Ismael Bruneau wanted a biblical family, one child for each of the 12 tribes of Israel. His wife Ida didn’t share that ambition, but still, they had 10. When one of her daughters was getting married she asked her mother what she could do to prevent the arrival of so many children and Ida answered, “If I knew, do you think I would have had all of you?”
Ida herself came from a very large family. She was born in 1862 in Les Convers, Switzerland, to Gustave Girod and Sophie Balmer, the sixth of 16 children. Her favourite aunt, Celine Balmer was teaching at a private girl’s school in Baltimore, Maryland and arranged a job for Ida at the same school. In 1882 Ida sailed to the United States for the teaching position.
After a particularly bad year, with many deaths in the family, her parents decided to emigrate to America. Another son tragically died on the voyage and was buried at sea. The Girods were farmers and settled in the French community of Kankakee, Illinois. When Ida went to visit, she met the Minister, Ismael Bruneau. He was taken with her and they were soon married.
Ismael and Ida then lived in Green Bay Wisconsin where their first three children, Edgar, Beatrice and Hermonie were born. A French Protestant minister moved frequently and the next charge was in Holyoke Massachusetts, where Helvetia was born. Next was a move back to Canada. Sydney, Fernand, and Edmee were born in Quebec City and Renee, Herbert and Gerald in Montreal. All the children survived except Fernand. My Grandmother Beatrice said it was his name that killed him but we didn’t understand why as we thought the other siblings had stranger names. They played funeral with him and pulled him around in a wagon covered with flowers.
Although a minister’s salary was meagre the family survived and flourished. The first two sons went to McGill. One became a doctor and the other a lawyer. All the girls finished high school, went to Normal school and became teachers except Renee who attended Business school. The two youngest boys were still at home when their father died. There wasn’t the money to send them to university but they both became successful businessmen.
Ismael’s death was a shock to Ida. He had preached at an earlier service in Portneuf and ran uphill from the station in Quebec City, as the train was 50 minutes late. He arrived at the end of the service and died of a heart attack. Her heart was broken, “ I must realize that my dear husband of nearly 32 years has left me forever.” She moved to her daughter Helvetia’s home in Lachute, a town Ismael had felt would be a good place to retire. She went back to Switzerland because her aunt Celine had returned, but Celine was suffering from dementia and with all other friends and family gone Ida decided her life was in Canada.
One of her husband’s brothers-in-law, Emilien Frechette, whose wife Emilina Marie Bruneau had died, proposed that as they were both alone they get married. He had built himself a large house in Iberville south of Montreal and wanted company. My Aunt Aline remembered hating her mother’s visits to Iberville because she would come back with large baskets of gooseberries, red and black currents, which had to be cleaned for jam and pies. Aline’s other memory of her grandmother Ida was teaching her to play rummy and seven up. Aline said, “ She liked the little games they played and thought the ‘Devil’s plaything’ was a misnomer.” It was fine to play cards, just not on Sunday.
Ida developed cancer and spent her last days in the Montreal General Hospital. She was buried in Mount Royal Cemetery in the Frechette plot with Emilien’s first wife Marie. After Ida’s death in 1927, he married Emilie Beauchamp Bruneau, the widow of Napoleon Bruneau, Ismael’s brother. Emilien certainly looked after the women in the Bruneau family. My mother remembered him as a nice old man. She didn’t remember her grandmother who died when she was five but she did remember visiting Monsieur Frechette in Iberville, going to the toilet and thinking, “My grandmother sat here!”
Bruneau, Ida. A Short History of the Bruneau – Girod Families. 1993.
Bruneau, Ida. letter to Mes Frere et Soeur. February 5, 1918. Quebec City, Quebec. A copy in the author’s possession.
Aline Raguin Allchurch. Letter to Mary Sutherland. 2002. Author’s possession.
Dorothy Raguin Sutherland’s Stories. Personal interview. 1998.
Ancestry.com. Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2008. Original data: Gabriel Drouin, comp. Drouin Collection. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Institut Généalogique Drouin.
René Emile Raguin, my grandfather, was the last of my relatives to arrive in Canada. He was the only one to return home after he emigrated. His family, originally from Doubs, France, moved to Fleurier, Switzerland soon after he was born.
He arrived in Canada aboard an Allen Line steamship, the Lake Erie and so didn’t have to endure a long voyage on a sailing ship. It was 1910 and he was 23 years old. He had been a Lieutenant in the French army. His father was French and as the son, even though he lived in Switzerland, he had to do his service. He had also trained as a teacher but there were no jobs in Switzerland, so he was fortunate to find a job at the French Protestant school in Pointes aux Trembles, Quebec.
René was a dapper little man with a full beard and moustache. He was sure he was going to be a hit with Canadian girls although his landlady told him they didn’t like men with a lot of facial hair. The morning after meeting Beatrice Bruneau and her sisters, he came down stairs with only a goatee! In later years he only had a small moustache but with a completely shaved head.
René and Beatrice were married in 1912 in Cornwall, Ontario by Beatrice’s father, Reverend Ismael P. Bruneau. Their first daughter Aline Marguerite was born in May 1913. The next summer they sailed to Europe to show off Aline to Rene’s family. Rene enjoyed the voyage, walking on deck with his little daughter, but Beatrice, pregnant with their second child Robert, suffered from sea sickness and was mostly invisible. Rene was very happy chatting with all the other passengers who wondered about the little girl’s mother.
They were having a wonderful time in Fleurier, visiting Rene’s parents, Joseph Marie and Rosina Steinman Raguin and his sister Bluette, when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated and World War I began. When England declared war on Germany August 4, 1914, returning to Canada as quickly as possible became a priority. As Rene had become a Canadian/British citizen in 1913, they appealed to the British Government and received a document of safe passage through both France and Italy to return to England. They made a quick journey by train from Switzerland to Le Havre, France taking what they could easily carry and leaving their trunk behind.
They made it safely back to Canada where René was then the principal of De La Salle Academy in Trois Riveres, Quebec. The school administration had been worried he wouldn’t return for the beginning of the school year. He used his story to raise money during the war, for the Canadian Patriotic Fund.
Robert was born in December followed by Arthur, Dorothy and Madeleine. René continued teaching and finished his career as a French teacher at Baron Byng High School in Montreal. They spent summers in Dunany north of Montreal where he enjoyed golf and socializing and winters in Montreal where he curled and socialized. He and Beatrice didn’t travel very much, just one train trip to Vancouver to visit their son Robert. They never returned to Europe, never again saw any of Rene’s family, or their trunk.
Rutherdale, Robert. Hometown Horizons: Local Responses to Canada’s Great War. Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 2004. Print.
Anecdotes personally communicated to the author by Aline Raguin Allchurch in 2003.
Passeport; original document in possession of author.
Rene’s British /Canadian Naturalization Certificate was in his possession in Europe to obtain his Passport but the document was later lost as it was replaced in 1916. Libraries and Archives Canada: Citizenship Registration Records for Montreal Circuit Court 1851-1945.
Military documents in possession of author.