Holy Moses Mountain Family

Susan Palmer
Andrew Ames

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HOLY MOSES MOUNTAIN FAMILY TIMELINE

1947 (May 16)Roch Thériault was born in the village of Rivière-du-Moulin, Quebec and was raised in Thetford Mines, Quebec.

1965:  Theriault renounced his Catholic upbringing at age eighteen and vowed to find his own spiritual path.

1967 (November 11):  Thériault married Francine Grenier. The couple had two boys: Roch-Sylvain, born January 1969, and François, born April 1971. In 1974, Grenier would request a divorce.

1975 (February):  Thériault worked as a cabinetmaker and carpenter and met his future wife, Gisèle Lafrance, in Quebec City.

1977 (January):  Thériault joined the local Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) in Thetford Mines.

1977 (February):  Thériault received a vision predicting the Jonestown massacre.

1977 (May):  Thériault began selling literature for working the Seventh-day Adventist Church and teaching a well-attended and successful course on “detoxification” (on how to quit smoking) in Thetford Mines and the surrounding towns.

1977 (May – July):  Thériault attracted five followers at the SDA events, and invited them to move into the apartment he shared with Lafrance. They began to address the older couple as “Papy” and “Mamy.”

1977:  Thériault and Francine Grenier finalized their divorce.

1977 (September): Thériault and his entourage traveled to Sainte-Marie-de-Beauce, where they met Jacques Giguère and his wife, Maryse Grenier, who joined Thériault’s group. Jacques Giguere became Thériault’s right-hand man.

1977 (September):  The parents of a teenager, Chantal Labrie, concerned that she failed to enroll in college after moving into the Theriault-Lafrance household, insisted that she undergo a psychological test. The psychologist reported that she was in good mental health.

1977 (October)The group moved to Sainte-Marie-de-Beauce and set up a storefront called Clinique vivre en santé (“Healthy Living Clinic”). They continued to offer detoxification courses in several cities across the Province of Quebec.

1977 (Fall):  Thériault began receiving visions and dreams about an imminent apocalypse. In November he announced a revelation about moving to Gaspésie.

1977 (Fall): Thériault instructed his followers to contact their families and threaten to formally sever all ties if they wouldn’t accept his prediction of the impending apocalypse.

1978 (January):  Thériault married Gisèle Lafrance in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Montreal.

1978 (March):  Geraldine Auclair, a leukemia patient, joined the Healthy Living Clinic after her husband persuaded Thériault to take her, but she died soon afterward.

1978 (April): Thériault was expelled from the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

1978 (June):  Healthy Living Clinic members began to address Theriault as “Moise” (Moses) and to wear homemade unsewn tunics with no undergarments.

1978 (July 6):  Thériault predicted the end of the world for February 17, 1979.

1978 (July 9):  Arriving in the Gaspé, the group explore the woods, and set up camp at the foot of a mountain identified by Theriault as “Mont de l’Éternel” near the town of New Carlisle, Quebec. The group changed its name to “The Holy Moses Mountain Family” (HMMF) and members began to address Theriault as “Moïse” (Moses).

1978 (September 15):  Roch Thériault christened his members with new Bible names to mark their new beginning.

1978 (October):  Thériault initiated sexual relations with most of the women of the group and dissolved all the marriages he had previously performed.

1978 (November 18):  The tragedy of Jonestown was reported in the newspapers, and journalists start to draw comparisons between Jim Jones and Roch Theriault, and to refer to the HMMF as a “cult.”

1978 (February 17):  Thériault’s prophecy of the end of the world failed. He rationalized this failure by proclaiming that God’s time works differently from human time. The parents of Chantal Labrie requested another psychological examination for their daughter.

1979 (March 18):  The Sûreté Québec descended on the HMMF with a court order for Chantal Labrie, but were refused entry by Thériault.

1979 (April 18):  Following a radio interview with Roch Thériault in which he discussed his prophecies, the police raided the HMMF commune to enforce the court order regarding Chantal Labrie, whom they forcibly escort to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. Thériault was brought to trial on charges of obstructing justice. He was found guilty and given a suspended sentence.

1979 (April 27):  Theriault returned to the commune. Labrie, who the psychologist found to be in good mental health, also returned.

1979-1980 (July-August):  The Holy Moses Mountain Family, with its quaint log cabins and Bible-style tunics, became a major tourist attraction in Gaspesie.

