Saturday, 28 January 2012


Cajetan Arsenault was born in Egmont Bay on August 7, 1845, and died there in June 1904.  He was of the sixth generation (Cajetan à Joseph à Joseph à Joseph à Claude à Pierre) of the Arsenault family to have lived on this side of the Atlantic.  Cajetan’s Joseph ancestors carried the ‘Magitte’ nickname, so he would have been known as ‘Cajetan à Jos Magitte’.  (In a future blog, I’ll write about the official of the ‘Musée Magitte’; an entertaining day for sure!)

The first Joseph inherited his nickname from his mother, Marguerite (Magitte) Richard.  This Joseph was born around 1741 in the first Malpèque, at Low Point, near what is now called Port Hill.  His father, Claude, died when Joseph was very young, and this may explain why Joseph was called after his mother, a widow, rather than his father.  His family escaped the 1758 Deportation and returned to Prince Edward Island around 1763.

In 1804, the second Joseph ‘Magitte’ married Bibianne Arsenault, daughter of Joseph (Jos League) Arsenault.  Jos League and Jos Magitte were among the founding families of Saint-Chrysostôme in 1812 and, in fact, in the early days, the village was known as ‘Le village des Jos’.  The second Jos Magitte was one of the first teachers in Egmont Bay; he died around 1835.

Cajetan’s father, the third Jos Magitte, was probably born at Rivière-Platte, near present-day Miscouche, and would have moved with his parents to Saint-Chrysostôme when he was very young.  He and his wife, Marie Gallant, raised nine children; Cajetan was the second youngest.

Cajetan married Véronique Arsenault, daughter of Fidèle and Agnès Arsenault of Bloomfield, in Egmont Bay church on November 13, 1865.  They had eighteen children, though only eleven reached adulthood.  Three of Cajetan and Véronique’s daughters became members of the Congégation de Notre-Dame in Montrèal: Cyrienne, Agnès and Julie-Anne.  One son, Arsène, died seeking his fortune in the Klondyke.

There is no known photo of Cajetan, although several exist of Véronique, including the one below which was hand-coloured from the original black-and-white.

There are also several photos in Mémé Aline’s collection, showing Cajetan and Véronique’s children and grandchildren, including the one below, taken in front of Augustin (Gus à Jos Hubert) Arsenault’s house in Urbainville in the summer of 1942.  Mémé Aline is second from the left; she would have been sixteen at the time.  Her parents, Denis (à Cajetan) and Mélanie, are in the back row near the right; Denis is the one with the moustache.  Notice the nuns; not much skin showing, not even their hands!

Father Albin (Albin à Aline à Denis à Cajetan) was given a copy of Cajetan Arsenault’s last will and testament.  It’s written in English by a notary, and is dated March 12, 1904.  Cajetan was buried on June 14 of that year, so he must have been aware of his approaching death.  You will note that a few words were spelled differently then than they are now: untill instead of until; maintainance instead of maintenance, equavalant instead of equivalent, etc.  Maybe the notary was just a bad speller!  But, the most interesting detail to me is the fact that Cajetan spelled his last name with two ‘e’s: Cajetan Arseneault.

In the name of God ÷ Amen
This twelfth day of March in the year of Our Lord One Thousand Nine Hundred and Four, I, Cagetang Arsenault of Higgins Road Lot and Township Number Fifteen in Prince County Prince Edward Island ÷ Farmer ÷ Being through the blessing of God in a sound state of mind and memory, but calling to mind the frail tenure of life, and, that it is appointed to all men to once die. Do make and order this my last will and testament ÷ That is to say ÷ principally and first of all, I recommend my Soul to God Who gave it to me and the disposal of my body I leave it entirely to the discretion of my friends.

