Nazaire Poulin, oldest son of Evariste and Elisa took a life-changing trip from southern Quebec to the Yukon in 1907. While facing uncertain hardships and enormous challenges, Nazaire worked through the heartbreak of losing a loving wife, scattering his five children among relatives as he fought to find gold in the Klondike with 3 of his 4 brothers nearby. Along the way, Nazaire fought a deep depression and questioned his faith, his God and the entire world as he knew it.
Edmond Poulin found his calling at a very young age. By 18 years old, he was a student at the locally-growing l’Academie Sainte-Marie in the adjacent village of Saint-Marie de Beauce. Upon graduating, Edmond chose to join the Lasalliens, religious men who take a vow of poverty, dress in a long, black cossack with very wide, very long sleeves and white collar. Edmond dedicated himself to teaching the children of the poor. On the streets, these religious men were known as “long sleeves”. Edmond Poulin chose the religious name of Frêre Luc Malachy (Brother Luke Malachy) and served the order of the Christian Brothers of La Salle for the remainder of his life. During his religious lifetime, he achieved many accomplishments, becoming the Director of various large educational schools. He was a pious man, humble and dedicated to the Lasallien mission within the Catholic Church.
As was the custom, Elie Poulin gave his first son, Denis, a farm in the hamlet of Saint Joseph de Beauce. As Denis builds a solid farming life for his growing family, the economy of Canada plunges into a decades-long depression that robs every forward-step that Denis takes. Everyone in Quebec is affected as thousands of Quebecois slowly flee for the rising Industrial Revolution in the U.S. In one month, new immigrants earn the equivalent of one years’ wages back in Canada. This talent drain hurt Canada as many families starved to death from simple overpopulation while others broken apart – the very fabric of French-Canadian culture was ripped in two.
Marie Celanire Georgiana Vachon dit Pomerleau spent most of her life in Saint Marie de Beauce. At her mother’s 50th wedding anniversary, Celanire is almost indistinguishable from her remaining nine sisters. The facial features of Abanaki or Algonquin First Nation people have already been etched on all their faces.
Women like Celanire managed their children, all but the most critical farm animals, shared animal husbandry chores with their spouses, grew and preserved garden foods, prepared medical balms and ointments for their household. They would help with all childbirth and laying out of the dead tasks as embalming was not a practice for many years to come.
A favorite for breakfast among Quebecois, spread cold cretons on toast or add to crackers for a party favorite.
In no particular order, add the following to a large saucepan:
1 1/2 lbs ground pork (low fat if you can find it)
1 large finely chopped yellow onion (not the sweet, but a regular onion)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 very generous teaspoon of maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice (or substitute 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, ground ginger and nutmeg)
1 1/2 cup whole milk
Simmer, stirring occasionally for 1.5 hours with no cover on the saucepan.
If mixture becomes very dry, slowly add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water while stirring.
After 1.5 hours, continue simmering while adding 1/2 cup of fine breadcrumbs
(substitute almond meal or buckwheat flour) to absorb any water.
Continue stirring until breadcrumbs are mixed well, maybe 3 minutes.
Allow to cool for 5 or 10 minutes, then pack into small containers.
Makes about 12 8-ounce containers that freeze well and thaw very quickly.
Although not my grandmother’s cretons, this is as close as I have come.
Some families add brandy or whiskey instead of maple syrup.
There’s no wrong or right way; just good French-Canadian eating.
Some of the earliest pioneers in the Beauce cleared the land, created the first irrigation systems, negotiated with local Abenaki and Algonquin First Nation people. These men often issued 12-20 children. A few had 12 children with a first wife, and 13 with a second. That’s Canadian productivity for you. Elie Poulin and Archange Nadeau were one pioneering couple who settled in Saint Joseph de Beauce in Quebec.
Elie Poulin was born in 1819, married Archange Nadeau in 1837 and died in 1894 at 75 years old. In all, this couple had at least 9 sons and 7 daughters, but the story doesn’t end there. The children of this one pioneering couple started blacksmith shops, manufactured chassis for horse-driven coaches, and later, converted some of their manufacturing line to handle the first automobiles in the region. I wonder what the cows thought about an almost out-of-control car, wheels screeching and horn blasting the air like fireworks.
The daughters of this couple married and married well. They were industrious women, north-hardened and animal husbandry. They were knowledgeable about local plants, home remedies and raised small farm animals as their men and young sons labored in the fields.
There are many stories of untold courage and unwavering determination, all flowing from the next generations of Beauce pioneers. These men at fourteen years old and built like trees, knew the importance of challenging work.
These girls who at ten could manage a household of 8 siblings as their mother was buried and they were to take up family obligations for decades.
Follow their life experiences in the uncertain and chaotic period of successive depressions and mass exodus. These hard times almost crushed Quebec province during these upheavals, morphing into a solid, global economy.
I’ve often returned to Coventry, Vermont, searching for my grandfather’s farm on River Road. No visit is complete without a visit to the Town Clerk who has always been patient and accommodating.
One of Vermont’s jewels, Lake Memphremagog is a site to behold. Spooning with the city of Newport on its south end, the lake is a good 22 miles long, 10 miles wide with more islands on the Canadian side of the lake –rich with old caves and stories of the whiskey runners of the 1920s who would hide their booze in caves while they waited for the US buyers to cross in the dead of the night by boat. I wonder how many runners kept themselves warm with a little “taste” to give their blood fortification on the cold and foggy lake at night.
How a lake as beautiful as this one can have different names on each side still amazes me. On the Canadian side, the Lake is simply Lake Magog. Much easier to spell than its American counterpart. The fishing never disappoints and the lineup of beautiful crafts is eye candy to anyone with a drop of seamanship in his blood.
For millennium, the Northern Lights have appeared across the Canadian landscape. One has to wonder what the earliest First Nation people thought of those lights? Did these natives use the lights as a deterrent for bad behavior in their children? Did the earliest sled dogs of the Yukon bark and become unsettled by the random lights in the sky?
In her book “The Northern Lights”, author Lucy Jago explores the life work and scientific growth of Norwegian scientist Kristian Birkeland. This scientist discovered the mystery and physics of the aurora borealis. Lucy Jago provides an exciting excursion into the complicated life of this visionary scientist who traveled the world while proving his results.
For me, the Northern Lights gives us a glimpse into the early mind of man and how one would perceive such erratic illuminations in a life filled with challenges like starvation, finding new sources of food, providing for your family, your village, your community. What would the first explorers into New France have thought of the lights? Elements of evil? Shadow paintings from the hand of God?
Although the world is more sophisticated today, it is the children of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the First Nation peoples of Dawson, Yukon who perhaps viewed the scattering of lights as a reminder of the power of the Great Spirit.
Viewed from as far east as the Beauce Valley of the Appalachian – Beauce region of southern Quebec, I have to wonder what my grandparents thought of these heavenly apparitions. Were the local cows disturbed by the lights? Were the farmers’ work horses ill at ease when the showering of colors covered the sky? Did my grand parents tell my mom of five years old that she needed to be good or the lights would get her?
Were the lights a forerunner of good times – rich crops or a successful harvest? Perhaps a sign of difficult times to come – a reason to repent misgivings and accept a life of goodness to all? No matter what the answer to these questions, I can still share these wondrous events every so often from the many villages of the Beauce Valley.
Shine on, heavenly lights. Shine on.