1979 (October):  Gabrielle Nadeau, the multiple sclerosis patient, died despite “Moïse’s” spiritual healing methods.

1980 (November):  Guy Veer, a “simpleton,joined the community.

1981 (March)Two year-old Samuel Giguère died after an abusive beating by Veer and a botched “healing” surgical intervention by “Moise.”

1981 (September 14):  Moise insisted that Guy Veer stand trial before the HMMF community for causing the death of Giguère. Veer was found guilty and was castrated by Theriault as a “purification.”

1981 (November 5):  Veer left the group and was intercepted by police.

1981 (December):  The police raided the commune. Thériault was arrested, and all the children were placed in protective services. Seven members were charged for their complicity in the death of Giguère and for the castration of Veer.

1982 (September):  All seven defendants were found guilty on all counts. Three, including Thériault, were sent to prison in Québec City, sentenced from nine months to a year.

1982 (December 23):  Judge Jean-Roch Roy sent the members of the HMMF an eviction notice.

1983 (January 18): Members still living in the commune were evicted by forest rangers.

1984 (February): Thériault was released from prison and rejoined his followers.

1984 (May 2): Thériault and his twenty-two remaining followers departed from the Gaspé and moved to a plot of land near Burnt River, in the Kawartha region of Ontario. The group renamed itself the “Ant Hill Kids”.

1985 (January 26):  Gabrielle Lavalee’s baby son died of exposure to cold. After another child escapes from the commune and alleges physical and sexual abuse, nine children born in the commune were seized by the Ontario Children’s Aid Society and placed in foster homes.

1988 (September 29):  One of Theriault’s plural wives, Solange Boilard, complained of a stomach ache and was subjected to brutal and botched surgical operation by an inebriated “Moise.” She died and was buried by his followers.

1988 (November 5):  Theriault extracted eight of Gabrielle Lavallée’s teeth to punish her for low pastry sales.

1989 (May 23):  Theriault punctured Lavallée’s hand with a hunting knife to cure a stiff finger. The wound became infected and gangrene spread.

1989 (July 26) Thériault told Lavallée that he must amputate her hand, but instead he amputated her whole arm with a chain saw.

1989 (August 14):  Lavallée escaped from the Ant Hill Kids by hitch-hiking to the nearest hospital where she was interviewed by the police.

1989 (October 6):  Thériault was arrested after several weeks of evading police by hiding in the woods.

1989 (December 18):  Thériault was charged with the second-degree murder of Solange Boilard. He pled guilty to the murder and to the aggravated assault charge for cutting off Lavallée’s arm. He was sentenced to twelve years in prison.

1993:  After losing his appeal, Thériault was sentenced to life in prison.

2000:  Thériault was transferred to a medium-security prison in Dorchester, New Brunswick.

2002:  Thériault’s application for parole was rejected.

 2011 (February 26):  Thériault died at age sixty-three after being stabbed by his cellmate, Matthew Gerrard MacDonald (a fellow convicted murderer) at Dorchester Penitentiary.

FOUNDER/GROUP HISTORY

Roch Thériault was born in May 16, 1947 in the village of Rivière-du-Moulin, Quebec and raised in the nearby town of Thetford Mines. His father, a farmer, was a member of  the Pelerins de Michel (“Berets Blancs”), a conservative Catholic movement loyal to the pope that would later reject the reforms of  the Second Vatican Council (Kaihla and Laver 1994:29). Little Roch would accompany his father on door-to-door fundraising to distribute Beret Blanc literature. At age eighteen, Theriault renounced his Catholic upbringing and began to explore his own esoteric interests. He later claimed in his biography written in prison that he had been raised in Abitibi, and as a boy he had met a she-bear in the woods who rolled him over and adopted him as her cub (Theriault 1983). His father had taught him to castrate pigs, and he developed an early interest in shamanic indigenous medicine. In 1973 he was involved in a masonic lodge, the Aramis Association, a masonic lodge in Thetford Mine where he claimed he was taught techniques of hypnotism (Laflamme 1997:50).

Thériault married to Francine Grenier in 1967 and they had two boys, Roch-Sylvain (b.1969), and François (b.1971) who were welcome visitors to the communes he presided over in Gaspe and Ontario, and would eventually write a book about their life with their father. In 1974, he ended his relationship with Grenier and soon met Gisèle Lafrance while selling hand-carved mugs during the winter Carnaval in Québec City (Lavallee 1993:13).