With respect to my wordly estate I will, give, bequeath, and dispose, of it, in the manner, here following. First. I will, and bequeath, to my beloved - wife, Veronique Arsenault, and to my mother in law Agnes Arsenault, their reasonable maintainance during their natural lives, and a decent burial. I allso will the sum of Forty-four Dollars to be given to the Parish Priest of Egmont Bay, for the purpose and means here following. Twenty Dollars for high masses for the repose of my own Soul, Twenty Dollars for the repose of the Soul of my beloved wife, and Four Dollars for the Soul of my mother in law.

I will, unto my own daughters who are depending on me for a living, their reasonable maintainance untill they either get married or are otherwise able to substantially maintain themselves, and in the event of one or any of them getting married I wish to give to each one, getting married the following, one cow, one sheep, and one spinning wheel, or their equavalants.

Second. I will and bequeath, to my son John Babtiste all my real, and personal property - providing he pays my just and honest debts, if any and carries out all the terms of this my last will and testament.
Third. It is my desire that in the event of any or all of my remaining boys buying land property anywhere within the Dominion of Canada, to give to each one, a young horse two years old, or its equavalent, and if one or more buys land property near the old homestead my son John Babtiste shall give them as much help as he possibly can, in putting in crops, for the first two years.

Fourth. In regard to George LeBlanc (my adopted son) he shall be clothed, boarded, and schooled free untill the age of Eighteen, and in the event of him (LeBlanc) working, and helping, my son John B. after attaining the age of eighteen he shall be paid reasonable wages, or given help to acquire property for himself.

I hereby appoint Messrs. Hubert J Arsenault ÷ and Azade M. Arsenault, to be executors of my will and testament.

In witness, I have hereto set my hand, and Seal this Twelfth day of March A.D. 1904.

Signed, sealed, published
by said Cagetang Arsenault
as and for his last will and
testament in the presence of us
Theoplilus Arsenault
? F. H. Arsenault

Cajetan’s story doesn’t end with his will.  He left behind many descendants in Egmont Bay and elsewhere and, believe it or not, the house where he lived, probably built by his grandfather, Jos à Magitte, still stands.  An acquaintance of the family, Carter Jeffery, examined the house in the summer of 2009 when it was for sale, and wrote a blog about it last December:

It shows that the house was built in the 1830s and has some very unusual features, especially in the original subfloor.  The old part of the house is one of the oldest structures in the Évangéline Region.

And speaking of longevity, check out the bottom of Carter’s blog, where he includes a link to the story of Mary Josephine Ray.  She was born on May 17, 1895, and was the second oldest person in the world, 114 years and 294 days, at the time of her death.  Mary Josephine Ray was born in Bloomfield, Prince Edward Island, and was the daughter of Sabin Arsenault, Véronique’s brother.  How cool is that?

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Vital Cormier and Céline Bourque
In July 1998, while my son, Clément, attended a hockey camp in Memramcook, I decided to do a bit of exploring around Sackville.  I drove along the Memramcook Valley through Dorchester, then headed out to Middle Sackville hoping to find some vestige of my Cormier
ancestors.  My aunt Bernice (née Gaudet) Reid had told me that our Cormier ancestors hailed not from Sackville, but from Middle Sackville.

Not finding much there other than the small Catholic Church of the Holy Rosary, I drove back into Sackville and found a man in the Protestant cemetery who gave me directions to the place I was looking for, as well as the name of Charlie Cormier who had the map of the Catholic cemetery and who lived on Main Street, just down from the church.  He and his wife, Joyce, welcomed me into their home and showed me the map. 

As I drove up the steep incline leading to the summit of the small Catholic cemetery on
Ogden Mill Rd., my eyes zeroed in on the monument I knew instinctively was his.  It stood
at the highest point, just behind the statue of two white angels and the crucified Christ, and
read: 'Vital Cormier, died January 1, 1897, aged 53 years'.  My great-grandfather, buried
beside other Cormiers, and many Richards, Légères, Lirettes, Doirons and Gaudets.  It was a special feeling to find the final resting place of a person who contributed one-eighth of who I am.
As for Middle Sackville (turn right at the Tantramar High School if you're heading west on the Trans-Canada), it's a once-prosperous community that has lost its heart.  It's now no more than a place for Sackville to expand; a mixture of farms, once stately homes, and abandoned commercial buildings.  The church Vital Cormier helped build was 'decommissioned' later that summer when it held its last mass.  Elva and I, and my cousin Joyce Gaudet, were in attendance.

