All posts by Tracey Arial

Tracey Arial explores how Canadians create meaningful lives with true stories about ancestors, businesses, community action and gardening. She produces books, courses, the Unapologetically Canadian podcast and helps run the Coop CAUS nonprofit.

Walking in the Footsteps of Quebec City Ancestors

I felt like a time-traveller within ten minutes of arriving in Quebec City by train. The stairs up from the platform led into a resplendent bricked hall with caged windows that looked like something from Queen Victoria’s time. A domed sunlit ceiling of glass and stained glass made the space luxurious and opulent.

A conference presentation brought me to Quebec City, but I also wanted to use the trip to learn more about ten ancestors who once lived there. I wanted to to see if I could get a better sense of my ancestors’ lives by walking in their footsteps even though the city in which they once lived has changed enormously over the ages. If studying history helps us recognize patterns about our lives that are invisible in close context, perhaps I could use my five senses to imagine the lives of people who lived in this Canadian City in previous eras and use the insight gained to learn something needed now.

As far as I know, my ancestors had long left Quebec City by the time the train station opened, so beginning my trip in this building didn’t have any personal relevance, but it created a great mood enhancer for the trip. Canadian Pacific opened Union Station in 1916 near the once-famous Boswell Dow Brewery. After the Brewery closed in 1968, archaeological excavations on the site identified it as the one-time palace of the Intendent of the colony of New France, which is why the train station now has the name Gare du Palais.1 The title fits the elegant granite and limestone structure, which was designed by architect Harry Edward Pringle to match the style of the 1893 Chateau Frontenac. The newly renovated building made me enthusiastically embrace my heritage walkabout right away.

Where the River Narrows, 1500s

While on the train, I got an overview of the city with a quick look at it on Google map’s satellite view. The long range view hinted at many of the reasons for the historic strategic importance of Quebec City. The mighty Saint Lawrence River divides in two at Ile d’Orléon (Orlean Island). This is the reason for the Montagnais people’s name of Kebec “the place where the river narrows.” Ships and canoes could be quickly seen before they make landfall, with larger vessels having to unload and transfer to smaller vessels at this spot. A large cliff prevented people from attacking the site without being seen.

When Cartier arrived in Canada in the 1500s, this location housed the village of Stadacona. In July 1534, Cartier brought two people (Taignoagny and Domagaya) from the village back to France, returning them in 1535. In 1536, he kidnapped 10 people, including Donnacona, Taignoagny and Domagaya, all but one of whom died in France.

The village was abandoned and dense forest covered the territory by the time Samuel de Champlain brought 28 men there to build a fort and establish the second settlement in the colony of New France in 1608.

Author Adam Shoalts described the building of Champlain’s fort in his fabulous novel “A History of Canada in Ten Maps.”

The French rowed ashore beneath the towering cliff in their small ship. The soil looked promising, and the butternuts would make an excellent addition to their diet. Under Champlain’s direction, the colonists felled trees, planted gardens, dug cellars, and began work on a palisaded fortress. They erected three two-storey buildings complete with chimneys, interconnecting balconies, a watchtower, and cannons. Outside the palisade, Champlain had a moat dug for additional protection.2

By 1628, 103 colonists lived in Quebec City when Paris business leaders formed the Company of One Hundred Associates to turn New France into an important mercantile and farming colony.

Notre Dame de Québec, 1600s

A year later, despite Champlain’s military defences and Quebec’s strategic location, the Kirk Brothers captured Quebec City, returning it three years later. After that, Champlain rushed to add a chapel to add some spiritual defence to his city. It’s said that Champlain’s remains were buried below the chapel after he died of a heart attack in 1635, although they still haven’t been found.

I appreciated the summary of events provided by Pierre-Georges Roy in a 1925 book about Quebec’s churches.

“Quebec, taken by the English in 1629, was restored to France three years later. On his return in 1633, Champlain hastened to fulfil the vow which he had taken to erect a chapel in honour of the Blessed Virgin, if he came back. In the autumn, the church of Notre Dame de Recouvrance was finished. It was partly situated on the present site of the Cathedral. On the 15th of June, 1640, it was destroyed by fire and with it disappeared the first and oldest original registers of the colony which had to be reconstructed from memory.

Until they could rebuild, services were held in the house of the Hundred Associates which Father Vimont somewhere pompously styled in 1645: ‘church of La Conception de la Bienheureuse Marie à Québec.3

By 1647, the Quebec community of only 355 people had its first stone church, Notre-Dame de la Paix, which became Notre-Dame de Québec in 1664 and a Cathedral in 1674. It’s had to be completely rebuilt twice since then, once after the English bombarded and burned it in 1759 and again after a fire destroyed it in 1922.4

I tried to get a good photo of today’s version, but the structure was too big and too many buildings blocked my long range view. I wanted the photo to include in a story about my ancestors Catherine Clarice and Jacques Lussier. The couple got married in Notre-Dame de Québec with nine other couples on October 12, 1671. The first parish priest of Quebec, Henri de Bernieres, officiated. Toussaint Dubeau, Louis Denis dit Lafontaine and Rene Dumas witnessed the wedding.

The marriage was a second one for the groom, whose previous wife Charlotte Lamarqe died earlier the same year sometime after the baptism of her daughter Marie in February.5

As I walked around the church looking for a decent shot, I imagined my ancestors’ wedding party coming out of the front doors and having rice tossed at them by guests. The roads around the building would have been dirt then, and most of the buildings now hemming the church in didn’t exist. Despite my struggles to get the imagery right, it was pretty cool imagining their special day late in the autumn.

Multiple Battles, 1700s

At the end of my first day in Quebec City, I found myself in the Quebec General Hospital Cemetery taking photos.

The remains of more than 1,000 French, British and First Nations soldiers who fought in the Seven Years War are located here. A plaque on site and a heritage web site explains the details.

