Sunday, February 27, 2011

Québec and the Northeast - once under the glacier, now under the lens of NASA

From space Québec and the northeastern USA are a continuous expanse.  NASA images seem to make this so clear...NASA photos

Snowstorm over Québec and northeastern US
This image is in color!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Fort Ste Thérèse on the Richelieu

Several postings ago, there was a story about my personal hunt for Fort St Thérèse on the Richelieu and how I ended up meeting Roger, the bridge keeper,  who directed me to the area believed to be where the fort once stood.  It is "believed to be" because the fort was abandoned and for a long time no one had any thought about it or its location 

I wanted to find Fort St Thérèse because the soldiers of the Carignan-Salieres Regiment, built the first Fort St Therese. There are so many of these soldiers in the ancestry of the families on this blog, it seemed pretty important to take a look.  It is not famous, there's no signs telling you it is up ahead and there's no admission. As I wrote previously,  the St Jean Touriste office had no idea what I was talking about.  Thank goodness for Roger!  The mystery of its location, likely because it was built quickly with with timbers and wood, not stone sentenced the fort to oblivion.  It was quite literally forgotten for many decades.

Then in 2007, the rediscovery of an aerial photograph taken in 1933, below, helped determine the location

The interpretation of the photograph lead to new digs in the vicinity. The current state of the archaeology work done in 2008 and 2009 by Parks Canada is described here Bulletin of the Society for Historical Archaeology.

Information from Wikipedia found at

There has always been confusion as to the precise location of  Fort Sainte Thérèse. A well known historian of the Richelieu Valley, Réal Fortin, published in 2003, an interesting study on the location of the fort. Reconstructing the deeds of the forts in the area, Fortin was able to conclude that the location of the fort was lot 343 of the city of Carignan, on the west side of the Richelieu. It was situated on the south side of point Portage facing the island of Sainte Marie.


First Fort (1665–1667)

The first fortification was constructed in Octobre 1665 by Henri de Chastelard de Salières, officer in the Carignan-Salières Regiment. He finished the fortifications on October 15, which was the religious anniversary of St. Thérèse.   The location of the fort was strategic but it was abandoned in 1667.

Second Fort (1747–1760)

In 1731, the governor of New France, because of his concerns about the behavior of the Iroquois and the English colonies to the south, ordered the reconstruction of forts along the Richelieu. This operation led to the construction of  Fort Saint-Frédéric, on Lake Champlain. Following these undertakings, a road was built between Chambly and the old fort of Sainte Thérèse, and again between Chambly and La Prairie. In 1741 and 1742, Clément Sabrevois de Bleury constructed a hangar for boats at Sainte Thérèse, which served to store the boats of the King. Because of English threats from the south, commander Vassant was asked to build a new fort at Sainte Thérèse in 1747, and posted several regiments. The fort was abandon the following year to concentrate efforts on Fort Saint-Jean, further south. However, what was left of Fort Sainte-Thérèse was used to stock merchandise during the British invasion of (1756–1759), until it was finally burned by major Robert Rogers and his men in 1760.

Third Fort (1760)

After abandoning the forts on Lake Champlain in the last months of fighting in the French & Indian War, the French still  sent soldiers to Fort Sainte Thérèse in the summer of 1760.  However, in  September the fort, already burnt, was abandoned by the French, after being defeated at Île aux Noix. The English took possession of the fort and built trenches all around it. The location served as a point of rally for the troops before the invasion of Fort Chambly, on September 4, 1760.

Sainte Thérèse, after the British

The location of the fort was used by the British as an English Post. The troops improved the road between Sainte Thérèse and Chambly, which was extended to Saint-Jean in (1776), during the American Revolution. The fortifications, however, were in ruins and were quickly forgotten..
Construction of the Chambly Canal, between 1831 and 1843, made the site of the fort less accessible. Only a commemorative plate, installed by Commission des Sites et des Monuments historiques du Canada in 1927, serves as testimony to the history of the region.

Here are some photographs from my walk to the site of the fort.... 

Walking north from the bridge and along the eastern side of the Chambly Canal

one sees a sign indicating where the archaeology was being recently conducted

Following this path, one leaves the canal and is directed towards the Richelieu River and its shoreline.  At the edge of land, the marsh reeds grow, birch trees stand and houses on the Island of St Marie are visible

It isn't much to see if you are accustomed to seeing Fort Ticonderoga, Chambly or even the ruins of Fort St Frederic but it was a beautiful place to stop and think about the ancestors who were young men recruited from France who joined the Carignan-Salieres and choose to remain in New France.  Were their prospects in the old world so dire? Did they fall for a jeune fille?  Whatever, they remained in the new world and here I am today.

