Genealogy, Quebec

Discovery and Imagination

Historical walking tours are a great way to walk in your ancestors’ footsteps. Even if you know a lot about the place your ancestors lived, you are sure to learn a few new facts. I recently visited Drummondville, where my dad, Edward McHugh, lived for eight years during the Great Depression. He, as well as his brother, Thomas, and his sister, Sarah Jane, had gone to Drummondville in 1933 after being out of work in Montreal. They were employed by the Celanese, one of the biggest employers in Quebec during the 1930s. The Celanese was a textile plant and my dad worked in the Silk Factory as an electrician. The Celanese plant in Drummondville was one of the main reasons why Drummondville hardly felt the effects of the Great Depression.

The walking tour I went on was a free tour offered by the Société d’histoire de Drummond (historical society of Drummondville).1 The tour started at Parc Woodyatt, named after James Blain Woodyatt, Director General and member of the Board of Directors of Southern Canada Power. Southern Canada Power built, owned and operated the hydroelectric complex In Drummondville. The public park Woodyatt opened in 1930 and included sports facilities such as a pool, a skating rink and tennis courts.2

My dad, who loved to skate and swim and was an avid tennis player, would have gone to this park regularly.

My dad also loved to go to the theatre and I can easily imagine him spending his Saturday evenings at the Théâtre Capitol, built in 1937. He would have been excited when the theatre opened. This lovely art deco building is currently a multi-screen cinema complex.

Across from the town square is the impressive Roman Catholic Basilica Saint- Frédéric. When the McHugh siblings lived in Drummondville in the 1930s, this church was not yet a basilica. The first church was a chapel built in 1822 and demolished in 1879 as it became too small to accommodate the parishioners. The second church was situated where the Saint-Frédéric Park is now, just in front of the current church. The second church burnt down in 1899. The third church, built at the church’s current location, was completed in 1907 and was the victim of arson in 1921. The fourth church is the one currently standing and it was completed in 1922. It is truly magnificent. It was named a minor basilica by Pope Francis in 2015.4

Image result for eglise saint frederic drummondville

In 1937, my uncle Thomas McHugh and Simone Cloutier, a young lady from Drummondville, were married in Saint-Frédéric.5  A Casavant organ, built in 1930, would have played at their wedding. Fourteen Stations of the Cross grace the church. Stained glass windows represent the life of Saint-Frédéric, an archbishop in France.6 The McHugh family was a large one, with nine siblings. They would probably have all attended the wedding, and would have most likely travelled from Montreal by train.

McHugh, Thomas with Simone Cloutier (maybe)

Sadly, they returned to visit this magnificent church less than one year later. Thomas McHugh died of an illness in the hospital.7 My father, along with his other brothers, signed the register as pallbearers.8 Thomas McHugh is buried in the Saint-Frédéric cemetery on Saint-Joseph Boulevard, not very far from the church.

From the outside I saw the Hôpital Sainte-Croix where, sadly, my uncle would have died. The current site of this hospital was founded in 1927 and, at the time of my uncle’s death, had 18 beds and one operating room. It was run by the Soeurs de la Présentation de Marie. 9

We finished our day by driving through the working class district of Drummondville where the workers of the Celanese lived. I know my dad lived on the top floor of a duplex. He had no car so he would have lived in walking distance from work.

It was truly a day of discovery and imagination.

 

 

  1. A sincere thank you to the Société d’histoire de Drummond for this walking tour and for all of the valuable work that they do to preserve the history of Drummondville.
  2. Société d’histoire de Drummond
  3. Société d’histoire de Drummond
  4. Société d’histoire de Drummond
  5. Registration of the marriage of Thomas McHugh and Simone Cloutier, July 17, 1937, Paroisse Saint-Frédéric de Drummond, Registres photographiés au Registres de Arthabaska
  6. Church pamphlet entitled Guide – Visite et histoire de la Basilique Saint-Frédéric de Drummondville
  7. The Drummondville Statesman, “Thomas McHugh Passes Away,” May 27, 1938, accessed March 19, 2016
  8. Registration of the death of Thomas McHugh, May 25, 1938, Paroisse Saint-Frédéric de Drummond, Registres photographiés au Registres de Arthabaska
  9. Société d’histoire de Drummond
Genealogy, Quebec