During the fateful battles of the Plains of Abraham and Sainte-Foy in 1759 and 1760, French and British troops fought at Québec’s very doorstep. Since the general hospital was located far from the fighting, it was used to care for the injured from both sides. The Augustinians provided the same assistance to British soldiers as to the French. They also treated Canadian militia and First Nations warriors. However, without access to antiseptics, proper medical procedures, or sufficient staff, the injuries of many combatants proved fatal. The sisters buried the remains of Catholics in a common grave in the parish cemetery, and those of Protestants in another one just next to the cemetery. By 1760 when the fighting ended, 1,058 French, British, and First Nations fighters had been buried at Hôpital général. The Augustinians carefully recorded the name, place of birth, and age of every one of them in the parish register, if that information was known.6

The Seven Years War, a battle between England, France and Spain, lasted from 1756 until 1763, but England and France were fighting over Quebec City as early as 1690.

Walls to protect the city were built in the summer of 1690 after Port Royal fell to the British in May. They were in place by October, when the British arrived and the first Battle of Quebec began. In 1693, the French built the Cap Diamant Redoubt, a protective structure that could have prevented the loss of the City by the French during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in September 1759. It helped the British protect against seiges by the French in 1760 and the Americans in 1775 and remains an integral part of the Québec Citadel that the British built as a temporary structure in 1789 and then replaced with stone in 1832.

My ancestors Louise Thérèse Lareau and Joseph Beleau dit Larose lived in Quebec City during both of these sieges, first with their parents and then as a newly married couple for the second one. I decided to walk in their footsteps along Cote St. Abraham Road, which travels along the Sainte-Geneviève hillside cliff and links the St. Charles valley with upper town. This is one of the few routes that didn’t include the many fortifications Quebec City has become known for. During their time, between 1774 and 1795, the street was known as Rue St. Georges. Like them, I walked along the edge of the Heights of Abraham, named after boat pilot Abraham Martin “the Scot” (1589-1664) who received 12 acres in what is now known as the Saint-Jean-Baptiste district from the Company of New France in 1635 and another 20 acres as a gift from Navy Surgeon le Sieur Adrien Du Chesne ten years later. It’s said that the road follows the original trail Martin used to bring his cows to drink in the St. Charles River.

While walking, I decided to set aside the modern wars the City faced, and instead consider geology. Quebec City is unusual in that allows you to investigate three diverse geological periods in one location: the Canadian Shield, the St. Lawrence Lowlands and the Appalachian Mountains. Upper Town and the Plains of Abraham along with Lévis and Ile d’Orléans are part of the Quebec promontory, which glaciers moved north from the rest of the Appalachian Mountains, which can be seen in the south. Meanwhile, the cliff between Lower Town and Upper Town forms part of the Laurentian Mountains, which make up youngest part of the Great Canadian Shield. The cliff itself demonstrates Logan Fault, and gave me a chance to imagine the work of plate tectonics while overlooking the vast Saint Lawrence Lowlands, once covered entirely by the glacial Champlain Sea.

Then I walked up the stairs to get to the earliest suburb outside the City Walls.

The first Fauberg of Quebec: St. Roche Parish 1829

Looking at my notes, I noticed that three of my ancestors lived in the St. Roche Parish. Programming the map finder on my phone to include stop-offs along the walking route, I set off. It took about 15 minutes to walk along Saint Vallier Street. I began looking for number 28, the place where Joseph Belleau and Marie-Anne Ratté lived in 1832.

As I walked, I tried to imagine the internationally-prominent city J Brouchette described that very year.

Québec is also the most important seaport of British America, excepting probably Halifax. Its harbour, situated upwards of 400 miles from the sea in the gulf, is perfectly safe and calculated to receive the largest fleet.7

Today, we call the district through which I walked Saint Roch after the first village set up beyond the walled city of Quebec City in 1829. Tucked between the cliff to Upper Town and the Saint-Charles River, Saint Roch Village housed many working class people, many of whom kept 20 different shipyards active. As a baker8, Joseph probably got lots of work feeding labourers drawn to the area.

I got more hints about how my ancestors might have lived from a wonderful essay by W. H. Parker about life in Quebec in the 1830’s. One paragraph describes Saint Roche.

A third part of the town, distinct from the basse-ville and haute-ville, was the suburb of St. Roch, which had developed between the river St. Charles and the northern side of the Québec platform. It was an industrial district and growing rapidly,9 with accommodation “suited only to the lower ranks”.10

Eventually, I found two lots where Joseph and Marie-Anne may have lived; one to the east of Charest Boulevard Ouest; the other to the west.

The eastern lot sat right across from my lodgings. Today, the space is just an empty lot, but in my head, it contained a tiny house, a bakery and tons of people. For the next two days, I was giddy wondering how this couple with eight children survived. Marie-Anne and Joseph were among 30,000 people who lived in Quebec City in the mid-1800s. Keeping everyone fed, clothed and clean must have been a challenge. How did they feel as they walked up this same street for the first time? What was the weather like? What did they wear? What were their dreams? Confirmation, church register and marriage records display their Catholic heritage, but beyond that, little remains demonstrating their lifestyles.

A wonderful book called “La Vie Quotidienne au Québec” inspired my imagination. The photos reminded me how difficult basic survival was for my ancestors. Their tools took up more space than ours do today, and were difficult to operate. One chapter showed photos of people constructing an oven to bake bread out of sticks, rocks and rope and then covering it with flat boards built to create a peaked roof.11 Did my ancestor bake his bread using such a structure? How big would it have been? Where would he build it? How would he gather the wood needed to make it continually operational in a busy city far from the forest?

Going back to W. H. Parkers’ essay, I learned about the horrible sanitation and garbage issues my ancestors faced, particularly in the spring.

After the melting of the snow in April and May, several streets in the flat suburb of St. Roch are no better than slough; and very offensive sloughs too, from the accumulation of filth that was hidden by the snow in winter. Such places, when acted on by the summer’s sun, must give out very noxious effluvia.12

Luckily, sanitation issues have been long corrected, but they must have made life pretty difficult in their time.

My imagination really got going after reading Parker’s description of the daily food market in Saint Roche in the 1830s.

