Emigrants from Jersey, the cod, and the Gaspé Coast
- The Cod
- With staring eyes and face most odd
- We find, upon his slab, the cod
- From his expression it would seem
- He'd had a truly awful dream.
- Although I often find a slice
- Of him, with egg sauce, very nice
- I wish the fishmonger would place
- The cod on show without his face!
- (E W T, in The Blue Bell)
A Canadian friend who claimed he always connected codfish with Jerseymen sent me this curious doggerel about the cod. While it is not very complimentary in so far as the countenance of that famous fish is concerned, it cannot detract from its great food value.
Gary Webster, writing in the Canadian Star Weekly in I959 says: "Gadus Morrhua, the common cod, seldom figures in a yarn of danger and heroism. But to an extent greater than that of any creature of the sea, this soft¬finned denizen of northern waters has shaped the course of history."
In a more particular way, it has certainly shaped the course of the lives of a lot of Jerseymen, and while this is not going to be an article on the cod, it is an appropriate introduction.
La Mouothue was one of the first words I remember hearing as a lad of seven in the blacksmith's shop, better known as a forge in those days, adjoining the house where I lived with my grandparents at Les Landes, St Ouen, in Jersey just before the turn of the century.
There was only one language spoken then, Jersey¬Norman-French, and La Mouothue, La Cote, Terreneuve and Labrador were always the subjects of conversation in the forge.
My grandfather, as well as my father and some of my paternal uncle, were blacksmiths and horse-shoers. At that time the forge was the machine shop of the community, and ploughshares were forged, shaped and sharpened there during the winter evenings.
It was convenient to do that particular job after daylight hours because it was possible to engage the services of an extra sledge hammer hand, who, though a farmer, had learnt the trade, or of a smith who had worked in another forge during the day.
The ploughshares were generally forged by the master-smith and two sledge-hammer hands. This heavy hammer operation was called Frapper. There were no such things as cinema, radio or television for evening entertainment, and most of the farmers and menfolk round about came to the forge to watch the forging of these "knives" and take part in the general conversation.
There was something fascinating about the sound of the master-smith's hammer and the "Gros marte" or heavy sledge-hammer with long handle used by his assistants, falling alternately in perfect rhythm and con¬trolled by the master.
The latter's small hammer "called" time and controlled the speed of the strokes, and gave notice to stop by hitting the anvil instead of the forgin,g giving two sharp successive taps. For a long time I wondered why my grandfather thusly hit the anvil instead of the forging. Eventually the timing pattern impressed itself on my young mind, and the sound of hammers on the anvil became music in my ears and has remained so to this day.
In return for good behaviour I was permitted to spend evenings in the forge with the men. My grandmother wound a muffler around my neck and crossed a woollen shawl over my shoulders, tying the ends behind my back, this to protect against draughts around the forge, and my grandfather sat me in some corner as close as possible to the fire but out of the way of activity around the anvil.
Most of the farmers in the vicinity had, at some time or other, spent some years sailing the ships of the day or working on the Gaspé Coast, or doing both, and the gist of the conversation was the Gaspé Coast, Newfoundland and codfish.
Shipbuilding was also the order of the day. It was a very active Jersey industry a century ago and later. The names of sailing vessels, since become famous, such as the CRC, the Patruus, the Fanny Breslau, the Seaflower, the Union, the Dawn, etc. were frequently mentioned in course of conversation in the forge.
Not all of them had been built in Jersey. The Patruus was built in Canada in 1839, and the Dawn was built at Point St Peter near Mal Bay on the Gaspé Coast. It was a "brick" of 168 tons register and was a fast ship.
My father and mother, accompanied by my brothers Sydney and John, were passengers on the Dawn, bound for Paspebiac, in April 1901. On that occasion the ship created a record for quick passage from Jersey to Paspebiac, making the journey in 26 days. On the ship with my father and mother were Mr and Mrs John Le Cocq. Mr Le Cocq is mentioned by Miss Marguerite Syvret, in her remarkable and beautifully written article entitled "Jersey Settlements in Gaspé" published in the May 1954 Bulletin. (Jersey Society in London.)
