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!

A rose by any other name…

In this day and age, when we have government-issued identity cards such as birth certificates, social insurance cards, and drivers’ licenses, it can be hard to get your head around the fact that our ancestors’ names may not have been standardized.  When looking at census records, church documents, or civil records, you can find many variations on the spelling of not only surnames, but given names as well.  There may be a variety of reasons for this, including the literacy level of your ancestor, the difference in ethnic background of the ancestor and the official record keeper, poor handwriting by a clerk, or just personal whim.

This was very apparent as I continued my research into the Allard family. In my last post I shared my excitement in having found the date and place of death for Marie Bonin, married to Joseph Pierre Allard.  Previous to the help I received from a “genealogy angel”, the last record I had was for the 1881 census in Quebec.  Learning that Marie had died in Massachusetts, I started searching for any record of the unmarried daughter who had also been in that 1881 census household.

The daughter in question was baptized as Marie Almeria Allard on June 11, 1869 at St-Denis-sur-Richelieu in Quebec.  My great grandmother, Onesime Allard, who was  17 years old at the time, was godmother.


Allard Almeria b1869 baptism

Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com. St-Denis-sur-Richelieu, 1869, B36

In the 1871 census Almeria is “Meria”, and in 1881 she is “Elmeria”. Hmm.  You can see where this is going!

Searching Massachusetts records took some time, but I found a marriage record for an “Amelia” Allard, d/o Joseph Allard and Marie Bonin.  This looked promising.  The groom was listed as Samuel L. Dumonchelle. The marriage took place May 20, 1889 in Oxford, Massachusetts.

Confirming that Amelia was the person I wanted meant tracking the couple via census records and checking the birth/marriage/death records of their 7 children. When a maiden name of mother was listed, it was always Allard, except for once when it was Allord.

Here are all the names I found for Marie Almeria in the records:

Amelia (obviously the one she preferred)
Lydia.  This was a surprise but if you say it quickly you can see how it could be misheard.

As for her husband, who was listed as Samuel L. Dumonchelle on the marriage record, his name was actually Dumouchelle.  He was born in 1863 in Massachusetts, and died November 16, 1922 in Rhode Island.

Here are all the variations of that surname I discovered as I searched the records for this family:


They had 3 children while living  in Massachusetts:

Amelia, born 1890, never married, died 1976 in Rhode Island

Josephine, born 1892, never married, died 1974 in Rhode Island

Joseph Samuel Arthur, born 1894, died 1895 in Rhode Island

After their move to Rhode Island in 1894/95 they had 4 more children:

Aldia Eva, born 1897, who became a nun, taking the name of Sister Mary Amelia, and died 1962 in Kentucky

Napoleon, born 1900, married, and died 1962 in Virginia, buried in Rhode Island

Alfred, born 1905, married, and died 1976 in Minnesota, buried in Massachusetts

Alphonse, born 1908, married, and died 1977 in Rhode Island

The death record for Amelia Dumouchelle,  provided more documentation that this was the right person.

Allard Almeria b1869 death

“Rhode Island Deaths and Burials, 1802-1950,” database, FamilySearch , Amelia Dumouchelle, 24 Mar 1950; citing Burrillville, Providence, Rhode Island, reference 1484; FHL microfilm 2,229,197.

Samuel, his parents, Amelia, and 3 of their children are buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery, Burrillville, Providence County, Rhode Island.  Find A Grave has a picture.

Allard Almeria b1869 gravestone

Find A Grave Memorial# 101007225

And the research into the Allard family continues.



Marie Bonin

More than a year ago, I blogged about the fact that I could find no death record for my great-great grandmother Marie Bonin. Marie was born to Jacques/Jean Bonin and Amable Dupre and baptized at St. Ours, Lower Canada on 28 July 1827.  She married Joseph Pierre Allard 30 January 1849 at St-Denis-sur-Richelieu. She had 15 children, at least 7 of which died in infancy. Her husband died in 1875.  Until now, I hadn’t been able to trace her past the 1881 census when she was still in St-Denis.

Yesterday, October 30th, I posted a query on the Quebec-Research list and quickly found my answer.  A “genealogy angel” found her death record in Millbury, Massachusetts on 26 October 1895.  She died of pneumonia.

