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

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Those Places Thursday: Notre-Dame de Lourdes Church

This image of Notre-Dame de Lourdes church in Timmins, Ontario appears on a postcard that was printed to celebrate the parish’s 50th anniversary in 1986. My aunt Joan sent me the postcard with other family memorabilia about 25 years ago.

I have fond memories of Notre-Dame de Lourdes. It’s where my family worshipped when I was a young girl, where family members were baptised, made their First Communion and Confirmation, and later, married.

Notre-Dame de Lourdes church was under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception, who appeared in miraculous visions to Sainte Bernadette Soubirous in 1858 in Lourdes, France. The priests assigned to our church belonged to the Ordre des Frères Mineurs Capucins. These Franciscan friars wore distinctive clothing: a full-length, hooded habit of heavy-weight plain, dark brown fabric, open-toed sandals (which the priests wore even in the midst of cold Timmins winters), a thick cord around their waist serving as a belt, and a long, wooden rosary draped round their waist.

Stained glass window over the main entrance.

Notre-Dame de Lourdes church and its buildings (the presbytère [church office and priest’s residence], windmill, and grotto) sat on a large piece of property at the corner of Commercial Avenue and Cameron Street. After the Diocese restructured its many churches (I’m not sure when, but certainly after 1986), Notre-Dame de Lourdes’ name was changed to Notre-Dame- de-la-Paix. 

Copyright © 2012, Yvonne Demoskoff

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Workday Wednesday: Maurice Belair, Welder

Maurice Belair (left), ca 1952
My Dad, Maurice Belair (on the left), is seen here as a young man of about 25 years old. He and his co-worker, whom I haven’t been able to identify, were photographed in about 1952 as they worked for Shaw Construction of Sarnia, Ontario. I don’t know where the picture was taken, but it was probably near Sarnia, because Dad had met and was going out with Mom by this time (and she lived in nearby Blue Water). 

It was only after Dad passed away in 1996 that I asked Mom if she could tell me what she knew about this picture. She told me that Dad hadn’t started out as a welder when they first met. He was unemployed at this time, but he knew he wanted to work for Shaw. It didn’t matter that there wasn’t anything for him there, he’d show up every day and sit by the shop door on the site, hoping to be hired. It seems that the boss got tired of seeing Dad hang around like that, and eventually found something for him to do. At first, he was just a labourer or a gopher and helped where needed. In the photo, Dad looks like he was the helper to the welder. In due time, it just sort of happened and Dad started to weld. 

A couple of years ago, I was looking at some of my Dad’s possessions that I had placed in storage. I came across one of his old wallets and found a batch of his welder ID cards. The earliest card was dated June 11, 1956. I also found some of his union due books, including one for 1965-1967. In it, I read that Dad was a journeyman pipefitter, that he was initiated in that trade in July 1952, that he was reinstated in August 1965, and that he belonged to Local 800 of Sudbury, Ontario. 

Maurice Belair Due Book 1965-1967 (inside cover)

I’m so glad Dad saved his ID cards and due books, because they are an important source of information about the years he spent working as a welder. For example, the cards and books tell me for which companies he worked, the type of welding he did, the specific welding processes at which he was proficient, and the dates he was qualified to work. In his early years, Dad worked as a welder where ever he could find work, in Ontario and in Quebec, and later, in Timmins, Ontario where he and Mom settled.

Dad last worked professionally as a welder in 1978. The following year, we moved to British Columbia and Dad joined his brother Ray to form a trucking company.

Copyright © 2012, Yvonne Demoskoff

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday: Ann Demoskoff

Ann Demoskoff (1926-1980)

My mother-in-law, Ann Demoskoff, was born at home on March 11, 1926 in Lily Vale District, Saskatchewan. She was the youngest child and only daughter of George W. Cazakoff and Polly J. Poznekoff, Doukhobor emigrants from Russia. Ann married William (Bill) Demoskoff at her parents' farm near Pelly, Saskatchewan on June 1, 1952. Ann died on July 27, 1980 in Grand Forks, British Columbia, where she and Bill moved to in the early 1970s. She is buried in the U.S.C.C. Doukhobor Cemetery in Grand Forks. 

Copyright © 2012, Yvonne Demoskoff.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Amanuensis Monday: Fred Belair's Postcard

An amanuensis is a person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

My paternal grandfather Fred Belair (1889-1991) was known as Pépère to his grandchildren. (Pépère is a French slang word for grand-père meaning “grandfather”.) Pépère loved to travel. It probably started when he went to the USA in 1912 in search of work. He travelled until he was in his early 90s.