During those interesting evenings in the forge, my young and eager imagination was nurtured by tales of adventure in ships and in the far distant lands of Newfoundland, Labrador and Gaspé. Such names as La Riviethe es R'nards (Fox River), L'Anse au Gris Fonds, L'Anse de Jersey, Gaspé, Mal Bay, Barachois, Perce, Paspebiac, Caratchette (Caraquet in New Brunswick, where the Robins had an establishment), and the above names of ships, were so indelibly imprinted in my mind that I could never forget them, and I secretly determined to some day visit all those places.
I did not join my parents on the Gaspé peninsula, nor have I ever lived there. In later years, after settling down in the United States after demoblization from the British Army in the First World War, however, one of my first vacations was spent visiting Mr and Mrs John Le Cocq at Mal Bay. The memory of that first visit is very vivid in my mind.
My father had not stayed long on the Gaspé Coast and Mr Le Cocq had lost sight of us altogether. His pleasure on seeing a son of his old travelling companion of the Dawn voyage was spon¬taneous and instantaneous, and I still remember my astonishment at hearing the Jersey-English accent of 70 years ago when he announced my arrival to Mrs Le Cocq, née Alice Le Mottée, of the parish of St Mary in Jersey.
Coming from USA, John naturally thought that his visitor could not remember Jersey-French and had announced my arrival in English. I soon corrected that error, however, and we never again conversed in English. After being heartily welcomed by Mrs Le Cocq, the first thing that John proudly suggested was that I accompany him to see his potato patch, “Pliantees comme en Jerri, valet! " (Cultivated as is customary in Jersey).
I visited that charming old Jersey couple many times until they passed away, and during the summer of 1959, on my way from Gaspé to Paspebiac, I stopped at Mal Bay to look at their house, now tenantless and closed up except for a few weeks annually when a niece (and adopted daughter), who lives and works in Quebec City, spends her summer vacation there.
In the cemetery adjoining the Anglican Church of St Peter close by, I trimmed the grass on the graves of my dear old friends, now neglected like the rest of the graves in the cemetery,due to lack of funds by the church authority and the high cost of outside labour, plus the fact that there are few Anglican families left in Mal Bay.
St Peter's Church in Mal Bay is one of the larger Anglican churches on the coast, and the cemetery is of considerable extent. It is worthy of note that John Le Cocq, who was an accomplished carpenter, had gratuitously erected most of the woodwork in the interior of that beautiful church as his personal contribution when it was built.
The size of the church and cemetery is indicative of the fact that nearby Point St Peter, now almost deserted, was once a shipbuilding centre as well as a cod processing room. The word "run" in Jersey-French (Anglicised "room") was the word which designated all the establishments, yards, sheds and buildings of the Robin-Collas Company wherever situated, as "Les runs des Robins" (The Rooms of the Robins). Cod is still processed at the Mal Bay Robin establishment.
In Jersey, large families were customary at and before the turn of the century and agriculture had not developed to the commercial extent that existed later. I have always been told by the old folks that people who owned farms just tilled enough of the land to provide food for themselves and their beasts of burden and cattle.
It naturally followed that there was not sufficient work on the farms to employ many of the numerous sons in those large families, and it became necessary for most of those boys to earn their living away from home.
The laws of inheritance usually kept the eldest son home as the father's right hand and future proprietor of the farm, and this afforded the necessary manpower for the limited cultivation of the soil. The younger sons were engaged in the available crafts of the day.
Spirit of adventure
There was also a spirit of adventure in the Jerseyman, which no doubt prompted him to sail the oceans and explore lands beyond the seas. A large number manned the ships that were built in their native island and sailed the Atlantic between it and the Gaspé Coast, and many stayed on shore to help in the processing of the codfish on the Gaspé peninsular when their ships dropped anchor there.
Their places as crewmen for the return voyage to Jersey were filled by the sailors who had already spent some time on shore and desired to revisit the Island home.
My grandfather and no less than three of his brothers, Jean, Charles and Francois, sailed the ships and worked on the coast at the same time. Jean was drowned near Paspebiac in a heavy sea when codfishing, two fishing cutters being lost on that occasion.
Charles returned to Jersey to work the ancestral farm and take care of my great-grandmother (who died in her 90th year in 1895) when she became a widow. Francois never came back. The only thing I have been able to dis¬cover about him is that he died overseas.
