Joseph Noel Taillefer, part 2

I’m continuing the story of Joseph Noel Taillefer, first cousin of my great-great grandmother Marie Louise Bernardin.

Drolet’s Zouaviana, about the Papal Zouaves, does not give a date for Taillefer’s joining the Red River Expeditionary Force that came to Manitoba. However at least two sources state that he came in 1870. The MHS Memorable Manitobans site states:

“Coming to the Red River Settlement with the Wolseley Expedition, he stayed behind at the conclusion of the engagement, took up farming, and married Mary Jane McDermot, daughter of merchant Andrew McDermot.

The second source was the Dictionnaire historique des Canadiens et des métis français de l’Ouest

Now I was confused! The Wolseley Expedition was sent to Red River to keep the peace after the Riel Resistance.  It was headed by Colonel Garnet Wolseley  who led a force of 1200 men across the Dawson trail, some 600 miles, arriving at Fort Garry on August 24, 1870. However, if the Zouaves didn’t return until November of 1870, how could Taillefer have been part of a force that arrived in Red River in August of that same year?

Also, why would he join the Wolseley Expedition?  It was, by most accounts, quite a virulent anti-Catholic, anti-French contingent, with many Ontario members seeking revenge for the murder of Thomas Scott.  The Papal Zouaves were staunchly conservative Catholics.  Why would Joseph join this?

So, I set out to learn more about the Wolseley Expedition.  On Google Books I found an excerpt to the book Toil & Trouble: Military Expeditions to Red River by George F.G. Stanley.  The Winnipeg Public Library has the book, so I borrowed it.  It had two references to Ensign Joseph Taillefer  “a former Papal Zouave”.

It turns out that the Red River Expeditionary Force was made up of more than just the contingent commanded by Wolseley in 1870.  Joseph Noel Taillefer was one of the officers in charge of  the Provisional Battalion of Rifles that came in 1872, the third contingent to come to Red River.

Footnotes in Toil & Trouble led me to search out two specific sources.  One was an article entitled “Dawson Route Military Expedition”, published in the Manitoban in 1872.  Luckily I found it online at the OurRoots website.

It includes a humorous incident involving Taillefer.  He had forbidden the men to race their boats, but having his boat “passed” by a boat made up of Ontario men, he

hurls a diminutive Frenchman from the oar and taking his seat at it –a Hercules in strength and size – gave one tremendous stroke and breaking the thwart pin, went on his back with heels in the air with the momentum of a battering ram.”

The second reference was to “The Journal of the Provisional Battalion of Rifles at Fort Garry” (PAM, MG6, B5) in the Province of Manitoba Archives.  A visit to the Archives allowed me to read this for myself.

Further research on the Red River Expeditionary Force led me to the website The Canadian Military Heritage Project  where I learned that Fred J. Shore had written a PhD Thesis at the University of Manitoba in 1991  entitled “The Canadians and the Metis: The Re-Creation of Manitoba, 1858-1872.” I was able to access this thesis online through the University of Manitoba Libraries.  This, in turn, led me to Library and Archives Canada documents from the Department of Militia and Defence: Register of service, Red River Rebellion, 1870–1877. I found Taillefer here.

All of the above confirmed that Joseph Leon Taillefer did not arrive in Fort Garry until October of 1872, and that he resigned on the 24th of July 1874. His joining the militia in 1872 makes more sense to me, as by that point it may have seemed just a career choice, or a chance to homestead, or perhaps just an adventure.

Just for good measure I looked to see if I could find him in the 1871 Census.  Not only did I find him in Ste Martine, Châteauguay, Quebec, where he was an “avocet” (lawyer) and living with his widowed mother and his brother Alfred, but I discovered he was the enumerator for the census which was taken in April 1871!

Taillefer 1871

1871 Census, Ste Martine, Châteauguay, Quebec; Roll: C-10055; Page: 29


On the 3rd of September 1871 his mother Angelique died, and Joseph signed the burial record.

Desormiers Angelique death

Québec, registres paroissiaux catholiques, 1621-1979,” FamilySearch Sainte-Martine > Sainte-Martine > Baptêmes, mariages, sépultures 1860-1876 > image 295 of 442

So far, I’ve confirmed that Joseph Noel Taillefer was related to our family, that he was a Papal Zouave, and that he came west with the Red River Expeditionary Force in 1872.

I’ll continue Joseph’s story in my next post.



Joseph Noel Taillefer, a research adventure

Recently a distant cousin made contact on this blog. He is the son of Professor Charles W. Bernardin who wrote extensively on the Bernardin family.  I wrote about the Professor’s research here.

This cousin very generously shared research from his Father’s notes.  There were many interesting pieces of information, and one that was completely new to me, was the story of Joseph Noel Taillefer.  Oh, oh…someone new to research, yeah!  I have had so much fun learning about Taillefer, I decided in this blog post I would not only explain what I discovered, but also how I researched. It has been a fascinating journey for me, and I hope my readers will feel the same.

To begin with, Joseph Noel Taillefer  was mentioned in a family memoir written by of one of Jean Baptiste Bernardin’s  granddaughters, Marie Louise Therrien.    The memoir states that Joseph was the nephew of Jean Baptiste Bernardin’s wife, Marie Charlotte Taillefer.

Secondly, Professor Bernardin had translated into English, an excerpt about Taillefer from the book Zouaviana by Gustave Adolphe Drolet . The book in French is online at the Internet Archive here.

Of course, I googled Joseph and found that The Manitoba Historical Society  has a brief biographical entry for Taillefer on its Memorable Manitobans site.

The basic information I had about Taillefer was this:

1) He was a Papal Zouave. ???????

