Although I usually do not write about the living, I want to make a small exception to tell you, dear cousins, about Lea who is truly a special lady. Lea's maiden name was St. Hilaire and she grew up in "The Orchard", an area of Cohoes west of the the falls where her grandfather bought a large tract of land and farmed. Her father was Alfred St. Hilaire and her mother was Rosalie Chouiniere. Her grandfather was Louis St Hilaire, born in 1858 in Napierville, Québec (Just a little north of the US-Canada border) and her grandmother was Elisa Paré; they were married in Napierville and emigrated to Cohoes in the 19th century. Louis St. Hilaire's father was Jean Louis St. Hilaire (also called Thomas) and his mother was Émélie Mongeau.
When I was a young girl, I probably met Lea several times because she often visited her cousin and his wife, Arthur St. Hilaire and his wife Muriel Etta Wills who were my uncle and aunt. Of course I didn't remember her, I was young and unimpressed by tradition at that time! Luckily, in the past year I was advised by another cousin to "go see Lea" and that is exactly what I did! What a wonderful time I spent with "Lea of the Orchard".
Lea grew up speaking French and English; most of her schooling was in French. She always spoke in French with her grandparents. She still loves to speak the French she remembers which now is mostly songs and prayers she learned as a child. I have visited Lea in recent months, her health is not the best. She has many stories about growing up French Canadian in Cohoes. In the coming months, I hope to share some audio clips of Lea telling some of her stories. Lea is one of the last of a rare kind...a true FrancoAmerican and one of the kindest and most gentle ladies of her era.
The streets of Cohoes once rang out with French in the same way that today Spanish is heard in large and small cities in New York. Children were taught French in school but were also taught school in French! Church services and social gatherings were conducted in French. Sometime soon after World War II, that all changed and today there is no longer any French to be heard in Cohoes. The French schools are long gone; the French Catholic churches have closed.
By the early 1990s, the Albany Times Union story lamented the sad decline of French and Franco traditions in the story below...