Joseph Valentin dit Gregoire: IV

Migration and marriages

Fourth of a four-part series of the real and imagined life of Joseph Valentin dit Gregoire (1824-1895)

Like many other families in the Sorel/St-Ours area, several members of the Valentin-Gregoire clan made their way to build a new life in Massachusetts. Among them were: Florence and Josephine Gregoire, Joseph’s sisters, who left St-Ours with their husbands. Later on, three of Joseph and Eloises’s children would join this exodus – Magloire to Spencer, Amanda to Adams and Louisia to Fall River. The others all established homes in the St-Ours area.

In fact, in 1871, the exodus of French Canadians to the U.S. prompted a two-day convention in Worcester MA, attended by delegates and members of the clergy. The agenda for the conference included:

  • Press canadienne aux Etats-Unis
  • Ecoles françaises
  • Naturalisation et repatriement
  • Moyens d’accroître notre bien-être matériel
  • Etablissement de nouvelles sociétés de secours mutual
  • Questions d’honneur national.

The conference concluded with a number of declarations and resolutions which were reported in La Gazette de Sorel to improve the wellbeing of French Canadians in the U.S.

By now Joseph and Eloize’s children are reaching adulthood. Their oldest daughter, Rosalie (Delima), is the first to leave the nest by marrying Edmond Chapdelaine in 1871. The remaining children are still at the family home in St-Ours. In the 1871 census, Alphonse is listed as a farmer (probably working with his father) and five of the younger children are recorded as being in school. One of their neighbours is Capitaine Pierre Comeau and his family. The 1871 census was the first census after Confederation in 1867 and the total population of Canada (Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) was 3.7 million.

During this period, many of Eloise’s siblings are marrying as well. Her sister Philomene married in 1865 to Simon Morin dit Valcour. In 1871 her brother Clement married Adeline Cusson and her brother Leonard married Emma Chapdelaine. In 1874 her sister Eleonore married Paschal Langelier. This last wedding included a large number of witnesses, Eloise being one of the ones who signed the register.

Before long the first of many, many grandchildren is born when Ida Chapdelaine (Edmond & Rosalie) arrives in 1872. In all, at least 71 grandchildren were born during Joseph and Eloise’s lifetime. Of those, only 10 are known to have died young.

The church bells didn’t only ring to announce weddings, they tolled the passing of Joseph’s father. Joseph Valentin dit Gregoire (père) died in St-Ours on April 16, 1874. He was 74 years old.

In a notarized transaction recorded in 1877, Joseph and Eloise made a donation (land or property) to their eldest son Alphonse – possibly as a result of the settlement of Joseph’s (père) estate or in advance of Alphonse’s marriage in 1879 to Melina Peloquin. Joseph and Eloise were present at the marriage, and Eloise, being his only parent able to, signed as a witness.
Joseph and Eloise’s second son, Magloire, married in Spencer Massachusetts in 1878 to Seraphine Lacrois, a native of Connecticut. The couple would return to St-Ours for a short time as their civil marriage in Spencer was not considered legitimate. In 1882 their nuptials were properly consecrated in the church in St-Ours and then they formally recognized their daughter Rosalina as legitimate.

Eloise Duhamel
Joseph Gregoire

On June 22 1879 Joseph and Eloise were present at the signing of their daughter Albina’s marriage contract with Joseph Comeau. The contract is over three pages long and stipulates that they will share their property communally, that Joseph will immediately provide his bride 50 piastres and lists some provisions for the surviving spouse regarding disposition of property. The bride brings to the marriage 1 cow, 2 sheep, 6 chickens and a rooster, a double bed with cover, 6 knives, 6 forks, 6 plates, 6 cups, 6 bowls, a sugar bowl, teapot, milk jug, a candleholder of white iron, 6 terrines, and various linens (provided by her parents).

Signing the contract are:

  • Marie Hermine Albina Gregoire (bride)
  • Joesph Commault (groom)
  • Amanda Commeault (Joseph’s sister)
  • Eloise Duamelle (Albina’s mother)
  • Delima Commeault (Joseph’s sister)

The marriage took place two days later in the church of St-Ours.

