So, how and why did Mémère (Emma Girardin) move from Massachusetts to Manitoba? The answer to that question centers around the political and social situation that followed the Red River Resistance of 1870 and the creation of the Province of Manitoba.
John Welsted tells us in his book The Geography of Manitoba: Its Land and Its People:
“By 1870, the year of the first Manitoba census, over 80 percent of the population of over 12,000 was of mixed Native and European ancestry. The French-speaking mixed-bloods, most of whom were Roman Catholic, numbered 5,754 (48.1 percent). The mostly Protestant English-speaking mixed-blood numbered 4,083 (40.8 percent).”
These numbers would quickly change. The federal government wanted to encourage the settlement of western Canada. To this end it passed the Dominion Lands Act in 1872, which gave a free quarter section (160 acres) of free land to people who settled in western Canada. A settler needed to pay a $10 registration fee, and, of course, have money for equipment and seed.
In 1877, according to this article in the Manitoba Free Press, 6511 people immigrated to Manitoba, over half of them from Ontario.
Manitoba Free Press March 2, 1878
Although Manitoba was created as a bilingual province with protections for the French language and Catholic schools, it attracted many English-speaking Protestant settlers from Ontario. This was a worrisome trend, especially to the Roman Catholic clergy in Manitoba, most notably Archbishop Tache.
The Archbishop encouraged the creation of La Société de Colonisation du Manitoba in 1874. Its aim was to persuade French-speaking Catholics in Quebec and New England to come to Manitoba. They placed ads in newspapers, and hired immigration agents to encourage French-speaking settlers to take up the offer of free land.
Here’s an example of the type of advertising used in the United States.
Were Paul Girardin and Louise Bernardin tired of city life in Worcester, Massachusetts? Perhaps they longed for the rural life they had known in Quebec. Whatever the reason, the year 1878 found Paul and Louise with four of their sons, Edouard, Olivier, Simeon and Jean Baptiste, as well as Louise’s brother, Joseph Bernardin, his wife Marie Peloquin and 7 of their children come to Manitoba.
Paul and Louise were leaving behind their daughter Caroline, married to Pierre Hamel; daughter Rosilda, who would later marry Louis Arthur Gourdeau; their unmarried son Charles; son Napoleon and daughter-in-law Onesime Allard.
The trip would have been by train to Minnesota, and then by boat on the Red River. I don’t know exactly what date they arrived, but perhaps they were part of this group described in a newspaper article.
Manitoba Free Press Apr 27, 1878 from Manitobia
By July 12, 1878, both families had obtained homesteads in the St.Daniel, Ilets-de-Bois area (near present-day Carmen, Manitoba).
There is a puzzling question about Paul Girardin. He died September 29, 1878. I can’t make out the cause of death on his registration, although I can see that he was sick for a week before he died.
Paul Girardin death registration
The death wasn’t registered until June 24, 1884. The informant was Father Kavanagh, who presumably would have presided over the burial (a location I have yet to find). The puzzle is that Louise is the one whose name is on the homestead, and not Paul’s. Regulations stated that only women who were the head of a family could apply for a homestead.
Eventually Louise, her sons Edouard, Oliver and Simeon all had homesteads adjacent to those of Louise’s brother Joseph Bernardin and his sons, Louis, Dosithee and Edouard.
In 1879 a nephew of Louise’s, called Charles Bernardin, came for the first of two short visits to Manitoba, but eventually settled back in Massachusetts.
In 1880 Louise’s son Napoleon with wife Onesime Allard and daughter Emma (Mémère) arrived in Manitoba. Mémère was 2 years old and Onesime was very pregnant. She gave birth to a son, Arthur, August 2nd in Winnipeg and shortly afterwards they went to live with Louise.
Sometime in 1882, Louise’s daughter Caroline left her husband in Massachusetts and came to Manitoba with her four daughters, Marie, Emma, Lea and Louise. She then gave birth to a son, Edouard, on September 29th.
In 1884, Louise’s son Charles must have come for a visit, as his son, Charles Wilfred, was born here. By 1886 Charles, his wife Stephanie Rondeau, and family were back in Massachusetts. Do you think it was the weather than dissuaded them from settling here?
In the long run, the effort to attract French-speaking Catholics to Manitoba met with little success. From the website Manitobia we learn:
By 1891 French-speakers accounted for only 7.3 per cent of the population.
Oh my! From 48.1 % of the population in 1870 to just 7.3 % 21 years later.
Meanwhile the Girardin and Bernardin families, showing what appears to be a very strong sense of optimism, made yet another move in 1885!