There are Cormiers in and around Sackville but, like Charlie and his wife, they seem to have little interest in the French language.  It's not hard to understand why.  Sackville is, after all, a Loyalist bastion.  According to the tourist literature, the first United Baptist Church in Canada was established in Middle Sackville in 1763, and the first Methodist Church in nearby Point de Bute.  The Catholics, including Vital Cormier and Céline Bourque, came to Middle Sackville to work in Abner Smith's shoe and moccasin factory and in the Morice Brothers sawmill.  I suppose a steady wage was more attractive than living in crowded little Acadian villages, with too many people and not enough land.

So, I decided to find out what I could about Vital and Céline.

First, the connection to my family.  I am Jean-Paul à Yvonne à Mannie à Vital à Dominique à François à Amand à Pierre à Pierre (dit Palette) à Thomas à Robert Cormier.  Robert, the first Cormier to arrive in Nouvelle France, was born in France around 1610.  So, I'm a member of the 11th generation of the Cormier family in what is now Canada; my grandchildren are the 13th generation.

Vital was born in Memramcook around March 1843.  He married Céline Bourque on November 20, 1866.  Vital arrived in Sackville in 1864, looking for work.  He settled in Middle Sackville and was employed as a foreman in Abner Smith's factory until his death in 1897.

Vital and Céline had 13 children, all but one of whom lived to adulthood.  Their fifth child, Margaret-Gertrude, known as Gertie, married Joseph-Félix Arsenault, son of Senator Joseph-Octave Arsenault.  'Jos Félix', as he was known, built the store that would later become Arsenaut & Gaudet, Ltd. in Wellington.  Gertie's younger sister, Mannie-Céleste, followed her to Wellington, and she married my maternal grandfather, Emmanuel Gaudet, in 1903.  Mannie worked as a milliner in the store.

Below is a photo of the family in front of their house around 1885.  The house was still standing in 1998, although it was wrapped in vinyl siding and had lost much of its character when I last saw it.

One day, Elva and I were in Moncton (in the days before Costco).  I promised to spend half a day at the Champlain Mall if she would volunteer half a day with me at the Centre d'études acadiennes, Université de Moncton.  I set her up in front of the microfilm reader and asked her to look through old editions of Le Moniteur Acadien.  To my amazement, she quickly came across this article about Vital, and the Acadian community of Middle Sackville, dated March 1, 1887.  The translated version appears below.

While I don't have a good photo of Vital, this article provides a good outline of the man's character and speaks to his high standing in the community.  Since it was told to the journalist by an anonymous individual, I'll call it 'The Legend of Vital Cormier'.  It indicates that, even in those early days of the Renaissance acadienne, our ancestors paid the price to move up in society.

“The French Population of Sackville
How the Acadians Were Treated 25 Years Ago - Present Situation

"Today, Sackville is a large centre with a population that is mostly English and Protestant, with the exception of 40 families that are Acadian and Catholic.  During the past hundred years, the English of Sackville refused to accept a single Frenchman in their midst.  To prove this contention, we will report the following account which comes from a respected citizen of Sackville who is prepared to come forward, should anyone dare to contradict our story.

In June, 1864, Mr. Vital Cormier, today the foreman of Abner Smith's shoe factory, came to Sackville to look for work.  He was a young man of good character, peaceable, robust, fearless and determined.  He met Mr. Fred T. Bourque, a native of Cap-Pelé, and the only Acadian then residing in Tintamarre.  Bourque advised him to take care of himself and, especially, to avoid being out after dark lest he be attacked by the English who were in the habit of beating and chasing away any Frenchman who came to work in Sackville.  