My grandfather, who besides being a sailor had learnt his trade as blacksmith and horse-shoer, becoming an apprentice at the age of 11 in a forge at St Jean in Jersey, settled in Jersey to follow his trade when he married.
The fact that the lives of many of my ancestors were so bound up with the Gaspé Coast no doubt accounts for the reason that as a lad I never heard much detail about life in Newfoundland and Labrador.
However, as Miss Syvret tells us in her splendid article, there are few Jersey families that have not, at some time, had a relative on the Gaspé Coast. Miss Syvret's historical sketch of the Peninsula and its colonisation and development is so accurate and complete that I would not presume to try to add a single word to it.
She mentions the fact that the Seigneuries of the Province of Quebec were similar to the ancient pattern of life in Metropolitan France. This reminds me that at least one Jerseyman, whose family name was Godfray, became a Seigneur, by marriage, of "Le Grand Etang", a Seigneurie situated about 20 miles North-West of Fox River, at the foot of the Shickshock Mountains, a continuation of the Appalachian Range. The late Seigneur is buried in the cemetery of St. Paul's Anglican Church in Gaspé.
I have visited his descendants, who now operate a tourist cabin establishment and restaurant at Le Grand Etang. One of them acts as Postmaster for the district. The Seigneurie has been abolished long ago and the Post Office district has been named St Helier by the present day Godfrays.
This would perhaps indicate that their forbears may have been originaires of the parish of that name in Jersey. They have never visited Jersey and impress one as being more French-Canadian than Jerseyite.
I have known the Postmaster of Gaspé mentioned by Miss Syvret in 1954. He was Francis John Alexandre Ropert, a St Pierrais by birth, who emigrated to Paspebiac as a farmer-apprentice at an early age for the Charles Robin Collas Company in the days when that company operated stores, farms, blacksmith and carpenter shops and almost any kind of commercial undertaking which was neces¬sary for the maintenance of life and commerce in their domains.
One Sunday evening eight or nine years ago in the Royal Hotel at Gaspé, I was having a chat with Frank Ropert, Leslie Le Gros of Barachois, John Le Cocq and his late son Morris, who was then manager of the hotel. As is usual when Jerseymen get together, the conversation was about Jersey, and Frank Ropert was talking about the hardships of farming in Jersey in his youth, then finding those hardships multi¬pled on the Coast.
John Le Cocq, born at Pot du Rocher in St Martin, Jersey, on the border of Trinity, was full of the story of his early days in St Martin, and when I pretended to question the importance of St Martin as a parish, he turned on me very fiercely with the question: "N'as-tu pon oui paler du Rouai des Ecrehos? Jamais St Ouen n'a produit un rouai, valet!" (Have you not heard of the King of the Ecrehos? St. Ouen has never produced a king.). The Ecrehos, of course, are in St Martin's parish, and I had to acknowledge the importance of John Le Cocq's parish.
Frank Ropert did not live many years after his retirement as Postmaster of Gaspé. He had been gassed on the Western Front as a Canadian soldier in the First World War, and had not subsequently enjoyed very good health, and the sudden death of his wife, nee Williamson, a native of the peninsula,just before his retirement, did not help matters. They both lie buried in the cemetery of the Anglican Church at Sandy Beach near Gaspé.
I shall not go into the history of the firm of Charles Robin Collas Company (now Robin, Jones and Whitman) since Miss Syvret has so ably done so. Suffice it to say that "Les Robins" as they were known to all Jerseymen, played a great part in the lives and destinies of all their employees.
They were hard taskmasters and strict disciplinarians. I believe, however, that in the main they were just and had the welfare of their wards, as they evidently considered their apprentices, at heart. So long as their employees behaved themselves and obeyed the company's rules, their employment and income, if modest, were secure.
The Jerseymen were made of tough fibre and easily adapted themselves to the discipline and conditions found awaiting them in the new land. The winters, especially, were hard on folks who had been accustomed to the mild Jersey climate.
Miss Syvret has described the conditions under which the apprentice lived and worked. If he stayed in the company's employ on completion of his apprenticeship, and married, he lived in a house belonging to the company and could not very well make a change in employ¬ment ,because there were no private houses available, and few, if any, company houses were tenantless.
There were, of course, other firms established on the coast, theLe Boutilliers and the Fruings, and a few others, but they were eventually amalgamated or had to drop out of the picture because of fierce competition.
