Category Archives: Residential Schools

Abandoned

My mother-in-law stood on the front porch as two women approached her from a parked car. I could see that they were speaking but I could not hear their words. One reached out to her.

Abruptly, avoiding what she must have the perceived as an embrace, Flora entered the cottage, slamming the door shut and crying, “I have no sisters!”

Flora Tremblay Tarrant did in fact once have a sister. Flora and her sister Lily were born in La Tuque in 1910 and 1912 respectively. Their mother, Mary Mercier, and her third child died during childbirth when Mary was just twenty-two.1

The girls’ father, Ligouri Tremblay, had migrated to LaTuque from the Lac St. Jean area seeking employment when the St. Maurice Industrial Co. opened a pulp and paper mill in 1908. Ligouri met and married Mary in 1909. 2

Following Mary’s death in 1914, Ligouri abandoned his young children to their grandmother, Caroline Mercier, and moved on to the pulp and paper towns of northern Ontario. Lily died of whooping cough shortly after. 3

Caroline Mercier was born Caroline Beads at Rupert House on James Bay north of La Tuque. 4 Her father, Robert Beads, was the grandson of either John or Thomas Beads, brothers from England who, in the early 1820’s, settled in the area while in the employ of the Hudson Bay Company and married into the indigenous Cree community. 5

Caroline married Joseph Mercier from Riviere Ouelle 6, a French-Canadian river-man on the St. Maurice River who delivered mail to the hinterland beyond La Tuque. Any shadow of Indian blood lay heavy over a family at that time and so it was with Caroline’s family. It took another two generations before Flora’s grandchildren would proudly proclaim native ancestry.

Flora was initially raised by her grandmother and later by Elizabeth (Lizzie), a deaf maiden aunt. Fortunately, her cousins Mary, Peggy and Grace Thompson were as close to her as any sibling would be.

When she was sixteen, Flora’s aunt heard from Ligouri. He was remarried with a young family and now wanted Flora to live with them. “You won’t leave here to be a maid and babysitter”, were evidently Lizzie’s words. She demanded that Ligouri pay the cost of Flora‘s room and board over the past twelve years. She never heard from him again. Flora would forever claim that Lizzie saved her from a fate worse than death.7

Flora married Laurence Tarrant from Bury in the Eastern Townships, a WW1 veteran who had spent three years in British hospitals recovering from his injuries (see A Soldier’s Fortunate Care). Like many Quebecers before him, he travelled to La Tuque to find work in the paper mill and settled there 8.

Flora gave birth to four children. She was widowed in 1964 at the age of 54 when her youngest child was only seven.

Ironically, following her husband’s death, Flora found work as a housekeeper and babIMG_3830 (002)ysitter at the Indian Residential School across the road from her home 9. She cared deeply for the children living far from their families and stripped of their language and culture. Likely she empathised with their feelings of abandonment.

Flora never remarried. “I’ll not wash another man’s dirty socks” were her words, perhaps a throw-back to how she believed her father treated her.  And she would never accept Ligouri’s children as her sisters.

 

 

Notes and Sources

  1. Handwritten family tree in possession of the writer.
  2. com. Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 20081891
  3. Handwritten family tree in possession of the writer.
  4. Census of Canada, database. Ancestry.com (ancestry.ca: accessed June 5. 2017), entry for Caroline Beads Citation Year: 1891 Census Place: Unorganized Territory, Champlain, Quebec; Roll: T-6390; Family No: 39
  5. George Robertson.” Biographical Sheets, Hudson Bay Company, www.gov.mb.ca/chc/archives/hbca/biographical/index.html. Accessed 5 June 2017
  6. Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967
  7. Personal conversations with Flora Tarrant.
  8. Family Records and documents on file with the writer
  9. https:/www.anglican.ca/tr/histories/la-tuque-quebec/