Friday, August 31, 2012

Julie Belair, my Mémère

My grandmother (Mémère) Julie Vanasse was born on August 31, 1896. Her birth wasn't registered (it wasn’t a requirement with the civil authorities at this time in the province of Quebec), but she was baptised the day she was born in the local parish church in Chapeau, Quebec. Chapeau, in Pontiac County, is a village on Allumette Island, located in the Ottawa (Outaouais) river across from Pembroke, Ontario.

Julie’s baptismal certificate records her name as “Julia”, but she was known by variations of that name throughout her life. For example, my Dad told me that he knew her as “Julie” and that his father Fred called her by that name. But, to her daughter Joan and some of her nieces, she was “Juliette”. I’m not certain for whom she was named, because her godmother was Amelia Catherine Tayière (the wife of her mother’s cousin Michael Vanasse), but Julie/Julia was a popular name in her family and she had a number of great-aunts, aunts and cousins by that name.

Julie was the fifth of nine children of Olivier Vanasse and Elisabeth Vanasse, who were first cousins that married in 1889. Julie had four brothers, George, William, Joseph and David, and four sisters, Mary, Cecilia (known as Celia), Corinne (known as Cora) and Agnes (known as Aggie). Julie’s childhood years are a bit of a mystery to me. I know only a handful of details like when she was born and baptised, when she appeared on federal census records, who her relatives were, and such. Her early life was essentially rural and agricultural. She was educated at the local elementary school and attended Mass at the Roman Catholic church of St-Alphonse.

When Julie was a young adult, she left home for the city of Ottawa, where she worked as a domestic in private homes. While here, she met Fred Belair, a young man originally from Gatineau County, Quebec. They married at St-Jean-Baptiste church in Ottawa in October 1926. Their first child (my father Maurice), was born the next summer. The family lived in various cities and villages in Quebec and Ontario, until they settled in Timmins, Ontario in the early 1950s.

Julie Belair, 1949

What do I remember about my grandmother? I remember her white hair, how soft-spoken she was, that she liked the colour purple or mauve (she once told me that those muted shades were best for her age), that she used to serve me prunes as a snack, and that she’d let me look at the trinkets and talcum powders she kept on her bedroom dresser. (I have a vague memory that one of those powders was Yardley English Lavender Perfumed Talc.) When she died in March 1967, I was given one of her wristwatches as a memento. I loved my Mémère Julie very much and still miss her today. 

Copyright © 2012, Yvonne Demoskoff

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