Born in Saint Boniface (now part of Winnipeg), Manitoba, Gabrielle Roy was educated at Saint Joseph's Academy. After training as a teacher at The Winnipeg Normal School, she taught in rural schools in Marchand and Cardinal and was then appointed to Provencher School in Saint Boniface.
With her savings she was able to spend time years in Europe, but was forced to return to Canada in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II. She returned with some of her works near completion but settled in Quebec to earn a living as a journalist while continuing to write novels.
Published in 1945, her first novel, Bonheur d'occasion, gave a starkly realistic portrait of the lives of people in Saint-Henri, a working-class neighbourhood of Montreal. The novel caused many Quebecois to take a hard look at themselves and her writing is regarded as the novel that helped lay the foundation for Quebec’s Quiet Revolution of the 1960s. Published in English as The Tin Flute, the book won the 1947 Governor General's Award for fiction as well as the Royal Society of Canada’s Lorne Pierce Medal. Distributed in the United States, where it sold more than three-quarters of a million copies, the Literary Guild of America made "The Tin Flute" a feature book of the month in 1947. The book garnered so much attention that Ms. Roy returned to the West to escape the publicity.
In August 1947, she married Marcel Carbotte, a Saint Boniface doctor, and the couple set off for Europe where Carbotte studied gynecology and Ms. Roy spent her time writing.
Another of her novels brought more critical acclaim. Alexandre Chenevert, is a dark and emotional story that is ranked as one of the most significant works of psychological realism in the history of Canadian literature.
She is considered by many to be one of the most important Francophone writers in Canadian history and one of the most influential Canadian authors. Her works garnered many literary awards including France's Prix Femina. She won the Governor General's Award three times, the Prix David twice, the Prix Duvernay and the Molson Prize. In 1967 she was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.
Gabrielle Roy died at the age of seventy-four. Her autobiography, titled "La Détresse et l'enchantement," was published posthumously in 1984. Translated into English as "Enchantment and Sorrow," it covers the years from her childhood in Manitoba to the time when she settled in Quebec.
The National Library of Canada has preserved a collection of her materials covering the years 1940 to 1983, including manuscripts, typescripts, galleys of published and unpublished works such as La Rivière sans repos, - Cet été qui chantait, Un jardin au bout du monde, Ces enfants de ma vie, and La Détresse et l'enchantement, business and personal correspondence, business records, and memorabilia.
See also: List of Canadian writers, List of Quebec authors