Grandmother chronicles: when Leandre was away

Posted on 4 May 2011


My grandmother’s grandmother was married at sixteen, widowed by thirty-five, and remarried by forty.

Take a moment to catch your breath.

Eastern Townships

Her second husband’s name was Leandre. My grandma always gave me the impression that Alphonsine found him annoying but livable. He was a well-off merchant in the town nearest to the farm she had lived on since she got married the first time. The town was Thetford Mines in the Eastern Townships region of Québec.

When she married Leandre, she took the two youngest of her thirteen children, two girls, with her to live in his house. The baby of the family was Florence who would be my great-grandmother. I think she was about ten at the time.

It was Leandre’s second marriage as well. He had two surviving children of his own who were grown and had left home, sort of. His daughter Louise and her husband lived in a house a short walk away at the other end of his property. His son lived in another town, I’m not sure where.

Leandre had Alphonsine’s two little girls educated as upper-middle-class young ladies as he had promised. They even went to school. They learned needlepoint and how to crochet and other similarly useful skills. I think their mother would have made sure they could cook and sew and knit as well.

Seeing as Alphonsine didn’t particularly care for her new husband, I assume it was a blessing that he was often away. He would go into Québec City, and probably even all the way to Montréal sometimes, on business and stay away for days at a time. I like to think that Alphonsine only had to deal with him about half the time.

These days, Québec City is still a three or four hour drive each way from Thetford Mines and Montréal is five or six. In the 1920s and 1930s Québec would have been half a day away and Montréal a day. All in a car with no air conditioning or radio and really bad shock absorbers.

Asbestos mining at Thetford Mines

Unsurprisingly, Thetford Mines was a mining town. When Alphonsine lived there, the hills and plains around the town were in the process of being skinned and shredded to get to the asbestos in them. The town was full of unattached men from all over Québec working long days, being paid well for it, and going home to boarding houses.

The way my grandmother told it, Leandre’s house was near enough to the road that every so often a miner would knock on the door looking for a meal. That was how Alphonsine accidentally became a restaurateur. She fed hungry, lonely miners good home-cooked food and they paid her willingly. Once Leandre was away for longer than usual and by the time he came back, his wife’s dining room business was thriving.

I got the impression that at first he was surprised and then patronisingly indulgent of his wife’s hobby. He even let her keep all the money she made for herself. She continued running her business for years with her two daughters to help serve.

One of the customers was a handsome hard worker named Edmond Gagné. He became my great-grandfather. More on that another time.
While you're waiting for the next installment, check out the rest of the Grandmother chronicles :)
Image credits: Eastern townships by eugene_o under a Creative Commons licence
Asbestos mining at Thetford Mines by Lac Bac under a Creative Commons licence