Homestead Dreams: The Migration of a French Canadian Family, 1906-1948
Anne Doré, MA
Scholarly study of the family is severely restrained by the narrow and illusory pursuit of the traditional or average family of a particular era or locale.[i] However, insight and understanding are enhanced by examining the exceptions and variations that contribute to making each family as unique as the individuals within it. This is not to say that social, economic, and political forces do not frequently have similar effects on families sharing a specific time and place in history. They do. But families, like individuals, make choices that often result in divergence from other families faced with similar circumstances and options. As a consequence, the family can be seen as an active participant in the making of history.[ii] Such is the role of the French-Canadian family of Louis Doré and Philomene Doré, nee Goupil, whose cross-Canada migration spanned the first half of the twentieth century.
This paper will look at the three stages of the migration of the Doré family from 1906 to 1948. It will highlight the eldest son, Willie, who was five years old and the second oldest of four children when the family decided to leave Quebec in 1906.[iii] The paper will identify some common threads the Dorés shared with other French-Canadian families who left Québec between 1890 and 1910. Conversely, it will reveal major differences in the Doré migration that are as much family driven as politically or economically based. In addition, the time spent at each of the three destinations will be shown to have enriched family and individual identity. This enrichment enhanced Willie’s ability to make positive contributions to both his family and the broader community. Furthermore, the paper will demonstrate that in spite of the family’s departure from Québec, “the three key institutions that had gone into the making of French Canada: religion, language, and the family,” as identified by Susan Mann Trofimenkoff,[iv] persisted in shaping and maintaining both family and individual identity. This paper will show how migration-related decisions made by the family enabled the endurance of that French-Canadian identity. All will be discussed within the framework of current historical scholarship and in relation to primary historical sources and genealogies.
Louis Doré and Philomene Goupil were born in the parish of St. Basile in the county of Portneuf, Québec, he in 1874 and she in 1877.[v] They grew up, married and started their family in St. Basile. Their daughter Cecile Herkel explains how they met, “It was at a maple cabin in the spring. There was a custom to have a taffy party[vi] after all the syrup was collected from the trees. The romance started and they got married that summer,”[vii] on June 12, 1899. They lived on the farm where Louis worked as a farm labourer. Over the next six years, Philomene gave birth to four children and the young family decided to leave Québec. This decision was prompted by the desire to raise their children on a farm of their own.
French professor and historian David M. Hayne tells us that as early as the middle of the nineteenth century, French-Canadian nationalists saw emigration from Québec as “an unpatriotic and disloyal act.”[viii] Hayne’s article reveals a widespread expression of nationalist sentiment in Quebec literature. Novels such as the widely read Jean Rivard by novelist and poet Antoine Gérin-Lajoie warn of the risks and perils of emigration.[ix] Popular poets such as Octave Crémazie,[x] Benjamin Sulte,[xi] and Gerin-Lajoie[xii]express the emotional distress of living outside Québec. The third and fourth verses of “Un Canadian errant,” or “A Canadien Wanderer” by Gerin-Lajoie offers a potent example:
My country should you see,
Unhappy is its lot,
Go tell my friends, from me,
That I forget them not.
O days once full of joy,
Gone are you forever…
My country too, alas!
I will see you never. [xiii]
Not unlike the literati, the Québec government and the Roman Catholic Church also directed their efforts at bolstering French-Canadian population and culture.
According to Bruno Ramirez, government policies in the second half of the nineteenth century encouraged the repatriation of Québec emigrants through offers of financial assistance and the colonization of undeveloped regions of the province.[xiv] Designed to expand the amount of arable land in Québec and to increase the population, colonization also targeted French-Canadians contemplating leaving the province to seek their fortunes elsewhere. The church, whose membership and sphere of influence was threatened by emigration, took an active role in promoting repatriation and colonization. Ramirez tells us the clergy not only preached about the virtues of agrarian life but also attempted “to make colonization a moral obligation for landless French-Canadian Catholics.”[xv]Some clerics such as Curé Labelle took an active role in organizing and promoting specific colonization movements.[xvi]Furthermore, Hayne reveals that Father Edouard Hamon and Abbé Jean-Baptiste Proulx each wrote a play extolling colonization over emigration.[xvii] However, despite the efforts of clerics and government officials, colonization proved too great a challenge for many of the Québec families who attempted it and of insufficient appeal to the rest.[xviii]
For a young family like the Dorés, colonization would have been a risky choice. Louis would have had no assistance with clearing the land and Philomene would have been fully occupied with the young children and future pregnancies. Isolation in northern Québec, the harsh climate, and the lack of supplementary work to sustain families until their farms became productive were major drawbacks emphasized by Ramirez.[xix] Despite the disapproval of the church, the Dorés, like many other French-Canadian families, cast their gaze beyond Québec and it settled on the United States.
The number of French-Canadian emigrants to the United States during the nineteenth century numbered well over 500,000.[xx] In 1906, the Doré family became part of those statistics. However, that is where the experience of the Dorés and that of the majority of Québec emigrants diverges. Because historian Robert F. Harney points out that “Seventy-two per cent of the French-Canadians in the United States in 1912 lived in New England,”[xxi] it is immediately apparent that the Doré family rejected the trend by joining the twenty eight per cent who moved elsewhere.
In Québec, Louis had been what Ramirez refers to as a journalier or a farm labourer.[xxii] For many men who could not afford a farm of their own, this lifelong occupation trapped their families at a subsistence level and often limited their children’s prospects to the same. Ramirez observes that, “for many of them, breaking the cycle that could only trap them into marginality and destitution meant leaving their parishes to try their chances elsewhere.”[xxiii] In some instances, a farm owner might sell a small house and a few acres, payable over a long period of time, to a journalier for his own personal use.[xxiv] This would allow the journalier’s family to produce much of their own food and perhaps sell some of the surplus. In Louis’ case, that opportunity did not occur.