The crowds of carters, with their wives and families, bringing in the productions of the surrounding country, their brawlings and vociférations in bad French and broken English, from a scène of noise and confusion, amid which appear a few Indian squaws, and the gentlemen of the city and garrison going round to make purchase. Every kind of provision is abundant and cheap, except fish.13

I couldn’t help wondering if Marie-Anne, Joseph or their daughter Judith/Julie brought his bread to sell at the market, something I can well imagine since I run farmers markets today. Certainly their tasks were significantly more time-consuming and difficult than my modern ones are. Still, it’s a link across the ages, and it came from just thinking about an empty lot.

2Shoaltz, Adam. A History of Canada in Ten Maps, Penguin Canada, Toronto, 2017, p 82.

3Roy, Pierre-Georges, The old churches of the province of Quebec […], Québec, King’s Printer, 1925, 1 Ressource en ligne (viii, 323 p.) : ill., Collections de BAnQ.

4, accessed 2022-04-24.

5Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1997 – Drouin IGD

6Ville de Québec – The Hôpital-Général de Québec Cemetery.” Accessed May 11, 2022.

7BOUCHETTE, J., A topographical dictionary of the province of Lower Canada (London, 1832), under Quebec as quoted by W. H. Parker, “Québec City in the 1830’s.” Cahiers de Géographie Du Québec 3, no. 6 (1959): 261.

8Archives de la paroisse de Notre-Dame-de-Québec, CM1/F1, 3, vol. 4, p. 36. Visite générale de la paroisse de Québec commencée le 1er octobre 1805, p 36.

9Bouchette, J. The British Dominions in North America (London, 1831), i, p259.

10Willis, Canadian scenery, London, c. 1840, as quoted by W. H. Parker, “Québec City in the 1830’s.” Cahiers de Géographie Du Québec 3, no. 6 (1959): 267.

11Séguin, R. L., R. Bouchard, and Société québécoise des ethnologues. La Vie Quotidienne Au Québec: Histoire, Métiers, Techniques et Traditions : Mélanges à La Mémoire de Robert-Lionel Séguin. Presses de l’Université du Québec, 1983., p355

12Kelly, W., Médical statistics of Lower Canada, 1837, in Transactions of the literary and Historical Society of Québec (Québec, 1837), iii, pp. 210-211.

13Willis, Op Cit, p 11.

Stories about some of my Quebec City ancestors

Catholic Match-maker

The wedding of a thirty-six-year-old widower and his nineteen-year-old orphaned cousin took place the day before the Feast of St. Jean in 1750. The marriage bolstered a resilient family community that remained in the Saguenay through local strife, high taxes, and the burning down of their farm by the British in 1759. Together, the couple produced six children, including our ancestor, Marie-Anne, who was born in 1761.

The match may also have been one of many successful unions organized by the bride’s godmother, an Ursuline nun named Félicité Poulin.

Poulin was an 18th century career woman and eventually became known in religious circles as the “Mère de L’Assomption” (Mother of Assumption). She served in the St. Anne de Beaupré Shrine when her god-daughter was baptised there but became leader of her order by the time of the wedding. Her influence over the bride, whose name was Félicité Simard, would presumably have increased as Simard’s mother died when she was only seven years old. When Simard’s father died in 1741, Poulin may have taken over the responsibility for her marital prospects.

The groom was a farmer named Joseph Dufour. His mother and Simard’s grandmother were sisters, so Poulin would have at least known his reputation, if not him personally. She must have acted quickly after Dufour’s first wife, Marie Anne Tremblay, died in September 1749. Dufour’s wedding to Simard occurred only seven months later.

Jesuit Father Claude-Godefroi Coquart likely played a role too. During the winter of 1749, Coquart inspected the farm Dufour and three of his children were running on Crown land in La Malbaie (Murray’s Bay) along the Saguenay for the King of France. In a report dated the day after Dufour and Simard’s wedding, Coquart urgently requested that the King of France lower Dufour’s taxes. The farmer could starve, wrote the Jesuit. The requirement that Dufour send the King half the wool produced by eight of his own sheep wasn’t fair, he explained. Dufour and his three grown daughters were working “even beyond the limits of their strength.” (See the story Joseph Dufour’s Farm for a description.)

Was Coquart’s plea to the King a wedding gift? Did Poulin have anything to do with it? We don’t know.

I haven’t even confirmed whether Coquart and Poulin knew one another, but the Ursulines and the Jesuits were close colleagues in New France, so they probably did. Coquart moved into an Ursuline mission after he retired, though that was after Poulin had died.

Did the King eventually lower Dufour’s taxes? Did the family rebuild their farm after it was burned down? It’s not clear. All we know for sure is that the couple stayed in Malbaie and continued raising children there until Dufour’s death on April 1774, at 61 years of age.

Our direct ancestor Marie-Anne would have been only thirteen years old when her father died. Fifteen months later—on July 20, 1775—her mother and nineteen-year-old brother, Dominique Benjamin, died too. Like her mother, she became an orphan.

How genealogy improves historical study

Early on a mid-December morning, back when gatherings indoors happened frequently, I drove to a church in the West Island of Montreal to join descendants of United Empire Loyalists, Orangemen, Irish army regulars and pro-Fenians.

Together, we listened in awe as Dr. Jane G. V. McGaughey, a professor from the Irish studies department at Concordia University talked about a battle that took place in November 1838 on the shores of the St. Lawrence River.1

Traditional historians usually ignore genealogists, but McGaughey, who integrated genealogy into her first book “Ulster’s Men,” treated us like the respected colleagues we are.

Her practice should be more widespread. Genealogists can be some of the most fervent history buffs out there, and historians can build strong platforms if they succeed in getting our attention.

We also help democratize history so that it includes everyday people instead of focussing primarily on elites. Most of my stories feature farmers, store-keepers, carpenters and other working class people.

Because family historians in Canada research specific individuals, we also get interested in the most minute details about small communities. We expose secrets within families. We bust long-held myths, reveal unusual settlement patterns and emphasize the roles of otherwise ignored individuals in societies. We help Canadians discover who they are.

