A couple of years ago a friend, and follower of this blog, asked me if I had read the book Rooster Town: The History of an Urban Métis Community, 1901-1961. She mentioned there was a Pierre Hogue in the book, and thought that surely it must be a relation.
The book, written by Evelyn Peters, Matthew Stock, and Adrian Werner, examines the history and social structure of a Métis community that existed on the outskirts of the city of Winnipeg and was eventually disbanded to make way for a shopping centre and high school.
Even though I grew up in Winnipeg I didn’t know about Rooster Town while it existed. There was a newspaper article in 2003 that I remember (a sad story I will tell in another post) and that same year the Millennium Library had an exhibit about Rooster Town.
I read the book, and also the article Rooster Town: Winnipeg’s Lost Métis Suburb, 1900-1960 by David G. Burley, published in Urban History Review/Revue, Volume 42, Issue 1, Fall 2013. You can read it here. The book and the article have sent me on a long and winding research journey. Every time I thought I was almost finished my blog post I found another story to explore.
So what and where was this Rooster Town?
First, some necessary background. After Manitoba became a province in 1870, a Census was taken of all people (First Nations, Métis and white) living in Manitoba as of July 16, 1870. The result showed approximately 12,000 people living here, with almost 10,000 of them being Métis. The Manitoba Act had promised that the existing inhabitants would have their land title recognized, and that land would be reserved for the Métis and their children.
The promise wasn’t kept.
A system of awarding scrip (for land or money) was devised that had many problems. The federal government delayed the process. In the meantime new white settlers from Ontario were flooding into our new province, intent on obtaining farms and starting businesses, ignoring the original inhabitants whom they considered ignorant and uncivilized. Corruption and the greed of land speculators meant that many Métis families never received the land that had been promised. Some Métis left for what is now Saskatchewan and Alberta. Others drifted into areas just outside larger settlements. In such areas they could construct basic shelters, be close to kin, speak their language, and still access labour opportunities in the city. One such area was Rooster Town.
A short-lived real estate boom in 1881/82 resulted in surveying of land on the southern edge of Fort Rouge on the outskirts of Winnipeg. The boom burst, and it was this land that grew into Rooster Town. There was no electricity, water or sewer services. Water had to be hauled from Dudley and Cambridge unless you could afford to have it delivered. People built their own small shanties out of whatever materials they could afford or scavenge. They made improvements to their dwellings when they could.
Eventually city lots were developed, and over the decades, the settlement gradually moved further south. The Rooster Town residents were not all squatters. Some were eventually able to buy their lot, and paid taxes on their homes. Some even rented their homes to others. Many had seasonal jobs as labourer or domestics.
From Burley’s article, a map that shows how the boundaries of Rooster Town changed over the years.
Readers from Winnipeg will see that the settlement was bound by Cambridge and Harrow Streets. At one time the northern most point would be Jessie Street, and the southern boundary was the Canadian National Railway. Until 1955 what is now Grant Avenue was a railway track, the Harte Line of the CNR. (See this very interesting article about Scotland Avenue!).
Their is no definitive answer to where the name came from. Some researchers claim that the residents themselves called the area Pakan. In the media however, the name Rooster Town stuck.
The authors of the book say the first reference they found to the name Rooster Town was a newspaper article September 30, 1909 in the Manitoba Free Press.
Wild orgies? Really? This is one of numerous article in the media that painted the inhabitants of Rooster Town as degenerate, lazy etc. Prejudice against the Métis, was widespread, as indicated by many articles in the newspapers. Typical of the language used were terms like “filthy” and “decrepit community”.
When the University of Winnipeg’s Dr. Evelyn Peters was beginning her research for the book, she was quoted as saying:
“However, we have found quite a few people who remember Rooster Town as a vibrant Metis community, presenting quite a different view of the shanty town than the mainstream City and newspaper one. People remember fiddlers, dancing, ball teams, and mutual support. Families owned or rented their houses, paid taxes, and worked in seasonal jobs including working for the City of Winnipeg.”