According to Herkel, the couple owned no land of their own in Québec.[xxv] However, they nearly acquired the means to change that when Louis’ brother Honoré struck it rich in the Klondike Gold Rush. Honoré set aside one thousand dollars for Louis to put toward a farm. When other relatives spent that money, Philomene was furious. “She wanted nothing to do with the Doré gang after that,” recalls Herkel. “She convinced Dad to move away from Québec. Somewhere they heard you could get a farm cheap in North Dakota so that’s where they went.”[xxvi] Further, Herkel claims they settled in one of the many North Dakota counties where French-Canadians immigrants had formed communities. She recalls a town called Howlsboro, but believes it was destroyed by fire and never rebuilt.[xxvii]
Thus it is apparent at the outset of the Doré migration that ambition and concern for the nuclear family was of greater importance than ties to the extended family or to the province of Québec. Moreover, by rejecting colonization, they put family loyalty ahead of obedience to the church. While both cultural and economic concerns contributed to the decision, financial gain was not necessarily a primary goal. If it had been, the Dorés might have gone to New England to work in the clothing industry where one of the main appeals was “the immediacy of the rewards one obtained for one’s labour,”[xxviii] The Dorés decision to avoid industrialized New England suggests that they did not see that experience as compatible with their dream of the family farm. Ramirez claims that prior to the American Civil War, some French Canadians went to New England to farm[xxix] but after the war, he refers only to “industry-bound emigration From Quebec.”[xxx] Whatever details Louis and Philomene had learned about North Dakota had turned them away from New England and toward the west.
During the nine years they spent in North Dakota, the family lived among other French-Canadian immigrants. Moreover, they managed to maintain their language and ties to the church. Louis worked in lumber mills and Philomene remained at home with the children. While Louis managed to support his growing family, he did not acquire a homestead in the United States.[xxxi] Because there are few surviving records or memories of the Doré’s time in North Dakota, the historical factors surrounding the American west may help to explain why they were not able to homestead there.
The American Homestead Act of 1862 provided 160 acres for a ten-dollar fee. According to historian Ray Allen Billington, this was unattainable for many because there was no assistance available for transportation to the frontier or for farming equipment.[xxxii] He also contends that speculators had picked up the best land before the Homestead Act was passed and those pioneers who did make it out to the plains found “only sordid speculation at the end of their rainbows.”[xxxiii] Furthermore, the American west had been populated and developed earlier than the Canadian west. Historian D. J. Hall states that at the turn of the century, “Good cheap land was difficult to find in the American west, and the attention now turned to the Canadian prairies.[xxxiv] The more advanced development of the American west could explain why Louis was able to find enough work to sustain his family in North Dakota even though a scarcity of good land or financial resources may have prevented the realization of the family farm in that region.
It is known that five more children were born to Philomene and Louis in North Dakota and that the four oldest children attended school for various lengths of time.[xxxv] Willie received “a grade three education” and because this took place in American schools, “He learned to speak English with very little French accent.”[xxxvi] Herkel recalls that Willie also got experience in the lumber mill with his father in North Dakota.[xxxvii] Perhaps the family used their time in North Dakota to save for a farm and to develop backup skills, in millwork and other areas, that could be of use to them when a homesteading opportunity came their way. The fact that the oldest children went to school at least part of the time probably indicates that family finances were not severely strained.
Finally, around 1915, hope for a family farm was renewed when the Dorés “somehow heard about the Saskatchewan Government selling homesteads for $10.00 and they would move the families free of charge, on the train and with all their belongings.”[xxxviii]The third phase of the national policy, the settlement of the west through immigration, was well under way.[xxxix] The Dorés joined the movement not as foreign immigrants new to Canada, but as returning Canadians, making them exceptions in a massive trend.[xl] There are no indications that the return to Canada had anything to do with loyalty or patriotism. Nor was it strictly related to the need to make a living; the Dorés had been achieving that in North Dakota. Rather, it was the dream of the family farm that brought them back to Canada and this time they achieved it.[xli]
As historian Lewis H. Thomas explains, the Federal Land Act of 1872 did indeed contained a “homestead” provision for 160 acres for a registration fee of ten dollars. In exchange, homesteaders were expected to reside on the land for six months of each of the first three years in order to receive title to the land. They were also expected to cultivate a minimal area each year and construct a habitable house.[xlii] Apparently these requirements were agreeable to the Dorés, because in 1915, with nine children in tow, Louis and Philomene made their way by train to Debden, Saskatchewan, northwest of Prince Albert to claim the land that would be their home for more than thirty years.[xliii]
It was neither an accident nor coincidence that brought the Dorés to an area of Saskatchewan that already had a significant French Canadian population. Herkel explains,
Dad knew Johnny Frenette was near Debden. His wife Virginie had relations married to the Dorés in Québec. Our mom could read and write French so maybe she kept in touch from North Dakota. I don’t know. But I do know they chose Debden because that was people [sic] they knew.[xliv]
Whether it was through a conscious strategy or a subconscious gravitation to the familiar, the Dorés appear to have sought out the kind of community that would support the lifestyle and values they had known in Québec. In effect, each family like the Dorés brought a bit of Québec to the prairies with them. The French-Canadian enclaves they formed were based on the strong institution of the family and reinforced by the French language and the Catholic Church, the other two important strands in the fiber of French-Canadian life.[xlv]
