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Reminiscences of Maywood Courtright

First Trip Back to French Canada - 1932

Teaching Brother. The teaching brothers taught only boys from the 4th to the 10th grade, the younger boys were taught by lay women teachers who had had a year or two of teacher training.Teaching Brother. The teaching brothers taught only boys from the 4th to the 10th grade, the younger boys were taught by lay women teachers who had had a year or two of teacher training.


The church in Trois Pistoles, Québec.  Once a year the church pews were auctioned off to the highest bidder, those not sold, usually at the rear of the church, being available for visitors at a price of 10 cents.  At Notre Dame in Montreal it was 25¢.  Richer families retained the same pews year after year.  The first collection was to pay for your seat.The church in Trois Pistoles, Québec. Once a year the church pews were auctioned off to the highest bidder, those not sold, usually at the rear of the church, being available for visitors at a price of 10 cents. At Notre Dame in Montreal it was 25¢. Richer families retained the same pews year after year. The first collection was to pay for your seat.


We took our first trip back to the Province of Québec when Alan was two and Yolande four, in the DeSoto. As there was no trunk for luggage we bought an adjustable metal rack which could be fastened to the running board to hold our suitcases. Yvette had a sister living on the north shore. Her name was Josephine and she was older than Yvette. She had taught country school (one room) there and had married a man by the name of Jonny Boulianne who had a farm, sawmill, salmon fishery and a few other enterprises, in fact the family was practically independent of the outside world. They even made their own moccasins from sealskin which they wore in place of shoes. Our plan was to go first to Josephine’s on the north shore (their farm was near the village of Les Escoumins nearly opposite Yvette's home town of Trois Pistoles on the south shore, spend a few days there, and then cross to Trois Pistoles on the small ferry. It has space for three cars on the main deck. The Québec map we sent for showed the road along the north shore as unpaved and unimproved. We would have to cross the Saguenay River by another small ferry. Yvette had taught a one-room school in the same area the first year after she had finished her studies at the convent (girls’ high school) and she anticipated going back to see what had become of some of her former pupils.

I don’t remember where we spent the first night after leaving Muskegon Heights; it was probably a few miles east of Sarnia in Ontario. There were still no paved roads in the country so we didn’t travel very fast. The second or third day we reached Toronto where we spent two nights and a day with Yvette's friend Olga Leaf, who had lived with her in Rosary Hall at the time Yvette was translating the Hees catalogue. Olga has since moved into an apartment where she lived along. Olga was not at all pretty but she was intelligent and had a pleasant personality. I think we stayed two nights in order to give the children a chance to see the parade of the Orangemen, in honor of the victory of the Protestants of northern Ireland over the Catholics which had resulted in Northern Ireland separating from the rest of the island, a victory which many in southern Ireland still refuse to accept as final. As a majority of the people in Northern Ireland were Scotch most of the bands and parade were bagpipes and drums. The marchers wore kilts. Olga, being a good Catholic was not sympathetic to the reason for the parade but she enjoyed the holiday like everyone else.

I think we made the jump from Toronto to Ottawa in one day but I’m not sure. Yvette's old friends, Yvonne Lee and her mother put us up as she usually did every time we went through. Yvette made contact with her old boss, M. Vincent and his wife invited us to dinner at their cottage a few miles out of town on the Ottawa River. Several of the Vincent children, all of them adults, I believe, were there on vacation from school or work. M. Vincent had written Yvette shortly after we were married that she was making a mistake in leaving the Catholic Church and I thought he might bring up the subject again but nothing was said about religion.

We followed the south side of the Ottawa River to Montreal. Oncle Alexis and his family had moved to an apartment closer to La Fontaine Park where there was a small zoo and a lake with ducks and geese on it. Yolande, Alan and I spent our time over there while Yvette talked with Tante Artemis about family affairs. Tante Artemise spoiled Alan with chocolate covered marshmallow cookies in spite of the protestations of his mother who thought they were not good for him, at least not so many of them. Yvette’s oldest cousin, Maurice, was about 17 or 18. He had a “blonde” (who was a brunette) and spent a lot of time playing tennis in the park. He was an excellent tennis player. I believe Florence was still away at boarding school. Roger, the youngest, was perhaps 12 or 13. He had no definite plans for the summer vacation and it was decided that we would take him along with us and leave him at Josephine’s where he could help with the chores. Roger was an ardent fisherman and the north shore just the sort of place where he would be happy. We were three or four days in Montreal and then went on to Québec with Roger’s baggage tied on top of ours on the running board on the driver’s side.