As the book and the article both make clear, the existence of this settlement allowed marginalized families, mostly but not exclusively Métis, to make a living among kin and friends. Their children went to the local schools and churches. In a city environment that was prejudiced and offered few opportunities, these people who had so little were making do.
The size of the population varied as residents died, or moved, or returned. New members, often with kinship ties moved in. Like the rest of the city they experienced the hardships of World War 1, the Depression, and World War 2. In 1941 there were 50 households and about 250 people.
As the area now known as River Heights was developed and a new school, Rockwood, was built in 1950, the concern over Rooster Town garnered more attention. A school trustee reported to the school board that parents were complaining about the Rooster Town students spreading disease. Sensational stories and pictures then appeared in the newspapers, with headlines such as “Village of Patched-Up Shacks Scene of Appalling Squalor” (Winnipeg Free Press, December 20, 1951).
When the Canadian National Railway decided to sell its land to the City of Winnipeg plans were made for the construction of a new high school and a shopping mall. This was the beginning of the end for Rooster Town. Suburbia had engulfed the settlement. In 1959 the City sold land to the Winnipeg School Division to build Grant Park High School. There were 14 remaining Rooster Town families on the land. The City offered them $75 if they moved by the 1st of May, $50 if they left by the end of June, and if they did neither they would be forcibly evicted. On May 12th, 1959, The Winnipeg Tribune printed this news story.
I don’t know who that last holdout was. Previously on May 12th, the Tribune noted that according to the city welfare department:
“Three families of 13 persons, squatting on school property at the Nathaniel Grant school site, applied for aid in finding new quarters.”
The same article explained that:
“many old tenements and rooming houses, where low rental accommodation is available, are being torn down to make way for new buildings, thus removing a large number of housing units.”
By this time suburbanization was proceeding at a rapid pace and finding affordable housing was a problem in the city. As Professor Burley points out:
“By the 1950s the land occupied by Rooster Town was much too valuable to remain a refuge for the poor and unwanted.”.
After reading the book I discovered my friend was right…the Pierre Hogue in the book is a relative. He is my first cousin twice removed. His father was Amable Hogue (1833-1892), son of Louis Amable Hogue and Marguerite Taylor, and brother to my great-grandfather Thomas Hogue, Sr. (1840-1924). Of course I wondered what circumstances led to Pierre living in Rooster Town and started researching what I knew and didn’t know about this branch of the family tree.
To start, I looked at the 1870 Census of Manitoba, taken just after Manitoba became a province. Amable is listed with his family as living in St. Charles, as are his brothers Thomas, Antoine, Joseph, and Louis.
All of the brothers applied for scrip, and received the scrip worth $160 in July 1876.
The Genealogy of the First Metis Nation compiled by D.N. Sprague and R.P. Frye includes a table showing Recognition of River Lot Occupants by the Government of Canada. You can view it on the website for the University of Calgary’s Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collection here. It shows that all the brothers have river lots in St. Charles. Joseph on lot 56, Amable on lot 57, Thomas on lot 60, Antoine on lot 61 and Louis on lot 105 plus lot 3 in St. James.
All the Hogue brothers held patent to their land, except that by 1881 Amable’s lot 57 in St. Charles is held by Emily Roblin. Who would that be? A search of the 1881 Census of Canada shows an Emily Roblin, wife of Finlay Roblin. Emily was born in Ontario, and her husband’s occupation is that of “Real Estate Agent“. A search of Library and Archives Canada’s database Land Grants of Western Canada reveals that Emily held patents for 2 other lots. Hmm…I don’t know why Amable would have given up his land, but like many he may have been tempted by the speculators who were ready to offer cash. I did determine that Finlay and Emily Roblin never lived on the lot and emigrated to Oregon by 1888.
By 1881 Amable’s family was living in Baie St. Paul, near his brother-in-law Francis Morrissette. Amable died in 1892. His widow Betsy Morrissette remarried in 1899, was widowed again in 1901, and died in 1914.
