Category Archives for Writing

Women Heroines during WWI

During World War I, 4,000 people, many of them women,  assembled eight million fuzes in a building locally known as “La Poudrière.” Given that the job required mounting a detonator cap over a gunpowder relay charge and attaching a safety pin (read more about WWI fuses here), the job was risky and monotonous at the same time.

Who were these people? How can we honour their work?

Recently, I was looking through the records of World War I soldiers and realized that their records may offer us ways to perhaps figure out who some of our homefront heroines are too.  I discovered several women who moved to Verdun within walking distance of the armament plant while their husbands or brothers served overseas.

When Ethel Henrietta Murray’s husband Patrick volunteered for the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force on Wednesday, April 12, 1916, the couple lived at 80 Anderson Street, in downtown Montreal.[1]

According to his military records, by the time he died on October 29, 1917, driving with the 4th Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery, her first name was Henrietta and she had moved to 1251 Wellington Street. Later, she lived at 956 Ethel Street.[2]

None of her addresses exist anymore, nor have I yet found any evidence explaining why she moved to Verdun. Based on her address and circumstances, however, I suspect that she—and three other women who lived nearby—worked at “la poudrière.”

La Poudrière is the local colloquial name for a building that currently houses 64 units for senior citizens. The Canadien Slavowic Association (l’Association canadienne slave de Montréal) operates the space.

I also haven’t yet looked into the records of the company to find out if there is a list of employees so that I can see if Ethel or Henrietta Murray appears on their rolls.

Other women I’d like to verify include Marjorie Victoria Stroude Luker, Ellen or Helen Elizabeth Winsper, and Mrs. John Sullivan. These three women also lived within walking distance of la poudrière between 1916 and 1919.

Military records include the addresses of these women because all of them received telegrams about loved ones being wounded or killed overseas.

Marjorie’s husband Arthur was wounded in Italy on August 20, 1917, and then died of the flu in Belgium on December 2018. Although the couple lived in Point St. Charles when he signed up, her benefits were sent to her at 714 Ethel Street by the time he died.[3]

Ellen or Helen Elizabeth Winsper, the wife of George Winsper who died on November 7, 1917, had moved from Rosemont to 196 St. Charles Street in Pointe St. Charles by the time he died.[4]

Two records mention the grief of Mrs. John Sullivan when Private William Wright, a steamfitter from Scotland, died in action at St. Julien on April 24, 1915. Neither have her first name. One document describes William, who was 21 when he died as the adopted child of Mr. and Mrs. John Sullivan. Another one, and the one I think is more correct, mentions that she is his sister. Her address at the beginning of the war was 9 Farm Street, Point St. Charles, the same as his when he enlisted. His medals were sent to her at 431A Wellington St., Point St. Charles.[5]

If these women worked together, as is possible, they too risked their lives.

Employees with the British Munition Supply Company–which was created by The British Government under the auspices of The Imperial Munitions Board–faced the possibility of accidental explosions. Britain paid $175,000 in 1916 to construct a building that could contain shockwaves. It also included a saw-tooth roof to prevent sunlight from entering.[6]

One description of their work comes from the biography of Sir Charles Gordon, who led the team that arranged for building construction.

The IMB had inherited from Sir Samuel Hughes’s Shell Committee orders for artillery shells worth more than $282 million, contracts with over 400 different factories, and supervision of the manufacture of tens of millions of shells and ancillary parts. Its most serious problem was acquiring time and graze, or percussion, fuses for the shells produced by its factories. There was no capacity to create and assemble these precision parts in Canada, and contracts with American companies had proved dismal failures. The problem was given to Gordon to solve. He recommended that fuse manufacturing be done in Canada. The IMB set up its own factory in Verdun (Montreal) to make the delicate time fuses. Skilled workmen and supervisors were quickly brought over from Britain to train Canadian workers. British Munitions Limited, the IMB’s first “national factory,” was open for business by the spring of 1916. The last order from Britain, for 3,000,000 fuses, came in 1917 and the last fuses were shipped in May 1918. British Munitions was then converted by the IMB into a shell-manufacturing facility.[7]

Another source I read said that Dominion Textile Company purchased the site for its textile operations when the war ended in 1919. Two decades later, Defence Industries Limited revived the site for a shell factory during World War II, between 1940 and 1945. David Fennario’s book “Motherhouse” offers a good look at the women’s lives during this second wartime era.