Mr. Cormier seemed little concerned over the trouble he might face from the English settlers and happened to be out one evening with his Acadian companion.  Upon arriving at a crossroads, he was accosted by a half-dozen Englishmen.  When he asked what they wanted, they answered that they wanted to fight.  In an instant, Mr. Cormier took off his coat and said to his assailants: "I'm a French-Acadian and I've come here to earn a living.  I'm not a fighter but, if attacked, I'll stand and defend myself.  You are six against me, so I can't take you all at once.  But, I'll take you on one at a time and, if you doubt my words, then try me."

And so, one of them came forward to strike the young man, but he was struck such a violent blow to the face that he lost his balance and fell to the ground.  Two others suffered the same fate, and the fight was over.  Rising from his pitiful position, the first assailant moved toward Mr. Cormier and extended his hand, saying: "You are a brave and courageous young man; henceforth, we will let you go in peace.  We didn't wish to do you any harm, just to scare you, as we are wont to do to any Frenchman who comes to live among us.  You did not flee like the rest of your compatriots who came here before you.  In future, we shall consider you one of our own and, should someone else molest you, you may count on us for protection."

Thanking him for this expression of friendship, Mr. Cormier added: "You assaulted me tonight like a gang of pirates and, thanks to my courage and my strength, I was able to defend myself, even without the benefit of firearms for protection.  But, be warned that tomorrow, I'll buy myself a revolver and I swear that I'll splatter the brains of the first Englishman who dares to insult or attack me or any other Acadian who choses to come and work here.  Tell this to your fellow citizens and be assured that I'm not bluffing."  These words were said with such resolve and authority that one would have to have been most incredulous to have missed their meaning.

Almost 23 years have passed, but much has changed in Sackville since this incident took place.  Mr. Cormier still resides there and holds a lucrative and honorable position as foreman of Mr. Smith's shoe factory, a position he has occupied for almost 20 years.  He was never again insulted by any Englishman.  He is esteemed and respected by all Sackville residents, regardless of their nationality or religious belief.  He was never ashamed to call himself French-Acadian and Catholic and to speak his mother tongue, and all admire his strength of character.  We cite him as a model to those of our compatriots who live in other English centres.

Soon, other Acadian families came to settle in Sackville and, although their arrival was regarded initially with a certain disdain, no harm came to them.

This small group of Acadians, living in the midst of a population of English Protestants, was for several years obliged to travel to Amherst or Memramcook to attend mass and to fulfill their pascal duties.  However, 17 years ago, mass was celebrated for the first time in Sackville since the fall of 1755. This mass was said in the house of Mr. Joseph Landry, who lives today in Moncton.  After Mr. Landry left Sackville, mass was celebrated in the home of Mr. Vital Cormier for 12 years.  Owing to the growth of the Acadian population, it became necessary to rent the Middle Sackville Town Hall, where mass was celebrated until 1885.

The Catholic population of Tintamarre, supported by their revered pastor Rev. Father Roy, resolved to build a church of their own.  They brought the project to the attention of area Protestant leaders, one of whom donated the land for the sacred edifice.  Messrs. Josiah Wood and Abner Smith gave generously in support of the building of the church and, together with many other English residents of Sackville, they deserve the gratitude of the Acadians of Tintamarre.

Construction of the church began in April, 1885 and Mr. Jean B. Gaudet of Memramcook was given the contract for the building's exterior, the dimensions of which are 50 x 28 feet with an 18-foot ceiling.  The interior work was done by Mr. Sylvain Gaudet and the painting by another Acadian from Memramcook, Mr. Philippe Boudreau.  The total cost was $2000 and, today, this church owes not a single penny.  Only the pews remain to be installed, and this will take place next April.  It speaks well of a small population of 40 families, all Acadian save four, and all laborers, to have constructed such a beautiful temple in such a short time and free of debt.  Many old and established parishes cannot say as much.

