I am writing this is lieu of Canada’s 150th Birthday. This is a story about my mother’s ancestors and how they came to Canada, and specifically, to the Battlefords area. I am Irish, English and Scottish on my father’s side and 100 per cent French on my mother’s side.
Simon L’Herault was born in 1626, in Perche, France, to Rene and Marguerite Guillemin. Simon had an adventurous soul. When, as a young man, he heard of a recruiting operation led by Robert Giffard, then and there he made the decision to leave France and come to Canada. He ended up in Quebec. The year was 1652. Within a few years he met Suzanne Jacousseau and in 1655 there were married. They purchased land as a married couple and registered it under the name Simon Lereau. As there were few educated people during the 1600s the L’Herault name was misspelled and eventually ended up as L’Heureux. It stayed that way until the time of Simon’s death in 1670 and remains as such today.
In the next two centuries, Simon’s ancestors moved to various boroughs, townships and parish municipalities, all the while remaining in Quebec. Fast forward almost 200 years, to 1858. This was the year my great-great-grandfather, Moise L’Heureux, was born in Chateau-Richer, a small town located on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence River, east of Quebec City.
Moise grew up to be very much like his ancestor, Simon, and yearned to travel, so at 19 he decided to go west in search of opportunity. However, he promised his girlfriend, Sophie Pichette, that he would return for her. Sophie’s lineage also traced back to France. True to his word, after earning enough money, Moise returned to Quebec, and in January of 1881 there were married. Shortly thereafter they headed west to Winnipeg and took up residence there for over three years. It was in Winnipeg that my great-grandmother, Alma, and her younger brother, Arthur, were born.
It wasn’t long before Moise decided to move again and in 1885 he packed up his young family and headed further west, arriving in Battleford smack dab in the middle of the Riel Rebellion. Moise was refused entry into Fort Battleford because he had a young family and was advised to travel to Moose Jaw. Instead he loaded his family back into the wagon and headed for the Rockies. Another child, Leonidas, was born upon their arrival in the mountains. When news reached Moise that the rebellion was over, he moved his family back to Battleford. The year was 1886, the same year that their fourth child, Josephine, was born.
In Battleford Moise worked as a bartender in a hotel and later operated a stopping place, complete with a license to make and sell beer. In 1887 the family obtained a homestead in the Jackfish area and moved once more. They lived in a small log cabin there and that year their fifth child, Paul, was born.
At that time Jackfish Lake was considered a hunting and fishing paradise. Now that the Riel Rebellion was over many pioneers were coming to the district. Moise had made his home on the north side of the creek. One side of the farm bordered the reservation. The L’Heureux’s always got along very well with the First Nations people. Each year Moise was happy to donate one sheep and one steer to them at the time of their yearly Rain Dance celebration.
The following years would bring four more children, George in 1891, Joe in 1892 and twins Marie Louise and Mathilda in 1893, bringing the grand total at the time to nine children. With a growing family and no school in the area, Moise moved his family again, to Delmas this time. There the children could be educated at the convent run by the Sisters of the Assumption.
In 1894, Moise and Sophie learned of a school being built in the Jackfish area. It was called St. Michael’s, named after Michael Cote, one of the pioneers that had come to the area. They began preparations to move back once again. It was also in the same year that their 10th child, Roseanna was born. In 1896, their 11th, Anoinette, arrived. Shortly following her birth in 1897, St. Michael’s school was closed due to a shortage of teachers. Moise decided they must move again, back to Delmas, so the children could receive their schooling. These moves were always very difficult, and thus, give evidence of the value Moise and Sophie placed on a proper education no matter the difficulties or cost.
In 1898 their 12th child, Emilie entered their world. Then, less than a year later, Wilfrid arrived on the scene. In 1901, Pierre, their 14th, was born. That same year Moise welcomed their 15th and last child, Antoine, who was born in Delmas, as well.
In 1905, the news that teachers were to be available once again in the Jackfish area reached the L’Heureux family. Of course Moise insisted they pack up their belongings and make a final move back to Jackfish. It had truly become home to them, thus ending Moise’ posting with the reserves.
Life had progressed considerable by the time of their return, especially in town. A hotel had been built a half mile north of the school. The guests consisted mostly of freighters, trappers and teachers. In 1900 a cheese factory and Hudson Bay store had been built one and a half miles northwest of the school. For the first few years there was no church. Occasionally a missionary from Battleford would venture out to the small community to say Mass or to baptize a baby, or officiate over a weddings and funerals.
Over the years and through the many moves, Moise had taken a variety of jobs, as was necessary. One of those jobs entailed marking and measuring land for sale into quarter sections. My great-grandmother, Alma, played a key part in helping her father at that time. He would tie a rag onto the wheel of his Red River cart and she, sitting in the back of the cart, was to watch the rag and all the while count each revolution of the wheel. Moise had figured out how many turns of the wheel it took to make a half mile. At the half mile mark a wooden steak was driven into the ground. Then he would turn the cart in another direction and have her count again, continuing to do this in all four directions and completely marking off a square. A half mile by a half mile made a quarter section. Back in those days one had to be creative; where there was a will, there was always a way! I think we wonder, at times, how we ever got along before cell phones and all of this other wonderful technology. However I tend to think that perhaps some of the “old ways” were actually better than some of the modern methods we use now!
As the children grew up, they married and started families of their own, many of them settling in the Jackfish area, close to family and to home.
Thirty years ago, on the July long weekend of 1987, my relatives at Jackfish Lake hosted a Centennial L’Heureux Reunion. A special family history book was printed and available at that time. I attended the reunion and was very surprised to learn that there were 1,023 relatives present, including myself. It was said that if all of our descendants had been there, we would have been 2,000 family members total! The gathering received coverage on the national news several time that weekend. We were reported as the largest family reunion in Canada’s recorded history, at that time. An 8’ x 10’ wooden sign was made, with a family tree painted on it, and there is a branch for each of Moise and Sophie’s 15 children, and the names of their children are there, as well. The sign is posted along the road to Aquadeo beach and was worn and faded by the elements, and barely legible when I was there last. Recently I made a trip out to the lake and the sign had been freshly painted. What a lovely surprise! If you look closely, at the bottom branch on the left hand side of the tree, you will see my grandfather’s name, Louis, the second born of Alma’s eight children.
As it happens, life has brought me to the Battlefords, where I have resided off and on for over nine years now. I am only a short distance away from where my ancestors first settled, 120 years ago. A number of us reading this story today were born and raised right here. However, we must give much credit and many thanks to the multitude of brave pioneers, such as Simon and Suzanne, who originally came from France, traversing the many miles to make their home in Canada over 360 years ago, long before we had even become a country. They were the hearty souls who contributed to making this great country of ours the multicultural and diverse nation that we have become and of which we are so very proud! As I end this story I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude - largely due to the fact that I live in such a wonderful and free country, with many privileges that millions of citizens in other nations will never experience or enjoy. Truly, I am so very happy to say I am a Canadian!
And a Happy Canada 150 to all!