 

[1] Attestation Paper, Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #347740, Patrick Murray, a derivative copy of the original signed by Patrick.

[2] Address card, ibid.

[3] Attestation Paper and address card, Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #1054006, Arthur Luker.

[4] Attestation Paper and address card, Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #920146, George Winsper.

[5] Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #26024, William Wright.

[6] “Usine à munitions pour retraités slaves” by Raphaël Dallaire Ferland,  ttps://www.ledevoir.com/societe/354100/usine-a-munitions-pour-retraites-slaves, accessed September 22, 2018.

[7] Biography – GORDON, SIR CHARLES BLAIR – Volume XVI (1931-1940) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gordon_charles_blair_16F.html, accessed September 22, 2018.

 

Continue reading

Farm or Fight?

Canadians faced a unique dilemma during World War I: should citizens join the army or ramp up farm production to feed ourselves well while expanding food exports to Britain? The question preoccupied the entire country from 1914 until the war ended, but as a new city at the edge of farmland, Verdun took a leading role in determining a response.

I’ll be giving a presentation in the Verdun greenhouses on September 20 about the farm or fight dilemma by examining the experiences of the Glass, Hadley, Luker, Murray, Sullivan and Winsper families. I’ll argue that Verdun’s evolution from a young entity with few people to a booming metropolis that supplied the highest per capita enlistment of any city in the British Empire exemplifies the Canadian experience.

Participation costs $15 and includes some war-time recipes to sample and take home.

This is the first of four heritage food presentations under the auspices of Coopérative de solidarité Abondance Urbain Solidaire (CAUS) to take place at Grand Potager.

 

Farm or Fight

Thursday, September 20

7 to 8:30 p.m.

7000 Blvd. LaSalle, Verdun

Tickets: $15 ($13.50 for CAUS members)—pick them up at the Verdun Farmers’ Markets or pay online.

Continue reading

The Kings’ Daughters: They came to populate New France

As she boarded the great ship Phoénix de Flessingue in May 1663, she knew she would never return to her hometown of La Rochelle, France.

Did she worry about the ship sinking or being attacked on the six-week journey overseas? What kind of life did she imagine might be waiting for her in New France? How could she agree to marry a man, Maurice Rivet, sight unseen? Did she wonder what their life raising a family together might be like?

Whatever unanswered questions she may have had, my ancestor Catherine Barre chose to be a pawn in King Louis X1V’s scheme to populate New France. In exchange for her agreement to marry and raise a family, she received 10 pounds for her own use, 30 pounds for clothing and grooming paraphernalia and free passage overseas at a cost of 60 pounds.[1]

Today, we refer to these women as King’s Daughters.

I am among Catherine’s 12th generation descendants from my father’s side. Thinking about her courage and resiliency gives me strength, even as I notice myself sharing her impulsive faith-led need to act, sometimes with less information than is desirable. Despite that flaw, Catherine’s life seems to have worked out, with a few major hiccups.

The first hiccup was her husband.

Shortly after the Phoénix arrived in Quebec City on June 30, 1663, she married Rivet as planned. That decision saved her a bizarre-sounding 15th century version of speed-dating. Many Kings Daughters took a boat ride down the St. Lawrence, stopping from town to town to meet eligible bachelors.[2]

Something went horribly wrong with her marriage and the church annulled it on November 17, 1664[3].

She celebrated Christmas that year alone, but married Mathurin Chaille on January 11, 1665 and their first child, a son was born nine months later.

My direct relative was their fourth child, Jean Barre Chaille, who came along in 1674, when they had moved to Sillery, seemingly after being evicted from their farm on the seigneurie of Beauport.[4]

The couple had six children in total. One son died at 10 years old, but the rest married and had families of their own. Three of the families lived in Portneuf near their parents, but my ancestor Jean and his brother Henri moved to Montreal. I like to imagine Catherine and her husband Mathurin visiting them on occasion, but haven’t yet found evidence of that.

Both Catherine and her husband Mathurin died within a week of each other in the summer of 1707. She was 63 years old.

(Note: There were record-breaking heatwaves in England and France in July[5], when the couple died, so I wonder if something similar happened in Quebec. That’s a question to be confirmed in future.)

[1] Gousse, S., & Wien, T. (n.d.). Filles du Roi. Retrieved from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/filles-du-roi/ on July 18, 2018.