Coincidentally, the Roman Catholic Church played a role in urging the settlement of French-Canadians in the Canadian prairies. When colonization failed to stop the emigration of Québecers to the United Sates,[xlvi] alternatives had to be considered. Lalonde explains:
Quebec’s own interests dictated that its surplus population remain in Canada instead of venturing south of the forty-ninth parallel. A strong contingent of French Canadians on the prairies could elect federal representatives who would endorse the efforts of Quebec’s politicians to protect the interests of la race. Furthermore, the presence of numerous French Canadians across the prairies would ensure that the west would always remain Canadian culturally and politically.[xlvii]
One of the main tools established and employed by the clergy was the newspaper Le Patriote which praised the Canadian prairies and criticized industrialized New England as destinations for those French-Canadians who were determined to migrate.[xlviii]Moreover, the clergy were instrumental in directing migrants to French-Canadian prairie communities where families would be able to maintain their language and religious ties to the church.[xlix] Perhaps it was through this newspaper, which was widely distributed in Québec and among Québec emigrants in the United States, that both the Dorés and the Frenettes before them learned of the opportunities in Saskatchewan. When asked about the possibility of the Dorés reading Le Patriote, Herkel replied,
Dad couldn’t read but if he brought a newspaper home, Mother could have read it. Dad was a talker. He always told stories with the men and I know they shared all the news from Québec and Saskatchewan. Or any place they knew people. Willie learned to be the same way, so he could have heard or read something, too. [l]
At fourteen years of age, Willie was a great help to the family not only during the move to Saskatchewan, but with all the planning and labour that went into establishing the homestead. “Willie was the big brother and Dad’s helper. They worked together clearing the land, farming it, building the house. Willie was the family mechanic, too. He loved cars and tractors.”[li]
Not unlike the French-Canadian families in industrial New England, homesteaders also required their older children to supplement family income. Fortunately for the Dorés, by the time they claimed their homestead they had several teenaged children who not only helped on the farm, but also worked outside the farm whenever they could. Paid work sometimes took them away for weeks or months at a time. “Willie and Alphonse got jobs in a lumber mill in Big River. They got room and board with so much a week, which they sent home to feed the family.”[lii] Historian Joe Cherwinski verifies the availability of winter logging jobs in the vicinity of Prince Albert. During 1908, over 3000 men were employed in lumber camps producing over 75,000,000 board feet.[liii]
Willie and Alphonse learned the practical skills of dog sledding, ice fishing, and trapping during winter months spent in northern Saskatchewan. The money from these seasonal outings was an important part of the family income.[liv] The hunting and fishing trips gave Willie opportunities to form friendships among Anglophones and Aboriginal peoples. One famous individual Willie often crossed paths with in the bush was Grey Owl or Archie Belaney, as he was later known.[lv] Cam Doré recalls family trips back to Saskatchewan in his childhood when he and his father, Willie, went fishing on a Blackfoot reserve.
I remember being a little scared the first time we were approached by a group of Native men. They were in a buckboard wagon and they silently stared at us as they approached. I couldn’t help feeling they weren’t too thrilled about finding us fishing in their river. But as soon as they recognized my Dad, it was okay. They seemed really happy to see him.[lvi]
Each of the Dorés contributed to the family income. Mary, the oldest child, worked for a doctor in Big River. The younger girls picked and sold a variety of berries and helped their mother sell extra produce, butter, and eggs. With the help of his sons, Louis sold picket fence posts and firewood. He also took the boys fishing and into Big River to sell the extra catch. Jutras tells of the hardship and isolation faced by many prairie women whose husbands went off to work in lumber camps for the entire winter.[lvii] According to Herkel, Philomene did not have to deal with isolation of that magnitude. “Dad sometimes went off for a few days of fishing or hunting but that was all. It was for the older boys to go off and work all winter.”[lviii]
Philomene served as a midwife for the surrounding community.[lix] Historian Sara Brooks Sundberg notes that it was common for women in isolated areas to act as midwives for each other, even if they had little experience at it. Essentially, “women performed whatever work was needed.”[lx] In Philomene’s case, however, her experience seems to have been extensive. Herkel remarks, “It would be interesting to know how many little Orieuz, Dejardins, Gagné, Ernest, Delisle, Lemoile, Sevard, and Poirier kids she brought into the world. Even her own grandchildren, too.”[lxi]
Philomene, who gave birth to fifteen children, possessed a wide range of skills she utilized to comfort and sustain her family. Herkel tells us:
She sewed all our clothes, even the coats. She kept them mended and washed so they’d last as long as possible. She carded the wool from our own sheep, spun it and we all [the daughters] helped knit the socks and mitts and sweaters for everyone in the family. She made our blankets, comforters and patch quilts, too.[lxii]
Philomene maintained a large vegetable garden and supervised the children’s involvement in the care of dairy cows, sheep, chickens, turkeys, and pigs. She shared a special activity with Willie: “Mother and Willie always made homemade beer in a big barrel. That was for company and special occasions.”[lxiii] In addition to everything else, there was the house for Philomene to look after.
Louis, his sons and neighbours built the family house from lumber. It measured twenty-four feet square and had two stories. The main floor served for cooking, eating, gathering together, and many activities of daily living. The upstairs was the sleeping area. The house had neither indoor plumbing nor electricity.[lxiv] In the early 1920s, there could be up to sixteen family members living in the house at any given time. While many prairie homes were smaller and more basic,[lxv] it was nonetheless an amazing accomplishment for Philomene to manage so large a family in so small a house.
