Update to Riel in Massachusetts!

I found it! I found the location for the St. Jean Baptiste Society in Worcester on the 18th of July, 1874.

Although I had checked city directories and newspaper articles during my research, I hadn’t been able to determine exactly where Louis Riel had spoken that day…until I decided to check French language newspapers.

GenealogyBank has digitized records of some of the 1873/74 issues of Foyer Canadien. I was able to find in the July 28, 1874 issue, a long article by Frederic Houde describing the occasion of Riel’s speech to the Society. It included the fact that Riel’s appearance occurred:

“dans la salle de la Société St. Jean Baptiste; sur la rue Mechanic”

Mechanic Street!

Searching other issues of Foyer Canadien I found a recurring notice advertising the meetings of the Society:

My translation:

St. Jean Baptiste Society. – Meeting room, Bliss Block, 24 Mechanic street; regular meetings the first and third Wednesday of each month, at 7:30 p.m.

Back to Google Maps and Sanborn Insurance maps to discover that Mechanic Street was a very short street, only a block away from Notre Dame des Canadiens!

So there we have it. Certainly the meeting was close enough that the Girardins could have attended. Whether they would have had the time or inclination to do so is not something I can prove. However, it seems to me that they definitely would have heard about his speech and his words about Manitoba.

And that just may be one of the reasons I live in Manitoba today!

Louis Riel in Massachusetts

I have recently finished reading The Audacity of His Enterprise: Louis Riel and the Metis Nation That Canada Never Was, 1840-1875 by M. Max Hamon.  As usually happens, this book, via content and footnotes, led me to more research. One of the things I learned from it, that I hadn’t know before, was that Louis Riel spent time in the 1870s visiting Franco-American communities in New England. This was while he was awaiting the amnesty promised by Sir John A. MacDonald at the time of the Red River Resistance.

Louis Riel was the dynamic Metis leader who was instrumental in the creation of the Province of Manitoba. If you don’t know about Riel you can read about him here.

One of the places Louis Riel spoke was Worcester, Massachusetts!  Why does this matter?  Because in the 1870s my great-great-grandparents Paul Girardin and Louise Bernardin, as well as my great-grandparents Napoleon Girardin and Onesime Allard lived there. (I wrote about them here and here.)

I immediately knew I would have to research and discover if my ancestors could have been among the people listening to Riel speak!  My task would be to see if I could find out why Riel went to Worcester,  who would have been his contacts, what did he talk about, and where did he give his speeches.

In the Journal of Canadian Studies Volume 51 • Number 3 • Fall 2017, there is an article by Mark Paul Richard titled “Riel … vivra dans notre histoire”: The Response of French Canadians in the United States to Louis Riel’s Execution. From that article I learned that:

When the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste of Montreal celebrated
its fortieth anniversary in June 1874, more than 10,000 French Canadians from the United States joined in the festivities.

There was discussion about whether to issue a document supporting amnesty for Riel, but it was not adopted by the delegates. One of the participants who most strongly defended Riel was Frédéric Houde, co-owner of the Worcester newspaper Foyer Canadien.  In July of 1874 Riel went to visit Houde in Worcester to thank him for his support. Okay…that’s the why.

According to Thomas Flanagan, author of Louis ‘David’ Riel: Prophet of the New World, Riel stayed with Abbé Jean-Baptiste Primeau, pastor of Notre Dame des Canadiens, a parish that served as the centre of spiritual and cultural identify for Franco-American Catholics.  Okay…Houde and Primeau were his contacts.

Hmm…although I have never seen the church record for Napoleon and Onesime’s marriage on 29 September 1873, the civil registration states the ceremony was performed by none other than  J.B. Primeau!  Notre Dame des Canadiens was very likely their parish!

In 1874 this church was located on Park Street across from the Common (a public park space). I knew from city directories that the Girardin family was living on Bloomingdale Street.  Using Google Maps I discovered there is no Bloomingdale Street anymore.  Comparing the Google map to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Worcester in 1892 (see here), I determined that Bloomingdale Street was now called Franklin.  Park Street where the church was is also called Franklin.  It’s a long street, but it looks as if my ancestors would have been about a 20 minute walk to Notre Dame. There’s a wonderful article about the church’s history in The Catholic Free Press here.