Obviously, sometime after 1881, she moved to Massachusetts!  At least 2 of her sons, were there, although my great grandmother Onesime Allard had already emigrated to Manitoba.

She was not buried in Massachusetts however.  Her body was sent “home” to St-Denis where she was buried on…..wait for it…October 30!

Bonin Marie burial

St-Denis-sur-Richelieu, 1895

She definitely wanted me to find that record!

I have no photo of her grave, if it even is a marked grave after all this time.  However here’s a picture of the beautiful church, built in 1796.

Église St-Denis-sur-Richelieu


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 Ancestry.com

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




Still more moves

I’ve written about the various moves the Girardin and Bernardin families made in their quest for more economic opportunities. What determined, hard-working people our ancestors were! To move from Quebec to Massachusetts to St. Daniel (Carman) to St. Alphonse/Bruxelles… and they weren’t finished yet.

Farming conditions had not been very favourable in the 1890s in the prairies, and wheat prices were not high. For various reasons, the families were choosing to move again. Many of Louise Bernardin’s brother Joseph’s family moved to Elie, Manitoba, a new community about 30 km. west of Winnipeg. There’s a fascinating local history book, Treasures of Time: The Rural Municipality of Cartier, 1914-1984, that has a great deal of information about the Bernardin family. Joseph’s son, Louis, married Lea Dufresne, whose father, Elie Dufresne, was one of the town’s first settlers. Apparently the town was named after him.

After Onesime Allard’s death, Napoleon Girardin moved his family to La Salle ( a subject for another post).

At some point, Louise Bernardin’s daughter, Caroline Girardin Hamel, moved to Ste. Anne. In 1915 she married Damase Dion.

Here’s a map showing all the places in Manitoba where the families homesteaded.

Manitoba places
The most surprising move to me, however, was that of Louise Bernardin and her second husband, Bruno Charbonneau, who left Manitoba to go back to Worcester, Massachusetts, about 1898!  Louise was 74 and Bruno about 71. They lived at 6 Southgate Street, and Bruno did find employment, according to the Worcester, Massachusetts City Directory.


Worcester City Directory 1898

Worcester City Directory 1898

It’s likely that once in Massachusetts, Louise would have occasion to visit, or receive visits from, family members such as her son Charles, and her daughter Rosilda, who lived in Massachusetts. Perhaps she also was able to visit with her sister Marie Elyse who still lived in Warwick, Quebec.

Tragically, on December 16, 1904, Bruno died suddenly of a heart attack.

Massachusetts, Death Records, 1841-1915 from Ancestry

Massachusetts, Death Records, 1841-1915 from Ancestry

By 1907 Louise had returned to La Salle to live with her son Napoleon. There would have been several great-grandchildren by this point.  My Dad would be born in 1909, so Louise would have had the opportunity to hold that great-grandchild.

Louise Bernardin died June 2, 1912 at the age of 87, having outlived two husbands.  She is buried in the La Salle Cemetery, in the same plot as her grandson Arthur. Although her gravestone gives her year of birth as 1825, her baptismal record states 1824.


Grave of "Grandma Louise" La Salle Cemetery

Grave of “Grandma Louise”
La Salle Cemetery

And this is the descent from Louise to Mémère:

1-Marie Louise BERNARDIN (24 Sep 1824-2 Jun 1912)
+Paul GIRARDIN (14 Oct 1804-29 Sep 1878)
2-Napoleon GIRARDIN (8 Apr 1851-16 May 1929)
+Onesime ALLARD (20 May 1852-29 May 1896)
3-Marie Emma GIRARDIN (23 Jun 1878-28 Aug 1979)


So why did Paul Girardin, his wife, Louise Bernardin, and their family move to Worcester, Massachusetts? Research indicates that they were not the only Quebec family to do so. According to the article French Canadian Emigration to the United States, 1840=1930 by Damien-Claude Belanger and Claude Belanger:

“Between 1840 and 1930 roughly 900 000 French Canadians left Canada to emigrate to the United States.”

There were many economic reasons for this emigration movement. Life was hard in rural Quebec. The population was expanding at a faster rate than agricultural land could support. The New England states were an easy train ride from Quebec and wages in the U.S. factories could provide a higher standard of living for a family.