Much of Philomene’s work may have typified the drudgery faced by most pioneer prairie women and as Sundberg points out, “For the typical pioneer woman, life was a hectic chorus of mend, weed, pump, chop, churn, bake and scrub.”[lxvi] However, Philomene’s life was probably more satisfying than a simple summary of her tasks implies. Close ties to French-Canadian culture and the Roman Catholic Church offered Philomene a high degree of community respect and recognition. Historian Margaret Wade Labarge makes a vital point when she says, “The status of women in Québec has normally been much better than the laws would have implied, as the wife and mother in French-Canadian society has held a most important place.”[lxvii] This is to say that Philomene’s domestic role and accomplishments were highly valued by both her family and her community. Herkel expresses pride in her mother and adds that the French-Canadian community judges a woman on things like, “her baking, her canning, and how good her kids behaved in church.”[lxviii] Furthermore, while acknowledging the difficulties of prairie life, historian Veronica Strong-Boag also accentuates the importance of children to most prairie women: “In the face of many other disappointments children could make life bearable. No wonder then that women took childrearing seriously, according it to an important place in the hierarchy of the world’s tasks.”[lxix]Herkel concurs, “They [Mother and Dad] taught us that kids and family was the most important thing. Everything they did was for the family, one way or another.”[lxx]
Considering that it was Philomene who convinced Louis to leave Québec in the first place, it is likely she had a voice in major decisions involving the family. Sundberg quotes many women who found great satisfaction in their roles as prairie helpmates to their husbands.[lxxi] Furthermore, unlike the homesick French-Canadian prairie women studied by Mathilde Jutras,[lxxii] Philomene was neither culturally nor linguistically isolated. She not only experienced regular contact with French-Canadian neighbours but also attended church and social activities in Debden and other prairie communities on a regular basis.[lxxiii] When asked if her mother was lonely on the homestead, Herkel replied:
She missed her mother and sisters in Québec. That I know. And she missed any of us kids who were away at school or off working. But other than that, she didn’t have time to get lonely. There were lots of us kids– we were fourteen, don’t forget. And there was lots of visiting, too.[lxxiv]
Although Philomene had the good fortune to have a large healthy family that pulled together in good times and bad, she also faced challenges and tragedy. In October 1922, Philomene developed pain in her eyes. Louis went to Debden where the doctor gave him some eye drops for Philomene. The doctor forgot to tell Louis to dilute the drops with water and when Philomene put them in the first eye, it burned so badly, she had to be taken to hospital in Prince Albert. Herkel says, “They operated and removed her eye and also pulled all her teeth. After she came home, Dad always helped around the house.”[lxxv]
In April 1919, Philomene went into labour with only eight-year old Rose and seven-year old Desneige at home with her. She sent her two daughters to summon Louis from where he was cutting wood about a mile away.
In those days, children were not told about babies’ births, so being a nice spring day, Rose and Desneige played in all the little puddles along the way and when they finally reached Dad, he knew what it was for. He rushed home, found Mother with a baby in bed, everything over with, even the laundry was soaking in cold water. What a woman![lxxvi]
In 1923, Philomene gave birth prematurely to her fifteen and last child. The baby died within two hours. “Dad and Willie made a tiny coffin and the two of them went to the cemetery with the priest to bury little Marie. Neighbours stayed with Mother and helped out.”[lxxvii] While Philomene and Louis were fortunate and exceptional not to have lost more than one child, it was nonetheless a great sorrow for them. Herkel says,
I never even saw our little Marie but I think of her like one of the kids. Mother and Dad were quiet for a long time after that. I don’t know. Maybe they knew she was going to be the last. But later when they started talking about her, they always made it seem like she was with us for a long time.[lxxviii]
Because they had so many children, the Dorés were constantly faced with decisions about their education. According to Jutras, “The majority of the Franco-canadiennes on the prairies did not learn English.”[lxxix] Once again, the Dorés did not follow the trend. Although the French language was used at home, among neighbours and at church activities, all of the Doré children learned English at school and had contact with non-French speaking members of the prairie communities. The fourteen surviving Doré children received between two and four years of formal education each. The four oldest, including Willie, attended school only while in North Dakota. After settling in Saskatchewan, the remaining children each had a turn at being sent to convent schools or to live with friends where there was a school. In 1927, a one-room schoolhouse opened within walking distance of the Dorés homestead and the younger children attended as often as they could be spared from helping on the farm.[lxxx] Education for the Dorés and other prairie families was contingent upon family responsibilities on the farm. This is demonstrated repeatedly in letters from prairie children to the Maple Leaves Club in the early decades of the twentieth century.[lxxxi]
It would be negligent not to mention the joys of prairie family life after so much effort in this paper and the published literature has been devoted to its difficulties and challenges. The history of children, as part of the family, includes play and socialization, however scarce they may have been in the busy life of homesteading. Herkel recalls happy childhood memories:
I remember the good times when we had corn on the cob on a Sunday afternoon. Willie would do the inviting [of the neighbours] and they all came. There was always a barrel of homemade beer. Maybe that’s why they came. Then in the winter we had a nice hill running between the well and the garage. Dad used to build us nice bobsleds and he made us skis. I remember a great time we had on a nice moonlit night with the Voisin family, the Poiriers and the Savards. In spring we used to skate on the frozen ponds.[lxxxii]
Herkel also reports that summertime activities included church picnics and rodeos. “Willie rode horses and bulls in the rodeos and he was pretty good, too.”[lxxxiii] These activities suggest the family shared a strong sense of community with French-Canadian neighbours and with the church.
Louis’ effort to provide outdoor playthings, such as skis and bobsleds, suggests a strong commitment to his children. For indoor entertainment, Herkel says, “We were happy with any kind of music and singing and playing games. Dancing was against the rules of the church but we danced anyway. Mother bought the first gramophone for the family and when the radio came on the market, Willie convinced her to buy one for Dad’s birthday. He [Dad] loved it.”[lxxxiv] Defying the Roman Catholic Church by dancing when it was thought the church disapproved was undoubtedly a minor act of rebellion. But it suggests, once again, the high value the Dorés placed on family.