Thériault developed stomach ulcers in 1970. He received surgery but this led to complications, which gave him stomach pains for the rest of his life and intensified his interest in medicine (Laflamme 1997:37). In the Fall of 1976, the pain was intense, and he squatted for several months in an abandoned house (Laflamme 1997:63). He came into contact with the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) in Thetford Mines. Attracted to their health programs and Bible prophecy tradition, he joined in January 1977. A month later received a vision that predicted the Jonestown massacre. He began working as a missionary for the Seventh-day Adventists, and was paid to sell SDA literature and to teach courses on “detoxification” (how to quit smoking) in Thetford Mines and the surrounding towns (Kaihla and Laver 1994:57). That summer, Thériault met five of his future followers at SDA events and invited them to move into the apartment he shared with Gisèle Lafrance. They addressed him and his girlfriend as “Papy” and “Mamy” (Theriault and Theriault 2009).

Thériault and Francine Grenier finalized their divorce in 1977. (Theriault and Theriault 2009:45). In September, Theriault and his entourage traveled to Sainte-Marie-de-Beauce, where they met Jacques Giguère and his wife, Maryse Grenier. By October the group had moved to Sainte-Marie-de-Beauce and Giguère would become Thériault’s right-hand man. There they set up a storefront center called Clinique vivre en santé (Healthy Living Clinic, HLC) and continued to offer detoxification courses in the counties of Beauce, Lotbinière, Dorchester, Bellechasse (Kaihla and Laver 1994:90). The HLC offered a five-day program based on healthy eating, psychological introspection and group therapy (Kaihla and Laver 1994:87). The Healthy Living Clinic gained a good reputation in the area for hosting free vegetarian banquets for the sick, underprivileged and the handicapped. Thériault imposed a strict Sabbatarian schedule on his followers that required fasting, prayer, meditation and group confessions (Kropveld and Pelland 2006)..

In the Fall of 1977, Thériault began to report receiving visions and dreams about an imminent apocalypse. In November, he received a revelation about moving to the Gaspésie. He instructed his followers to contact their families and formally sever all ties with relatives who did not immediately accept his apocalyptic prophecies (Lavallée 1993:106-08). More emphasis was placed on Bible study and group confession.

Thériault and Gisèle Lafrance married in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Montreal and he begins to arrange and preside over marriages between his younger followers (Lavallee 1994:91). In 1978, a leukemia patient moved into the Healthy Living Clinic, but died soon afterward (Lavallée 1993:88). While she was dying, Thériault claimed to revive her briefly with a “breath of life” so she could speak her last wishes (Kaihla and Laver 1994:96).

In April 1978, Thériault was expelled from the Seventh-day Adventists Church for preaching heretical doctrines (Kaihla and Laver 1994:97). In June 1978, he described a vision he had received in which the group was standing at the foot of a mountain, which he knew to be in the Gaspé Peninsula of eastern Québec (Laflamme 1997:75). Soon afterwards, the HLC members began to address Theriault as “Moise” (Moses) and to wear homemade unsewn tunics with no undergarments (Laflamme 1997:76). By June, the group had set off for the Gaspé, supporting themselves by offering quit-smoking courses in the towns along the south shore of the Saint Lawrence river. On July 6, Thériault predicted the end of the world to occur on February 17, 1979 (Kaihla and Laver 1994:101).

On arriving in the Gaspé, the group moved to the woods, and set up camp at the foot of a mountain identified by Theriault as “Mont de l’Éternel,” their safe haven in the impending apocalypse, near the town of New Carlisle, Quebec. The group’s name was changed to “The Holy Moses Mountain Family” (HMMF), and Theriault was now to be addressed as “Moïse” (Moses). The men built a large chalet and log cabins in an open field. In September, Roch Thériault christened his members with new Bible names to mark their new identity as God’s Chosen Ones who would survive destruction by finding shelter on “Mont de l’Éternel.” By the end of the summer, seven members left the group, including Thériault’s two sons who returned to their mother, Francine Grenier (Lavallée 1993:111-12).