Sometimes, we discover reasons for tourists and visitors to stop by tiny hamlets that used to be important gathering centres. A story about my four-times great grandmother on my father’s side had me investigating a small community on the shores of the Seine River between Winnipeg, Manitoba and Grand Forks, North Dakota, for instance. Today, not many people notice the tiny place next to the Trans Canada and #12 highways, but it played many important roles in previous eras, as an Aboriginal village, a Catholic Mission and as a stopover on the Dawson Trail during the Red River Rebellion. The community was called Oak Point when Marie Sophie (Séraphie) Henault-Canada was born there in 1818. It became St. Anne by the time she died in the same town 74 years later. (Read my stories about Oak Point here and here.)

Researching the minute history of communities across the country can attract diverse audiences. Sharing such research at presentations and get-togethers can create entirely new memories and evolve our culture.

Researcher Monisha Pasupathi described the process in which adults develop individually and together to create a common culture for a paper in the Psychological Bulletin journal.

“…I have argued that talking about past experiences is a process by which our autobiographical memories are socially constructed. I proposed that talk about the past in conversation is coconstructed, and that subsequent memories for events talked about in conversation are likely to be consistent with that socially constructed version. Thus, the content of autobiographical memory is a result of both experiences and social reconstructions of those experiences. Later I suggested that conversing about past experiences both influences and can be influenced by adult development. Socially constructing the past may promote either continuity or change in identity across adulthood.”2

Academics frequently underestimate family historians. Archivist, researcher, and information science professor from the University of Michigan interviewed 29 specific genealogists in detail to discover what kinds of problems they try to solve. Her analysis determined that we are much more detail-oriented and meaning-seeking than she anticipated.

Genealogy and family history are examples of everyday life information seeking and provide a unique example of intensive and extensive use of libraries and archives over time. In spite of the ongoing nature of this activity, genealogists and family historians have rarely been the subject of study in the information seeking literature and therefore the nature of their information problems have not been explored. This article discusses findings from a qualitative study based on twenty-nine in-depth, semi-structured interviews with genealogists and family historians and observations of their personal information management practices. Results indicated that the search for factual information often led to one for orienting information. Finding ancestors in the past was also a means of finding one’s own identity in the present. Family history is also an activity without a clear end goal; after the ancestry chart is filled in the search continues for more information about the lives of one’s forebears. Thus, family history should be viewed as an ongoing process of seeking meaning. The ultimate need is not a fact or date, but to create a larger narrative, connect with others in the past and in the present, and to find coherence in one’s own life.3

Genealogists often work from home, which is why we pay to access historical data.

Some academics worry that the partnership between genealogists and corporations like Family Search and Ancestry emphasize religious or corporate goals over historical accuracy, but those issues stem from consumer-oriented cultures, not from the practice of genealogy itself. Public institutions in France and Quebec have created impressive databanks without the help of religious or private organizations. As public education cuts funding to historical research centres, genealogists have enabled archives, foundations and libraries to collect and protect documents that would otherwise be destroyed.

The people in the room listening to McGaughey were typical of every genealogical presentation I’ve attended. We all represented different sides of a feud going back generations and emotions ran high. Not because we were angry at the others or sought to heal an ancient misjustice. A genealogy presentation is the one place where diversity isn’t just tolerated, it’s sought out. With diverse researchers, the chance of learning about new sources, techniques and ideas grows exponentially. Our excitement came from the possibility that someone might share an important detail that would help us better document an ancestor’s life.

That’s the key difference between family historians and most of our academic cousins. We concentrate on the lives of specific people rather than significant issues or eras. Social historians and those who focus on biography are not so different from genealogists. We too are learning to source digital, secondary and derivative records properly, seek accreditation for the quality of our analyses, and write narrative nonfiction in compelling ways.

Our work certainly reaches a lot of people in word-of-mouth ways. A few years ago, I prepared a mini genealogical report as a gift for my great-aunt’s 96th birthday. The report garnered more attention from the teens and young adults in the family who had never heard of genealogy. They had lots of questions about the small Ontario town in which she was born, the Edmonton home she lived in during her teens and the kind of work she did during World War II. I knew the conversation connected them to their ancestors, when one of the young people told me that “these sound like real people.”

Feminist researchers might consider collaborating with genealogists. In my experience, most genealogists are women, and we have a lot of trouble finding good sources of information to find our female ancestors. Perhaps by linking family historians with academic historians, we could reduce the level of gender bias in historical narrative over time.

So often, the stories we hear about the past are myths made up of half-truths. Academic and family historians can partner to co-create new stories to captivate all Canadians.

1McGaughey Dr. Jane G. V., Family Ghosts: When Personal History and Professional Research Collide, presentation for the Quebec Family History Society, Briarwood Presbyterian Church Hall, Saturday, December 14, 2013, 10h30.

2 Pasupathi, Monisha. The social construction of the personal past and its implication for adult development. Psychological bulletin 127, 2001, p 664.

3 Yakel, Elizabeth, Seeking Information, Seeking Connections, Seeking Meaning: Genealogists and Family Historians, Information Research: An International Electronic Journal, v10 n1 Oct 2004.

Cabbage Days

When I was a child, October meant a weekend of gathering in my grandparents’ garage with lots of other family members to make a massive batch of sauerkraut and coleslaw.

I remember the smell of boiling cabbage, although I’m not sure why, since you can make sauerkraut without boiling anything. Perhaps they used boiled cabbage in their recipe. Or perhaps the family made other dishes that day as well, like stuffed cabbage rolls. I can’t really remember. My family skipped the annual weekend in later years.

We still got a jar or two of yummy sauerkraut for Christmas during those years.

I’m not sure when that autumn tradition began, but it probably ended when my grandparents started wintering in Florida. Dividing a life between two homes was difficult enough without adding a big weekend chore to the year. By then, making it through the winter no longer meant relying on tons of jars of sauerkraut.

I’m sad that our family has lost this historic tradition and I’m not even sure which side of the family it comes from. Joseph Gabriel Arial and Marguerite Ann Hurtubese Arial both came from families that had been farming in Canada for generations. They lived through the dust bowl, the depression and World War II.

Perhaps sauerkraut got both families through many winters when food was scarce.

The word “sauerkraut” makes one think that my family’s recipe began in Germany, but even if the modern name came from that country, the recipe itself probably didn’t. Eventually, most cultures figured out that salt transforms cabbage into something that would last through the winter.

