Virginie Bruneau, born in St. Constant, Quebec in 1840, became a teacher. “She enjoyed the distinction of being one of the group of teachers to receive the first French Canadian diplomas from the McGill Normal School.”
The school was established in 1857 by John William Dawson, McGill’s first Principal with an agreement between the university, the government and the Colonial Church and School Society to educate Quebec’s protestant public elementary and secondary school teachers and produce teachers who could turn young minds into university material. The Colonial Church and School Society had been dedicated to the maintenance and financing of Anglican schools.
Applicants to McGill’s Normal School were examined in reading, writing, the elements of grammar and arithmetic and “needed to produce certificates of good moral character from their clergyman or minister of religion under whose charge they have last been.” The earlier schools judged teachers qualifications only on their common sense and reputation. The one-year course earned an elementary diploma and students attended for two years for a Model School diploma required to teach higher grades. Students had to be at least 16 years old and teach at least three years after graduating. The first class contained 35 women and five men. So Virginie, born in 1840 could have been in the first class.
The school opened at 30 Belmont Street in downtown Montreal. In 1907 it moved to the west of the island and became part of MacDonald College.
After graduating, Virginie first taught in Montreal and then later, of all places, New York City. She was my great grandfather Ismael’s sister, the third child and second daughter of Barnabé Bruneau and Sophie Marie Prudhomme. Like many of her siblings, she looked for a life beyond the farm in St Constant.
I don’t know how or where she met her husband Francois Dutaud. He was from the same region of Quebec, born in Napierville, to Joseph Dutaud and Isabelle Cyr but he also spent time in the United States. He lived in Boston for several years. There, he worked for the Tuft Brick Company. He returned to Canada in 1875, where he farmed and had a successful grain business in Grande-Ligne, Quebec.
Did Virginie give up the bright lights of New York City to teach at the Feller Institute in Grand-Ligne? Is that where she met Francois? Henriette Feller was a Baptist missionary from Switzerland who came to Quebec to convert Catholics to Protestantism. The hostility of Catholics in Montreal forced her to move south. Madame Feller’s first school was in the attic of her log cabin but eventually a large stone building was constructed. She and Charles Roussy her colleague, were responsible for the conversion of Virginie’s parents in the 1850s.
Virginie was 38 when she married and she and Francois had only one child, Gustave Dutaud, born in Grand Ligne in 1879.
The couple moved to Montreal to live with their son when Francois became ill. He died a year later. Virginie continued to live with Gustave until her death in 1926 from arteriole sclerosis. Her obituary said she was of proud Huguenot stock but I don’t think this was necessarily true. Yes, she was a French Protestant but her Bruneau line had been practising Catholics for centuries.
Picture of Virginie by S.A. Thomas 717 Sixth Ave New York. He was a photographer from 1853 to 1894 when he died at 71.
The Educational Record of the Province of Quebec April – June 1964 Vol LXXX No. 2
McGill Normal School: https://education150.mcgill.ca/images/MNS-dOC20.pdf
McGill.ca/about/history/features/dawson accessed September 12, 2022.
Virginie Bruneau Dutaud Obituary. Montreal Star, Montreal, Quebec. April 28, 1926 page 31. Newspapers.com accessed April 19, 2022.
https://numerique.banq.qc.ca/patrimoine/details/52327/1955334 Picture of Feller Institute
Walter N. Wyeth D.D. – Madame Feller and the Grande Ligne Mission, Philadelphia Pennsylvania. WN Wyeth 1898