By October 1978, Thériault had initiated sexual relations with most of the women in his group, and he dissolved all the marriages he had previously performed (Lavallee 193:105). One by one, every women in the group became his plural wife, except for Maryse Grenier, the wife of Jacques Giguere (Kaihla and Laver 1994:110). Thériault then broke the SDA taboos against the eating of meat and drinking of alcohol, making an exception for himself. The group developed new applications of the Hebrew Calendar, with  New Year’s day beginning on March 21.

The massacre at Jonestown on November 18, 1978, led to media attention on the tunic-wearing followers of Moses as a “cult”. The Canadian press were quick to find comparisons between Jim Jones and Thériault, although to date there had been no (publicly-known) violence in the Holy Moses Mountain Family. Perhaps related to this, in December 1978, Thériault’s group had several run-ins with the state. Two French members, Gabrielle Lavallée’s new husband and her old female friend, were seized by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and forcibly repatriated to France due to expired visas. The group, which had numbered twenty three upon arrival at Mont de l’Éternel, was left with fifteen members (Lavallee 1993:139).

A conflict ensued after Thériault and Claude Ouellette were interviewed on Radio Canada on December 11, 1978. They were followed home and arrested by Sûreté du Québec and made to undergo psychiatric evaluations at a hospital in Québec City. Two days later, Ouellette and Thériault were released with an almost  clean bill of health: Thériault was said to have “mystical delusions,” which could possibly indicate schizophrenia, but the psychologists did not consider him to be dangerous (Kaihla and Laver 1994:108).

The media were focusing on Thériault’s failed apocalypse, suggesting the “Holy Moses Mountain Family” might resort to mass suicide. Fearing that the government might be influenced by negative media reports and evict them from their land, Thériault and Ouellette set out for Quebec City on March 7, 1979 to meet with a government official who assured them they had permission to squat at the foot of Mont de l’Éternel, which was crown land (Laflamme 1997:97).

In January 1979, three babies were born into the commune. Over the next twelve years, twenty children would be born into the group through five women. All but two of these children were fathered by Roch Theriault (Laflamme 1997:96).

The critical date of the prophecy of the end of the world on February 17, 1979 passed uneventfully. Theriault rationalized this failure to his followers by proclaiming that God’s time works differently from human time (Lavallée 1993:441). The parents of Chantal Labrie respond to his irrational behaviour by requesting another psychological examination for their daughter (Lavallée 1993:81). In March, the Sûreté Québec descended on the HMMF commune with a court order for Chantal Labrie, but they were refused entry by Thériault.

Following a radio interview with Roch Thériault in which he talked about his prophecies, the police raided the HMMF commune on April 18 to enforce the court order regarding Chantal Labrie, who they seized and escorted to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. Thériault and three followers were taken to the police station and held for questioning. While he was being held, other parents of members were flown in by police helicopter in an effort to convince their adult children to leave the group (Kaihla and Laver 1994:118). Thériault was accused of obstructing justice for disobeying a court order. Theriault then agreed to submit to a psychiatric evaluation. The results stated that he was experiencing “mystical delusions” and showed signs of schizophrenia. He was deemed unfit to stand trial and was transferred to a psychiatric institution in Quebec City. However, a second psychiatric evaluation would reverse the findings in the first report, so that Thériault was brought to trial on charges of obstructing justice. He was found guilty and given a suspended sentence. He and Chantal Labrie returned to the HMMF by the end of April (Kaihla and Laver 1994:119).

During the summers of 1979 and 1980 the Holy Moses Mountain Family, with its quaint log cabins and medieval tunics became a major tourist attraction in the Gaspesie, attracting up to 75 to 100 tourists daily, some staying several nights (Kropveld and Pelland 2006). During this period of prosperity, the members were permitted to drink alcohol.(Laflamme 1997:100) But after the experience of prophetic failure, followed in October 1979 by the death of Gabrielle Nadeau, a multiple sclerosis patient who had been living in their community, Thériault’s charismatic gifts as a prophet and spiritual healing were questioned (Kaihla and Laver 1994:121). A period of violence and conflict with the law ensued.

Guy Veer, known in the commune as a “simpleton,” had recently joined the community. In March 1981, he was responsible for baby-sitting the “impure” caste of children while the “pure” were celebrating a visit from Theriault’s two oldest sons by holding a large banquet in their honour.  Meanwhile, two year-old Samuel Giguère was cold and hungry and his crying was punished by an abusive beating by Veer. Theriault attempted to treat Samuel’s wounds through a magical “healing” ritual involving stomach injections and circumcision surgery, which led to an infection and death (Kaihla and Laver 1994:124).