L'eglise des Canadiens a Worcester

Picture from 1870 accessed at Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec https://numerique.banq.qc.ca/patrimoine/details/52327/2070796

But I don’t know if Riel gave his talk at the church.  Hamon states that Riel usually spoke at meetings of the St. Jean Baptiste Association. I found another blog post, by David Vermette,  titled Louis Riel: A Franco-American?  here. It also mentions the St. Jean Baptiste Society.

I have not yet discovered where the Society held its meetings.  Were they in the basement of the church?  A nearby hall? At the moment the question of where remains unsolved.

Next question…what exactly did Riel talk about? Richard states:

Several days later, [18 July] about 400 French Canadians from Worcester and surrounding towns gathered to hear the Métis leader, greeting him with thunderous applause. “Quand on est Canadien-Français catholique, on aime toujours à serrer la main des patriotes qui se font les zélés défenseurs de nos droits nationaux et religieux, ainsi que l’a été M. Riel,” wrote Houde.

Google Translation:

“When you’re French-Canadian Catholic, you always love to shake hands with patriots who are zealous defenders of our rights national and religious, as was Mr. Riel, “

Richard continues:

Riel…spoke to the French-Canadian immigrants in his audience about the climate, soils, and francophone establishments of Manitoba, and he expressed his hope that the Canadiens might remigrate there,a province where he felt they might prosper more than in the United States.

Wow! By 1878 Paul and Louise had moved to Manitoba, and by 1880 Napoleon and Onesime had followed. I wrote about the move here.  I understood the background surrounding the move…the availability of land, the efforts of La Société de Colonisation du Manitoba, and perhaps the desire for a rural lifestyle again.  But now I wonder if  hearing Louis Riel speak in person, or at least hearing about this charismatic leader, would have had any bearing on the Girardins subsequent emigration to Manitoba?

Just another one of those social history moments that is so entwined with genealogical research!

Manitoba Archives and the 1846 Census

To celebrate Manitoba’s 150th Birthday, the Archives of Manitoba initiated a project called Your Archives: The Histories We Share.  They are asking patrons to write about something in the Archives of special interest.  I made a submission which has been accepted and is now on their blog here.

Part of the project was to include these items in a physical display at the Archives.  Due to COVID-19 that is temporarily on hold.


Cousin bait provides a missing obituary

I’ve written about “cousin bait” before.  It refers to posting information that results in another researcher contacting you with details they are willing to share about ancestors.  Such an occurrence just happened to me when a  reader left a note on the post I had written about Mémère’s sister Maria Maximillian Girardin. You can read that post here.

Turns out this lady was the stepdaughter of Maximillian’s son!  Although I knew the date of death I had never found an obituary for her.  This lady generously shared the obituary as well as some personal remembrances of Maximillian (which she allowed me to share).

Girardin Maximillian b1885 obit

“I remember meeting her. She lived in an apartment on the 2nd floor of an old house. Right at the top of the stairs was a door leading to her kitchen and living room. You then had to go back out into the hallway and walk down to the end of the hallway to find the door to her bedroom and the same for the bathroom. She was an interesting lady who really didn’t have time for anyone but her son Arnold. She was really attached to him and called him several times a day. Arnold took her passing very hard.”

You can read this “genealogy angel’s” post about her stepfather at https://diconnblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/25/my-stepfather-arnold-alfred-burrell-1924-1991-artist/



Christmas decorations

We’re fortunate to still have a few tree decorations from my childhood.  Slightly worn, but still they hold the power of memory.


White plastic reindeer.  I have two.



A red Cardinal, also plastic, but with only 1 leg now.  Must be carefully placed on a branch!




A single, simple blue bell.  Quite the worse for wear, with less shine and colour every year.



I got this china bell when Mom and I went to Breakfast with Santa at the Bay.  Probably around 1956 or so. Some of the lettering has worn off.  It used to say “Your Christmas Wishing Bell from the Bay”, now it is just a “Bel”.  Obvious nick in the china, the circumstances of which I’ve forgotten, but I’m going to blame it on my brother!

Wishing all readers a very joyous Christmas!

Museum donation

It’s been a very busy time in our household since my last blog post.   Of greatest  importance was the birth of our fourth grandchild, a beautiful, healthy baby girl! (And she has my name as a middle name ♥).

Of less importance, but  MUCH more stressful was the fact that we sold our home and “right-sized” into a condo.  Needless to say, we had a very busy time sorting, selling and donating. Some decisions were quick and easy to make, but in terms of genealogy “stuff” I still have a great deal of organizing to do!

