Friday, August 24, 2012

Médard Chouart, sieur des Groseilliers

When my son Nicholas was in Grade 11 in 2008, he did a family history report for his Social Studies class. His topic was his maternal ancestor, the great explorer and fur-trader, Médard Chouart, sieur des Groseilliers. I’ve adapted his two-page biography for my blog and have his permission to reprint his article.

My ancestor Médard Chouart, sieur des Groseilliers was born in France, in a village named Charly-sur-Marne, east of Paris. The village is very old, dating to at least 858 A.D., and possibly earlier to Roman times. Médard was baptised on July 31, 1618 in the parish church St-Martin, which dates back to the 13th century. Little is known about the Chouart family, but Médard’s parents were Médard Chouart and Marie Poirier. Despite his title “sieur des Groseilliers”, Médard was not a nobleman. It is possible that he chose this title through an inheritance from his mother who owned property (a farm) called Les Groseilliers. Groseilles is the French word for gooseberries.

Médard was very young when he left his home for Nouvelle-France. Tradition says that he arrived in 1641, but there isn’t any proof of the year of his arrival. He was certainly here by 1646 because he is mentioned in the Jesuit Relations of 1646: “Those who returned this year from the Hurons were […] desgrosillers […].” In 1645-1646 he worked for the Jesuit priests at their mission Ste-Marie in Huronia [near present-day Midland, Ontario] perhaps as a lay helper.

Médard married twice: first to a widow named Hélène Martin in 1647 [who died about 1651], and then to another widow Marguerite Hayet in 1653. He had two children by Hélène and four children by Marguerite. Médard and his first family lived in Québec, where his children were born. When he married his second wife, Marguerite, he went to live in Trois-Rivières because she lived there and owned land through a dowry.

Médard was an explorer and fur-trader or a coureur des bois. He was often (sometimes for years) away from home. For example, between 1654 and 1656 he explored the lands around the Great Lakes, and returned to the small colony with canoes filled with furs. His companion during these expeditions was Pierre-Esprit Radisson, the half-brother of his second wife. In 1660, the pair returned home with another fortune in furs, but because they didn’t have a trading licence, the colonial authorities arrested the men and confiscated their furs. Faced with frustrations and disappointments, the two men travelled to England to offer their fur-trading experiences to the English government. King Charles II’s cousin, Prince Rupert, and other London merchants, supported their plans, and organized a voyage to Hudson Bay. Médard and Pierre-Esprit wintered at the Bay, and traded for furs. It was this success that led to the founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1670. For the next five years, Médard set up company posts for the HBC. He was eventually persuaded to return to New France and by 1682, was working for the colony building French posts.

Médard’s place and date of death is unknown, but he died possibly between December 1695 and 1698. He lives on in history books today, and in geography. For example, there is a street named des Groseilliers in Montreal, there are communities named Chouart and Des Groseilliers in the province of Quebec, as well as lakes, rivers and islands named for him in that province. There is even a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker named Des Groseilliers. But most of all, he lives on in his descendants from his youngest child Marie-Antoinette. By her second husband, Jean-Baptiste Bouchard, she had six children and they used the surnames of Bouchard or Dorval or Desgroseilliers.

Copyright (c) 2012, Yvonne Demoskoff

1 comment:

  1. Hi Yvonne,
    It seems we share a common ancestor. I've been digging into my family's genealogy for years knowing I was related to Groseilliers. The closest I have gotten until now has been the bastardized form Grozelle. I would love to learn more about how your family traced it's routes back to him and even how we could be distantly related. Thank you for this enlightening article.

    ReplyDelete

Read This Before Leaving a Comment:

Please make sure your comments are on-topic and blog-focused.