Thursday, July 29, 2010

French Churches of Cohoes, Part III

Sacred Heart (Sacre Coeur) Church on the corner of Park Avenue and Forest Avenue on  Van Schiak Island was another  Francophone Church in Cohoes.  Here are pictures taken summer 2010

It is a beautiful building....

Monday, July 26, 2010

TABAC À FUMER ...why Paul Emile Rivet was never without his Pipe

Paul Emile Rivet was the father of my godfather and I called him "pépère".  When I was little I thought it was his name. When I heard another young person call another older man "pépère", I still didn't get it! But eventually I figured out "pépère" meant grandfather.
Pépère was a barber by trade and he was born in St Jacques de L'Achigan, Quebec. When he came to Cohoes he was a young man and most likely already addicted to tabac.

A few things I can remember about pépère....
  • He spoke English with a heavy accent.
  • He had to have a glass of milk every night- with a shot of brandy in it!  
  • He never, absolutely never was without his pipe- his tabac
  • After he broke his hip falling on ice in the parking lot at St Marie's Church,  he always walked with crutches or a cane.
That was not an easy feat - it isn't easy to walk with crutches and still hold onto your pipe.  I do not have many pictures of pépère but in every photo that I do have there is a pipe in the picture or an ash tray stand close by.   Look at this picture below. You can see pépère has something in his hand and his crutches are in the background. This picture was taken at a picnic somewhere around Troy or Schenectady.  He is holding his pipe in the classic "this is how I hold my pipe" position.
Paul Emile Rivet with  pipe in left hand
When I started looking for pépère's origins in Quebec, it was almost fifty years after he died.  I never heard mention about where in Quebec he came from so it was quite interesting when once my godfather told me that pépère loved  "Parfum de Joliette".  That is not the name of a liquid scent one uses to dab behind your ears; it is tobacco!  "Parfum de Joliette" may have been a trade name or the name pépère called his favorite tabac from back home.

There's a pipe in my pipere's left hand

Here I am sitting in my dad's lap watching the 1950's television set with pépère on the other side. Pépère's ash tray stand is nearby and pépère has his pipe in his left hand.  Sometimes he would let me use the pipe cleaners and clean the old ashes out of his pipe.  That was a big deal!  His tobacco pouch was always in his pocket too.

Smoking a pipe was traditional for French Canadian men (and maybe some  women too).  The farmland around St Jacques de L'Achigan was prime tobacco fields and it was a big business because there was such a demand in Quebec.  Pépère was likely addicted to tabac from an early age.

that's tobacco and I can smell it!

On the web site Grand Quebec there is a brief description by an American visitor about the culture of pipe smoking in Quebec after the English took over....

«Le tabac semble être une des choses nécessaires à la vie des Canadiens, et la pipe une partie indispensable de la toilette. "The tobacco seems to be one of the necessaries of life for Canadians, and the pipe is an indispensable part of the toilet.
Les Canadiens sont d'éternels fumeurs. Canadians are eternal smokers.
On dirait que chaque homme, femme et enfant doit nécessairement avoir sa pipe et son sac à tabac et s'en servir constamment. It seems that every man, woman and child must necessarily have his pipe and tobacco pouch and use it constantly.
J'ai vu des marmots âgés au plus de quatre ans qui fumaient avec tout la gravité de leurs grands-pères…»
I saw brats aged up to four years of smoking with all the seriousness of their forefathers ... "

St Jacques Tobacco Packing Company Limited,
St Jacques, Quebec
St Jacques or Joliette, Quebec

Pipe smoking was a natural habit in Quebec and pépère just brought the habit along when he crossed the border...look at these images of everyday people in paintings and photographs.

From the McCord Museum, Montreal

Gatineau Madonna of André Biéler

Old trapper

Here is a poem that makes me think of Pépère because the dialect is so close to the way I remember his voice.......


by William Henry Drummond (1854-1907)
TWO honder year ago, de worl' is purty slow
   Even folk upon dis contree 's not so
Den who is travel roun' an' look out de
   pleasan' groun' 
 For geev' de Yankee peop' a leetle start?
I 'll tole you who dey were!  de beeg rough
W'it deir cousin w'at you call coureurs de bois,
Dat 's fightin' all de tam, an' never care a dam,
An' ev'ry wan dem feller he 's come from
He 's comin' all de way from Canadaw.

But He watch dem, le bon Dieu, for He's  got
   some work to do,
 An He won't trus' ev'ry body, no siree!
Only full blood Canadien, lak Marquette an' 
 An' w'at you t'ink of Louis Verandrye?

On church of Bonsecours!  makin' ready for 
   de tour,
See dem down upon de knee, all prayin' dere-
Wit' de paddle on de han' ev'ry  good Canad-
   ien man,
An' affer dey be finish, hooraw for anyw'ere
                       Yass, sir!
Dey 're ready now for goin' anyw'ere.

De nort' win' know dem well, an' de prairie
    grass can tell
 How offen it is trample by the ole tam botte
An'grey wolf on hees den kip very quiet, w'en
 He hear dem boy a' singin' upon de long
An' de night would fin' dem lie wit' deir faces
   on de sky,
An' de breeze would come  an' w' isper on deir
 'Bout de wife an' sweetheart dere on Sorel an' 
   Trois Rivieres
Dey may never leev' to see anoder year
                        Dat 's true,
Dey may never leev' to kiss anoder year.