Georgeanne Leclerc and Berthe Côté were no longer in Québec and we spent the night with a distant cousin of Yvette's, a girl in her late thirties who worked for the provincial government. I don’t recall her name or anything else about her. She had gone to work the next morning before we left. We got a road map showing the north shore at the tourist bureau and inquired about the ferry at Tadoussac across the Saguenay. They told us the last ferry crossing was at 4 pm. If we missed it we would have to wait in our car all night as there was nothing on the west side of the river except the ferry dock. I wasn’t worried as the distance was only about 150 miles from Québec City. The road was winding but good as far as Saint Anne de Beaupres, where I had been before, and not too bad as far as Murray Bay but east of there it was not more than a couple of tracks over bare rocks. I had to steer around big boulders and avoid getting into holes. Sometimes I couldn’t even tell where the road was supposed to be. Ten or fifteen miles and hour was the best I could do and at times I had to creep along at 4 or 5 files an hour. As we neared the Saguenay we realized that if we made the dock by 4 o’clock it would be a miracle. I took a chance of breaking a spring and speeded up when we finally came onto the cliff overlooking the river. We might be able to arrive in time after all. We still had about ten minutes. Then it happened. I drove over a big rock that caught the underside of the runningboard and scraped the baggage rack and the baggage it held right off the car. Roger’s suitcase came open and spilled all of his clothes down the side of the rock. We all jumped out of the car, picked everything up and tossed it all into the back seat. Two minutes later we reached the point above the ferry dock. It was still at the dock, loaded with one car and about a dozen people. It was a very steep grade down to the water’s edge and just as rocky as the rest of the road. We were about half way down when the boat pulled away for the east shore in spite of the fact that I honked my horn. When we got down to the bottom of the hill, however, we saw a notice posted on a pole at the edge of the dock. It was next to an old-fashioned telephone, one with a crank on the side of the box. The notice was in French and read, “To summon ferry use telephone.” All of our anxiety about missing the ferry had been for nothing. When the ferry returned for us a half hour later I realized there was only room for it to take one car at a time. That was why they hadn’t waited for us to get down the hill.

Once across the Saguenay we had a better road though twenty miles an hour was about the upper limit of our speed. Loose rocks had been removed and gravel used to fill in holes and low spots. We had to inquire once or twice in order to locate the Boulianne farm but we reached it about supper time. A whole crowd of people came to meet us. In addition to Josephine and Jonny and their family of about 16 or 17 children (Josephine eventually had 22, including two sets of twins) Jonnie’s mother and father lived in the house as well as a younger brother and his wife who had a small baby. They had their own apartments but there was only one kitchen and dining area. The house was long and low, Cape Cod style with a second story (or story and a half) over the middle.

As soon as we had washed and taken our things to our rooms we were called to supper. However Yvette had begun to feel nauseated even before we reached our destination and she got much worse as time went on. We didn’t realize until later that shaking up she had gotten racing for the ferry had made her car sick. She had to stay in our room. It was unfortunate because the French that was spoken on the north shore was almost unintelligible to me. I don’t know how much they understood of what I told them either but I was on the spot as the guest of honor and had to be polite and say something. Roger understood what was going on much better than I did and he was not at all shy so he saved the evening. The small children all ate at a low table off to one side and that is where they put Yolande and Alan. Old Mme. Boulianne and the hired girl who also lived in the house saw that the children had what they needed.

Everything on the table had come from the farm and the vegetable gardens near the house, eggs from the chickens, ducks and geese, milk and cheese from the dairy herd, meat from the beef cattle, pigs and sheep, flour from the water-powered mill on the stream not far from the house and salmon from the traps set in the St. Lawrence. Old Mme. Boulianne, who was more than half Indian, baked 15 to 20 big loaves of bread a day. They were round and twice the size of our modern loaves and made of unbleached flour. For dessert we had blueberries with maple sugar and cream. Blueberries and raspberries grew wild on the rocks and were gathered by the children. Roger and our two little ones ate like pigs and I would have done the same except for the odors from the outside and the flies which settled on the food in swarms. There were no screens on either the doors or windows which were left wide open and the house seemed to be surrounded by manure. Actually all of the animals were allowed to wander at will and most of the pigs and chickens appeared to prefer the vicinity of the house. Chickens of all sizes ran in the front door and out the back while we were eating. Yvette told me later that a sheep came into her room and woke her just as she was beginning to doze off. Though someone usually chased the chickens out when they came in no one except me seemed to notice the barnyard odors or the flies on the tables.