While it is not known how Louis and Philomene felt about Canada’s participation in the First World War, the war appears to have had little direct impact on their family. The sons were not old enough to join the armed forces or be conscripted when the Military Services Act went into effect in 1917. However, other families in their community and church would have had older sons. R. Douglas Francis, et al. tells us that farmers opposed conscription because, “they resented their sons’ forced departure from the farm, where they contributed to the war effort through food production.”[lxxxv] Herkel believes her parents would have agreed that sons should work the farm during war because of food shortages.[lxxxvi] Furthermore, French-Canadians tended to oppose conscription specifically and the war effort in general.[lxxxvii] Historian J. Levitt tells us, “French-Canadians, however, indicated by their markedly low rate of enlistment that they thought Canada should play a relatively minor role [in the war].”[lxxxviii] John H. Thompson explains,
French-Canadians in the West followed Quebec’s lead, although they spoke more softly in doing so. French Canada never accepted the argument that the war was for freedom or democracy, and argued legalistically from the beginning that “le Canada est en guerre chaque fois que la Grande-Bretagne, sa mère patrie, est aussi en guerre.[lxxxix]
The Dorés high regard for family and community coupled with their French-Canadian background suggest that it is likely they opposed conscription and quite possible they disapproved of Canada having a major role in the war. While that may have aligned them with their immediate neighbours, it would have set them apart from the majority in the prairies and in Canada as a whole.
Historian Richard Allen tells us the social gospel movement gained momentum in the prairie provinces following the First World War.[xc] Thompson ties the movement, represented by the Anglican, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, to the war effort itself: “The Social Gospel’s objective was the creation of God’s Kingdom on earth, and it was certainly difficult to accomplish this without first defeating Germany and the Central Powers.”[xci] It is difficult to determine how much impact such political movements had on the Doré family. Cecile Herkel does not recall her parents discussing politics. In fact, she is not even certain how often they voted in provincial and federal elections. Because the social gospel movement of the 1920s was mainly Protestant driven, its causes including prohibition, national English language schools and Protestant church union, were less popular among French-Canadian settlers.[xcii] Herkel’s frequent references to Willie’s and Philomene’s various kinds of home brew imply that prohibition, in particular, may not have been welcomed by the Dorés and the families they socialized with.[xciii] When asked about prohibition, Herkel replied, “As far as I know, they never paid much attention to that. There was always a barrel of something out in the shed.”[xciv] However, when asked how the family felt about the children being educated in English speaking schools, Herkel replied, “What else could we do? We had to learn English to get along. It didn’t hurt any of us. In fact, I wouldn’t have met my husband if I didn’t know English.”[xcv] Thus it appears that the issue of French language schools may have been less of a concern for the Doré family than it seems to have been for many other French-Canadians.[xcvi]
By 1920, the Dorés had been away from Québec for fourteen years. Saskatchewan had become their home by choice. While they had maintained their language, their religion and their focus on the family as the centre of their lives, they had also undergone changes, many of which involved the children. In addition to learning English, the children experienced a variety of jobs and relationships outside the family farm and outside the French community. The Doré family was part of a French-Canadian migration trend based on having old roots in Québec and new roots in a French-Canadian settlement in the prairies. Although the location changed, life remained focussed on the family with the predominance of the French language and the influence of Catholic faith. Thus life was remarkably similar in both settings. But the family also distinguished itself and etched its own mark on history by the route they chose as well as the experiences they embraced along the way.
Many say the great depression of the 1930s impacted the prairies more than any other region of Canada.[xcvii] “It was tough but we had our garden every year, so we didn’t starve. Dad and Willie always managed to find firewood. We didn’t have it as bad as some.”[xcviii] Perhaps the Doré family was aided by the fact that their homestead was north of the dry and dusty Palliser’s Triangle which was the most economically depressed area of the prairies in the 1930s.[xcix] While eight of the Doré children had married by the end of the depression, Willie and the others stayed on and continued to contribute whatever they could to support the family. Skills related to living off the land such as Willie’s fishing, trapping, and hunting also helped put food on the table.[c]
By the onset of the Second World War, Louis and Philomene were sixty-nine and sixty-two respectively. According to Herkel, “Dad was still going strong. Mother’s sight wasn’t good for anything fine but she still worked hard. I don’t think she knew any other way.”[ci] Before the end of the war, all of their children had married with the exception of the youngest son, Art and the oldest son, Willie, both of whom stayed to help on the farm.[cii] The only one of the Doré children to serve in the armed forces was Emile but he was not sent overseas.[ciii] The war brought better days for those prairie farmers who had survived the depression. The Dorés were among them. Economist John Stahl summarizes, “World War II, in that ultimate irony of war, brought prosperity to the Prairies. Commodity prices rose, and the demand for grain and cattle strengthened.”[civ]
By holding on to the farm until after the depression and the war, the Dorés were able to sell it while the economy was “buoyant.”[cv]Herkel comments,
I don’t know exactly what they got for it. But it was enough for them to retire and buy a nice little house in Port Alberni. For the first time in their lives, they had indoor plumbing. And more than half of their kids and grandkids were close by.[cvi]
For Louis and Philomene, the major draw to Port Alberni was their children and Willie was among them.
Cecile Herkel wrote, “Willie was Mom and Dad’s boy. He always stayed and worked on the farm.”[cvii] When Willie took a job in a lumber mill in Port Alberni, B.C., he expected it to be temporary. But he met Adrienne Demers who was also originally from Québec and according to Herkel, “It was love at first sight.”[cviii] They married in December 1945 and decided to stay in Port Alberni where the economy was booming.[cix] They had three daughters and a son. Willie worked at the mill until retiring at age sixty-five.