Joseph Comeau and Albina’s first child Rosaline was born nine months later in 1880, and Joseph and Eloise were named as Rosaline’s godparents. Sadly, Rosalind would only live four years. Joseph and Albina experienced many sorrows during their marriage. Of the 13 children Albina bore, only three – Aline, Blanch and Louis – reached adulthood. Most died within five years of their birth.

Next to tie the knot was Albina’s sister Amanda who married Doula Duguay in 1880.

The 1881 census shows that Joseph and Eloise still have 6 children living with them. Their son, Raphael, has joined Joseph in farming.

In 1882 daughter Rosanne (Rose Alba) married Jean Baptiste Guerremont. On the Gregoire side, Joseph, Eloise, Alphonse, Magloire, Louisia, Alexina, Parmelie all attended as witnesses. It was the following day on January 10 that Magloire and his wife, Seraphine, legitimized their marriage vows as described earlier.

In 1883, Joseph and Eloise’s daughter Louisia married Gelas Paquin, but not until after a dispensation from the diocese was obtained allowing them to marry despite the impediment of a 4th degree of consanguinity. The family connection was probably with the Meunier line (between Louisia’s G-G-grandmother and Gelas’ mother). Both fathers of the couple were witnesses to the marriage.

In 1884, daughter Alexina married Hilaire Dufault. Their wedding was well attended by both families with her father Joseph and siblings Parmelie, Alphonse and Louisia acting as witness for the bride.

In 1886, Parmelie (who signed her name Melina) married Herminegilde Bourque in St-Ours. Of the five witnesses, four are from Melina’s family, including Joseph and Eloise. Raphael was the next to marry in 1887 to Amanda Beauregard. The wedding register recorded a long list of witnesses from both sides – as usual, Joseph was listed as a witness. Four years later Raphael appears to have taken over as head of the Gregoire household which now includes his wife Amanda and their young son, his parents Joseph and Eloise and his sister Lovia. Both Raphael and Joseph are listed as cultivateurs in the 1891 census for St-Ours.

Lovia was the last to leave the family home. Joseph was listed as a witness at his youngest daughter’s wedding to Joseph Bourgeois in 1892. The register notes that Joseph is retired.

The torch passes

Against a backdrop of at least a dozen more births of grandchildren, the older generation takes their leave. In 1894, Joseph’s sister Florence Gregoire, died in Spencer Massachusetts of pneumonia. Is it possible that her nephew Magloire – also living in Spencer – stayed in close enough contact with his nearest relative to provide comfort and attention?

In January 1895, Joseph Valentin dit Gregoire died. His son Raphael and five of his sons-in-law attended his burial as witnesses as did “un bon nombre de fideles…” Joseph was survived by his wife, Eloise, 11 children (all married) and about 52 grandchildren. His ‘doppelganger’ Joseph Gregoire of St-Jude died a few years later (1898) in Hudson, MA.

The first of Joseph and Eloise’s children to pass away was Rosealma who predeceased her mother in 1897. She was only 35 years old and left her husband with eight children ranging in age from two to 16. The cause of her death is not known.

Our story ends near the turn of the century with the death of Marie Louise (Eloise) Duhamel in 1899. She was 70 years old and was survived by 10 children and 64 grandchildren. The dynasty that arose from their union of the Valentin-dit-Gregoire and Duhamel families introduced new bloodlines carrying the following surnames: Bourgeois, Bourque, Chapdelaine, Comeau, Dufault, Duguay, Guerremont, and Paquin as well as countless descendants in both Canada and the United States. Quite a legacy.

© Janet Comeau – August 2018

Joseph Valentin dit Gregoire: III

The other Joseph

Third of a four-part series of the real and imagined life of Joseph Valentin dit Gregoire (1824-1895)

What about the other Joseph Valentin dit Gregoire that was baptized in St-Ours? We might assume that the census records in St-Jude relate to him. But it looks like his path led him to Massachusetts – like many others of his generation in the Sorel region.