But what about Pierre Hogue? He was actually baptized as Antoine Hogue on the 26 May 1877 in Baie St. Paul. He’s enumerated as Antoine in the 1881 and 1891 censuses. When he married Julienne Henry (daughter of John Henry and Melanie Vandal) on 10 Jan 1901 in St. Boniface, he’s listed as Pierre. In the 1901 census the newly married couple (he’s still Pierre) are living in St. Boniface with his widowed mother and a young girl Philomene Vivier. She’s listed as an adopted daughter, but is actually his niece, the daughter of his sister Virginie. (Philomene married in 1905 and by 1906 is living with her husband, mother, stepfather and siblings.) Pierre can’t read or write, but speaks both French and English and is employed as a farm labourer.
Jump ahead to the 1906 Census and he’s now Peter Hogg and the family is living on what the enumerators call Mulvey Street in Rooster Town. There are street names but no actual streets! They have two sons, Mab (Amable) and James.
I don’t believe this was a deliberate effort to anglicize their name. I have found many records for the all the Hogue families where the name Hogg is used instead.
In 1915 during World War I Peter had signed up for the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The marriage must have been under strain, because he claimed to be single and gave an aunt’s name and address as next of kin. This meant that his pay would not be sent to his wife, Julia, but to his aunt! Married men had to have their wife’s permission to enlist. I guess Julie didn’t want to give it. Perhaps his aunt shared the money?
In the 1916 census he is enumerated as Peter Hog, listed as overseas, but still attached to the record for Julie and his son Mab, living on Mulvey still. (No record of the other son James has been found).
Peter served overseas in France and received a gunshot wound in his shoulder on May 5th, 1916 at Ypres. He spent months in England in hospital, then was sent back to Canada to spend time in a convalescent hospital in Winnipeg. He was discharged on September 30, 1917. He applied for a military pension and I think it may have been approved.
According to the military records he gave his address in 1917 as Stafford and Fleet when he was discharged. He also states that his last employer had been the City of Winnipeg Sewer Department as a labourer.
With the injury to his arm, Peter must have found it hard to find work. Apparently Peter sometimes lived with Julia, and sometimes with other residents of Rooster Town. In the 1926 Winnipeg’s voters list he is listed as a tenant at 1141 Lorette, where Julia is the owner. It’s a small house with no services.
It’s hard to pinpoint Peter’s whereabouts until 1935 in the Canada Voters List where he is listed as Pete Hogue, labourer, living at 1146 Weatherdon in a household of 9 people, including his son Mab and daughter-in-law Alice.
On the 31st of March, 1939, Peter was walking on the railway tracks near Wilton when he was struck and suffered severe head injuries. He died in hospital on April 3rd.
Winnipeg Tribune, April 4, 1939
The funeral was held at St. Ignatius Church, and he was buried with a military headstone at St. Mary’s Cemetery.
As for Julia, she still lived on Lorette, and eventually was joined by Frank Gosselin, a widower. In 1951 her only surviving son, Mab, was struck by a train and died. Shortly after that, Mab’s wife died. In 1955 Julia sold the Lorette home that had now been surrounded by new development. She and Frank moved to 1157 Weatherdon. Frank died in 1958.
Julia’s widowed sister, Mathilda Conway moved in with her. Free Press reporters visited them in 1959 for a story on Rooster Town. It was not a complementary story. In the November 22, 1969 issue of the paper there was an article looking back at Rooster Town. This “Remembrance of Things Past” included a picture of Julia and Mathilda from the 1959 visit. In this very grainy reproduction, in the top left hand corner, you can see a framed wedding picture that shows Peter looking very handsome.
By the end of 1959 she was living in the North End of Winnipeg at 510 Elgin. Another Rooster Town family, Paul and Bernice Parisien lived with her. I can’t track her after that. In 1963 Paul and Bernice were still at 510 Elgin, but Julia wasn’t listed. Her sister Mathilda died in 1965 in the Osborne Nursing Home.
Julia died November 22, 1973. She had outlived her husband, two sons, four sisters, and two brothers. Her only living relative was a brother Archie. Her funeral was at the Immaculate Conception church which is on the corner of Jarvis and Austin off Main Street in Winnipeg. I suppose that she ended up living in that area of the city. She was buried in Assumption Cemetery. ( I don’t know why the obit says her husband was Charles.)
More Rooster Town stories in the next post.