Thursday, September 20, 2012

In Memoriam: Eugène Desgroseilliers

Early Life

Eugène Desgroseilliers, my maternal grandfather, was born on 30 August 1900 in St-Charles, Ontario. He was his parents Albert and Clémentine (Léveillé) Desgroseilliers’ first child. Eugène, the eldest of 14 children, had ten brothers and three sisters. His youngest sibling, Joseph, was only two years old when Eugène married in 1925.

Eugène with his younger brother Arthur and sister Alma, about 1907.

Eugène grew up in St-Charles, which had been carved out of the forest wilderness south of Sudbury after the CPR railway opened up the region in the 1880s-1890s. Eugène’s father Albert supported his family as farmer; they lived for a while on lot 9, concession 2. When Eugène was about 17 years old, the family moved to Moonbeam in northeastern Ontario, where some of his relatives lived.

Marriage and Family

In Moonbeam, Eugène met and courted a young woman named Juliette Beauvais, whom he married in the local Roman Catholic church on 18 August 1925. The couple were a visual contrast: he was tall (6’7”), she was short (5’2”). Juliette was so petite at her marriage that Eugène could wrap his hands around her tiny waist.

Eugène and Juliette had nine children: a son Noël Xavier (born and died on Christmas Day 1926), followed by five daughters (Mariette, Madeleine, Simone, Marianne, and Jacqueline), then a son (Gaston), and then two more daughters (Normande and Jeanne d’arc). Sadly, Marianne died in 1938 when she was six years old following an appendicitis attack, while Gaston died in 1941 of his injuries after falling out of a moving car; he was only six years old. My mother and her sisters say that their father never really recovered from the loss of his son Gaston.

Eugène and Juliette on their wedding day with their parents, 1925.

When he married, Eugène was a farmer in Moonbeam, but after moving to Hearst in 1927, he became the town’s chief of police. (My Mom doesn’t know what qualifications her father had in order to do police work, but believes he was chosen for the job because of his imposing height.)

For the next few years, Eugène served as chief of police in Hearst, and then transferred to Rouyn and later Duparquet and Cadillac, all in northwestern Quebec. With regular employment during the Depression, Eugène provided well for his family, and was able to afford such luxuries as a piano and boarding (convent) school education for his elder daughters. He was known for his generous nature, giving food and money to the poor who came knocking at his door.

Eugène when chief of police, 1930s.

Difficult Years

About 1940, Eugène became ill with double pneumonia and lost his job as police chief. The family returned to live in Ontario, where Eugène worked for a short time in an explosives and munitions factory near Parry Sound. By 1942, the family settled in Blue Water, a village near Sarnia, Ontario. Eugène then worked sporadically as a carpenter, but the family was very poor and there was little money.

The family suffered another tragedy when Juliette was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1948. She died after a short illness that August. Eugène was left alone to raise his family. The youngest daughters continued with school, but the eldest ones had jobs or were married. (My mother regretted having to quit high school to find work soon after her mother died, because her father couldn’t afford the fees.)

Final Days

Eugène with his daughters (left to right) Jeanne d'arc, Jacqueline
and Madeleine, Blue Water, Ontario, 1959.

In the summer of 1960, Eugène told his daughter Jacqueline that he was ill. He did not know it at the time, but he had cancer. Eugène died on 20 September 1960, having just turned 60 years old. His funeral took place three days later at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Blue Water. 

My Memories

I don’t really remember my grandfather, even though I visited him on a couple of occasions when I was a toddler. I’m told that he would rock me on his knees and call me his “p’tite poule noire” (little black chicken) because of my dark brown hair and eyes.

Copyright © 2012, Yvonne Demoskoff.

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