Canadian experiments storing the vegetable over winter began in 1541, when Jacques Cartier planted seeds from France along the shores of the Saint Lawrence River.

By the time that writer, botanist and surgeon Sieur de Diéreville visited Acadia 150 years later, local Mi’kmaq had learned to prepare cabbages in ways unlike recipes from the original mother country.

 l’exception des Artichaux & des Asperges, ils ont en abondance toutes sortes de légumes, & tous excellens. Ils ont des champs couverts de Choux pommez ,-& de Navets qu’ils conservent toute l’année. Ils mettent les Navets à la cave, ils font moëlleux & sucrez, & beaucoup meilleurs qu’en France; aussi les mangent-ils comme des Marons cuits dans les cendres. Ils laissent les Choux dans le champs après les avoir arrachez, la tête en bas etla jambe en haut; la neige qui vient les couvrir de cinq ou six pieds d’épais les conserve aussi & on n’en tire qu’à melure qu’on abesoin; on ne laisse pas d’en mettre aussi à la cave. Ces deux légumes ne vont jamais dans le pot l’un sans l’autre, et on en fait de plantureuses soupes avec de grosses pièces de lard. Il faut fur tout avoir beaucoup de Choux, que lesGens n’en mangent que le pignon, & les Cochons etle reste pendant tout l’hyver, c’est leur unique nourriture, & ces goulus animaux dont ils ont beaucoup, ne se contient pas de peu. Il y a de certaines iles le long de la Rivière Saint Jean, où il ne coûte rien à les nourir pendant l’Eté, &: une partie de l’Automne, les Chênes & les Hêtres y étant communs. Dés le Printemps on y jette sept ou huit Truyes pleines, elles y mettent bas leurs petits s’engraissent des fruits des arbres que j’ay marquez; lorsque l’hyver commence elles les ramènent à l’habitation , & on n’a que la peine de les tuer pour les mettre au saloir : Ces petits Cochons sont excellens en petit sale& il faut aller là pour en manger de lait tant ils sont délicats ; c’eft un plaisir d’en voir les bandes dans la saison : il sont plus courts etplus petits que les nôtres.

[With the exception of Artichokes & Asparagus, they have all kinds of vegetables in abundance, and all excellent. They have fields covered with Cabbage & Turnips which they keep all year round. They put the Turnips in the cellar, they are soft & sweet, & much better than in France; so they eat them like Marons cooked in ashes. They leave the Cabbages in the field after having pulled them up and placed them upside down; the snow which covers them with five or six feet thick also preserves them, and we only take out the meals that we need; we do not stop putting it in the cellar as well. These two vegetables never go into the pot without each other, and we make thick soups with large pieces of bacon. You have to have a lot of Cabbages all over the place, so that the People only eat the pine nuts, & the Pigs and the rest throughout the winter, it is their only food, and these greedy animals of which they have a lot, contain little skin. There are some islands along the Rivière Saint Jean, where it costs nothing to feed them during the Summer, &: part of the Autumn, Oaks & Beeches being common there. From Spring we throw in seven or eight full Truyes, they give birth to their young, grated with the fruits of the trees that I mention before; when the winter begins they bring them back to the house, and we only have to kill them to put them in the salting tub: These little Pigs are excellent in a little salt& you have to go there to eat them with milk as they are delicate; It’s a pleasure to see the bands in the season: they’re shorter and smaller than ours.]1

1Diéreville, N. de. Relation du voyage du Port Royal de l’Acadie, ou de la Nouvelle France : dans laquelle on voit un détail des divers mouvemens de la mer dans une traversée de long cours : la description du païs, les occupations des François qui y sont établis, les maniéres des differentes nations sauvages, leurs superstitions, & leurs chasses : avec une dissertation exacte sur le castor. A Amsterdam : Chez Pierre Humbert, 1710., based on travels to Acadia and New France from from October 1699 to October 1700.

More than 330 years since that description, cabbage and pork remained popular throughout Canada. As a child, our family enjoyed cottage roll dinners every Sunday night. A cottage roll is a very fatty salted roast of pork and it was always served with lots of cabbage, potatoes and onions. I still drool thinking about it. It was my mother’s recipe and I suspect that it came from my great great great grandmother Mary Willard, who came from Ireland. It doesn’t seem far off from the “Jigs” dinners they still serve in Newfoundland, although those include split peas as well as salty pork, cabbage and potatoes.

Many immigrants to Canada brought favourite cabbage recipes with them. Food historian Dorothy Duncan has written about Pennsylvania Germans bringing sauerkraut to Canada and Scottish settlers pickling cabbage in barrels and combining it with cheese and potatoes in a dish called “rumbledethumps.”

There’s a neighbourhood in Toronto named “Cabbagetown” to this day because Irish immigrants escaping the famine used to fill their front yards with the vegetable in the 1840s.

It’s said that Polish immigrants brought us cabbage rolls, but our family enjoyed those often when I was a kid too and as far as I know, we have no Polish in our blood. I love cabbage rolls and still make them to this day. My mom used to boil the cabbage in huge pots and then rolled hot cabbage around a mixture of beef and rice; coating the whole thing with a can of tomatoes and tomato juice. My recipe is a bit easier and vegetarian to boot. I just put the cabbage in the freezer for a day until it wilts enough to wrap around a mix of rice and lentils. I have to add twice as much tomato juice as she did so that there’s enough liquid in the tray to cook my cabbage rolls for at least an hour and half, but other than that, my cabbage rolls taste close to hers.

It’s nice to continue traditions. Perhaps I’ll make some sauerkraut this weekend in memory of my grandparents.

Writing up the ancestors with Janice Hamilton

It was a joy to speak with journalist and genealogist Janice Hamilton about her ancestors, her recent book « Reinventing Themselves, » and surprises she’s discovered while researching and writing her family history.

Listen to the episode on Mixcloud, SounderFM or any other podcast player you use.