After the meal I took Yolande and Alan down to the rocks overlooking the river where we watched several whales feeding, one a mother with a baby. Roc, one of Josephine’s boys, about ten at the time, went with us. All of Roc’s clothes were homespun and instead of shoes he wore moccasins made of seal leather. Old Mr. Boulianne was the shoemaker for the family. I think he was part Indian too. I thought I would get away from the barnyard odors by going down to the river’s edge but I was mistaken. A porpoise or small whale had been killed and set up on poles over a long metal trough to let the sun cook the oil out of if. The odor was overpowering. It smelled like rotting fish.

After Yolande and Alan were in bed I went to the kitchen and joined the men who sat in one corner and smoked their pipes while the women cleaned the kitchen and washed the supper dishes. I was embarrassed because I could understand so little of the conversation and everybody sensed it. They didn’t try to ask me any questions though they were probably dying of curiosity. None of them had ever seen an American before. After a half hour or so I excused myself and went to bed.

Yvette slept well during the night and the next morning was as good as ever. We had planned to stay about a week at Josephine’s before crossing to the south shore on the ferry that ran in the summer between Les Escoumins and Trois Pistoles but after Yvette had had to cope with the flies and barnyard odors at breakfast she told she would not be able to stand it that long. Both Yolande and Alan had insect bites all over their bodies. I thought they were mosquito bites but Yvette took their cots apart and discovered bedbugs. That settled the matter. The whole tribe of Bouliannes were kind, good hearted people and we couldn’t tell them the real reason we couldn’t stay. Yvette made up a story about having to look after some business in Rivière du Loup. We had to promise that we would be back before they would agree to let us go. The next morning when we got in the car to drive to the dock in Les Escoumins old Mme. Boulianne, Jonnie’s mother, burst into tears. His father brought me several seal skins that he wanted me to sell in Québec City but I had to turn him down. I knew nothing about selling furs. We got away at last, leaving Roger behind. He had a wonderful summer.

It wasn’t until after I had retired and we had purchased our cottage at Trois Pistoles where we spent our summers that we visited the Bouliannes again. Oncle Alexis had come to stay with us for two weeks with his daughter Florence, and her husband Jean Marenda. Oncle Alexis suggested we take the ferry across to Les Escoumins. Jonny had retired and turned the farm over to one of his sons. He was unable to talk to us as he had cancer of the larynx and had had to have it removed. All he could do was make signs. The twin boys had been lost some years before when they went in a rowboat to shoot whales for sport. A storm came up and they never came home. Besides Jonny and Josephine we went to see their oldest daughter who was then a woman of about fifty with half a dozen children of her own. We took the afternoon ferry back to Trois Pistoles. It was a bigger and better boat than the one we had taken some 35 or 40 years before.

It was a drive of only about five miles from the Boulianne farm to the dock at Les Escoumins. There were already two cars on deck leaving space for just one more. We were all placed crosswise, a section of the railing being removed, then replaced after I had driven onto the deck over the two wooden gangplanks. The bow end of the boat was open but there was a cabin at the aft end for about 15 to 20 passengers, just a bare room with a wooden bench against the walls and a ladder up to where the Captain sat to steer.

The day was foggy and cold and, after a glance into the cabin where several farmers were sitting we elected to remain in the car thinking we would be more comfortable and could see more. The only windows in the cabin were up where the Captain sat. We hadn’t gone more than a mile out into the river, however, when we changed our minds. It was not only foggy but very windy and rough. The boat pitched and rolled and I got very uneasy. When we rolled I felt as though the car would be pitched over the side. I wasn’t sure just how strong the chains were that held the car on the deck. We couldn’t see much either because of the fog and the spray which kept washing over the car windows and we were unable to keep warm.

Both Yvette and I had anticipated a pleasant and interesting boat ride across the 20 miles that separated Trois Pistoles from Les Escoumins. It was not what we had expected but you couldn’t say it was borning. None of us were seasick in spite of the tossing around around the boat got. Evidently the motion of the boat on rough water and the motion of the car over rough ground are different. I spent much of the trip across in a seat next to the Captain with Yolande or Alan on my lap.