The first mass celebrated in the Sackville church was said by Rev. Father Manning on October 14, 1885.  It was a day of celebration in Tintamarre."

After her husband's untimely death, Céline remained in Middle Sackville for a few years.  She would have had seven children to support, on the very limited income of a widowed seamstress.  I'm not sure when she moved to Massachussetts, but she probably settled near two of her older daughters, Jean and Alice.  According to the 1920 census, she was living in Lynn, MA, with three of her children, Élizabeth, Lucie, and Muzley, and her niece, Marie Gaudet.  As can be seen by this photo, she's a handsome woman.  Some day, I'd like to travel to Lynn and see if I can locate any trace of this lost branch of my family tree.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

I've decided, as my 2012 New Year's resolution, to join the blogging universe. 

Over the years, I've kept a diary chronicling day-to-day events in my family and my community, and I've written about my childhood years in Wellington.  I've collected many photos of my own family and my wife, Elva's, and I've researched and compiled the genealogies of my eight ancestral families.  I've done the same for Elva's.  Some of this material has been published in the form of articles in The Island Magazine and La Petite Souvenance.

My primary audience, I expect, will be members of my family, my close friends, and the few others who may share my eclectic interests.  Most of my entries will be in English, with the occasional one in French.

Elva has been going through her parent's things; her mother passed away last October and her father in August 2009.  She's come across some very interesting stories, some of them quite funny, and I've scanned many of the photos in her family collection: grandparents, great-grandparents and even one great-great-grandfather.  I will use these to create the first few entries, and just see how it goes.

Here's one about Elva's great-grandfather, Joseph-Élisé (Jos à Antoine) Arsenault.  Jos Antoine was born in Saint-Chrysostôme on March 18, 1871.  On November 22, 1892, he married Hélène Bernard, daughter of Éloi and Hélène Gallant of Baie-Egmont.  They had 14 children, all but one of whom survived to adulthood.  Their eldest, Joseph (José à Jos Antoine) was Elva's paternal grandfather.  Here is a picture of Jos Antoine and Hélène.

We found this cute little poem about Jos Antoine, published in La Voix Acadienne a few years ago.  It was composed by Léonce Gallant.

La Logique de Joe Antoine

Joe Antoine de St-Chrysostôme
N'a pas d'B.A. ni de diplôme
Mais quand il parle y'a pas de doute
Ça du bon sens, tout le monde écoute
Il a montré sa bonne logique
Quand il voulait un casque à pic
On lui demande quelle pointure il veut
Il dit "Peut-être vingt ou vingt-deux"
Mais on lui dit d'un ton moqueur
"Un chapeau n'a pas cette grandeur
Un six sans doute serait trop petit
Peut-être un sept ou sept et demi?"
Mais Joe explique qu'il ne sait pas
Comment on trouve un nombre comme ça
"Mon collet de chemise est seize et demi
Et j'ai le cou beaucoup plus petit
Que ma grosse tête si vénérable
Dinc vingt-deux semble plus raisonnable
La femme de Denis Cajotant
Est une grosse femme mais cependant
Elle dit qu'elle se trouve à son aise
Dans une robe qui est de pointure seize
Et moi je suis mince comme un pique
Puis mon habit mesure trente-huit
Prends ton ruban, mesures ma tête
Et tu verras j'suis pas si bête
J'ai une caboche de vingt-deux pouces
Et je m'EN SERRE par petites escousses"

It's interesting that, in the poem, Jos Antoine uses a woman's dress size (sixteen) to make his point regarding the hat size he thinks he needs.  "La femme de Denis Cajotant" happens to be Mémé Aline's mother, Mélanie; Elva's maternal grandmother.  As you can see by this "poème moqueur", the Acadian sense of humour has its charm, even if it's not always politically correct!