The lack of independent housing was a source of worry to my old friend John Le Cocq when he was beachmaster for the Robins at Mal Bay. Being fiercely independent of character, he often had disagreements with "Moussieu" Collas, who was in charge of the Mal Bay district, but did not dare put up too much of an argument because he had a wife and two children, and no house to go to if he should be dismissed from the company's employ.
On the quiet, he acquired a piece of land and decided to build a house on it. Being a carpenter, he could do most of the work. Little by little he gathered enough lumber to build one room which, in later years, became the kitchen of the completed two storey house.
Mr Le Cocq has often told me that in the fall of that year he and Mrs Le Cocq were requested by Mr Collas to spend the coming winter on the Natashquan station on the North shore of the St Lawrence River, and that Mrs. Le Cocq was promised remuneration for her services as cook for the station.
On their return to Mal Bay the following spring, John claims that his firm refused to pay the extra money for Mrs Le Cocq's services as cook, so he quit his job and moved his little family into the one room already erected on his piece of land. With summer coming he had no fuel to provide for winter heating and there was plenty lumber on the property to keep the stove going for cooking purposes.
About that time, an explosion destroyed some military barracks at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the firm employed to rebuild them was advertising for carpenters. John got himself a job there and came back at the end of that summer with enough money to build the remainder of his house.
Like all the houses built at that time, it was entirely of wood. It was a solid structure and stands to this day as a monu¬ment to his skill and enterprise. Thereafter, John Le Cocq worked as a carpenter erecting lumber mills at Shawinigan Falls in the province of Quebec, and became prosperous.
Another Jerseyman who made his debut with the Robin Company at Mal Bay was Edward Joshua Le Maistre, born at St Ouen in Jersey. He started learning his trade as a blacksmith in Jersey at the age of 11. At the age of 13 he was apprenticed to the Robin Company and found himself working as a helper in the company's forge at Mal Bay with a Jerseyman by the name of Esnouf as master blacksmith. The smithy was under the jurisdiction of "Moussieu" Collas.
Le Maistre was engaged for the usual term of five years for £50 sterling and had to provide his initial clothing for the journey across the ocean and the first period of apprenticeship until a sufficient fraction of the £50 accrued as earnings would enable him to replenish it.
The working hours were from sun-up to sun-down. They were long hours in summer. One morning, Edward Le Maistre overslept. Mr Esnouf came to the bunk-house where Edward slept in the second tier of wall-side bunks.
Esnouf was big and strong and finding Edward still asleep in his bunk lifted him bodily, and before the latter, only half awake, could resist, he dropped him from the height of the bunk to the floor, told him to hurry to the forge without breakfast, and himself made his way back there.
Edward Le Maistre was a short, stocky man. He was very hot tempered and full of fight. The more he thought of his plight as he dressed himself, the madder he became, and he made his way to the forge with murder in his heart, Arrived there, he picked up a sledge hammer and made for Esnouf. The latter started running around the forge with Le Maistre after him.
Edward happened to see Mr Collas coming towards the forge, however, and he knew he would be unable to justify his conduct so he dropped the hammer, ran out of the forge past Mr Collas and did not stop running until he arrived at Point St Peter.
Jumped aboard ship
A ship was about to cast off from the pier at the Point, bound for Quebec City, and Le Maistre, without a penny in his pocket and in possesssion of only the clothes on his back, jumped aboard.
On hearing his story, someone paid for his passage to Quebec. In that city he managed to get a few odd jobs which enabled him to earn enough money to pay his train fare to Ottawa, but became sick with typhoid fever on arrival in that city and was taken to hospital.
He remembered waking out of a violent fever one night in hospital, hungry as a bear. When he realised he did not have a single penny to buy food he started to cry. Perhaps this seems childish but he was only about 14 years old and this was his first experience in a hospital and did not know food was provided by the institution.
A nurse came along and explained that money had nothing to do with his lack of food, that fasting was part of the treatment for his illness and that nourishment would be given him as soon as his condition permitted it.
When he was discharged he had no money, and walking dejectedly along Rideau Street in Ottawa, wondering what he was going to do for shelter and food, he saw a placard in the window of the Railroad station advertising for woodsmen to go to a lumber camp in the bush in Northern Ontario for the winter.