Here is a list of stories on this blog about the forts in the Champlain-Richelieu Valleys:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Elizabeth Frances Wills 1913-1937

Postcard to Elizabeth from a suitor

John Wills and Libby Bissonnette had nine children: three boys and six girls. The oldest three children were girls- Celena, Julia and Anna.  Then there was Johnny and three more girls - Elizabeth, Dorothy and Etta. The youngest two were boys- Earl and Bobby. The oldest group of girls were close in age and identity as was the younger group of girls. Elizabeth Frances born 1913, Dorothy in 1916 and Muriel Etta in 1917 were often together. Dorothy and Etta often described Elizabeth as stunningly beautiful, intelligent and angel like. She was sanctified in the many stories they told of her.  It is not surprising they elevated her because Elizabeth died a few days before her 24th birthday in the midst of the Great Depression. Cause of death was pneumonia.  She was called "Betty" when she was alive but after her death, she was always referred to as Elizabeth.

In our house while I was growing up was a very small cedar box, about the size of a jewelry case.  It contained a few items that belonged to Elizabeth when she died in January 1937. The contents contained two diaries, one from 1931 and the other 1935, a few postcards, a valentine card, two address books, a small hand fan that was stamped "Capitol Albany, N.Y." and a few photos of Elizabeth with boyfriends.
Her diary secures her place as a popular young lady of Cohoes and it seems young men were eager to give her rides to the theatre picking her up and bringing her here and there.  She loved to write to pen pals and the two little address books are full of friends in Scotland, Nova Scotia, Ohio, Hamilton Ontario, New Brunswick.  She kept diaries. She was beautiful and full of life. Her untimely death was another event in the downward slide of the family.  Her mother, Elizabeth "Libby" Bissonnette Wills, died eleven months before.  Her father, John Wills, would die less than two months after her. For her sisters and brothers, it was a most difficult period emotionally and financially.

Young Elizabeth

Elizabeth Wills
Elizabeth Wills

Contents of Betty's Box:
1931 Diary

January 12th, 1931 - Entry on her 19th Birthday

Elizabeth's two "miniature" address books

Inside Elizabeth's Address Book

Hand Fan with "Capitol Albany, N.Y."
with the Lucky 13 Club when they visited Albany.
Oct 4, 1932 is handwritten on the fan

 Her diary entry for January 12th 1935 tells us the girls in the Lucky 13 Club gave her a black silk umbrella and pocketbook. 

And finally the Valentine Card for Elizabeth who would be 98 years old this year (2011):

7 Saratoga Street, Cohoes, NY

The family of John Albert Wills and Elizabeth Bissonnette were poor. Like many poor families they moved around and around. Married in 1903, they first lived in Cohoes.  With each census they moved to a different place.  Here's the locations in each census:
1910 census in Schuylerville, NY
1920 census on 9 Main Street, Cohoes, NY
1930 census at 7 Saratoga Street, Cohoes, NY

Today there doesn't seem to be a 7 Saratoga Street in Cohoes. At least there isn't a house there and hasn't been in a long time.  In the early 1930s, the house that was there was streetside.  Just to the north was the old bridge to Northside in Waterford. Behind the house was the Mohawk River and the old Champlain canal. While living at this location they took pictures - lots of pictures of children and grandchildren.  There's several images of the old Northside Bridge and the Mohawk River in the background.  Many of the children can be identified, most of the grandchildren too.  At that time, the grandchildren were the infants and toddlers of Celena Wills Cranney - Joan Cranney, Dick Cranney and Kenneth Cranney; Julia Wills Benoit - Doris;  and Anna Wills Benoit - Milton.  Who are the other children?
Streetside: 7 Saratoga St., Cohoes, NY
Etta Wills with a large bow in her hair
Dorothy holding a child
could that be Bobby standing in front of Etta?

Celena Wills Cranney holding Kenneth
Joan Cranney in the checkered dress

Dick Cranney

Elizabeth F. Wills holding niece or nephew
Mohawk River behind them

Joan Cranney in the bonnet with a friend
Elizabeth  Frances Wills

Johnny Wills

Dorothy Mae Wills with ice skates

Etta or Elizabeth Wills

Etta or Elizabeth Wills

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What I am Reading this Week: Gendered Passages by Yukari Takai OR Cohoes, New York versus Lowell, Massachusetts: Where would you go if you were crossing the 49th parallel looking for work?