Before heading there, his marriage took place, coincidentally, just a few days before our other Joseph. Joseph son of Pierre married Marguerite Dauphin in St-Jude. After that, the similarities between our two Josephs end.

Picking up his trail, we find Joseph Gregory in 1863 enlisting in Massachusetts (at 40 years old) to serve with the Union Army in the Civil War that began in 1861. After the war, he petitioned in 1878 for, and was granted, naturalized citizenship in Boston. His application records show that he is a shoemaker and his point of entry to the United States was St-Albans, Vermont.

Later, according to the 1880 U.S. census, he is a labourer living in Hudson MA with his wife Margaret (45), children Edwidge (20), Mary (16), Joseph (12) and Johannis (2).
Joseph Gregory died in 1898 in Hudson MA, three years after Joseph Gregoire of St-Ours.

Building a family dynasty

There is some evidence that the Comeau, Gregoire and Duhamel families were well acquainted. In 1852, Joseph (fils) was a witness to Paul Como‘s marriage contract with Francoise Mathieu and he also appeared as a witness at their wedding. Paul Como’s second wife is Florence Duhamel of Ste-Victoire, probably a not-too-distant relation to Eloise’s Duhamels.

In March 1852, Joseph and Eloise’s second child, Alphonse, is born and the following year another son, Magloire, is born.

1855 Land transaction

In 1854, the seigneurial regime of land grants was abolished and changed to a freehold system of land ownership. This might have been the reason for a couple of land title transactions involving Joseph Valentin (likely Joseph the father) in 1854 and 1855.

Three more daughters are born in St-Ours: Amanda in 1855, Albina (future wife of Joseph Comeau) in 1856 and Alexina in 1858. These are followed by a son, Raphael in 1860. With a quick succession of babies in the household, one must wonder if the latest home innovation, the rotary washing machine (patented in 1858) was something high on the family’s wish list.

Signatures

In 1861 there are six schools with 453 students in the parish. The two village schools have 40 boys and 50 girls. Many, if not all, of Joseph & Eloise’s children attended school as evidenced by their ability to sign various documents as witnesses to weddings, burials and baptisms.

Joseph and his family finally appear in the 1861 census, living in St-Ours with seven children and his widowed father. He is listed as a farmer – an occupation he held all his working life. The census also describes their dwelling as a single-storey house of wood construction.

Three more daughters are born to Joseph & Eloise over the next few years: Louise in 1862, Rosanna in 1863 and Parmelie (Melina) in 1865. Their youngest child, Marie Louise (Lovia) is born in 1868.

The centre of village life was of course its church. In 1861, a group of men were elected as syndics to oversee the repairs to the church. Eloise’s father, André Duhamel, was among them. The debate over the remediation of the church ranged from extensive repairs to demolition and rebuilding on the existing or other sites. In 1870 a group of parishioners sign a resolution favoring the demolition of the old church to build a new church. About 280 are for the resolution. A smaller group of parishioners who had the right to sign, did not – Andre Duhamel and Joseph Gregoire were among that group. Despite the resolution, the matter won’t be resolved until 1877.

It was a debate that went on (and on) with the diocese for decades until finally in 1882 the old church was demolished to make way for a new one. André, no longer a syndic, didn’t live long enough to see the new church constructed. He died just as the old church was being demolished to make way for the new build.

In 1865 catastrophic floods affected the area. Particularly hard-hit were the islands of Sorel where the population was decimated with over 30 deaths from drowning.

In 1866, Eloise experienced the loss of another sibling, her youngest brother Francois Xavier. He was only 16 years old. His cause of death is unknown.

In 1867, on July 1, the Dominion of Canada is formed, uniting the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The proclamation appears in the June edition of the Sorel Gazette. There is speculation about who will form the first government and fill the new ministerial positions in advance of elections to be held in August.