When we reached the harbor in Trois Pistoles the tide was out so we had to tie up on the outer side of the pier. The level of the dock was about six feet above deck so when the gangplanks were in place they made an angle of approximately 30 degrees. All I could see as I drove off the boat were two planks with the sky above them. A group of bystanders who had come down to watch the boat dock and see who had come to town encouraged me by waving their arms in a “come on” motion. I heard one of the men remark when he noticed our license plates, “Celui-la, il s’en vient de loin” (That one came from far away).

Yvette had written her sister Jeanne who lived in Rivière du Loup, a few miles west of Trois Pistoles, that we would stop with her and her family while we looked for an apartment for the summer so we only stopped to see her Aunt Ludger in Trois Pistoles to announce that we would be back and to be on the lookout for a furnished apartment we could rent. All of her cousins except Albert, the oldest, were still living at home. Jeanne and her husband, Albert LeBel, were then living in the parish of St. Francois Xavier in the high part of town where Albert had a small grocery and Jeanne a millinery shop, both in the same building, with living quarters above and at the rear. They had four children then, the two youngest boys, Claude and Gerard, being the same ages respectively as Yolande and Alan. Their oldest child was a boy, Gustave, about eight and the only girl, Berthe, was perhaps five. Another girl, Andree, was born a few years later, after the family had moved to the central part of town near the cathedral.

In French Canada, where women were required to have their heads covered in church, and attendance at mass was obligatory, millinery shops were an important trade. Jeanne had learned it before she finished school then had started her own shop and helped Albert get his grocery under way.

We found an apartment in Trois Pistoles almost immediately. It was nearly opposite Tante Ludger’s, a second floor apartment with an exterior stairway. Second floor apartments in Québec are nearly all reached by means of an exterior stairway in spite of the snow and ice which can make them slippery in the winter. The owner of the house was a distant cousin of Yvette's by the name of Mme. Godbout. She occupied the first floor, later turned into a grocery. It was a common practice for people with small incomes to stretch their resources by opening a grocery in an unused part of their house such as a living room or a front bedroom. The chief advantage was not the markup on the food they sold as the fact that they could buy it wholesale. Their stock was limited, as few of them made any attempt to keep anything perishable, such as fresh vegetables or meats. Yvette's cousin, Cecile Côté, across the street from Mme. Godbout, converted the front parlor of their house into a small grocery a few years later as did her Aunt Philomene and Oncle Luc, six or eight doors down the street. We had a large balcony overlooking the grassy yard of our neighbors and forming the roof of part of the lower apartment, a good place to sit in our rocking chairs and visit or watch the traffic going by on the main street through town, mostly country folks in horse-drawn buggies and wagons but occasionally city folks in their cars. Very rarely we would spot an American car from New England even New York.

Trois Pistoles was quite different from the midwest Ohio town I grew up in. There was no central business district and instead of having the streets laid out in a square grid pattern there was just one main street which was a continuation of the highway running parallel to the St. Lawrence one mile up the hill from its banks. The Canadian National R.R. also ran parallel to the river just behind the houses on the north side of the road. The center of town was the big church which served not only the people in town but those in the surrounding countryside. There was only one church in town, of course, as everyone was Catholic. The street coming up from the dock and the cottages along the river continued on past the church up into the hills of the second “rang” where it crossed a second road parallel to the river, then a third and a fourth, etc. as far as thirteen or fourteen “concessions,” each a mile farther from the river.

During the original settlement of Québec every farm needed access to the river for transportation and the land had been divided into narrow strips with the lower end touching the river and that is still the prevailing pattern. Fields are very narrow in the east-west direction, and very long north and south. Most were enclosed with rail fences and had a pile of rocks in the center removed from the rest of the field. When the province became more settled and roads were built people built their houses as close to the road as possible, no more than four or five feet in many cases, because of the heavy winter snows. In general the roads followed the contour of the land so they were continually changing direction. In Ohio streets and country roads were nearly always “square with the world.” They ran either north and south or east and west and I developed a very strong sense of direction which usually is a big help in finding my way around in strange places but can be extremely confusing if I get turned around. Houses in Trois Pistoles faced the street and the narrow strip between house and the edge of the road left room for only a narrow sidewalk, consisting of two planks twelve inches wide, not really wide enough that two people could walk side by side. In front of the church, however, and one or two other places there were regular concrete sidewalks. Later on, as the town became more modern, the wooden sidewalks were replaced by concrete but they remained only two to two and a half feet wide.