On September 14, 1981 Thériault insisted that Guy Veer stand trial before the HMMF community for causing the death of Samuel Giguère. He was found guilty. Theriault punished Veer by castrating him, see as a “purification” and jokingly informed him that he was now promoted from the role of “Slave” to the higher status of “Eunuch.” Veer then fled from the commune and was intercepted by police, who solicited his testimony (Kaihla and Laver 1994:126).

In December 1981 the police raid the commune. Thériault was arrested and all the children were seized and placed in protective services. Seven members were charged for their complicity in the death of Samuel Giguère and the castration of Veer, including Gabrielle Lavalee who had been trained as a nurse. By September 1982, all were found guilty on all counts. Three were sent to prison in Québec City, with sentences ranging from nine months to a year (Kaihla and Laver 1994:128).

By December 1982, the members of the HMMF received an eviction notice from Judge Jean-Roch Roy. By January 18, 1983, all the members living in the HMMF commune were evicted by forest rangers.

Thériault was released from prison in February 1984 and rejoined his twenty-two loyal followers; three men, nine women and ten children. On May 2, 1984 they departed from the Gaspé region to travel westward to the province of Ontario. There they found a plot of land near Burnt River, in the Kawartha region of Ontario. They built a new settlement in a remote clearing in the forest (Kaihla and Laver 1994:146). On arriving in Ontario, they applied for the provincial Welfare’s social assistance, but were rejected. They resorted to shoplifting and accepting handouts from their neighbours as they struggled with subsistence farming (Kaihla and Laver 1994:151). The group’s “Ant Hill Kids” fruit stands and bakery were established, and members began to sell home-made bread and pastries from door-to-door and at the local farmers markets. The HMMF’s name was discarded for the new title, “Ant Hill Kids”.

On January 26, 1985, Gabrielle Lavalee’s baby son died of exposure to cold. The autopsy concluded it was a case of sudden infant death syndrome. Soon after, a child ran away after a  severe beating and was picked up by Children’s Protective Services. He told the police he had been sexually assaulted by “Moise” [Theriault]. Nine children belonging to the commune were seized by the Ontario Children’s Aid Society (OCAS) and placed in foster homes.

Theriault’s violent behaviour steadily escalated after the group moved to Ontario. Physical punishments of members continued, and Thériault undertook to perform gruesome psychic surgeries, which he justified as magical healings.

On September 29, 1988 one of Moise’s” plural wives, Solange Boilard, who had become his primary wife, thereby displacing Gisèle Lafrance, complained of a stomach ache. Theriault, in a drunken state, proceeded to perform a botched surgery by removing pieces of her intestines and proclaimed her healed. She died painfully and following his orders, the group buried her, but then dug her body up a few days later. Moise then presided over a series of sex magic rituals with his followers in an effort to bring Boilard back to life. She was exhumed three times before her final burial. Moses kept one of Boilard’s bones on a string around his neck, concealed under his beard. He insisted that his followers also wear the bones of Solange around their necks as amulets. Members, who were terrified of his wrath, began leaving the commune for weeks at a time before returning, often to face punishment (Kaihla and Laver 1994:226)..

On November 5, 1988 Moise extracted eight of Gabrielle Lavallee’s teeth to punish her for low pastry sales. One of his least favoured wives, considered as “Impure,” Lavallée fled from the commune, but returned to suffer more abuse. On May 23, 1989 Gabrielle Lavallée returned from visiting her brother. Noticing notices that one of her fingers was stiff, Theriault ordered her to show it to him, then suddenly punctured her hand with a hunting knife. The wound became infected and became gangrenous (Kaihla and Laver 1994:265).

By July 26, 1989 Thériault decided it was time to amputate Lavallée’s hand, but instead, enlisted his followers to hold her down, he  amputated her whole arm with a chain saw (Lavallée 1993:279). Lavallée decided to hide her clothing and made plans to leave the group. On August 14 she escaped from the Ant Hill Kids commune by hitch hiking to the nearest hospital where she was interviewed by the police. Her escape and the ensuing investigation prompted a wave of defections from the commune. Thériault hid in the woods for several weeks and managed to evade the police who were searching for him using dog teams and helicopters. Finally, on October 6, 1989, Thériault was arrested and was charged with the second-degree murder of Solange Boilard. He pled guilty to the murder and to the aggravated assault charge for cutting off Gabrielle Lavallée’s arm. He was sentenced to twelve years in prison (Lavallée 1993:279).