He applied for a job, was accepted, and given a small amount of money in advance to buy clothing and food. This enabled him to eat a good meal before presenting himself for the long train journey ahead.
Our friend Le Maistre had never wielded an axe, and the first time he tried to fell a tree he inflicted a deep gash in the calf of his own leg. This incurred the wrath of his foreman who accused him of permitting himself to be hired under false pretences. The foreman happened to be a good fellow, however, and he placed Le Maistre in the cookhouse, there to help the camp's cook while his leg was healing.
As is often the case among a large gang of men, one of the bushmen was a bully and a braggart and he happened to have some knowledge of horse-shoeing and had hitherto shod the horses when necessary. One day, when two horses happened to need new shoes, he was slightly inebriated, and, bragging about his prowess, offered to give $5 to anyone who could shoe a horse as quickly and effici¬ently as he could.
Edward Le Maistre, standing by, took up the challenge. To everybody's surprise he easily won the $5. The foreman came forward and noted that only a professional horse-shoer could do such an excellent job, and on Edward's admission that he was a blacksmith, asked why the dickens he had not said so in the first place. A forge was immediately erected for him and he became the camp's official blacksmith and horse-shoer, at a much higher wage.
During that winter he became very friendly with a woodsman whose home was in Almonte, Ontario, and went with him to that city when the camp broke up in the spring. There, he met the lady who eventually became Mrs Le Maistre and, in the course of future years presented him with six children.
In Almonte, Edward Le Maistre set up a forge and became prosperous. When the automobile made its appearance, however, Edward made up his mind that it was bound to replace the horse, and with an eye to the future, he purchased a car and disassembled it to find out what made it work.
In time, he mastered its intricacies completely, and set up a garage, the first to be established in that city and suburban area, for the repairing of automobiles. Mr Le Maistre became one of the leading citizens of Almonte and was elected to the city council and served the community in various capacities for many years. He also accumulated considerable real estate, and when he died in 1953 every one of his six children inherited a home.
Not all who began their careers with Charles Robin Collas Company ended so successfully. Generally speaking, however, their lot, though hard on account of discipline and climate, was not an unhappy one, and it is significant that all beach¬masters and store managers were Jerseymen who had stayed with the company after serving their initial apprenticeships.
Le Marquand brothers
Some Jerseymen established themselves on their own account. Two such were Ernest Philip and Elias John Le Marquand, brothers of the late Jurat Samuel James Le Marquand, some time Constable of St Peter in Jersey, and Jurat of the Royal Court.
During the operation of their general store they, also, recruited Jersey boys. They both died some years ago. Ernest had a son who did not, however, carry on his father's and uncle's business and is now dead. The Le Marquand store passed into the hands of French Canadians.
In the early days of the Robin enterprise, the establishment, as Miss Syvret tells us in her wonderful article, was entirely masculine, Managers having the choice of remaining wifeless or leaving their wives behind in Jersey. It happened sometimes, quite naturally, of course, that employees fell in love with local French¬ Canadian girls and married them in defiance of Robin Company rules.
This always resulted in their dismissal from the company. They were married in the Roman Catholic church, and if they personally retained their Jersey characteristics, their children, brought up in French-Canadian environments, language and religion, did not acquire any.
I know several families, one named Cabot, living near Mal Bay, and another named Mauger, living in Grand River, who are French-Canadians in everything but name. Mauger told me his grandfather of that name, a Jersey¬man, had been dismissed by the Robin Company for marrying his French-Canadian grandmother.
Several years ago, I met a Roman Catholic priest on the coast who was introduced as Father Ste Croix. In the course of conversation it trans¬pired that his grandfather was a Jerseyman named De Ste Croix.
Later, however, as the Robin establishment grew and prospered, the company erected dwelling houses and their employees were permitted-and even encouraged -to marry. Marriage among Jersey and Guernsey families then became the order of the day and Jersey people on the Gaspé Coast today are of the second and third generation born there.
The company rule was even relaxed as regards inter¬marriage with French-Canadians, and one charming old Jerseyman I knew well, Charles Powell, of La Pointe, St. Ouen, for many years beachmaster at Grand River, married one and became the father of ten children.