For more information, refer to:

Reinventing Themselves Book

Writing Up the Ancestors Blog

Janice’s stories on Genealogy Ensemble

University of Manitoba Archives Hamilton Collection

Frank Opolko’s interview of Janice:

The tribulations of New France colonist Marie Michel

If my sisters and I have strength, persistence and a refusal to be victimized, we get it from our ancestor Marie-Madelaine Michel Gasnier DeRainville.

Over her 72-year lifetime, Marie left her family and friends three times, married twice, bore nine children, and raised eight of them to adulthood, marriage and their own children. She also lost her first husband to the Beaver Wars that lasted throughout her lifetime.

Jacques and Claire from Genealogy Ensemble also share Marie as an ancestor. If you have roots in North America, chances are, she’s one of your ancestors too.

Like many women, most of the records in which Marie appears focus on the men she accompanied. Many contain estimates about her data. The circumstances they show, however, hint at both suffering and forbearance. She never learned to write, but the strong ‘x’ she used as a signature indicates a woman who knew her worth.

My favourite resource for Marie’s life is a website created by Reverend John F. Gasnier in 2012.1 Gasnier excels at research. His detailed work provided me Marie’s parents’ names, the birth of her children and many of the dates in their lives.

I have begun to collect the original sources he used to compile this data, but so far, his work seems accurate except possibly her birth date. He estimates her birth date at 1620; another good site estimates 1619. Fichier Origine puts her birth at 1615, the date I’m using. Two of the three sites indicate that her birth took place in the village of St-Martin du Vieux Bellême, which Jacques tells me now sits within the modern-day Département de l’Orne. Both her birth town and Igé, the birthplace of her husband Louis, still exist in the now township of Bellême.

From the rest of the data, Marie’s life looks so sad. How did she live through so much suffering?

Her trauma began with the death of her first child sometime between his birth in 1639 and the family voyage from Igé, France to New France in 1644.

Two years before they left, the couple’s daughter Louise was born. By that time, Marie had reached her 27th year; her husband Louis his 30th. Perhaps her birth was the family’s chance for a new life.

It’s not clear why Marie and her husband decided to leave France, but emigration from the region started 10 years earlier, due to the recruitment by apothecary Robert Giffard and the Company of New France.

Giffard recruited many Percherons to New France until his death in 1669, except during the years when the Kirk Brothers occupied Quebec on behalf of England (1629-1631). By then, the colony of New France had 3,000 settlers, including Marie, her husband and their daughter.

In about forty years, 194 adults who had various jobs, often related to construction (mason, carpenter, brick-maker, etc), undertook the great voyage. Some returned to live and work in their native country but the great majority, despite the Iroquois threat, chose to settle on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River in order to clear and thrive the new territories. Their descendants are estimated today at 1.500.000 people in Canada and much more if we include the United States.2

When they undertook the voyage with their two-year-old daughter in July 1644, Marie was pregnant with their second daughter. Her namesake Marie became their first child born in the colony the following September.

Life couldn’t have been easy for the couple once they arrived in New France. It took them more than two years to lease a farm for their fast-growing family from the Saint-Joachim Seminary.

At that period of time, colonists to New France integrated into one of many manors set up under the seigneurial land management system brought to New France in 1627. New France then extended from the Arctic to Florida.

Under the manor system, the Compagnie de Cent Associés (Company of 100 associates) granted important people and groups, including religious ones like the Seminaire de St. Joachim, one by three league (5 by 15 km) land masses along major rivers, including the Saint Lawrence. The land was divided into 3 x 30 arpent sections perpendicular to the river so that everyone had access to boat transportation. (Note that each arpent measured 190 feet (58m).

Marie and her family rented La Ferme Saint-Charles in Cap Tourmente near the town of Saint Joachim for four years. They had two sons—Pierre and Olivier—during this period.

The family then moved back to Quebec while Marie’s husband built a new house in what is now St. Anne de Beaupré. While they waited, Marie had two more children, Louis and Anne.

Just after Anne’s birth, the family moved into a new house on a lot in the Seignerie de Beaupré (Beaupré Manor).

Part of the Beaupré Manor still exists today. Now run jointly by the l’organisme de bassins versants charlevoix-montmorency (obv-cm) and the séminaire de québec – seigneurie de beaupré, the territory covers a 20 by 95 km band north of the Saint Lawrence River. The territory spans 1,600 square kilometres west of Stoneham and east of St-Urbain in Charlevoix. Hunting, fishing and outdoors clubs share the space with loggers, Boralex and Gaz Métro/Valener.3

Back when my ancestors moved in, however, most of the action took place right next to the St. Lawrence River, where the village of Sainte Anne de Beaupré now stands. Marie’s husband Louis built a solid 22 by 20-foot home with 2-foot-thick walls on a cliff overlooking the river. There’s still a house built on the original foundations at 432 Cote Ste. Anne.

Things were good that year. Marie’s oldest daughter Louise got married and she and her husband established their home three lots away. Louis’s older brother Pierre arrived in New France from France with his pregnant wife and three sons. By 1655, he had established a property and house six lots away from his brother.

A year later, Marie gave birth to my six times great grandfather Ignace. The records indicate that Marie worried he wouldn’t live long. Jesuit Father Ragueneau rushed to the house on March 12, 1656 to baptize him. That could have been the first of three major tragedies, but he survived and married. (See my story What legacy stems from our Quebec pioneers?)

In May that same year, the second tragedy occurred. Louis’ older brother Pierre died of recurring fever.

The next three years went quickly, with all three families living in a small neighbourhood along the river. Marie’s namesake child married Andre Berthelot on January 26, 1659. Marie had her last child, son Joachim, a year later.

It would be the family’s last happy year.

In June the following year, 1660, the third tragedy occurred. Louis and seven other neighbourhood men got caught up in the politics of the era. They ended up being scapegoats in the Beaver War.

The Beaver War took place because the fur trade encouraged by British, French and Dutch colonialism pitted Algonquian and Wendat, who sided with the French, against the Haudenosaunee (called the Iroquois in Jesuit papers), who sided with the British and Dutch. Things became even worse after the British and Dutch decided to arm their First Nations allies with rifles. The French refused to supply weapons to theirs.