[2] Most French Canadians are descended from these 800 women | CBC Canada 2017. (2017, March 30). Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/2017/canadathestoryofus/most-french-canadians-are-descended-from-these-800-women-1.4029699 on July 18, 2018.

[3] Dee, E. (n.d.). The Families of Beauport – The Chailles. Retrieved from http://www.oocities.org/weallcamefromsomewhere/Beauport/chaille_family.html on July 18, 2018.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Maruske, James. A
Chronological
Listing
of
Early
 Weather
Events retrieved from https://wattsupwiththat.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/weather1.pdf, on 2018.

Continue reading

Who were Marie Sophie Henault-Canada’s parents?

Who were Marie Sophie Henault-Canada’s parents?

My struggle answering this question typifies the trouble I’ve had researching all of my First Nation ancestors. See my stories about St. Anne and Louis Riel .

It’s clear that my four-times great grandmother Marie Sophie (or Séraphie) Henault-Canada was born in the Red River Settlement on April 6, 1818, to parents Marie and Charles Henault-Canada. But who was her father and where did he come from? And who was her mother?

According to notes left to me by my grandmother, Sophie was born to Marie Gris, who was born in an unidentified location on October 30, 1802, and Charles Henault-Canada, who was born in 1793 in Berthier, Quebec. I haven’t been able to find records of his birth in Quebec, so I’m not sure whether that information is accurate.

In fact, it’s hard to confirm any of the information because the documents I’ve found so far seem to conflict and some information can’t be confirmed.

The 1870 Manitoba Census shows a Manitoba-based location in which Sophie was born that looks a bit like “territorial something,” that could refer to the Red River Settlement. In that document, Marie is listed as “Marie Henault” and she appears next to her husband, Charles Henault. Marie, Charles and Sophie are all described as French-speaking Catholic Métis.[1]

Marie and Charles both have 1810 listed as their birthdates in the 1870 Manitoba Census, a rather extraordinary coincidence I think.  Marie Hénault is listed in the 1870 Manitoba Census as 60 years old, however, so the birthdate for her might be correct. If it is, a different Marie may have been Sophie’s mother.

A Hudson Bay Company Census conducted the same year[2] doesn’t list a Marie Henault, but it does show Marie Gris living on a farm on lot 8 in Pointe-des-Chênes with her daughter, granddaughter and another woman and her child. A second house on the same lot is home to Sophie’s aunt Catherine and her husband Francois Ducharme.[3]

Her older daughter Sophie was married to Dominique Ducharme-Charron by then. The couple was living on lot 27 with four of their children Johnny 19, Roger 17, Joseph 13 and Marie, 12.[4]

The Hudson Bay Census also lists Sophie’s father, Charles Henault/ Heneault/ Haineault/ Henault dit Canada/ Enaud dit Canada/ Enaud/ Enault “Métis, born 1810; farmer in his life time” as dead, although the document doesn’t say when exactly he died. My grandmother doesn’t show a date for that either. Perhaps he died that very year, 1870?

The date 1810 next to Charles’ name might refer to the date he arrived in the Red River Settlement rather than his birthdate. He may have come from elsewhere to Manitoba to work for the North West Company Fort Gibraltar trading post, which was set up in 1809.  Or maybe it’s correct because my grandmother also shows his father, Pierre Énault-Canada as born in Berthier on August 9, 1730, which would be possible if his son were born in 1810. She shows his father as another Pierre Énault-Canada and his mother as Marguerite Piette-Tremp, whose parents and grandparents are all identified, though with no dates.

Hall’s appendix gives me access to two other potential ancestors beyond my grandmother’s notes. Her father was a Cree man named Thomas Gris and her mother was Marie Nepissing. Then again, if this Marie is not Sophie’s mother, they are not my ancestors.

Guess I have a bit of work to do.

 

[1] Canada, L. A. (2016, June 23). 1870 Census of Manitoba. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/1870/pdf/e010985547.pdf.

[2] Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, E.6/1-16. Land records of the Red River Settlement sent to the Governor and Committee, 1811–1871.

[3] The 1870 Manitoba Census identifies Catherine and Francois living in St. Anne as Métis, French-speaking and Catholic. It also shows Catherine’s father as Charles Henault, lines 126, 127, p231,5. The information was collected on October 27, 1870, and residence was established as of July 16, 1870.

[4]http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/1870/pdf/e010985551.pdf

 

Continue reading
1 2 3 39