After his appeal, in 1993, Roch Thériault was sentenced to life in prison. Three of his wives, Francine Laflamme, Chantal Labrie and Nicole Ruel moved to New Brunswick so they could continue to follow their spiritual master, “Moise,” while he was incarcerated. The three wives give birth to four babies who were conceived during conjugal visits in prison. All four babies were promptly seized by Child Protection Services and put up for adoption (Gagnon 2002).

In 2000, Roch Thériault is transferred to a medium-security prison in Dorchester, New Brunswick. Two years later he applied for parole, but it was rejected.

Theriault attempted to sell his prison artwork, poetry and ritual paraphernalia, notably his “Moses’ rod” on a United States-based website, MurderAuction.com in 2019. This provoked more controversy that was fanned by the media. Canada’s Public Safety Minister, Stockwell Day, wrote to the Correctional Service to express his concern that a killer be allowed to benefit from his crimes. The Correctional Service of Canada then blocked Theriault’s art works from leaving the premises of Dorchester Penitentiary (Bussières 2010).

On February 26, 2011, Roch Thériault was stabbed by his cellmate, Matthew Gerrard MacDonald (also a convicted murderer), at Dorchester Penitentiary (Cherry 2011). He died at the age of sixty-three .

DOCTRINES/BELIEFS  

Roch Thériault’s new religious movement emerged out of the Seventh-day Adventists (SDA) in Thetford Mines, Quebec. After he was expelled from the SDA church, his group retained many of its original Adventist features. They maintained a vegetarian diet with no alcohol as the way to “holistic health.” They retained the Adventist focus on millennial expectation, which was fanned by the prophecies of Thériault, notably his prediction that the world would end on February 17, 1979. They also kept the SDA’s reliance on the Jewish lunar calendar for their celebrations, with Saturday as their sabbath day. Theriault, whose father was an integriste Catholic, rejected Quebec’s ultramontane Catholicism, and downplayed the New Testament and the sacred status of Jesus and the Virgin Mary (Theriault and Theriault 2009:36-37).

His followers’ most important belief appears to have been in Roch Thériault himself; as God’s chosen prophet who received ongoing revelations. By claiming to be “Moïse,” the contemporary spiritual counterpart of the Old Testament Hebrew prophet, he endowed his followers with the sacred identity of the ancient “Israelites” who were led out of Egypt and slavery. This narrative dominated their communal, rural life, as described in the memoirs of former members. The outside society was “Egypt,” and the “slavery” of the Israelites was the technology, “trouble, noise, and tension” of modern living. Thériault provided regular “proofs” of his prophetic status through sharing his dreams, visions and predictions concerning the impending destruction of the world, as well as through minor healing miracles. As a religious rationale for his practice of polygamy, Roch Thériault would point to the prophets in the Old Testament, Abraham, Solomon, Jacob and Isaiah, who had plural wives (Kropveld and Pelland 2006).

RITUALS/PRACTICES

After the expulsion of Thériault from the SDA church in April 1978, the group retreated to the forest of the Gaspé. There, each member underwent a naming ceremony. This involved writing Hebrew names on slips of paper, which were then picked out of a hat by Thériault and bestowed on each member. This symbolized each member’s rebirth into the group.

The names were said to belong to the Twelve Tribes of Israel, signifying a shift in their group identity as the new “children of God” who would to survive the apocalypse (Laflamme 1997:90).

A new set of “Jewish” holidays were celebrated, in which nature worship triumphed over Christianity in planting and harvest festivals and in winter/summer solstices. An annual Exodus celebration was held on the date of the group’s arrival in the Gaspé.

Group confessions were an important practice in the group. In the Healthy Living Clinic days, these had focused on participants’ use of drugs and psychological problems. Later, during the HMMF phase, group confessions dealt with sins and breaking commune rules. While living in Sainte-Marie, the group would hold vegetarian banquets for the sick and poor. These banquets would meant be a demonstration of the group’s sanctity, as saviours to the common people.

Theriault would periodically perform magical healing rituals, typically while in an inebriated state. His unrealistic attempts at psychic surgery resulted in the deaths or maiming of several of his followers.