© Janet Comeau – August 2018

Joseph Valentin dit Gregoire: II

Joseph (fils) of St-Ours

Second of a four-part series of the real and imagined life of Joseph Valentin dit Gregoire (1824-1895)

Let’s turn our attention to the life of our ancestor Joseph Valentin who would later marry Marie Louise Duhamel. He was the third of eight children born to Joseph Valentin dit Gregoire and Marie Anne Dallaire. In fact, he was the only son of this couple, so it’s hard to imagine that he was not the centre of attention at home. His older sisters were Marie Anne and Marie Julie. When he was three, another sister, Marie, was born, followed by Marie Modeste in 1829.

In 1828, Joseph’s future wife Marie Louise Duhamel was born to André Duhamel and Marie Louise Dupré. Eloise (as she signed her name) was the oldest of 10 children born to her parents. Of these, seven would survive to adulthood. Eloise soon had a baby brother in 1831, Octave, who died five months later. Another baby brother, born in 1834, was also named Octave.

The Duhamels lived a short distance downstream from the Gregoires in 1831, closer to St-Roch than St-Ours. From the 1831 census, we know that Joseph Valentin had more land and both families seem to have been successful in growing crops and raising livestock. The Valentin dit Gregroire family were neighbours of Joseph Comeau and Marguerite Chapdelaine. The grandchildren of these two families (Albina Gregoire and Joseph Comeau) would marry in 1879.

A cholera epidemic in 1832 claimed many victims and St-Ours was also hard hit. Most affected were the elderly and children, as were many adults. Between May and September, St-Ours held 46 burials due to the illness. Fortunately, the Valentin-Gregoire and Duhamel families seemed to have escaped the effects of the epidemic.

In 1835 and 1836, two more sisters were born in Joseph’s family–Florence and Eloiza. Florence would later live in Spencer, Massachusetts, but nothing is known of Eloiza after childhood.

Eloise Duhamel also gained a sister in 1836, Antoinette, who would only live to be 13 years old. Eloise very likely attended school in 1837 as we know she was literate. At that time, François Hughes was the schoolmaster at La Fabrique. It’s unlikely that Joseph attended school, as all his life he was recorded as being unable to sign his name.

Both families were residents of St-Ours during the 1837-1838 rebellion in Lower Canada. As far as can be determined, neither were actively involved in the movement as neither Gregoires nor Duhamels appear in records on either side of the divisive issue of political reform.

Both families continued to grow after the troubles ended. Eloise’s family welcomed Philomène in 1838, Clement in 1841 and Eleonore in 1843. On the Valentin-Gregoire side, a new sister Josephine was born in 1840 to complete their family. Their happiness was short-lived because on Sept 18, 1843, Joseph’s mother Marie Anne Dallaire died. She was survived by her husband, and most of their eight children:

  • Marie Anne, married to Pierre Giard
  • Marie Julie who would marry the following year to François Pichet
  • Joseph, aged 19
  • Marie, aged 16
  • Marie Modeste, aged 14
  • Florence, aged 8
  • Eloiza, aged 7
  • Josephine, aged 3.

It does not appear that Joseph (père) remarried after his wife’s death, even with a young child in the household. Perhaps caring for the younger children became the responsibility of one of his older daughters.

Joseph (père) was a farmer all his life and his son followed in his father’s footsteps, probably working the same land when his father retired around 1862.

As Joseph (fils) was reaching adulthood, construction of a series of dams and locks on the Richelieu River was taking place, opening transportation links to Montreal and New York. The 10th lock in St-Ours was completed in 1849. As a result, St-Ours was booming – becoming a municipality in 1845, acquiring a water-powered flour mill, expanding the school system, and establishing a fire brigade complete with pumper. By 1847 the population of St-Ours had reached 3,600.

The last three of Eloise’s siblings were born around this time. Leopold or Leonard in 1845, Elisa in 1847 and François Xavier in 1850.

There was more sad news for Joseph’s family, though. The family patriarch, Louis, Joseph’s grandfather, died at the age of 77 in 1848.