Fred Belair Postcard to Belair Family (front view)

The postcard in undated, but I think it was written in the spring of 1975, because he asks about “the girl”. (I assume he means me and the time I went to Quebec City with the high school band.) On this occasion, Pépère has gone to visit his son (my Uncle Ray) and his family in British Columbia. The postcard, which interestingly is not postmarked, is addressed to my parents and my sister, brother and I (Mr + Mrs M Belair and famely [sic]). 

Well here i [sic] am
every thing is fine 
here Was in Vancuver [sic
yesterday how is Jackiy [sic]
next hope you are
better are the girl [sic]
back from quebec

Love to all
Hope B.C.
R R # 2
Fred Belair Postcard to Belair Family (back view)

Copyright © 2012, Yvonne Demoskoff.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sentimental Sunday: Juliette and her daughters

Juliette, Mariette and Jacqueline Desgroseilliers

Whenever I look at this photo of my grandmother Juliette with her daughters Mariette (left) and my mom Jacqueline (right), I have mixed emotions.

On one hand, I feel happy because all three are smiling and enjoying each other’s company.

But on the other hand, I feel sad, because this was probably one of the last pictures taken of my grandmother.

Juliette, husband Eugène and their six daughters (Mariette, Madeleine, Simone, Jacqueline, Normande and Jeanne d’arc) lived in Blue Water, a village next door to Sarnia, Ontario, where the photo was taken in 1945 or 1946.

Not long after this photo was taken, Juliette died of cancer in August 1948. She was only 47 years old.

Copyright © 2012, Yvonne Demoskoff.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun – Ancestor Name Roulette

Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings ( has a great assignment for tonight’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: “spin” a virtual roulette, choose an ancestor, and then describe him or her in three facts.

Here's how I did. 

1) I chose my great-grandfather Pierre Belair (1851-1941). I divided his birth year 1851 by 50, which resulted in 37.02, and rounded it down to 37.

2) Number 37 in my ancestral name list is Adélaïde Larose (1796-1881), my paternal great-great-great-grandmother. Here is some vital information about her:

Adélaïde Larose was born on 2 February 1796 in L’Assomption County, Lower Canada (now the province of Quebec), daughter of Jean-Baptiste Larose and Marie Louise Giroux. Adélaïde married Jean-Baptiste Meunier (1792-1858) on 12 October 1818 in Ste-Anne-des-Plaines in Terrebonne County, Lower Canada. Adélaïde died on 5 April 1881 in Terrebonne, Terrebonne County, Quebec.

3) Three facts about Adélaïde Larose:

a) Adélaïde was baptised on 2 February 1796, the same day she was born, in Repentigny, L’Assomption County, Quebec. Her parents, Jean-Baptiste Larose and Marie Louise Giroux, were residents of nearby Lachenaie.

b) Adélaïde and Jean-Baptiste had eleven children, born between 1820 and 1838, all baptised in Ste-Anne-des-Plaines. Only seven of their children (four sons and three daughters) survived childhood.

c) Adélaïde appeared on a census under her own name for the first time in 1851. She is enumerated as Adélaïde Larose, 57 years old, wife of Jean Baptiste Meunier. She, her husband and three children (Pierre, Zoé and Philomène) resided in the parish of Ste-Anne-des-Plaines. Her husband was a day labourer and their son Pierre was a farmer. 

Copyright © 2012, Yvonne Demoskoff

Friday, August 24, 2012

Surname Saturday: Janvry dit Belair

When I was a young girl, my Pépère Fred told me that our family name wasn’t just “Belair”; it was “Belair dit Janvry”. I didn’t understand what the ‘dit’ part meant, or why there was a ‘Janvry’. After I started doing genealogy, I learned that Janvry was our original family name and that Belair was a second last name that eventually took over Janvry.

But what about the dit portion of our name? Dit names were a common occurrence among the French soldiers who came to Canada in the 1600s and 1700s. One explanation for dit names is that a soldier received a nickname or a nom de guerre when he enlisted in the French army. François Janvry dit Belair (my first Belair ancestor in Canada) possibly acquired Belair as his soldier’s nickname or alias. (There is evidence to suggest that François’ family name was originally Dufay, not Janvry. More research, especially in primary records in France, is needed to confirm this possibility.) Nicknames added another dimension to a soldier’s identity, and were based on such criteria as his place of origin, his trade, his military past or occupation, a personal trait, or even derived from a plant or an animal. In François’ case, it's possible that his nickname referred to a personal trait (‘bel air’ can be translated as a fine or nice attitude or demeanour).