The AMAZON description: Gendered Passages is the first full-length book devoted to the gendered analysis of the lives of French-Canadian migrants in early-twentieth-century Lowell, Massachusetts. It explores the ingenious and, at times, painful ways in which French-Canadian women, men, and children adjusted to the challenges of moving to, and settling in, that industrial city.  Yukari Takai uncovers the multitude of cross-border journeys of Lowell-bound French Canadians, the centrality of their family networks, and the ways in which the ideology of the family wage and the socioeconomic realities in Québec and New England shaped migrants lives on both sides of the border. Takai argues that French-Canadian husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters harboured complex interpersonal dynamics whereby differing and, at times, conflicting interests had to be negotiated in not necessarily equal terms, but in accordance with each members power and authority within the family and, by extension, larger society.
Drawing on extensive historical research including archival records, collections of oral histories, newspapers, and contemporary observations in both English and French, Gendered Passagescontributes to the re-reading of French-Canadian migration, which constitutes a fundamental part of North American history.

Cohoes, New York versus Lowell, Massachusetts:  Where would you go if you were crossing the 49th parallel looking for work?

In the first chapter, "To the Wrong Side of the Border", Takai describes the predominate regions of Québec sending emigrants to Lowell, Massachusetts in the early twentieth century were Lanaudière and  Maurice.  Although hardly a stressed point in Takai's thesis, I find it very interesting.  Lowell attracted French Canadians from Lanaudière and Maurice while, it would appear to me, Cohoes, smaller in size and manufacturing in the  early 20th century, was attracting French Canadians from Montérégie and parts of the Richelieu Valley.  Perhaps it was easier for Montérégie emigrants to make the trip directly south on the railroad into Cohoes.   The Guertin (Yetto)), Bissonnette, Beauvais, St. Hilaire, Chaput, all came from the Richelieu Valley.  The Rivet and the LaCasse families were exceptions.  Instead of heading to Lowell like the majority of emigrants from Joliette and Lanaudiére, Maxime Rivet and Dedace LaCasse with their respective wives and children, headed to Cohoes at the end of the 19th century.  Why did they come to Cohoes, New York instead of Lowell, Massachusetts?  It's a perplexing question and cannot be easily solved.  Did Maxime Rivet and/or Dedace LaCasse have prior relatives in Cohoes who wrote home and told them about the opportunities?  Were there active recruiters from Cohoes in Joliette seeking manpower and womanpower for the mills? Although the answer isn't apparent at this time, perhaps someday my research will answer this question.

New York Central Railroad Station in Cohoes: Where thousands of
French Canadians Disembarked to work in the Cohoes Textile Mills

Another view from the south of the New York Central Station

Meanwhile, reading Gendered Passages, encourages me to consider the crossing from Lanaudiére to Cohoes, instead of Lowell, may have more to do with the women.  Marie Lord and Marie Louise Mireault, respective wives of Maxime Rivet and Dedace LaCasse, may hold the key to solving this little mystery.

Related Links:

Yukari Takai: Author Profile

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Murals in the Cohoes Savings Bank by David Lithgow

The Cohoes Savings Bank Murals

The murals were painted by David Cunningham Lithgow, a native of Scotland,  who lived on Hudson Avenue in Green Island in the 1950s.  Lithgow was also known in the Capital District for the background paintings in the panoramas of native American life in the old State Education museum.  He also painted murals in the Albany Saving Bank.  He often painted stylized native Americans and supposedly lived, for a period, on an Iroquois reservation in New York State somewhere.  While there he sketched real life native Americans for future models.  

The historic murals David Lithgow painted for the saving bank in Cohoes capture a time in American thinking when native Americans were considerable noble and gone as in "we do not have to deal with them anymore".  It is nice to know, sixty years after the murals were painted,  native American are still around, still sharing the present, the past and the future. 

A commemorative book was published in 1951, the year the murals were executed and presented to the Cohoes public.  The pages include romanticized images and stories of natives before arrival of Europeans, Hiawatha on the Cohoes Falls and the Iroquois Confederacy, the Dutch merchants trading beaver skins, the "retreat" of the red man or primitive sons of the forest (moving over and out so the white man could take over), the discovery of the mastodon during construction of the Harmony Mill.

This brochure was copyrighted by the Cohoes Saving Bank in 1951. I do not want to infringe on the bank's property but just want to share this part of Cohoes history with family and readers.   I am trying to get permission to share some pages of the brochure on this blog.  If anyone reading this knows who to contact, please let me know....Thank you!


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