Joseph the family man

In 1850, a year marked by severe spring flooding in the St-Ours area, Joseph prepares to settle down. His father arranges to donate some property (presumably some farmland) to him in a notarized transaction made on January 26, 1850. A couple of days later, Joseph agrees to a marriage contract with Marie Louise (Eloise) Duhamel. Both documents are handled by the notary Paul-Narcisse Leclaire. On February 4, 1850 they are married in St-Ours. The ceremony was witnessed by their fathers, Joseph (père) and André Duhamel, both of whom could not sign. Also in attendance as a witness was Capitaine Pierre Comeau, the brother of Paul Como whose son Joseph would later marry their daughter Albina Gregoire.

Marriage record of Joseph Gregoire and Eloise Duhamel

Less than a year later, Joseph and Eloise’s first child Rosalie is born. Rosalie is the first of 11 children born to this couple, all of whom reached adulthood and married.

The census of 1852 is considered to be the first “thorough” Canadian census and it included Canada West, Canada East, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Unfortunately, the records for St-Ours in the 1852 census are missing, so it’s hard to know the status of the Valentin-Gregoire and Duhamel families. A Joseph Gregoire is listed in St-Jude as cultivateur, but not the members of his family, which should have included Eloise. In fact, there are several entries for Joseph Gregoire in St-Jude – none of them fitting what we know about Joseph & Eloise. We must assume that our Valentin-Gregoire/Duhamel family were listed in those missing St-Ours records.

Paul Comeau: Witness to change IV

Migration

Fourth of a four-part series of the real and imagined life of Paul Comeau (1826-1905)

Sometime around 1870, Paul left for New England with his family. “Between 1840 and 1930 roughly 900,000 French Canadians left Canada to emigrate to the United States…A majority of them were from rural parishes and agricultural problems are determined to be at the root of the economic factors that stimulated emigration.” In fact, the immigrant population of Southbridge Massachusetts, where Paul and his family located, was dominated by Quebec emigrés from St-Ours and Sorel.

We know Paul was in Massachusetts because he and his family appear (with anglicized names) in the 1870 census, living in Hardwick, Worcester, Mass.

Paul Como 46 Works in Woolen Mill
Mary 36 Keeping house
Joseph 14 Works in Woolen Mill
Paul 12 Works in Woolen Mill
Dillon[?] 10 Works in Woolen Mill; Attended school in previous 12 months.
Peter 4 At home

All but Dillon cannot read or write. Paul Sr. is listed as a US citizen without voting rights.

In 1871, the exodus of French Canadians to the U.S. prompted a two-day convention in Worcester MA, attended by delegates and members of the clergy. The agenda for the conference included:
• Press canadienne aux Etats-Unis
• Ecoles françaises
• Naturalisation et repatriement
• Moyens d’accroître notre bien-être matériel
• Etablissement de nouvelles sociétés de secours mutual
• Questions d’honneur national.

The conference concluded with a number of declarations and resolutions which were reported in La Gazette de Sorel to improve the well being of French Canadians in the U.S. (including Paul and his family).

The woolen mill referenced in the census listing for Paul and his family is quite likely George H. Gilbert’s new Ware wool factory in Hardwick Gore. It was not uncommon for children to be working in mills to help bring in income.

Ware wool factory in Hardwick (http://www.townofhardwick.com/History.html)

In 1871, his wife Marie died of consumption in Leicester, Massachusetts and was buried in St. Johns cemetery in Worcester. By 1875, Paul had brought his family back to St-Ours. He is recorded on a transaction involving his brother-in-law Etienne Mathieu and Capt. François Lamoureux. He’s also listed in the land registry for the seigneury of St-Ours from 1872 to 1901, so clearly, he still held property ties to the area.

In November 1875, now a widower with four children 5 to 15 years old, he married Florence Duhamel of Ste-Victoire in a ceremony witnessed by his brother Pierre, Marie Mongeon, Sophie Mathieu, Gelinas Lamothe, Narcisse Martin, Pierre Duhamel, Prisque Hebert and others.