The weapons imbalance combined with over-hunting led to Haudenosaunee raids of the colonies. Marie’s husband became one of the victims. He probably died in Auriesville.

“Louis disappeared from the records, and it’s believed he was among a group of 8 people who were captured in a raid by some Iroquois on the morning of June 18, 1661. The settlers were forcibly taken to the tribe’s village near Lake Champlain in what is now New York. There the victims were tortured, then killed; one of them was known to have been beaten with “clubs and iron rods” before being scalped....4

Marie didn’t know for sure that her husband was dead until a notary arrived at her home a month later. At the time, she had two dairy cows, two heifers, an ox, two veal calves, nine pigs, a plow, a boat, two rifles, a pistol, an axe and household goods that included only three beds for Marie and six children.

Her son in law Claude guaranteed that she would take care of these goods for her children, her now dead husband’s heirs.

Yet still, Marie stayed strong. Five years after the tragic death of her husband, she remarried Paul DeRainville at 51 years old. Together, they raised my direct ancestor Ignace and his brothers, all of whom married and had Marie’s grandchildren.

By the time Marie died on November 12, 1687, peace still hadn’t arrived in New France. That wouldn’t occur until the Great Peace of Montreal in 1701.


1Website accessed on February 21,, originally published by Reverend John F. Gasnier on February 8, 2012.

2Website accessed on February 23,, originally published by Jean-François Loiseau, a board member of the Association Perche-Canada in Paris, France in May, 2019.

3Séminaire du Québec,,, accessed October 21, 2020.

4 Website accessed on February 22, 2021: originally published by Laura M., Portland, Oregon, May, 2018.

What legacy stems from our Quebec pioneers?

Can someone leave a lasting legacy in less than 26 years? That’s the first thing I thought about when I began researching my seven times great grandmother on my fathers’ side.

I think so. The era they lived, the names they called their children, the way they responded to pressure—it all combines to create the culture that immediately follows them. Every generation leaves a mark on its culture. We today are artifacts of our ancestors, even those born more than 300 years ago, like my ancestor Barbe Dodier.

It’s hard to tell, but names definitely continue throughout families. Several of the people in my family still carry names from our ancestors.

My middle name Louise has been used on both sides of the family beginning with Barbe, since it was her middle name. Her husband Gabriel Robert Dufour passed monikers down to my son, my dad, his dad and his grandfather. I can’t help but wonder what other cultural remnants remain in our family.

Some of us are still Catholic and others French-speaking. Many others are not–and that’s a legacy too.

But what of less obvious legacies? The way we shake a head, a hand shake or a practical sense? These are evident three generations back. My son rubs his neck when he’s tired, just as I do. My father has the same habit, as did his father before him. How many generations does that go back? I don’t know.

Did Barbe share that trait? I don’t know that either. In fact, I know very little about her.

One record that remains of her life comes from her marriage, clearly recorded on page 97 of the Sainte-Anne de Beauprés church register. She married Ignace Gasnier on November 5, 1680.1

After they were married, Ignace and Barbe rented a two-arpent-sized lot in the Seignerie de Beaupré (Beaupré Manor). I know this, because the 1681 Census by New France Intendant DuCheseau lists Ignace and Barbe, along with their rifle and a cow.

Ignace Gasnier 25 ; Barbe Dodier, sa femme 18 ; 1 fusil ; 1 vache ; 2 arpents en valeur.1

Part of the Beaupré Manor still exists today. Now run jointly by the l’organisme de bassins versants charlevoix-montmorency (obv-cm) and the séminaire de québec – seigneurie de beaupré, the territory covers a 20 by 95 km band north of the Saint Lawrence River. Today, the manor spans 1,600 square kilometres west of Stoneham and east of St-Urbain in Charlevoix. Hunting, fishing and outdoors clubs share the space with loggers, Boralex and Gaz Métro/Valener.2

My ancestors probably lived much closer to the river near the current Beaupré, but I’m not sure. A circa-1680 map of the area shows the long settlement patterns typical of Quebec between 1627 and 1850, but the date isn’t precise. Ignace’s brother, Louis Gasnier, appears on the map next to the date 1683.3

Ignace and Barbe don’t appear on that map, but many Manor residents aren’t there.

The seigneurial land management system came to Quebec and the rest of New France in 1627. At that time, New France extended from the Arctic to Florida.

The Compagnie de Cent Associes (Company of 100 associates) granted important colonists and groups, including religious ones like the Seminaire de St. Joachim, land masses extended one by three leagues (5 by 15 km) along major rivers, including the Saint Lawrence. The land would then be divided into 3 x 30 arpent sections perpendicular to the river so that everyone had access to boat transportation. Arpents measured 190 feet (58m).

In 1663, French King Louis XIV gave New France a new constitution but it didn’t interfere with seigneuries, like the one Gasnier leased from the Saint-Joachim Seminary.

Pioneers like Barbe and Ignace probably survived using subsistence farming and hunting. My direct ancestor Louise was born two years after that census. Her little sister Geneviève came along when she turned three years old and her brother Jacques arrived when she was five.

By the time she died on February 7, 1689 in Petite-Rivière, Capitale-Nationale Region, Quebec, Canada, my ancestor went by the name Barbe Gagné. She’s buried in Baie-Saint-Paul Cemetery in Charlevoix. The Tanguay dictionary of French families lists her birth year as 1665, but if the 1681 census was correct, she would have been born in 1663.4

In that case, she was either 25 or 26 years old when she died.


1Sulte, Benjamin. Histoire des Canadiens-Français 1608-1880, Tome V, Montreal, Wilson @ Cir, Editeurs, 1882, p78.

2Séminaire du Québec,,, accessed October 21, 2020.

3Renaud, Alain. Plan de propriété des terres à Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré en 1680, Archives de Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré.

4Register of Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul-de-Baie, Quebec, 1689, p8 viaFind a Grave, database and images ( : accessed 21 October 2020), memorial page for Barbe Dodier Gagné (1665–7 Feb 1689), Find a Grave Memorial no. 93294269, citing Baie-Saint-Paul Cemetery, Baie-Saint-Paul, Capitale-Nationale Region, Quebec, Canada ; Maintained by Pat and Billy (contributor 47767337).