Though these were all French-Canadian to all intents and purposes, the father himself remained an Anglican and a Freemason to the day of his death at the age of 83, and he had not forgotten one word of Jersey-Norman-French, although he had never returned to the Island.
Of his ten children, three were sons. Unfortunately, they all died young. The daughters have all married French-Canadians and there are no descendants by the name of Powell. Charles Powell reposes in the cemetery of the Anglican Church at Cape Cove.
A distinguished Jerseyman who weathered the storms of early appren ticeship and rose to the highest managerial office of the Robin Company, eventually becom¬ing known as the Grand Old Man of "La Cote", was Eugene Auguste Albert Bouillon, born at Grenville House, Bagot, St. Saviour, Jersey, in I869.
His parents came from Normandy and had become shoe merchants in Jersey, but lost their money in the disastrous bank failure of 1886. They salvaged just enough money from the sale of their shoe store in Queen Street, St. Helier, to pay their passage to New Zealand. In the meantime, Eugene, the eldest of three sons, had been apprenticed to the Robin Company and sailed to Paspebiac aboard the Sea Flower in 1883, so he never again saw his parents. As a matter of fact he only returned to Jersey for a visit 75 years later,in 1958.
On the Gaspé Coast, Mr Bouillon gave early indication of exceptional intel¬ligence and ability, and eventually became general manager of the Robin Jones & Whitman Company, successors to Charles Robin Collas Company, for the whole Gaspé Coast.
He died in 1959 in his 90th year and is buried in the cemetery of St Peter's Anglican Church in Paspebiac. During his long life, he saw many of the changes in the fortunes of the Robin Company and of the Gaspé Coast activities in general, so ably detailed in Miss Syvret's paper.
He knew every Jerseyman, Jersey or Canadian born, on the Coast personally, and had become the colony's master counsellor and arbiter, always emphasizing the dignity, commercial integrity and honesty of the Robin Company and its Jersey managers and personnel.
The onerous duties of his office did not prevent him from making his talents available in other directions. He was a pioneer in the establishment of telephone services on the coast and became president and managing director of the Bonaventure and Gaspé Telephone Company.
He was also a Member of the Superior Labour Council of the Province of Quebec, and a member of the Consultative Committee of the Provincial Department of Fisheries, and, since 1950, honorary director of the Fisheries Council of the Dominion of Canada.
At the time of his death, Mr Bouillon had been a lay reader of the Church of England in Canada for 55 years. He had a good voice and preached an excellent sermon. He was so well known among the Anglicans all along the Coast that he had been nicknamed "The Bishop of the Gaspé Coast”. The church of St Peter in Paspebiac could not hold all the persons who attended his funeral, and the Archdeacon of Gaspé alluded to his long and faithful service to his church and his fellow man.
One of the Jersey boys who worked under the supervision of Mr Bouillon in Paspebiac was Alfred Stanley Le Moignan, of St John's parish in Jersey. Following his benevolent manager's example, "Fred" Le Moignan was a devout churchgoer and expressed a desire to take Holy Orders.
Encouraged by Mr Bouillon he studied hard and eventually entered a seminary and was ordained in due course. I met him when he was Rector of the Anglican parish in New Carlisle and Canon of Quebec Anglican Cathedral. He was an able and fluent speaker and a very popular clergyman.
Unfortunately, Canon Le Moignan died of a heart attack when he was about 55 years old. He reposes in the cemetery of St Andrew's Anglican Church in New Carlisle where a suitable tombstone has been erected on his grave by his Jersey relatives.
Messrs Bouillon and Le Moignan, as indeed all the Jersey people I have mentioned, retained their knowledge of the Jersey-Norman-French language. Whenever I met them during my many wanderings along the coast, we always conversed in that language. When Mr Bouillon arrived on the coast in 1883, Jersey boys were recruited regularly for the Robin Company's enterprises there.
Prohibitive travel costs
This lasted until the first world war. I have always understood, however, that it was the disappearance of sail, rather than the war, that caused the practice to cease. While sailing ships plied the Atlantic between Jersey and the Gaspé Coast the cost of transportation was insignificant, especially in the Robin Company's own ships. When sail was replaced by steam, it became expensive to provide passage for the recruits and, in some cases, wives and families.