What is known about Florence Duhamel? She was born on August 11, 1831 in Sorel to Pierre Duhamel, agriculteur, and Marguerite Proulx. Pierre and Marguerite had six children — five girls and one boy. Florence was the second oldest child. Being in Sorel around the same time as the Mathieu family, it’s possible that Florence may have known Marie or one of her older brothers. In 1846, the Sorel school commission was formed, and it is known from the 1861 census that Florence’s two youngest sisters attended school in 1860. In 1858, the population of Sorel (then called William-Henry) was 3,345.

Interestingly, despite the large influx of United Empire Loyalists after the revolutionary war in the U.S., there are only eight English inhabitants in the town (1 Scot, 7 Irish). In 1861, Florence is still living with her parents and siblings in Ste-Victoire. In 1865 catastrophic floods affected the area. Particularly hard-hit were the islands of Sorel where the population was decimated with over 30 deaths from drowning. Five years later, Florence is still unmarried and living with her brother’s family, siblings and elderly parents in Ste-Victoire. In 1874 Florence enters into a series of property transactions – first with her brother Pierre related to a donation to her made by her father. Then a purchase from Pierre Lacroix followed by a sale to Felix Duval. Were these in preparation for her coming nuptials with Paul? The details of these transactions are not fully known.

The first few years of Paul and Florence’s marriage seemed to be occupied with a series of land and loan transactions starting with the sale of a plot of land to Pierre Duhamel (Florence’s brother). In 1878, Paul & Florence borrow $1400 from her sister, Sophie Duhamel to purchase land and build a house.

In 1879, Paul witnesses the marriage contract and the wedding for his son, Joseph, and Marie Hermine Albina Gregoire. A year later, his first grandchild, Rosaline, is born. In the 1881 census, Paul’s household includes his sons Joseph, Paul and Pierre, his wife Florence and Aurelie Harpin. Their daughter, Adelaide is not listed and her whereabouts are not known. Joseph is also recorded elsewhere in the census with his wife, Albina, and their baby, Rose. All four men are recorded as farmers. Another granddaughter, Leontine, is born in the fall of 1881 to Joseph and Albina but she dies a couple of weeks later. Rose dies at three years old.

Childhood mortality was a common reality during this period. In Paul’s family alone, of 14 grandchildren born between 1880 and 1904, only 5 survived to adulthood. We don’t know what caused this high rate of mortality, but the leading causes of death for young children at that time were gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases.

A lot was happening in St-Ours – after years of disagreement on approaches, the church at St-Ours was demolished to make way for a new building. The new church was consecrated in 1882. A couple of years later Mme de St-Ours passed away. She was a large presence in the community as patron of many projects. Her funeral was attended by most of the population.

Wedding bells rang again in 1885 when son Paul Stephane married Marie Gouin in St-Robert. Paul was present at this occasion. Five years later, his third son, Pierre, married Elisabeth Brisebois from Sweetburg (near Cowansville). Perhaps the occasion of this last marriage prompted the family to arrange for a set of portrait photos to be taken in 1890.
In addition to commercial photography, other innovations to reach St-Ours were likely the telephone (the Bell Telephone Company was formed in 1880) and the installation of street lighting on the main street in 1887.

In 1891, Paul is still farming at the age of 64 with Florence by his side. His children have all left the nest and established their own households.

On the political front, the government changes prime ministers five times in as many years. They are: Sir John Abbott (Conservative), Sir John Thompson (Conservative), Sir MacKenzie Bowell (Conservative), Sir Wilfred Laurier (Liberal) and Sir Charles Tupper (Conservative).

