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.




One thought on “Joseph Noel Taillefer, a research adventure

  1. […] Joseph Noel Taillefer, a research adventure and Joseph Noel Taillefer, part 2 by J. Hogue Corrigan on As Canadian as can be. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s