The Canadian Celanese and the Great Depression

“Damn!” My dad, Edward McHugh, cursed to himself. He thought ruefully that his great idea to change his job ten months ago did not work out very well. His first job after school was in the office of Henry Birks & Sons. While he was working there, he decided to take a bookkeeping class at night at Sullivan College and the A.R. Whittell Can Company thought that he showed initiative, was a snappy dresser, and would make a good salesperson. So they hired him. It was now 1931 and he had just been laid off because sales were dropping.1

McHugh, Ed Verdun

Edward McHugh in Verdun, Quebec, in the 1930s

Now what? Edward knew that the prospects of getting a job were bleak. Luckily Edward still lived at home with his parents and his father was a foreman at the Atlas Absestos Company.2 Still, it was worrisome.

It would be two years before Edward would find employment. He spent many evenings with his brothers and sisters, playing cards. During these evenings, their supper was sandwiches, made out of a loaf of white bread, some butter, and one can of salmon. 3

Maybe the idea to go altogether to Drummondville was hatched at one of the card parties. In any event, in 1933, in the depth of the Depression, the McHugh siblings, Edward, Thomas, Sarah Jane, and Sarah’s husband Jack, decided to move to Drummondville, Quebec to find work.

At that time and even though Quebec was hard hit by the Depression, the Canadian Celanese Company in Drummondville was a significant employer in the province, with 1,757 employees. The picture below shows the employees of the Canadian Celanese Company in that year.4

Celanese 1931

Moving to Drummondville would have been equivalent to immigrating to a new country. None of the members of the family would have had an automobile so the trip from Montreal to Drummondville would have had to be by train. As with many immigrants, their motives were financial.

As far as I know, they were all employed by the Canadian Celanese Company. The Celanese Corporation was founded in 1915 by two Swiss chemists, Camille and Henri Dreyfus and enjoyed significant success during WWI because of its development of synthetic fiber. The Canadian plant was built in 1926 in Drummondville. This location was chosen due to its proximity to a large expanse of forest, it was close to Montreal that was the centre of the textile industry at the time, and inexpensive hydro power  supplied by Southern Canadian Power was available.5

This picture of the Celanese, taken in the 1920s, shows that it was a significant manufacturing plant: 6

Celanese 1920s

My dad was hired as an electrician and worked in what was called the silk factory.7 The Celanese required electricians to work full time to ensure that the machines were never idle.

My dad and his siblings settled in and made a life in Drummondville. Both my dad and his brother, Thomas, played on the Celanese football team.8 Thomas married Simone Cloutier in 1937 and then died a year later in 1938 of an illness. Thomas is buried in the cemetery of the St. Frederic Church in Drummondville.9

Edward continued to work for the Celanese until the outbreak of the war. He signed up for duty in August 1940 at the Ste. Hyacinthe recruiting centre. The Celanese agreed to hire him once the war had finished but he did not go back.10

  1. Military records from WWII, Edward McHugh, Royal Canadian Air Force Attestation Paper. This information was in his employment records. It states that he left Henry Birks and Sons for a better job and that he was let go from A.R. Whittell because of lack of work.
  2. Although Thomas McHugh, Edward’s father, was deceased when the RCAF Attestation Paper was filled out, Thomas’ job at his death was noted. It is an assumption that he was working there in 1933. There is no indication that he was out of work during the Depression.
  3. As told to the author by her aunt, Elsie McHugh.
  4. The Ministry of Patrimoine Culturel, Province of Québec, http://www.patrimoine-culturel.gouv.qc.ca/rpcq/detail.do?methode=consulter&id=14311&type=pge#.W6gnEWhKiUk, accessed September 23, 2018.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Eastern Townships Archives Portal, https://www.townshipsarchives.ca/canadian-celanese-ltd 192?, accessed September 24, 2018.
  7. Military records from WWII, Edward McHugh, Royal Canadian Air Force Attestation Paper.
  8. Death of Thomas McHugh, “The Drummondville Spokesman,” “Thomas McHugh Passes Away,”May 27, 1938, accessed March 19, 2015. This article states that Thomas McHugh was on the Celanese football team. It is assumed that Edward was also on that team as his Attestation Paper said that he played football extensively.
  9. Marriage and death certificates of Thomas McHugh. Drouin Collection. St. Frederic Parish, Drummondville, Quebec.
  10. Military records from WWII, Edward McHugh, Royal Canadian Air Force Attestation Paper.