An' you 'll know de place dey go, from de
   canyon down below,
 Or de mountain wit' hees nose aboeve de cloud,
De lake among de hill, w'ere de grizzly drink
   hees fill
 Or de rapid on de reever roarin' loud;
Ax de wil' deer if de flash of de ole Tree
   Reever sash
He don't  see it on de woods of Illinois
An' de musk ox as he go, w'ere de camp fire
   melt de snow,
De smell he still remember of tabac Canadien
                            Ha! Ha!
It 's hard forgettin' smell of tabac Canadien!

So, ma frien' , de Yankee man, he mus' try an' 
 W'en he holler for dat flag de Star an' 
If he 's leetle win' still lef', an' no danger hurt
 Den he better geev' anoder cheer, ba cripe!
For de flag of la belle France, dat show de way
From Louisbourg to Florida an' back;
So raise it ev'ryw'ere, lak' de ole tam voy-
W'en you hear of de la Salle an' Cadillac-
For de flag of de la Salle an' Cadillac.

This poem is in the public domain..

Here's the complete sequence of stories about illnesses and disease in our families...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Grandmothers never tell a lie?

Celena Beauvais Bissonnette Constant was born in St. Cesaire.  Finding her birth record in Quebec was not easy but it eventually was found.  My mother often told me stories about her grandmother who lived to be one hundred years old plus a year or two more.  Yes, some of our ancestors died young but grandmother Celena lived to be more than 100 was always the refrain.  Celena outlived all of her seven children but one, and,  as it was later found out, she did not live to be 100!  She either hoodwinked her son and grandchildren into believing she was 100 in order to get a great big birthday party and have wonderful newspaper write ups extolling her hard working values or she herself just never really knew exactly what year she was born in.
Below is a celebration of her 100 years according to the Syracuse Herald Journal on August 20th, 1941.  (click on the image to enlarge it)

Note the subtitle stating "great grandmother of 34 Still Opponent of Woman Suffrage!!!  Great grandma was certainly a good French Canadian wife and let the man of the house make all the voting decisions while she cleaned and "worked hard all her life".

Then came stories in the Cohoes newspaper, the Troy Record, and the Albany Times Union... Celena was quite a celebrity  in 1941 and noted to be the oldest living person in Cohoes.  The only thing was it wasn't true.

Here is a one picture from the celebration:
Great Grand daughter, Susan Benoit presenting Celena with flowers at her 100th birthday celebration

Detailed story from Syracuse Herald Journal

here's another pic of Celena....
Celena on the left and granddaughter Muriel Etta Wills St Hilaire on the right.  Celena is holding her great grandson Arthur St. Hilaire Junior.  Etta is holding Anne St. Hilaire (later Anne Shannon). 

Here is the baptism record from St Cesaire in Quebec and it is from 1850 -
Ce vingt-un mai mil huit cent cinquante = May 21st, 1850 which is the day of baptism.
The priest states Celena was born the previous day.

Finally, here is Celena's funeral card

Celena's first husband was Joseph Bissonnette who died from Tuberculosis in 1899.  She later married a gentleman, I 'll call Mr. Constant.
If my math is close, Celena's age when she died was 92 years, 4 months,  29 days.  That doesn't add up to 100 years.  I prefer to believe my great grandmother, one of nine children, knew the correct day and month of her birth but never learned her exact year of birth.  She had a great time enjoying all the attention and we can only hope we have some of that genetic material that kept her going strong through her 92 year!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Elizabeth "Libby" Bissonnette Wills and her Thyroid Gland.

In the 1900 Federal Census, she is listed "Libbie", 19 years old  her occupation was "overseamer" in a cotton mill. She could play the organ. She could sew. She was a French Canadian daughter who, on 23 August 1903,  married a man whose parents came to America from Cornwall.  She was Catholic; he was Anglican. They had nine children.  When grandfather didn't bring home the bacon (he spent the paycheck at the corner saloon), she provided for her children by taking in laundry and sewing.  She was the grandmother I never new.  A lovely and attractive girl who aged with the birth of every child, developing a large goiter in the days before there was a medical treatment.

Sometime in midlife she developed a goiter which is visible in the pictures below.  Look at her neck and you can see the goiter.

In the next photo, Libby is standing in the back row, third person from the left.....the goiter is quite visible.

 Chronic Myocarditis was listed as the primary cause of death on her death certificate.  "Exophthalmic Toxic Goiter" was listed as the contributory cause.  The certificate also states she had "partial removal of the thyroid in 1935".

She died on February 1st, 1936 when she was 55 years old.  As far as I know, she had 23 grandchildren; she lived long enough to know 7 of those grandchildren.  

Libbie Bissonnette Wills sitting amongst two of her daughters and six of her grandchildren.

Did Libby have iodine deficiency-induced goiter or did she have what today we know as Hashmoto's Thyroiditis?   Cohoes, New York  was not known as iodine deficient area as was the "Goiter Belt" of Michigan so perhaps Libbie suffered from the later.  If her thyroid gland was removed  in 1935 as her death certificate states and she did not receive the correct thyroid supplementation, she would have deteriorated steadily which she did - succumbing the the early months of 1936.  Supplementation with thyroid hormone first became available in the 1930s.

Today we know regulating under or over active thyroid hormone secretion (Hypoactive or Hyperactive) is a delicate balance with a host of medical interventions for different thyroid pathology dictated by third generation laboratory testing, irradiation for overactive thyroid, or iodine supplementation in geographic areas where iodine is not naturally available.  In 1935-1936, there was still much to be learned about the thyroid and its mysteries.

Libbie standing outside her home at 261 Central Avenue, Cohoes, NY

Here's the complete sequence of stories about illnesses and disease in our families...