In the same article we learn:

“Often, the emigration of an entire nuclear family would begin with the departure of a couple of its members who would sound out the general situation in a given town and then would send for the rest of their family. Cousins, uncles and nephews would often join the initial family before bringing their own relatives down, creating a pattern of settlement where family ties became the primary source of support and information in the United States.”

In the book The French-Canadian Heritage in New England by Gerard J. Brault, we learn:

“Immigrants wrote enthusiastic letters home or, when visiting, forcefully pointed out the advantages of living and working in New England mill towns.”


“Some industries actively recruited labor from Canada, especially in the years immediately before and after the Civil War.”

Were Paul and Louisa encouraged to move by other family members? Were they approached by recruiters? I am still trying to piece together exactly when the various members of the families moved. It is a time-consuming process, searching census, marriage, death records and city directories, but one I confess to enjoy!

To begin with, two of Louise Bernardin’s siblings are found in Lowell, Massachusetts in the 1870 U.S. Census. Charles Michel Bernardin is with his wife Victoire Peloquin and family. Joseph Bernardin is with his wife Marie Peloquin and family. They may have returned to Warwick, Quebec at some point. Several of Charles Michel’s children married in Massachusetts,  he died in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1890, and a great many of his descendants stayed in Massachusetts.

And what of the Girardin families? Two of Paul Girardin’s brothers, Antoine and Casmir are in the 1870 U.S. Census for West Boylston, Worcester, Massachusetts. Antoine’s and Casmir’s children, ages 10 to 19, are working in the cotton mills. Another Girardin researcher has determined that Antoine and Casmir were paying taxes in Massachusetts by 1869.

I have not, yet, been able to find Paul and Louise in the 1870 U.S. census, although I suspect they were there. The earliest record I’ve found is when their daughter Caroline Girardin married Pierre Hamel on July 4, 1871 in Worcester.

In the 1873 city directory for Worcester, we find Paul and his son Napoleon, who is listed as a shoemaker. By 1877, Napoleon’s brother Charles Girardin is also in the directory. Both Charles and  Napoleon are listed as working at 9 Barton Place. Further research revealed that 9 Barton Place was the address of H.B. Fay & Co. Bootmakers.


Worcester, Massachusetts, City Directory, 1876

Worcester, Massachusetts, City Directory, 1876


Shoe factories were a thriving business in Worcester. Hours were long and the work was tedious. Here’s a picture of a  factory in Lynn, Massachusetts in the 1870s.


In terms of direct family history the most important event to occur was the marriage of Napoleon Girardin to Onesime Allard September 29, 1873 in Worcester.

Girardin Allard marriage

Notice the spellings of their names on their marriage certificate…Jourdan and Allerd! French Canadian names were often mangled in census records and directories.

Onesime had been born 20 May 1852 in St-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. In the 1871 Census of Canada she was still living at home with her parents. I don’t know when or why she came to Massachusetts. Two of her brothers, Joseph and Frederic can be found in Massachusetts by 1877. That’s the year Joseph’s daughter Laura was born and Frederic married. Frederic’s wife died young, he returned to Quebec, married again and died there. Joseph remained in Massachusetts, also marrying a second time after his wife’s death. He died in 1920.

Napoleon Girardin and Onesime Allard had three daughters who died tragically young:

Georgia Girardin born 18 Oct 1874 and died 22 Feb 1878 of inflammation of the bowels
Lydia Girardin born 11 Nov 1875 and died 12 Jul 1876 of cholera
Marie Diana born 1 Mar 1877 and died 1 Aug 1877, no cause of death given

Infant death was not uncommon. Napoleon’s sister Caroline, wife of Pierre Hamel, also buried two young daughters in Massachusetts in 1876 and 1877.

All three of Napoleon and Onesime’s daughters were dead by the time Mémère, Emma Girardin, was born 23 Jun 1878.

Girardin Emma birth1878Again we have mangled surnames…Girard and “Olisseum Allore”.

So, there you have the story of how Mémère came to be born in Massachusetts.  How did we end up in Manitoba?

Stay tuned.