Within three years of the end of the Second World War, Louis and Philomene sold the farm and retired to a small house across the street from Willie and his young family. Seven other siblings and their families migrated to Vancouver Island. Each family achieved a lifestyle change and transition in their livelihood from farming to the resource sector. Those who remained on the prairies were visited regularly by the others and occasionally traveled to the West Coast for family reunions.[cx]
The French-Canadian population in Port Alberni was large enough to support a bilingual Catholic Church[cxi] and the Dorés were able to use the French language on a daily basis. Once again, they had found a small community that supported the three key elements of French-Canadian life: the family, the church, and language.
In the 1950s, Louis and Philomene returned to the prairies to live their final years with their daughter Rose and her family of six children.[cxii] When his parents left Port Alberni, Willie moved his own family to a house on five acres at the edge of town. In their spare time, he and Adrienne kept a large vegetable garden, several berry patches, and a fruit orchard. Every weekend in the summer, Willie loaded his car with produce and made the rounds in his neighbourhood and the Native reserve to sell the fruits of their labour. He was well-known and well-liked in Port Alberni. In 1979, Willie never got the chance to harvest or sell his produce. Although he managed to finish the spring planting, two weeks later he had succumbed to cancer.
Throughout his adult life, Willie remained bilingual and involved in the Catholic Church. While he frequently stepped outside the family to develop new skills or take on new endeavours, he always returned to the hearth of his parents and later his own family. He and Adrienne also taught their children the French language and raised them in the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. Furthermore, true to the tradition set by Willie’s own childhood and upbringing, family remained the most important institution in their lives.[cxiii]
The study of the Doré family is significant because it provides insight into how one family maintained their French-Canadian identity for more than half a century after leaving Québec, while also drawing from new experiences to broaden and enhance their family identity. This occurred not only through family endeavours such as building a Saskatchewan homestead, but through individual initiatives such as Willie’s pursuit of knowledge, skills and relationships beyond the family farm.
Viewing the family as an active participant in the making of history underscores its vitality and relevance. Although influenced by the milestones of history such as social change, legislation and economic trends, the Doré family made choices that set them on a path that was uniquely their own.
In 1991, the Doré family reunion brought together more than 100 descendants of Louis and Philomene Doré. Cecile Herkel sums up her enthusiasm for her family and her parents in the family history she wrote for the occasion:
Today we are left with a legacy of beautiful memories. Thanks to our parents. They worked hard, had no money to give except their love and taught us how to work. Today we represent the real harvest of the seeds they sowed.[cxiv]
[i] Examples include John F. Bosher, “The Family in New France,” in Barry M. Gough, ed., In Search of the Visible Past (Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1975), 1-13, and J.M. Bumstead and Wendy Owen, “The Victorian Family in Canada in Historical Perspective: The Ross Family of Red River and the Jarvis Family of Prince Edward Island,” in Manitoba History 13 (Spring 1987), 12-18. While these are valuable resources, the scarcity of primary sources necessarily limits their scope and gives us a generalized view of the family in each respective era.
[ii] Bettina Bradbury states “Families are social institutions woven in a variety of ways into the society and economy of their times.” See the introduction to Canadian Family History: Selected Readings, (Toronto: Copp Clark Pitman, 1992), 8. This statement implies a dynamic interaction between families and history as opposed to a one-sided shaping of the family by history. Furthermore, Cynthia Comacchio, in analyzing Gérard Bouchard’s “Transmission of Family Property and the Cycle of Quebec Rural Society from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century,” claims he makes “a suggestive argument that positions the family at the centre of structural change instead of viewing it as a mere receptor of such changes.” See Comacchio’s article “Beneath the ‘Sentimental Veil’: Families and Family History in Canada,” Labour/Le Travail, 33 (Spring 1994), 283.
[iii][iii] Cecile Herkel, Doré Family Reunion, August 2,3,4 – 1991, Morin Lake, Saskatchewan: the Story of the Doré Family. (Port Alberni, B.C.: Cecile Herkel, 1991), 2, and Bill and Vivianne Harskamp, Family of Loius[sic] Doré and Marie Philomene Goupil(Langley, B.C.: Bill and Vivianne Harskamp, 1995), 1-2.[iv]
[iv] Susan Mann Trofimenkoff, The Dream of Nation: A Social and Intellectual History of Quebec (Toronto: Gage, 1983), 301.
[v][v] Cecile Herkel, interviewed by Anne Doré, May 19, 1999, Abbotsford, B.C., #1.
[vi][vi]A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, Walter S. Avis, ed.
(Toronto: W.J. Gage, 1991), 772, defines a taffy pull or taffy social as “a social affair at which taffy is made from maple syrup or other syrups as sugar-molasses,” marking the end of the maple syrup season. Taffy itself is described as, “maple syrup candy, often made by pouring the syrup over the snow so that it hardens in brittle sheets.”
[vii][vii] Herkel interview #1.
[viii][viii] David M. Hayne, “Emigration and Colonization: Twin Themes in Nineteenth Century French Canadian Literature,” in Raymond Breton and Pierre Sevard, eds., The Quebec and Acadian Diaspora in North America (Toronto: The Multicultural History Society of Ontario, 1982), 15.
[ix][ix] Hayne, “Emigration,” 17. Furthermore, Hayne points out that out of the dozens of novels and short stories published in the second half of the 19th Century, only one novelist, Honoré Beaugard, in Jeanne la fileuse (1875) “dared to defend the emigrants.” The novel takes an empathetic look at the exodus from Québec in terms of socio-economic pressures. See Hayne, “Emigration,” 19.
[x][x] Hayne, “Emigration,” 15.
[xi] Hayne, “Emigration,” 16.
[xii] Hayne, “Emigration,” 15.