Then as the century draws to a close, Paul’s wife, Florence dies in December 1898. Paul’s son Joseph attended and witnessed the burial. After Florence’s death (1899), it appears that Paul headed back to Massachusetts to join his sons, Pierre and Paul in Southbridge. What could have been the reason for their decision to go to the United States? Economic? Nostalgia? The boys did spend some of their early childhood there. Or political – Canada had just entered the Boer war and was sending troops overseas – a development that was opposed by Quebec. We’ll never really know the motive, but we do know that Paul was living with Paul Stephane in Southbridge. The 1900 U.S. Census tells us that Paul Stephane and his wife had been in the U.S. 13 years. Both worked as cotton weavers. Her son Ethier (with her previous husband) and his wife also lived in the house. Ethier was a grocery salesclerk. He could read, write and speak English. The city directory for Ware, MA shows Paul Stephane’s address as 23 Canal St. It’s not known when Pierre went to Southbridge, but it is known that he remained there. Back in St-Ours, Paul’s son Joseph passes away in 1901 at just 45 years old.

Paul Comeau would die in Southbridge on December 27, 1905. Three days later he was buried in his ancestral home of St-Ours. His son Paul Stephane attended the funeral and probably accompanied his father on his last journey home.

Southbridge, MA in 1905 (Wikimedia)

by Janet Comeau, May 2018

Paul Comeau: Witness to change III

Home and country

Third of a four-part series of the real and imagined life of Paul Comeau (1826-1905)

In September 1840, when Paul was 14, his mother died. She left behind her husband, Joseph, 11 children and 11 grandchildren:
• Joseph (married to Marie Desanges Allaire, 4 grandchildren)
• Josephte (married to Eduard Girouard, 1 grandchild)
• François
• Sophie (married to François Moise Girouard, 3 grandchildren)
• Charlotte (married to Jean Baptiste Lamoureux, 1 grandchild)
• Eleonore (married to Antoine Mongeon)
• Honorée
• Pierre
• Paul
• Alexis
• Jean Baptiste

In Sorel, Marie Mathieu’s mother gave birth to two daughters, one in 1837 and another in 1840 . The latter was named Victoria – a name that became popular after the coronation of the young Queen of the British Empire. Sadly, both girls died very young. In 1841 a boy was born who also did not survive.

Map of Canada East 1855
Canada East (Library & Archives Canada; MIKAN 3694915)

In the mid-1800s, the business of building a country got underway. In 1841, Upper and Lower Canada united to become the Province of Canada and were renamed to Canada East and Canada West. The same year, a new system of Canadian currency was adopted. The new Canadian pound was equivalent to four US dollars (92.88 grains of gold) or 16 shillings and 5.3 pence sterling. In 1849, the government of the Province of Canada enacts all legislative bills in both English and French.

1844 looked like a good year for a young man of 18 to join the workforce. The Chambly canal and a system of locks were built to improve the flow of goods between Montreal and New York. The last of the locks (#10) to be built was in St-Ours, which opened in 1849. Family lore has it that Paul worked as a barge-puller and lock-keeper. Wages for a lockkeeper in 1843 were two shillings and sixpence and they were on duty from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. during May to September. By 1852 the wage was up to three shillings a day.

In 1845, Paul was invited by his sister, Eleonore, to be the godfather to her son Antoine Mongeon. 30 years later, Antoine will assist with the settlement of Paul’s wife’s (Marie Mathieu) estate.

1847 brought more epidemics (influenza, typhus, cholera), due mostly to ongoing waves of immigration during the mid-century. In St-Jude, Marie’s maternal grandfather, Charles Allaire, died at 80 years old – of old age or could the epidemic have been a factor? It’s not clear of the impact, if any, epidemics had on the growing community of St-Ours, which by this time had grown to 3,000 and could boast of having six schools with about 700 students (boys and girls). In that year, the village of St-Ours also becomes a separate municipality from the parish. Later it establishes a fire brigade with the purchase of a pumper.

Sorel, too, was a growing concern. The new parish of Ste-Victoire was established in 1842. In 1843, a new Anglican Church was built to support the growing anglophone community – many of whom were descendants of United Empire Loyalist immigrants. A public market was built of brick construction that was 100 x 35 feet in dimension. Around 1845, John Molson & David Vaughan established shipyards in Sorel.