Over the centuries, Janvry was spelled in a variety of ways. For example, on François’ marriage contract in 1761, his patronym and nickname were ‘Janevri dit Belair’, while at his burial in 1817, it was simply ‘Janvry’. Other spelling variations include (in alphabetical order) Desanvry, Dejanvry, Geanvrier, Genvre, Gnvry, Janvri, Janvrie, Janvris, Janvrise, Janvry, Jeanvery, Jeanvril, and Jeanvris.

Belair, on the other hand, underwent fewer spelling variations; examples include Belaire, Bellaire and Bélair. Pépère Fred maintained that we spelled our name ‘Belair’, without an accent aigu on the ‘e’, but I don’t know if he meant just us (his family) or for all his Belair ancestors and relatives. (Other Belair families lived in Timmins when we were there, but they spelled their name ‘Bélair’. Apparently, they weren’t related to us.) During my research, I discovered additional Belair families with different origins than ours. They are the Coulon dit Bélair, Delpêche dit Bélair, and Plessis dit Bélair families.

As a family name, ‘Janvry dit Belair’ became ‘Belair dit Janvry’, then simply ‘Belair’. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that ‘Belair dit Janvry’ or ‘Janvry’ ceased to be regularly used by François’ descendants. ‘Janvry’ as a family name no longer exists; we are now all ‘Belair’.

Copyright © 2012, Yvonne Demoskoff

Funeral Card Friday: Albert Desgroseilliers

This funeral card is dedicated to the “douce mémoire” (dear memory) of Albert Desgroseilliers, my maternal great-grandfather. The card measures 10 cm long by 5.5 cm wide (approximately 4” x 2”). I don’t remember how I came to own it, but my mother had it for many years before she gave it to me.

I never met Albert, because he died a few months before I was born. He was a tall man, about 6’5” (his eldest son Eugène was even taller – 6’7”), and was a farmer most of his life. Albert was born in February 1879 in Embrun in Russell County, Ontario, and married Clémentine Léveillé in April 1899 in nearby Limoges. Soon after their wedding, they relocated north to St-Charles in Nipissing District, where their son Eugène was born in the summer of 1900.

When I first started researching my mother’s side of the family many years ago, I was told that Albert died in Sturgeon Falls, close to St-Charles, where he and Clémentine settled on a small property. Years later, when I found his burial record in the “Drouin Collection” at, I read that he died on December 16, 1957 and that his funeral took place three days later on December 19 in La Résurrection parish in Sturgeon Falls. I was told he died in Sturgeon Falls by my mother and her sister Madeleine, I knew he was buried in that town, and I was satisfied with this information. About three years ago, I ordered a certified copy of Albert’s “Statement of Death” (death registration) from the Office of the Registrar General in Ontario. Was I ever surprised and confused to read that my great-grandfather died not in Sturgeon Falls as I had always believed, but miles away in Ottawa General Hospital in our country’s capital city! (I knew I had the correct Albert Desgroseilliers, because all the other bits of info on the form matched what was verified about him, like his date and place of birth, the names of his parents, and the name of his wife.) I asked Mom if she could clear up this mystery, but she assured me that Sturgeon Falls was where her grandfather died. She suggested I call her elder sister, Madeleine, who would surely confirm that “fact”. So, I call my Aunt Madeleine, and she was just as sure as Mom was about where Albert died. She couldn’t explain why his death registration gave a different, and until now, unheard of place of death. At this point in time (2009), all of Albert’s 14 children were deceased, so I couldn’t ask any of them for their help. I looked at the document one more time hoping to see if I had missed important clues. I believe I found two. First, according to “Length Deceased Resided” were the death occurred, it says that Albert lived in Ottawa for “2 mois” (2 months), indicating that he was there since October. I wondered what would have brought him to Ottawa? I checked my files on his family, and saw that his younger brother Célestin had recently died on November 22 in Vanier. (Vanier used to be a municipality next door to Ottawa, but is now part of that city.) Second, the name of the informant was Laurent DesGroseilliers, Albert’s nephew, and Célestin’s son. It now seemed reasonable to think that Albert travelled from his home in Sturgeon Falls to visit his ailing brother in Vanier. While there, he became ill, was taken to the hospital where he subsequently died. (The death registration does not have a section for cause of death.)

Copyright © 2012, Yvonne Demoskoff

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