2) He came to Manitoba with the Wolseley Expedition of 1870.

3) He married a daughter of Andrew McDermot.

4) He eventually moved to the Qu’Appelle Valley in Saskatchewan where he died.

Of course, the first thing I had to do was find documentation to confirm the relationship to our family.  Using the Drouin church records on Ancestry, as well as records from PRDH (Programme de recherche en démographie historique) and LaFrance, I was able to find birth and marriage records that confirm the relationship.

Joseph Noel Taillefer was born on Christmas day in 1828 in Montreal, and baptized the same day at Notre Dame.

Taillefer Joseph b1828 baptism

Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968 for Joseph Noel Taillefer ,Montréal, Basilique Notre-Dame, 1828, accessed on Ancestry

Here’s a chart showing his relationship to Mémère.

Taillefer chart

Joseph came from a family of 8 children, 3 of whom died before the 1851 census. I can track Joseph in the 1851 and 1861 census records in Ste Martine, Canada East (Quebec) living with other family members.

The Manitoba Historical Society’s entry states:

“In 1868, he led a regiment of Pontifical Zouaves to Rome to defend Pope Pius IX against Garibaldi, returning to Canada in 1870.”

The term “Zouave” originally referred to a French light infantry troop, recruited in Algeria. But who were the Pontifical (aka Papal) Zouaves, and why did the Pope need defending? I set out to discover the answer.

Without going into a long overview of Italian history, I’ll just say that the Pope, at this point, was the political leader of the Papal States, which included Rome.  Other people, including Garibaldi, had been attempting to unify Italy for some time. This involved the usual intrigues of foreign alliances (think France) and various separate Italian kingdoms. However, Pope Pius IX did not want to cede control of the Papal States to a national government.  Thus, a call went out for Catholics to aid the Pope, by establishing a fighting force of volunteers. (You can read more about the Zouaves here and here).

The Zouaves came from many different countries. The departure of the Quebec contingent from Montreal, and then New York, was accompanied by great fanfare, as you can see in these newspaper articles that I found on

Zouaves leave Montreal

Janesville Daily Gazette, 20 Feb 1868


Zouaves 1868

The Charleston Daily News, 26 Feb 1868


They had the most unusual military uniforms.  Here’s a picture I first found in an article God’s Own Devils by Frank Mackey in Horizon Canada. The picture was originally from Zouaviana.



Professor Bernardin’s translation of Drolet’s Zouaviana tells us many interesting things about Joseph.  He was a big man, over 6 feet tall (you can certainly see that in his picture!). In Montreal he was for a time in a seminary, but decided he was not called to be a priest. When in Marseille, he dealt quickly and physically with a person who insulted the Zouave flag. When the Zouaves were camped in Italy at a spot once the site of Hannibal’s army, Taillefer organized the men into lacrosse teams.

Alas, the Zouaves were not able to achieve their goal. The final result was that on September 20, 1870, the Italian army marched into Rome and Pope Pius IX ordered his army to lay down their weapons. The Pope retreated to the Vatican.

The return home of the Zouaves in November of 1870 was the subject of newspaper articles. Joseph Taillefer is specifically mentioned in this one concerning the reception that greeted them in New York.

Zouaves return

The New York Times, 6 Nov 1870

What was next in this most intriguing man’s story?  Stay tuned.



Marie Rosilda Girardin

Marie Rosilda Girardin was the sister of my great-grandfather Napoleon Girardin, and thus an aunt of Mémère’s.   At first she was a bit of a mystery to me, as it was hard to find many records for her.

She was baptized 10 Feb 1855 at St-Félix-de-Valois in Kingsey, Canada East (Quebec).

Girardin Rosilda baptism

Baptism of Marie Rosilda Girardin St-Félix-de-Valois in Kingsey, Canada East 10 Feb 1855 record from FamilySearch

In 1861 she is in the census in Kingsey with her family.  We know the family lived in Massachusetts for awhile before most of them emigrated to Manitoba. Rosilda however did not. We don’t know why, at only 23, she decided not to follow the family to Manitoba.  She wasn’t married, but she must have had a strong independent streak.

After 1861 there is a 40-year gap before I find her again! French-Canadian names were often terribly mangled in official records.  I can’t find Rosilda (Rose) in the 1870 U.S. census, nor the 1880, and the 1890 census was almost completely destroyed in a fire.

I finally found her in the 1900 census living in Haverhill, Massachusetts.  She is single, living in a boarding house, and works as a shoe stitcher. Perhaps she is working in the same shoe factory as her brother Charles? She gives her date of birth as February 1854.

She’s not in the 1910 census. However, I did find a record of her marriage on 18 Apr 1911 to Louis Arthur Gourdeau.

Rosilda marriage

Massachusetts Marriage Records accessed on

He was a widower and this was his 4th marriage.  It was a first marriage for Rosilda, and she claimed to be 43.  She was actually 56!  How I wish I had a picture of her! After 1900 she consistently “fudges” her age.

After this date I can track her living in Somerville, Massachusetts with her husband.  She was widowed in 1922, but I can find her in the 1920, 1930 and 1940 census records, as well as many city directories.

I confirmed her death by ordering her death record from Massachusetts Vital Statistics.  She died 20 Oct 1944 in the Westborough State Hospital.   The Certificate of Death lists the following details:

Gourdeau, Rose M. (Gerardin)


Residence 38 Chandler, Somerville, Mass.

Age given as 76. (She was actually 89).

born in Canada

father’s name Paul Gerardin/maiden name of mother cannot be learned

Informant Westborough State Hospital Records.

Girardin Rosilda death