Paul’s older brother Pierre was also a military man, following in his father’s footsteps as a member of the local militia. In 1847, he was promoted to captain of the 1st battalion of Richelieu county. Looking back to 10 years earlier, what was his role during the rebellion?

In March 1850, Paul’s father Capitaine Joseph Comeau passed away. He was 73. His burial was witnessed by Eugene and Hipolyte Laviolet.

The following year, the first thorough Canadian census got underway and included Canada West, Canada East, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. It was not completed until 1853. Unfortunately, the records for St. Ours, William-Henry (Sorel) and Ste-Victoire are missing so we don’t know very much about Paul’s family at that time. We do know that Paul was getting ready to settle down.

In 1852 he signed a marriage contract with Marie Mathieu, daughter of Capitaine Joseph Mathieu and Françoise Allaire of Ste-Victoire, a neighbouring parish. Because Marie was a minor, her parents also signed the contract on her behalf. The signing of the contract was a large event, with many family and friends present. Paul promised to endow Marie with 300 livres (old currency). The contract also notes that Marie brings with her some land in St-Jude with a house, barn, stable and furnishings which were donated to Marie by her parents in 1850. Neither Paul nor Marie knew how to sign (they placed their marks) and among the witnesses who did sign were: his brother Pierre Comeau, Elmire Proulx, Louise Duhamel, Eduard de St-Felix, Cyprien Mathieu, Ethiene Mathieu and Antoine Mongeon.

On the 18th of January 1852, at the church in Ste-Victoire, Paul and Marie were married. On the parish register, Paul’s given occupation is farmer. Witnesses to their wedding included Joseph Gregoire, Laurent St-Martin, his brother Pierre and Marie’s father Joseph.

Barely a month after the wedding, Paul and Marie sell a plot of land in Ste-Victoire to her brother, Etienne. The land is described as part standing timber and part burned and without buildings. The sale price was 900 pounds (old currency) and was to be paid as follows: 300 pounds on November 1, 1852 and the balance on November 1, 1854, without interest if paid on time. It also appears that Marie’s land in St-Jude was mortgaged for 1,800 pounds as a surety. These transactions occurred at about the same time that the seigneurial system was officially abolished. It’s not clear if this change impacted Paul and Marie’s holdings.

The couple established themselves in the newly-constituted municipality of St-Jude where Paul and Marie’s first child died at birth in 1854. Their son Joseph was born in 1856 followed by Paul Stephane in 1858. While It’s not likely that Paul and Marie were early adopters of the latest in domestic technology, word of some of these innovations may have reached them: safety pins, the Singer sewing machine, pasteurization, the rotary washing machine, tin cans with key openers – just to name a few.

Sorel Gazette, July 1, 1867

On the national front, yet another change to the currency occurred with the introduction of the Canadian dollar and new decimal coins in 1858. The British gold sovereign continued to remain legal tender — right up until the 1990s.

The 1858 election was so fraught with irregularities that another set of complicated electoral reforms were enacted. An election in 1861 resulted in an even number of Liberal and Conservative seats taken in both East and West Canada. In Quebec, the conservative vote was dominated by the Bleu movement of French Canadian Tories. As a property owner and British subject, Paul was likely eligible to vote, but it’s not known if he did. Literacy was not an impediment as votes could be cast orally.

In 1861, we finally see Paul and his family recorded on a census. They are living in a single-storey wooden house in Ste-Victoire. Also in the household is another Marie Mathieu (aged 15) – a cousin or niece, perhaps? In July of that year, a daughter, Adelaide is born. In 1864, Paul’s brother Pierre is named a justice of the peace and another daughter, Marie Louise is born in St-Jude, but she dies soon after at two months old. Their last child, Pierre, was born in 1866 and baptised in St-Aimé.

In 1867, on July 1, the Dominion of Canada is formed, uniting the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The proclamation appears in the June edition of the Sorel Gazette. There is speculation about who will form the first government and fill the new ministerial positions in advance of elections to be held in August.

Next: Migrations

by Janet Comeau, May 2018