ORGANIZATION/LEADERSHIP

The group was communal in their social organization, and lived in log cabins and a central lodge in remote forest clearings. Thériault was a polygamist, married to all the women in the group, and the former husbands lived as celibate monks. An exception to this pattern was permitted for Thériault’s right-hand man, Jacques Giguère, who lived in monogamy with his wife, Maryse. After the marriages came a steady flow of children. The children were taken from their parents after only a few weeks to be raised by Thériault’s head wife and Queen, Gisele Lafrance, and often did not see their parents for weeks or months at a time. Once a two- tiered social system was established in Ontario, the children would be separated into the “princes” living with Theriault and the “servants” living with their “impure” mothers.

In 1978, as the “Chosen People,” members began to wear linen tunics; dark green for men and light green (with no undergarments) for women, to signify humility and equality. Theriault and his two oldest sons wore brown tunics decorated with regal embroidery. The group’s identity changed from being an ancient Hebrew “tribe” to being modeled on a medieval court, with Thériault as the “King,” his primary wife, Lafrance, as “Queen,” and Guy Veer as the “Fool” and later as the “Eunuch”.

By the time they moved to Ontario and were called the Ant Hill Kids, the commune had developed a two-caste system. Members favoured by Thériault were “pure,” whereas others were deemed as “impure.” The “impure” followers suffered inferior housing conditions, poor diet and unpleasant, physically demanding work. The “pure” lived close to the “King and Queen” and participated in their festive banquets. 

Thériault initially attracted followers through his Bible study classes, which continued as Thériault expounded on the prophecies in the Bible. But gradually, Bible passages gave way to Thériault’s sermons, filled with his original ideas, dreams, and visions.

ISSUES/CHALLENGES

Throughout their history the group face many difficulties after the SDA church expelled Theriault and withdrew its financial support. Harsh living conditions and food shortage were an ongoing challenge. These conditions were made worse by the unjust internal hierarchy and by Theriault’s unpredictable bouts of violence. The small size of Thériault’s group, which fluctuated from around fifteen to twenty-two adult members with changing numbers of children, meant it was vulnerable to external pressures and also could be tightly controlled by “Papy,” Roch Thériault.

The group was challenged by parents who were determined to rescue their daughters from Theriault’s influence. Sensationalistic media reports followed on Theriault’s 1978 endtime prophecy. This stimulated parental alarm which peaked in 1977 when the parents of teenager Chantal Labrie, concerned that she failed to enrol in college after moving into Theriault’s household, obtained a court order for psychological evaluations. Other parents descended on the commune by helicopter in an effort to convince their children to leave. Primitive living conditions combined with negligence resulted in a child’s death, which led to the intervention of social workers who periodically seized the children. This external interference prompted the group’s withdrawal from society and the choice to remain isolated in remote forested areas of Quebec and Ontario.

The greatest challenge to the group was the escalating violence of Theriault’s “healing” rituals. Theriault’s followers witnessed and enabled his homicides of a favourite wife and unfavored son and his deliberate maiming of three other members. They also colluded in not reporting and assisting him in covering up his crimes. The escalating violence led to defections and to a police investigation that resulted in Theriault’s prison term and the demise of the group. 

IMAGES

Image #1: Roch “Moise” (Moses) Thériault.
Image #2: Thériault with the female members of the Holy Moses Mountain Family.
Image #3: Thériault at the Holy Moses Mountain Family settlement.

REFERENCES

Bussières, Ian. 2010. le Roch ‘Moïse’  Thériault: quand le crime paie.” Le Soleil, mai 15.

Cheery, Paul. 2011. “Cult leader was ‘victim of his past’.” Thériault Often Assaulted by Other Inmates: Lawyer.” Montreal Gazette, February 28.

Gagnon, K. 2002. “Sur la trace de MoïseThériault Trois Femmes Suivent Toujours Leur Maître.” Journal de Québec:2-3.

Kaihla, Paul and Ross Laver. 1994. Savage Messiah. Toronto: Seal Books/McClelland Bantam.

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Thériault, Roch. 1983. L’Affaire Moïse: La montagne de l’Éternel. Quebec City: Éditions du Nouveau monde.

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SUPPLEMENTARY RESOURCES

Savage Messiah (Documentary film). 2002. Accessed from https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0303010 on 15 February 2019.

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