Hilaire Béliveau: Urban Realities

First of a seven-part series describing the real and imagined life of Hilaire Béliveau of Montreal.

Norbert Hilaire Béliveau (Hilaire) was born on June 6, 1834 in St-Grégoire (Nicolet), Québec, to Charles Hilaire Béliveau and Eléonore Bernard. Hilaire was not their first child, but the first to survive infancy. In 1832 a sister, Marguerite Odile, died a scant three days after her birth. Hilaire’s godparents were his grandmother, Marguerite Bourq, and Antoine Desrosiers. At the time of Hilaire’s birth, his father was a farmer in St-Grégoire – a village that counted a sizable population of Acadian refugee descendants.

These Acadian refugees (most were from Beaubassin) found their way to the Bécancour region from about 1758. They founded the village of Ste-Marguerite, later known as St-Grégoire. Hilaire’s great-grandfather David Béliveau arrived after 1766 with his parents by way of exile in Boston – which makes Hilaire the third generation of his line to live in the area.

RURAL BEGINNINGS

In this rural setting, the Béliveau family grew and farmed land that was probably part of the Linctot seigneurie. In 1836 a brother, Joseph William, was born and two years later a sister, Anna. In January 1840, a baby brother arrives – Antoine Ephrain. He will live to be 81. Another brother, Narcisse Camille, arrives very quickly after Antoine in September 1840.

Hilaire’s grandfather, David Béliveau, died in St-Grégoire on October 20, 1842. He was 68 years old and lived and farmed his entire life in the Nicolet area. Another brother to Hilaire is born, Théodule, in December 1843. In October 1845, Joseph Uldéric joins the Béliveau family in St-Grégoire and is baptised the following day sous condition which means it was likely he was baptized by the midwife or other authorized person before the ceremony could be performed by a priest. This is sometimes the case if the newborn had a difficult birth or seems to be at risk of not surviving before a proper baptism can be done. He is followed by Louis Pierre who is born on September 1, 1847, then Jean Baptiste on September 29, 1850. Artemise is the youngest and was born around 1851.

FORMAL EDUCATION TAKES ROOT

Hilaire and Célina Cadotte (his future wife) are the first generation in their families to have been educated, both their parents were illiterate. It’s possible that Hilaire attended the Nicolet Seminary at some point (founded in 1803), a top-tier institution. That Hilaire received an education is in itself remarkable and seems to have bucked the prevailing view of farmers – especially in Nicolet – of paying taxes to fund public education.

La Guerre des Éteignoirs was a movement that took hold in 1836 to protest the closure of over 1600 schools in Lower Canada. From 1836 to 1841, organized schooling was practically nonexistent. The only schools to remain open were subsidized by Fabriques (parish building committees). The government wanted to restructure the public school network and fund it with taxes. As a result, many parents took their children out of school in protest and refused to pay the taxes or elect school boards.

In 1850 tensions rose when a new school tax law is imposed on taxpayers regardless of whether they have children attending school. Fanning the flames of discontent are politicians and leaders of the Éteignoirs who try to link the issue to the plight of Irish refugees escaping the famine. The tactic hits home in Nicolet where a large contingent of Irish refugees settled.

In 1851, as the embers and hostilities of the Éteignoirs movement die down, we find Hilaire and four of his brothers are attending school. They didn’t have far to go – their neighbour in St-Grégoire, Joseph Paré, had a schoolhouse on his property, so it’s likely that’s where they went. By 1857 a boys’ school and a girls’ school were established in St-Grégoire.

Returning to 1836, the Éteignoirs movement wasn’t the only cause of public discontent. The Patriote rebellion found supporters in the Nicolet area with assemblies and confrontations taking place between Patriote sympathizers and loyalists. Two local men were arrested in connection with the Patriote movement but were later released. To restore calm in the region, the government sent officials to Nicolet where they also took oaths of allegiance to the Queen from over 800 Nicolétaines.

Le Populaire 1838-02-14

Sources

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