One donation I made was to the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada here in Winnipeg. I have blogged previously about Dad’s service with the R.C.A.F. during World War II (here) as a welder working on airplanes at #8 Repair Depot.

I donated some manuals, pictures of Dad and planes, as well as the pennant for the Repair Depot.



The staff at the museum was pleased to receive my donations, and I’m happy knowing these small items have found a good and useful home.

An update on the 1926 Census of the Prairie Provinces

After waiting 5 years to have another Canadian census to “dig into” it’s no surprise that I have been busy trying to trace my people!  The digitized images are now available to search on FamilySearch and Library Archives Canada.

The images are indexed, which means they are searchable BUT of course there are some issues I have encountered. Some names have been incorrectly indexed, either due to illegible handwriting on the original document, or careless work by the indexer.  (Please note I VERY much appreciate the work of the genealogists who volunteer their time, as I have, to index records.) Unfortunately, there is no mechanism, at this time, to submit corrections to the index on either FamilySearch or Library Archives Canada.

So far I have found Girardin indexed as Givardni and Dumas as Duman.

The most surprising error so far has been the fact that I found a page that was digitized, but not indexed!  I couldn’t find my husband’s family with a search, no matter how creatively I tried to vary my search terms.  I found them by browsing, and lo and behold, that whole page of the census was not indexed!

A great bit of news…Library Archives Canada now has a listing of the 1926 census districts and a street index as well!  Go here.

Happy searching!


Navigating the 1926 Census of the Prairie Provinces

Yesterday Gail Dever announced on her wonderful blog Genealogy à la carte that the 1926 Census of the Prairie Provinces was now available on FamilySearch for browsing. Canadian genealogists have been waiting anxiously for this census to be publicly released.  Many of us were involved in indexing this project on FamilySearch, so that the census can be made searchable. That is supposed to be happening in March.

However, the document on FamilySearch is NOT searchable yet.  It is only a series of digitized microfilms, divided by province.  I was too excited to wait to find Mémère and Pépère in La Salle, Manitoba.

There is no listing for the census districts and sub-districts of the 1926 Census yet, at least not one that I could find.  These titles and numbers can change as boundaries are redrawn, but I checked the 1921 census to make note of the fact that they were enumerated in Manitoba, Provencher, District 34, Sub-district 26, Municipality of Macdonald, La Salle Village. Then I checked the 1916 census which told me they were living in Township 8, Range 2, East of the meridian. That’s important to know and you’ll see why.

Back to the FamilySearch record which, as I mentioned, is a series of digitized films. I jumped around, clicking on the camera icon, to understand how the information was presented.

1926 list

Excerpt of FamilySearch catalogue record for Canada, Prairie Provinces Census, 1926

At the start of each film there is an index card, in beautiful, clear writing, that says which districts and townships were being enumerated on the next pages.

Index card

I discovered you could toggle between a specific page and the whole film by clicking on the icon on the left that looks like a grid. In this manner I was able to scan through the film, checking each index card along the way. I did some quick browsing and found the listings for Provencher but couldn’t find La Salle.

I remembered that even though the whole census isn’t released until 92 years after the fact!!!!!!! the statistical analysis of the population is released much sooner. I found the link to a pdf of The Census of Prairie Provinces, 1926 : population and agriculture, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta published by what we now call Stats Canada. I noticed on page 9 (image 209) that the Manitoba Electoral Districts were listed in a particular order, and had both a Provencher District and a Macdonald District.

Electoral districts

Page 4, image 209 from The Census of Prairie Provinces, 1926 : population and agriculture, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta

Aha! Back to the FamilySearch digitized microfilm, I chose the 4th film from the top, assuming the census may have been filmed in the same order as the statistics tables (which appears to be true). I was looking for the District of Macdonald this time. Still nothing, and everything was West of the meridian. So I moved up to the 3rd film and continued the process.

Voila! There they are, still Township 8, Range 2 E in the Village of La Salle, only now it’s called Macdonald District 4, sub-district 1.

It was almost a whole day of work, but such fun! Think I’ll wait for the search function next month before I look for anyone else.

FYI, if anyone is looking to do the same for Saskatchewan and Alberta, you can check  The Census of Prairie Provinces, 1926 : population and agriculture, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta for the list of districts. Saskatchewan is on page 217, image 419 and Alberta is on page 519, image 723.

Happy searching!