Sunday, July 12, 2015

52 Ancestors 2015: #28 – From Rouyn, Quebec to Nobel, Ontario

I’m participating in “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: 2015 Edition” by Amy Johnson Crow of No Story Too Small.

For the 28th week of this challenge, I used the optional weekly theme (Road Trip) to describe the journey my mother and her family made when they moved from Quebec to Ontario when she was a young child. Mom doesn’t have any memories of this trip, but her sister Madeleine does. A few years ago, Aunt Madeleine wrote her recollections for me and I quote from them in this article.

In the spring of 1940, my Desgroseilliers grandparents, Eugène and Juliette, lived in Rouyn, a mining community in the boreal forest of northwestern Quebec. Eugène, who was 39 years old, was unemployed after working as a chief of police for a number of years.

Rouyn-Noranda in 1937
Rouyn-Noranda, 1937 (

Canadian Industries Ltd. (CIL) had recently opened a new plant on the site of a former WWI explosives factory in Nobel, a village located just north of Parry Sound, Ontario. Eugène decided to try his luck with CIL, which manufactured explosives and munitions. He was soon hired as a guard with the company. Before returning to Rouyn, Eugène bought some property outside of Parry Sound. With the help of friends, he built a two-story home for his family. His elder daughter Madeleine described it as a “shell of a house”.

After borrowing a car, Eugène returned home. His elder daughters had just finished school in June. Madeleine remembered how her father “loaded us all with only our personal belongings for the long drive back to Parry Sound”. Eugène, wife Juliette (39), and children Mariette (12½), Madeleine (11), Simone (9½), Jacqueline (6½), Gaston (5), Normande (3), and Jeanne d’arc (2) were “jammed in a car plus boxes”.

Map showing route from Rouyn-Noranda to Parry Sound
Route from Rouyn, Quebec to Nobel, Ontario 

The journey of about 426 kilometres (about 265 miles) took a few days. Madeleine recalls that the car had “a couple of flat tires on the [way]”. One of them happened “just on the outskirts of North Bay” in Ontario. She and her sister Mariette “walked to [the] nearest garage” to fetch an attendant to repair the tire. The family finally arrived at their new home late in the evening of “a real hot day in July”.

It must have been a great relief for my grandfather Eugène to find a job after being out of work. A regular paycheck was a blessing, but the change in environment was a culture shock. The family exchanged Rouyn, a largely Roman Catholic Francophone community, for Nobel, a mainly Protestant English-speaking village. My aunts and uncle had known only parochial schools, Juliette spoke no English, and she and Eugène were separated from family (they both had brothers who lived near them).

Nobel turned out to be an unhappy place of residence. Less than a year later, six year old Gaston died following a car accident after a day of fishing with his father.* I’ve always wondered if the tragic loss of his only surviving son had something to do with my grandfather moving away from Nobel and relocating his family to another town within a few weeks of Gaston’s death.

* I’ve written twice about Gaston on my blog: Wednesday’s Child: Gaston Desgroseilliers, A Brief Life and Mystery Monday: Gaston Desgroseilliers’ Cause of Death.

Copyright © 2015, Yvonne Demoskoff.

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