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Debi Halcovitch, Fenelon Falls Gazette, Visits with Roch Theriault AKA Moses, December 12, 1984

November 1, 2022

Roch Theriault being kissed by wives

Roch Theriault, who declared himself to be Moses (Moise to his French Canadian followers), was a doomsday cult leader at a wooded pioneer settlement on Ledge Hill Road, near Road 121, just south of Burnt River. Roch had nine wives, whom he impregnated as a religious requirement. One of his followers, Gabrielle Lavallee escaped after he amputated her arm in 1989, prompting his arrest. The subsequent investigation found that his medical treatments had caused the death of four of his followers. He had also committed repeated physical and sexual abuse. Several of his followers remained loyal to him despite his incarceration. He was murdered in prison in 2011.

In 1984, shortly after he moved to Burnt River, the Fenelon Falls Gazette visited his new homestead:

Recently settled in the Burnt River area is a small group of French Canadians who have chosen to live their lives in an era out of the past. The group, consisting of 3 men, 9 women, and 12 children, under the leadership of 37-year-old Roch Theriault from Thetford Mines, Quebec, work and live under conditions similar to society a century ago.

Their lifestyle of sharing and working as one unit is a reminder of the communes so popular with the ‘flower children’ in the 60s and 70s, but their belief in having one man rule the household and father the majority of the children through different ‘wives’ lends a different air to this communal lifestyle.

The bush and farmland in the Burnt River area lended it perfectly to Roch’s desire of homesteading and in the spring of 1984, 200 acres of landlocked property was purchased so that he and his followers could establish a summer encampment. Access to the property is impossible by car. A 4-wheel drive vehicle must be utilized to travel the 4 mile bush road which has become worn and rutted from use. Mud holes, gates, a creek, and low hanging branches hinder accessibility.

Necessity for better road access prompted Roch to approach Somerville township and request permission to build another entrance. The new road would cover approximately 1 ½ miles of property to Ledge Hill Road and would abut 8 property lots. Conditional approval from Somerville Township has been granted and the owner of the 8 private lots have been contacted. Physical and financial assistance from some of the residents has been offered to the settlers. The cutting and clearing of bush will begin in the near future.

Living Apart from Society

During the summer of 1984, the industrious men, women and children lived in tents, raised goats and chickens, planted a large garden and constructed their 4 permanent log cabins for protection against the winter weather. They built a grist mill to grind corn and grain, a sawmill for the production of building materials, fetched water from the nearby creek and constructed wooden tables, beds and chairs by hand. Roch Theriault’s desire is to give his children a heritage. He believes children should be raised in the country. Roch, a philosophical man, believes in God, a natural life, and working with his hands. He and his group want to live apart from society. Says Roch, “We are poor. We are at the beginning of self sufficiency.” Roch likened himself to the source of a stream. “If you are a mile down from the source of a stream, the water may be muddy or unclear, from people walking in the water and stirring up the mud. By coming to me [the source of the stream], you will find it is clear and truthful, not muddy or distorted. The source is the truth.”

Seven “Wives”

Our interview with Roch Theriault took place in one of the log buildings which is considered the community kitchen where all food is prepared. Vegetables are stored in a root cellar which was dug by hand under the structure. A wood stove supplies ample heat and kerosene lamps light the room. Roch sat in a hand crafted rocking chair, occasionally picking up one or two of his young children who refer to him as “Papa”. Roch Theriault fathers 10 of the 12 children in their community. Roch explains, “I love children”. Seven women in the group are considered Roch’s “wives”. These women tend to the children, cook, clean, fetch water, milk goats, mend clothing, stoke fires and have more babies. The majority of the women cannot speak English so they remained in the background, quiet and apprehensive. According to Roch, these 7 women and himself have the same desire to produce children. He does not consider these women “wives” in the conventional sense of “belonging to” or “property”. Roch explained, “I love the 7 women and they love me. It’s natural. Babies come.” Three more infants are due in the new year and all the babies will be born by natural childbirth on their settlement.

The Children’s Aid Society has visited with the mothers and their children to ensure the health and welfare of the group. Because the young children do not speak English, a few first grade readers have been obtained from a local public school. The children will be taught to speak English prior to being enrolled in public school.

Family allowance is the only income received by these people at present and, according to Roch, when the road is completed in the spring, 2 of the men will look for outside work. To date, none of then have sought outside work. The women will make crafts and Roch plans to create handicrafted furniture for their income. Living off the land will provide food, water and wood for sustenance, but some finances are necessary for survival. In the words of Roch Theriault. “I have chosen this way of life. I know I am destined to suffer. Any person who believes in something with his heart which is different from others, there will be suffering.”

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