Today, the stores of the Robin,Jones and Whitman Company are staffed mostly by French-Canadians, although quite a few employees are second and third generation Jersey descendants. There are still one or two store managers who were born in the Island.
In conversation with several Jersey-born friends who still hold very responsible positions in the head office of the company in Paspebiac, during the summer of 1959, it was determined that there were only 22 men living on the coast at that time who were born in the Island of Jersey. One of them died while I was there.
One of the firms mentioned in Miss Syvret's paper is that of Hyman. I believe it is the only one which has not been amalgamated, or at least one of the very few. The present Mr Hyman has a store at Gaspé and one at Grande Greve, on the northern shore of Gaspé Bay.
That store is managed by a Jerseyman, Mr Stanley Hotton, who was a solicitor's clerk in Hill Street, St Helier, when I was there prior to the outbreak of war in 1914. A little way up on the slope of the mountain which forms the north shore of the bay is a beautiful wooden colonial mansion, the home of Mr John Le Masurier, born in St. Ouen, Jersey.
Mr Le Masurier, a septuagenarian and retired, is the brother of Mr Bert Le Masurier and of Miss Lilian Le Masurier, of Greystones, Le Marais, St Ouen. He is one of nature's gentlemen, hospitable and affable, and always welcomes the visit of a Jerseyman to his beautiful home.
He started life in the usual way as an apprentice on the coast but did not remain with his original employer. When I first met him in Gaspé he was Provincial Government Chief Inspector of Fisheries for the Coast. Although he is now retired, his advice and auxiliary services are eagerly sought by the present Fishing Authority.
At the other end of the peninsula, on the opposite side of the Baie des Chaleurs, is Caraquet, New Brunswick,-the "Caratchette" I heard mentioned as a lad in Jersey. I am not familiar with it today, however, although I understand that two aged Jerseymen are still living there, Mr.Alfred Edmund Briard, brother of the late Captain Briard of Sun Field, Mont les Vaux, St. Aubin, Jersey, and a Mr Fiott of the well-known Fiott family of La Moye, St. Brelade. There is also a village or town named Le Boutillier close to Caraquet.
The Gaspé Coast has become a tourist mecca, and the paved winding highway around the pensinsula goes through beautiful mountains on the north side and skirts picturesque inlets and bays on the south side from Gaspé to Metapedia.
From Fox River on the north to New Carlisle on the south, many of the little wooden homes that dot the countryside were laboriously erected by Jerseymen and their families, and their descendants were hardened and tempered by the cold winds and snows of Canadian winters.
My mother, who spent some years in Percé, often told me that she had to carve her way through several feet of snow to go to the pump outside for water during severe winters, there being no facilities inside the house.
The picturesque little town of Percé, so named after its offshore famous and impressive Percé Rock, pierced by an archway, holds especial interest for me. My father once operated a blacksmith's shop there in partnership with another Jerseyman named Le Breton. One of my brothers was born there and was christened Percy at his baptism in St. Paul's Anglican Church.
Although there are more French-Canadian than Jersey inhabitants there now, the latter were no doubt energetic pioneers in its early development. On the occasion of my first visit there about 30 years ago, a venerable octogenarian Jerseyman by the name of Biard was one of its leading merchants. He occupied a substantial home near the beach and conducted a prosperous general store business and provided tourist cabin accommodation.
Two of his sons are still there in business. There was also an old Jerseyman,-I believe he and Mr Biard were related by marriage,¬ by the name of Bower living in Percé. He was a member of the same family as the Bowers now living at Leoville, St Ouen, and at St Mary.
Members of the same family are also living at Corner of the Beach (" Coin du Bane ") not far from Percé. The Percé Bower family grave in St Paul's churchyard is mentioned by Miss Syvret. Mr Tuzo (a name also mentioned by Miss Syvret) was Sheriff of Percé, and two of his sons have been successive postmasters of Percé. One of them, Reginald, married a daughter of Mr Ernest Philip Le Marquand, mentioned earlier, a brother of the late Jurat Samuel James Le Marquand.
Abner Bisson's hotel
The “Excellent Hotel built by a Jerseyman who first came out with Robin's" so described by Miss Syvret, was, I believe, the original hotel in Percé. It was built by the late Mr. Abner Bisson who died less than two years ago, at White House, Mont Cochon, in Jersey.