[xiii] Antoine Gérin-Lajoie, “A Canadien Wanderer” in John Robert Colombo, ed., The Poets of Canada (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1978), 44-45.
[xiv] Bruno Ramirez, On the Move: French Canadian and Italian Migrants in the North Atlantic Economy, 1860-1914 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1991), 83. Ramirez explains colonization as, “primarily the story of people leaving overcrowded rural parishes along the Laurentian Valley and setting their compasses toward the back country, where vast forests still waited the civilizing ax and plow of French Canadian settlers,” 76. For government rules re: colonization, see Ramirez, 80.
[xv] Ramirez, On the Move, 82-83.
[xvi] Ramirez, On the Move, 81-82.
[xvii] Hayne, “Emigration,” 19-20.
[xviii] Ramirez, On the Move, 83.
[xix] Ramirez, On the Move, 79.
[xx] Hayne, “Emigration,” 12-13.
[xxi] Robert F. Harney, “Franco-Americans and Ethnic Studies: Notes on a Mill Town,” in Raymond Breton and Pierre Sevard, eds.,The Quebec and Acadian Diaspora in North America (Toronto: The Multicultural History Society of Ontario, 1982), 77.
[xxii] Ramirez, On the Move, 26-28.
[xxiii] Ramirez, On the Move, 29.
[xxiv] Ramirez, On the Move, 28. Furthermore, Ramirez informs us that this small plot of land purchased by the journalier was called an emplacement.
[xxv] Herkel, Doré Family Reunion, 2.
[xxvi] Herkel interview #1.
[xxvii] Herkel interview #1. Further, the author was unable to find any evidence of a town called Howlsboro in North Dakota by searching the following web sites: Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota State University athttp://www.lib.ndsu.nodak.edu/ndirs/bio&geneology/ndnatrecords.html, the State Historical Society of North Dakota athttp://www.state.nd.us/hist/infnat.htm., and The Northern Great Plains: North Dakota Historical Overview athttp://memory.loc.gov/ammem/award97/ndfahtml/ngp_nd.html
[xxviii] Ramirez, On the Move, 81.
[xxix] Ramirez, On the Move, 114.
[xxxii] Ray Allen Billington, Westward Expansion: A History of the American Frontier, 4th ed. (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1974), 607-609.
[xxxiii] Billington, Westward, 612.
[xxxiv] D. H. Hall, “Clifford Sifton: Immigration and Settlement Policy 1896-1905,” in R. Douglas Francis and Howard Palmer, eds.,The Prairie West: Historical Readings (Edmonton: Pica Pica Press, 1985), 281.
[xxxv] Herkel, Doré Family Reunion, 2, and Harskamp, Family, 1-2.
[xxxvi] Cam Doré, interviewed by Anne Doré, May 20, 1999, Abbotsford, B.C.
[xxxvii] Herkel interview #1.
[xxxviii] Herkel, Doré Family Reunion, 2. Author found conflicting information regarding free transportation for prairie settlers. D. H. Hall, “Clifford Sifton,” 293, claims, “Sifton refused to institute any scheme of assisted passages, by sea or by rail.” Sara Brooks Sundberg, “Farm Women on the Canadian Prairie Frontier: The Helpmate Image” in Veronica Strong-Boag and Anita Clair Fellman, eds., Rethinking Canada: The Promise of Women’s History (Toronto: Copp Clark Pitman, 1986), 97, says, “Promising free homesteads and assisted passages, the Canadian Government and the Canadian Pacific Railway launched vigorous advertising campaigns to encourage agricultural settlement within the grasslands.” However, Sundberg neither elaborates nor provides references for these points.
[xxxix] R. Douglas Francis, et al., Destinies: Canadian History since Confederation, 3rd ed. (Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 1996), 46-51 and 64. For a study which questions the overall impact of the national policy on the settling of the prairies, see Kenneth H. Norrie, “The National Policy and the Rate of Prairie Settlement” in R. Douglas Francis and Howard Palmer, eds., The Prairie West: Historical Readings, 2nd ed. (Edmonton: Pica Pica Press, 1992) 243-263.
[xl] Francis, et al., Destinies, 64. “Between 1896 and 1914, more than 1 million people came to western Canada.” Further, André N. Lalonde, “Le Patriote de l’Ouest and French Settlement on the Prairies, 1910-1930,” in Raymond Breton and Pierre Sevard, eds.,The Quebec and Acadian Diaspora in North America, (Toronto: The Multicultural History Society of Ontario, 1982), 123, tells us that from 1890 to 1910, 100,000 French-speaking settlers went to the three prairie provinces and of those 23,000 settled in Saskatchewan.
[xli] Herkel interview #1.
[xlii] Lewis H. Thomas, “A History of Agriculture on the Prairies to 1914,” in R. Douglas Francis and Howard Palmer, eds., The Prairie West: Historical Readings (Edmonton: Pica Pica Press, 1985), 230.
[xliii] Herkel, Doré Family Reunion, 2-3.
[xliv] Cecile Herkel, interviewed by Anne Doré, June 6, 1999, Abbotsford, B.C., #2.
[xlv] Trofimenkoff, The Dream of Nation, 301.
[xlvi] Ramirez, On the Move, 84-85.
[xlvii] Lalonde, “Le Patriote,” 126.
[xlviii] Lalonde, “Le Patriote,” 123-125.
[l] Cecile Herkel, interviewed by Anne Doré, June 20, 1999, Abbotsford, B.C., #3.[li]
[li] Herkel interview #1.
[lii] Herkel, Doré Family Reunion, 3.
[liii] Joe Cherminski, “Early Working Class Life on the Prairies,” in R. Douglas Francis and Howard Palmer, eds., The Prairie West: Historical Readings, 2nd ed. (Edmonton: Pica Pica Press, 1992), 548.