Yolande and Alan spent their time playing on the balcony and in the yard below. We often went visiting as Yvette has a hoard of aunts, uncles and cousins there though all of her brothers and sisters were gone. The principal recreation of the older women was to sit on their front porches to watch the traffic going by and and gossip with the neighbors. I thoroughly explored the town on foot and met the trains at the depot like a native. Another interesting way to pass the time was to walk down to the dock, about a mile downhill on a winding gravel road, and watch pulp wood being loaded onto the boats which took it to a paper mill across the rover or up river to Trois-Rivières. We spent a lot of time along the rocky shore of the river behind the row of cottages (chalets, they were called) and sometimes took a picnic lunch along but we had to pick a time when the tide was low. A few hardy people put on bathing suits and went in the water or sunned themselves lying on the rocks. The water was much too cold for me. I tried swimming once and it felt like my feet were being cut off.

I got a reputation, quite undeserved, for being very pious because I attended so many church services, mass in the morning, vespers at 6 in the afternoon, alone. I wasn’t religious, just curious about unfamiliar customs and practices. The church was generally packed for high mass at eleven, it was obligatory, but the evening service had only a few old women present. At about any time of day there were always a few old women lighting candles and praying on their knees before the statues of the Virgin or St. Anne, requesting favors. The church in Trois Pistoles was dedicated to the Virgin and possessed a relique of something or other that had supposedly belonged to her or been part of her. It was comparable to the supposed bone of Saint Anne that long lines of pilgrims kiss in turn while a priest holds it and gives it a swipe with a cloth after each kiss to remove the germs. It was mostly women in that line too, men seem to find the performance a little ridiculous. That was at St. Anne de Beaupre, my first experience with reliques. I later learned that every Catholic church has a relique of some sort of Saint it is dedicated to. Mark Twain makes fun of the practice in his “Innocents Abroad.”

The big twin spired church faces west on Rue de l’Eglise, the street that runs south from the river up into the hills. Between the church and Rue Notre Dame, the highway through town, was the only park in Trois Pistoles with grass and flower beds. Just to the south of the church was the presbytère, the large building that served as residence for the priests. Both the church and the presbytère had been built of stone taken from Yvette's grandfather’s farm, later her father’s, an attractive gray stone much used for building all through Québec. The convent, behind the presbytère is built of the same material. The convent was the girls school, the boys school being across Notre Dame Street. It was not nearly so attractive as the convent. The girls were taught by nuns, the boys by teaching brothers, who wore the funny looking derby hats and long robes. They didn’t remove them even to play baseball or tennis. Many of them were in their early twenties and active as young men are at that age. Neither the nuns or the teaching brothers receive a salary but they never have to worry about where the next meal is coming from or where to find a bed for the night. Another salutory effect of so many young people in the religious orders is that it counteracts the population explosion that would otherwise occur; Josephine’s family of 22 children was not unusual in Québec. The church encouraged large families. There were more souls to be saved. Every Sunday I would hear the priest extol from the pulpit the virtues of some mother who had produced a family of fifteen or twenty children. The only classes where boys and girls were taught together, though they didn’t sit together, was catechism, taught by a priest in the church basement.

Wood was the primary energy source all over the province of Québec. In Trois Pistoles every house, business and public building was heated with wood and had wood piled in neat stacks in the rear or side-yard. It reminded me of my early years in Paulding before people switched to coal for heating and cooking. There were two sawmills just at the west edge of Trois Pistoles and at least three big lumber yards located between the highway and the RR tracks. They sold lumber both locally and wholesale, shipping it out by rail. The hills above the river were covered with evergreens, pine, fir, spruce and hemlock mixed with birch and poplar, the smaller trees being cut for pulp wood, the larger ones for lumber. The farther one went from the river the wilder the terrain. Only in a few low spots between ridges is the land good for farming. It was chiefly for pasture and hay, dairy farming and raising sheep and horses. Besides walking I got plenty of exercise splitting wood for the kitchen range. There is something to be said for a woodburning kitchen range in a climate like Québec’s where the mornings are likely to be cold even in July. Even after oil became plentiful Yvette's sister Jeanne refused to give up her woodburning range. Albert didn’t care much for fishing but he did enjoy taking a boat into the harbor and fishing pulp wood out of the water that had fallen off the boats. He sawed it into stove lengths in the back yard and piled it in the basement to dry.

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Last modified on 16 April 2018 @ 23:31