Talking to Marian about Discovering Family Secrets

I published my interview with Marian this week on my Unapologetically Canadian podcast. Marian describes what it’s like to discover family secrets as she researches and writes stories about her ancestors.

If you want to join Marian in indexing records from around the world, you can do so at the Indexing Page on the Family History website. You can also choose a Canadian project if you prefer.

Some of Marian’s stories that we discuss included:

I’ve also interviewed some of the other Genealogy Ensemble writers. Listen to them here:

O’ Christmas Tree

Last weekend, we grabbed a bunch of boxes from the basement and spent a few hours decorating the house for the holidays. We also played carols, drank rum and egg nog and laughed a lot. Most of our decorations are a little kitschy. Others are touching, like the reindeer horns made of our hands and feet when our now adult children were little.

One of the ugliest things we pulled out is an old Christmas tree that once belonged to my grandmother. Made of wire and green plastic that looks a bit like garbage bags, the thing is only about three feet high. We put it on a table so that the lit angel on top almost touches the ceiling.

I love that ugly tree. It came into my possession 36 years ago from Nanny, who used a tiny ceramic tree my mom made her for her apartment from then on. Using her gift over and over makes me feel ecological. Yes, it’s plastic and convenient but it’s being reused, so it isn’t filling up land fill yet.

It brings to mind Charlie Brown’s Christmas, holidays as a child and imaginary visions from the Victorian era.

Canada’s First Christmas Tree Decoration Party

Christmas-tree decorating has been popular in Canada since at least 1781. That year, General Von Riedesel (Freiherr Friedrich Adolf Riedesel Freiherr zu Eisenbach) and his wife Frederika Charlotte held a Christmas Eve party in Sorel, Quebec. During the event, they decorated North America’s first documented Christmas tree. Wikipedia cites his wife’s diary for this fact.1

Von Riedesel grew up in Germany, fought in London, and ended up in North America with thousands of other German soldiers fighting for the British during the American Revolution. His wife brought their three daughters to join him. The couple got captured during the Battle of Saratoga.

It took two years before the British traded them for an American prisoner of war. They lived in Sorel, Quebec for another two or three years before returning to England.

That party also included plum pudding,2 another tradition from my childhood. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to locate the recipe for granny’s yummy rum sauce.

My family and others continue decorating Christmas trees, just as the families of German and British pioneers have done for more than 200 years.

For the first hundred years, as in my house now, the trees stood on a table covered with a white cloth that served as snow.

Christmas trees became full-sized self-standing around 1900, when someone invented cast iron tree stands. The stand I use almost looks old enough to date from that era.

Of course in those days, the trees were lit with candles, which is why the Christmas tree decorating occurred only on Christmas Eve. That way, the freshly cut tree still retained enough moisture to prevent being a fire hazard.

For years, I used electric lights that got warm enough that I lit them rarely. I now have LEDs so that my ugly little tree can decorate our home with the only risk being one of fashion.


  • 1Riedesel, Friederike Charlotte Luise; Riedesel, Friedrich Adolf (1801). von Reuß, Heinrich (ed.). Die Berufs-Reise nach America: Briefe der Generalin von [sic] Riedesel auf dieser Reise und während ihres sechsjährigen Aufenthalts in America zur Zeit des dortigen Krieges ín den Jahren 1776 bis 1783 nach Deutschland geschrieben. Haude und Spener Berlin,, accessed November 24, 2020.

Christmas Trees Over Generations

private radio inspector

The black-leather-lined plasticized bilingual identity card wacked my arm as it fell from the shelf. Until then, I had never really noticed the card among the many items my grandmother left me.

Luckily, its heavy construction protected the words on the card, which remain as legible as they were when my grandfather received it on January 4, 1936.

The Canadian federal “Department of Marine” issued the card to give my grandfather credibility as a radio inspector. It says:

“The bearer G. Arial is hereby authorized to issue and inspect private radio receiving licences in Edmonton East. He is further authorized to require the production of private radio receiving licences for inspection.”

Turns out that this little artifact hints at a short-lived controversy in Canadian history. The card expired on March 31, 1937, but it would be defunct before then.

The Department of Marine seems like an odd overseer of radio licences until you realize that early broadcasting began in the 1890s when Morse Code was used to enable ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communication. The idea of a public broadcaster begin in May, 1907, when the Marconi station in Camperdown, Nova Scotia began broadcasting regular time signals to the public.

The “wireless telegraphy” industry continued to develop with private individuals investing in ham radios with no regulation. By June 1913, the federal government decided to regulate the industry to protect military communication.

When World War I began in August 1914, private licenses were banned altogether. Only the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of Canada, Ltd. kept operating during the war years, in part because it became a research arm of the military.i

After the war, the private industry blossomed, particularly in Western Canada. Many of the new broadcasters came from multiple religious communities, a situation the federal government tried to prevent by setting up a public broadcasting system through the Radio Broadcasting Act of 1932.

That act led to the establishment of a licensing commission called the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission under the leadership of Hector Charlesworth. Charlesworth’s group censored many religious groups and political groups, but none more than the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Norman James Fennema described the controversy in his 2003 dissertation, Remote Control.

…in Canada we find a situation in which the original impetus for regulating radio broadcasting began with the specific aim of putting a rein on religious broadcasting. Originally directed at the radio activities of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, this expanded in the early 1930’s into a policy against the licensing of religious broadcasters, a policy initially justified on the basis of the scarcity of the broadcasting spectrum, but that survived the expansion of the system.ii

By 1935, Clarence Decateur Howe became both the Minister of Railways and Canals and the Minister of Marine,iii the ministry under which my grandfather’s job was created.

Howe favoured private broadcasting, and encouraged new private entities to flourish.

Prime Minister Mackenzie King preferred a public broadcast system however. In February, 1936, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) came into being, and my grandfather’s job ended.


i, accessed May 26, 2020.

ii Fennema, Norman James. REMOTE CONTROL: A History of the Regulation of Religion in the Canadian Public Square, PhD thesis, 2003, James_PhD_2003.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

iii, accessed May 26, 2020.