Louise Ballagny: Paris Opera singer in Victoria

Louise Belagny

Louise Belagny: opera singer

In the early days of the Fraser River gold rush, Fort Victoria was a long way from the opera stages of Paris. This was especially true for Louise Ballagny, a star of Paris Grande Opera fame, who came to Victoria to live in August, 1858.

Louise  Ballagny was born in Paris, France, and began to sing at a very early age. Her musical talent was soon recognized and she was given a full scholarship to study for three years at the Conservatoire.

She played and sang in L’Opera Comique, at L’Ambigue, and then at Comedie Francaise. Her fame spread. She was considered to be one of the leading operatic singers in Paris of her time. She married Charles Lombard and together they had a son named Charles. Mr. Lombard died when their son was two years old.  Belagny continued to sing and travelled with her opera company to Valparaiso, and it was while she was performing here that she met her second husband, Louis L’Hotelier.

While her Lombard had encouraged her to keep singing, L’Hotelier did not, and in fact persuaded her to stop altogether. At her final concert with the opera company, Louise was presented a gold watch set in diamonds as a farewell gift by four consuls representing England, France, Italy, and Spain. The new couple stayed in Lima for a while, and afterwards moved to San Francisco. After hearing stories of the Fraser River gold rush, they decided to come to Vancouver Island. Unfortunately, Mr. L’Hotelier had lost most of his savings by this time, so Louise held three sold-out concerts and raised enough money to see them through to Victoria. Crowds came to hear the great Paris singer, whose voice had so long been silent.

Instead of going to seek gold, they remained at Victoria, and L’Hotelier started a business of importing food and liquor. Within a few years, his business was successful.

Louise L’Hotelier found life very hard and it took some time to adjust to having no domestic help. She knew nothing whatever of house work, but an old Frenchwoman who lived in Victoria taught her to wash clothes. She had her tub in the small yard of their house, and frequently while rubbing away at the family linen, she would begin to sing, and in singing she would forget everything but the music, until Mr. L’Hotelier came home and discovered crowds of people standing outside the fence, to his chagrin.

In 1867, the L’Hoteliers moved back to Lima, Peru. Her son Charles Armand Lombard who also shared a talent for singing, stayed in Victoria.