[liv] Herkel interview #1.
[lv] Doré interview.
[lvi] Doré interview.
[lvii] Mathilde Jutras, “‘La Grand Nostalgie’: French Speaking Women and Homesickness in Early Twentieth Century Saskatchewan,” in David De Brou and Aileen Moffat, eds., “Other” Voices: Historical Essays on Saskatchewan Women (Winnipeg: Hignel Printing, 1995), 49-50.
[lviii] Herkel interview #2.
[lix] Herkel, Doré Family Reunion, 4-5.
[lx] Sundberg, “Farm Women,” 102-103.
[lxi] Herkel, Doré Family Reunion, 6.
[lxii] Herkel interview #2.
[lxiii] Herkel interview #1.
[lxiv] Herkel interview #1.
[lxv] Sundberg, “Farm Women,” mentions “sod shacks,” 101. Maria Adamowska, in “Beginnings in Canada (1937 and 1939),” in Thomas Thorner, ed., “A country nourished on self-doubt”: Documents in Canadian History, 1867-1980 (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 1998), 99, describes a kind of “root cellar” built by her father, who “dug a cave in a riverbank, covered it with turf, and there was our apartment, all ready to move into.”
[lxvi] Sundberg, “Farm Women,” 96.
[lxvii] Margaret Wade Labarge, “The Cultural Tradition of Canadian Women: The Historical Background,” in Cultural Tradition and the Political History of Women in Canada (Ottawa: Information Canada, 1971), 25.
[lxviii] Herkel interview #3.
[lxix] Veronica Strong-Boag, “Pulling a Double Harness or Hauling a Double Load: Women, Work and Feminism on the Canadian Prairie,” in R. Douglas Francis and Howard Palmer, eds., The Prairie West: Historical Readings, 2nd ed. (Edmonton: Pica Pica Press, 1992), 409.
[lxx] Herkel interview #3.
[lxxi] Sundberg, “Farm Women,” 101.
[lxxii] Jutras, “‘Le Grande Nostalgie,’” 41-59.
[lxxiii] Herkel interview #2
[lxxiv] Herkel interview #2.
[lxxv] Herkel interview #1.
[lxxvi] Herkel, Doré Family Reunion, 6.
[lxxvii] Herkel interview # 2.
[lxxviii] Herkel interview #2.
[lxxix] Jutras, “‘Le Grand Nostalgie,’” 46.
[lxxx] Herkel interview #2.
[lxxxi] “I want to join your club”: Letters from Rural Children, 1900-1920, Norah L. Lewis, ed. (Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1996), 170, 177, 243, and 245.
[lxxxii] Herkel, Doré Family Reunion, 5.
[lxxxiii] Herkel interview #2.
[lxxxiv] Herkel, Doré Family Reunion, 5.
[lxxxv] Francis, et al., Destinies, 218.
[lxxxvi] Herkel interview #3.
[lxxxvii] For a review of French Canada’s objections to participation in the First World War and opposition to conscription see: Trofimenkoff, The Dream of Nation, 201-217, Francis, et al., Destinies, 218-219, and J. Levitt, “Henri Bourassa on Imperialism and
Bi-culturalism, 1900-1918,” in R. Douglas Francis and Donald B. Smith, eds., Readings in Canadian History: Post-Confederation, 4th ed. (Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 1994), 108-123, and John H. Thompson, The Harvests of War (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1978), 93, 117, 168-169.
[lxxxviii] Levitt, “Henri Bourassa,” 120.
[lxxxix] Thompson, The Harvests of War, 93.
[xc] Richard Allen, “The Social Gospel as the Religion of the Agrarian Revolt,” in R. Douglas Francis and Howard Palmer, eds., The Prairie West: Historical Readings, 2nd ed. (Edmonton: Pica Pica Press, 1985), 561.
[xci] Thompson, The Harvests of War, 37.
[xcii] Allen, “The Social Gospel,” 569.
[xciii] Herkel interviews and Herkel, Doré Family Reunion, 5, 7.
[xciv] Herkel interview #3.
[xcv] Herkel interview #2.
[xcvi] Levitt, “Henri Bourassa,” 166-177, discusses the French language in regards to schools in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario in the early twentieth century. Also see Thompson, The Harvests of War, 93-94. Thompson ties the restriction of French language teaching in prairie schools to Québec’s opposition to conscription and participation in the First World War.
[xcvii] Francis, et al., Destinies, 261 and Donald Kerr and Derych W. Holdsworth, eds., Historical Atlas of Canada III: Addressing the Twentieth Century, 1891-1961 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990) Plate 43.
[xcviii] Herkel interview #2.
[xcix] Thomas, “A History of Agriculture,” 226.
[c] Herkel interview #2.
[ci] Herkel interview #2.
[cii] Harskamp, Family, 1-2.
[ciii] Herkel interview #2.
[civ] John Stahl, “Prairie Agriculture: A Prognosis,” in David P. Gagan, ed., Prairie Perspectives (Toronto: Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1970), 66.
[cv] Stahl, “Prairie Agriculture,” 66.
[cvi] Herkel interview #2.
[cvii] Herkel, Doré Family Reunion, 7.
[cviii] Herkel, Doré Family Reunion, 7.
[cix] Jan Peterson, Twin Cities: Alberni-Port Alberni (Lantzville, B.C.: Oolichan Books, 1994), 224.
[cx] Herkel interview #2.
[cxi] Pacific Cultural Services, Ltd., “The French Presence in British Columbia,”http://www.culturalexpress.com/news/french/french1.shtml [23 May 1999].
[cxii] Herkel interview #1.
[cxiii] Doré interview.
[cxiv] Herkel, Doré Family Reunion, 5.