes, featuring an olive drab suit and skirt, brown shoulder tabs and shoes, and a French kepi-style hat. Nylons were strictly forbidden, she noted, as was bright nail polish. Dorothy was so proud of her uniform that she wore its overcoat for years after the war. Her uniform is now on display at the Musée Héritage Museum in St. Albert.

In 1944, Dorothy became one of the few Canadian women to serve in the military overseas. On November 29, 1944, she boarded a train to Halifax, and from Pier 21, she set sail for Liverpool, England. The 8-day journey at sea was dangerous, particularly in the blackness of night because of the pervasive presence of German subs.

Upon her arrival in London, she was stationed at Canada House where she worked as an administrator. Officially opened in Trafalgar Square by King George V in 1925, Canada House was the headquarters for Canada’s armed services during the Second World War. Its Beaver Club was a hub of activity during the war years, with service personnel gathering there regularly to socialize. She was there at the time the Germans were lobbing V-1 rockets at London from Holland. Dorothy long remembered the wailing of air-raid sirens and the scrambling to underground shelters to keep safe from enemy bombardments. If air-raids happened during the night, she and her companions would huddle in their beds as the sirens were followed by the distinct buzz of rocket motors, and then silence till the explosion nearby.

Ten days after her arrival in England, she met her “prince charming”, Robert Atcheson, a Canadian Army sergeant from Saskatchewan. They got married on July 26, 1945, in a small church near Trafalgar Square.

After their discharge from the army, the couple returned to Canada and settled in Saskatchewan where they raised four children: Anita, Joyce, Thomas and Theresa. The adaptation to a new reality was difficult in the beginning. Dorothy later related that “as every veteran knows, once the uniform is replaced by civilian clothes, life changes. Society soon forgets its veterans, so they lose their identity. It’s a cruel adaptation to reality.” Robert’s health gradually deteriorated and the family had to move to Edmonton where he died in 1958.

Left with her four children, Dorothy’s only reliable income was her small War Veterans Allowance (WVA). In order not to lose this pension, and despite her administrative skills, she was forced to accept inferior positions offering minimum wages. Apart from their WVA, very few Metis veterans received any other form of government compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs. For years now, the Metis National Council has been lobbying on behalf of its veterans for a compensation package similar to the one for Status Indians. At the Batoche Festival held in July 2016, the President of the Manitoba Metis Federation, David Chartrand, was still declaring that “The Métis veterans are the only ones that have never been settled with.” (Grassroots, July 27, 2016, no. 924, p. 12)

So Dorothy struggled on until a few years later she met Élie Chartrand, a widower who had one daughter, Élise Chartrand-Déry, from a previous marriage. The two married in 1963. Much of this biography comes from an article published by Élise Chartrand-Déry in Le Franco shortly after her step-mother’s death. The two were very fond of each other.

Once the children were grown up, Dorothy and Élie travelled across the country and the United States. That is when Dorothy developed a strong interest in historical and genealogical research. She was actively involved in one of the Saint Albert Historical Society’s signature publications: “St. Albert – A Pictorial History” (1978) to which she contributed many photographs and countless hours. She also participated in another one of the Society’s historical publications, a two-volume set entitled “The Black Robe's vision: a history of St. Albert & district” (1985). Dorothy also played an active role in the Royal Canadian Legion, Ex-Service Women’s Branch 215 in Edmonton, in which she was appointed Sergeant-at-Arms.

Élie Chartrand died in 1991. The following year, Dorothy moved into a new home where she remained until 2008. She still travelled from time to time to Ontario where her eldest daughter Anita was suffering from a brain tumor. She eventually died in July 2008 at the age of 62. Dorothy was also to lose a second daughter, Joyce, in November 2012, who resided in Bayside, Nova Scotia.

By now, Dorothy’s health as well was quickly deteriorating. In December 2008, her children moved her to Kipnes, a long-term care center for veterans in Edmonton. It is here that she passed away on September 6, 2013, at the age of 95.

During her lifetime, Dorothy Bellerose Chartrand received several awards for her exceptional life: the Esquao Award (2005) which honours excellence of Aboriginal Women; the Patron’s Award (2011), the third person ever to receive this award from the Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta in recognition of her heroism; and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2013), a commemorative medal which served to honour significant contributions and achievements by Canadians. During the year of celebrations, 60 000 deserving Canadians were recognized.

Further Reading


“A Living History of Métis Families as told by Dorothy Chartrand” (43 min. 39 sec.)

In this video, Dorothy Chartrand, a Métis grandmother, tells the story of her Metis families as the political and social change that impacted Métis lives in the 1800s to today. Her story tells of her family relocation, effects of government land policies, and ways that Métis women in fur trade and later community life helped to sustain communities. This film also tracks some of Dorothy’s more than 25 years of research in archives and HBC and church records that lead to understanding the history of her family and community of St. Albert, Alberta. The filmmaker is indebted to Dorothy for sharing her story and the history of her family and community.

Athabasca University. Alice B. Donahue Library and Archives. Audio Interview with Mrs. Dorothy Chartrand (Bellerose). Interviewed by Marilyn Mol, 1998-08-18. (20 min.)

In this interview, Mrs. Dorothy Chartrand discusses her family history which includes her grandfather, Octave, and his son Pierre setting up the Bellerose Livery Stable in Athabasca in 1898. She also talks about her family’s short sojourn in Colinton near the Athabasca Landing Trail. Mrs. Chartrand mentions early businesses and settlers in the Athabasca area and discusses freighting, lumbering and the railway.

Biographical Record
Full Name Chartrand, Dorothy
Also Known As Bellerose, Dorothy
Heritage Metis
Band Location St Albert, AB
Sex Female
Birth Date 1918-08-15
Birthplace St Albert, AB
Date of Death 2013-09-06
Next of Kin Father: Pierre Bellerose, Mother: Justine Bellerose
Biographical Notes Chartrand was the 3rd person to receive the Patron's Award from the Aboriginal Veterans Society of Alberta., Chartrand finished the war as a sergeant and the newlywed wife of her first husband, Sgt. Robert Atchinson. She went on to become a historian, doing extensive genealogical research and contributing much to St. Albert’s history book, The Black Robe’s Vision., After completing Grade 12, she moved to Edmonton where she acquired a one-year commerical Business Course. She then worked with the Alberta government for 2.5 years before enlisting.
Conflict WWII
CEF Unit C.W.A.C.
Rank Sergeant
Date of Enlistment 1941-09-01
Age at death 95
Other links, OBituary:
Identifier 2769