He was the son of Mr William Bisson, manager of the ‘’Nouvelle Chronique’’ in Jersey, prior to its amalgamation with the ‘’Chronique de Jersey’’ under the new name of ‘’Les Chroniques de Jersey’’, which discontinued publication a little over a year ago. The hotel is now open every summer and is owned and operated by Mr Watson Bisson, son of the late Abner.
In the course of years, each community or village erected a church to the Glory of God and worshipped within its walls, according to the Rites of the Church of England. Churches were built of wood and followed the same architectural pattern, and as one motors along the highway they stand out as monuments on the hillsides, resplendent with white paint.
The names of Saints to whom they are dedicated are familiar names to Jersey people, St. Paul at Gaspé, Percé and again at Barachois West. St.John at L'Anse à Brillant, St Peter at Mal Bay and again at Paspebiac, St. Luke at Corner of the Beach, etc. etc. Unfortunately, only a few families remain to maintain and finance most of those churches, and it is sad to contemplate, as one admires them, that in another two or three generations they may be discontinued as places of worship, only to deteriorate as warehouses or barns, for the simple reason that there will not be any Anglicans, or Protestants, for that matter, left in sufficient numbers to maintain them.
There are also several one-time Methodists churches, now known as United Church of Canada, but these are few and far between. No doubt but that, in course of time, they will suffer the same fate as the Anglican churches.
Time has brought its changes. "La Cote" is no longer an accumulation of Jersey colonies. It is gradually becoming integrated into the industrial and social life of the rest of the province of Quebec. Only the codfish remains the same,¬ but less and less people are willing to remain on the Coast to wrest it from its watery domain, and process it for human consumption.
Its food value has not dimished. Eaten fresh from the sea, its flesh is delicious. It has been called “The Beef of the Sea" and more recently "The Poor Man's Salmon". But codfishing is hard work for the small cutter on the coast operated by two or three men, often in rough seas far from shore, for the cod usually lives in 20 fathoms of water.
The price received by the fisherman (in 1959) per pound of fish after beheading and gutting, was only two and one-half cents. The last time I went on one of these fishing cutters, from Mal Bay, as the guest of a fisherman named Gerard, of Guernsey descent, I believe, the catch for the day was 800 lb and it was considered insufficient to show a profit¬able day's fishing.
The season is short, and there is not much a fisherman can do to earn his daily bread on the Coast in winter. A much easier way to earn a living is sought by the younger generation of today, and it can usually be found in large cities, It is also less strenuous to work on the larger fishing vessels which make an average annual catch of 2,000,000 pounds of cod on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.
Time has also changed the method of processing of cod on the Gaspé Coast. Instead of the long process of drying it in the sun after salting as in days gone by, it is now filleted and packed in ice in the processing sheds and almost immediately shipped by airplane and refrigerated railroad cars direct to New York markets.
With the emigration of young people, French-Canadian as well as of Jersey descent, who leave to seek an easier way of life elsewhere, farming on the Coast is gradually coming to a stand-still. Guest houses and Motels are becoming more and more numerous and the Gaspé Coast is rapidly acquiring its “New Look" as a tourist attraction.
Hallowed by the memory of the many Jersey folk who have laboured, lived and gone to their eternal rest on its rugged and beautiful shore, and whose ashes lie peacefully in the shadows of its picturesque little churches, it will always be a kind of second home to me. It is always with a feeling of reverence and awe that I visit those churches and wander leisurely through the adjoining cemeteries. There, I see more Jersey names on the tombstones than can be found today in the Jersey Telephone Directory.
San Antonio, Texas, USA, March 1961.
- Charles Robin, and the history of Jersey's fishing industry off the Canadian Atlantic coast
- 18th century trade, an article from the 1981 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise
- Jersey Settlements in Gaspé, by Marguerite Syvret
- Plying to the Gaspé Coast by A J Romeril
- Everyday life on the coast of Acadia. by Marguerite Syvret
- The Origins of the Béchervaise Family in Gaspé
- A brief history of the Gaspé Peninsula
- Percé Rock
- Charles Robin, a forgotten Father of Canada
- Emigrants to Canada, a full alphabetical index to emigrants to Gaspé, Newfoundland etc
- Trachy family in Gaspé