Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tracing my Family History on Anticosti Island

Anse Aux Fraises 1901

This picture is of a place called Anse Aux Fraises, on Anticosti Island.  Today it is uninhabited, but my Great grandfather lived there many years ago.  This is his story, which I pieced together from research on the internet, and some of my fathers stories.

My great-grandfather was Francois Bezeau, called "Frank".  He was born in Shippigan, New Brunswick, September 14,  1841.  The fourth child of Francois Bezeau and Amable Blais.
Frank Bezeau & Philomene Noel

Frank was married at the age of 26? in 1867? to Philomene Noel.  In the year 1873, He and Philomene had a baby (also named Francois who is my grandfather) and in the same year, moved to Anticosti island, together with his 5 year younger sister Elisabeth, and her husband Pierre Doucet, a Frenchman from St. Pierre and Miquelon.  Instead of moving to the established village of Baie Ste Claire (Or Baie des Anglais as it was called), they found an uninhabited cove, called Anse Aux Fraise about 10 km away on the south coast. Anse aux Fraises may have had some wild strawberries, but more importantly, had wild grasses that could feed a cow, while Baie Des Anglais on the other hand, did not allow "horned" animals. Frank was a fisherman, but fishing alone was not enough to survive on in the days before employment insurance, especially in the time of the "truck system" of payment for fish. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truck_system )

The family story is that Frank moved by using his fishing boat, loaded with his family, and all their possessions, including the house which I assume was at least taken apart for the trip.  I don't know if he had a cow or chickens, or how they were transported, if he had any.

The reasons for Frank wanting to move away from Gloucester county in New Brunswick, can be found in a report on the conditions of the residents of this county, presented to the New Brunswick Assembly in Frederickton in 1853 by M. H. Perley, Esquire, Her Majesty's Emigration Officer at Saint John, New Brunswick.  Here is an extract of the report from http://archive.org/stream/cihm_22313/cihm_22313_djvu.txt

"The settlers in Little Shippagan Harbour do not follow fishing but attend to the cultivation of the land, some of which is there tolerably good. The settlers at Point Miscou are all fishermen, who are employed every season at the fishing stations, to which they are more or less in debt. Their houses are built of logs and poles ; these are small, and very ill fitted to resist the severity of the climate. They cultivate little patches of ground, in a very imperfect manner; the manure used is generally cods heads. They are all squatters on Crown Lands, and appear very anxious to procure some title to occupy their several locations, either by licence of occupation or otherwise. While the writer was at Miscou they prepared the petition which is annexed to this Report, praying such licences of occupation, with privilege of the beaches in front of their locations; and also some arrangements with respect to the wild grass on the marshes and beaches of the Island.
The petitioners stated, as a great hardship, that the wild meadows in the County of Gloucester are sold every season at Bathurst, where they are unable to attend, at a nominal sum; that those on Miscou are purchased for a few shillings by one of the Jersey merchants, who charges them ten shillings per ton for the marsh hay, and five shillings per ton for the beach grass, which the fishermen themselves cut and cure. To these terms they must submit, or else they can make no provision for their cows, by which they endeavour to eke out a miserable subsistence during the winter. 
* The whole of the wild meadows in the County of Gloucester were told in 1848 for [illegible] pound only.— See Appendix to Journal of the Assembly for 1849.  
All the settlers at Point Miscou complained bitterly of their poverty, and state of bondage. They said they were completely in the hands of the Jersey merchants, to whom they were indebted, and who dictated their own prices and terms of dealing. They appeared to feel very much the want of a school; and they stated the surprising fact, that they had never been visited by priest or clergyman of any denomination. The children are growing up unbaptised, and in total ignorance; this state of things ought not longer to exist in a christian community which patronizes foreign missions. Their excellent health requires no aid from the physician; but they desire a resident magistrate to enforce the laws and maintain good order at all times, but more especially during the fishing season, when the Island is the resort of many lawless fishers from abroad.
The general voice indicated Mr. Wilson as a fit and proper person; he is highly respected, and if he accepted the office, would perform the duties of a magistrate fearlessly and faithfully.
The absolute state of serfdom of the fishermen of Point Miscou has been particularly described, because there are like bodies of fishermen at other localities in the northern part of the Province, who are held in nearly the same state of poverty and bondage. The more favoured inhabitants of New Brunswick, who dwell at a distance from its remote northern shores, will no doubt be surprised to learn, that there are any of their fellow subjects, dwelling in the same colony, who are even in a worse position than southern slaves, and of whose moral, physical, and spiritual wants, less care has been taken." 

Later on, a brother, Philias (about a year older than Frank) arrived and some others from the Baie des Chaleurs area, to add to the population of the new little village. Philias also had a son, and also named him Francois Bezeau, I suppose to confuse later family historians. On the 18th of July 1887, in Anticosti, this other Francis Bezeau (my great-grandfather's nephew), married Mathilde Duguay.

In Anse aux Fraises in1876, a chapel was built 36'x25'.  In 1880, it burned down and was replaced by a chapel 55'x30'.

In (about) 1892, Onezime Doucet,  Elisabeth Doucet (Bezeau)'s eldest child, aged 21 got lost hunting near Jupiter River, his frozen body was found on the shore of the island.

The following account was written around 1897? by a priest, l'Abbe Huard, while talking to a fisherman of Anse Aux Fraise.
"There are today 22 fishing boats at Anse Aux Fraises.  Just like the fishermen at Baie Des Anglais, each man fishes for himself.  When the cod is dried, they are free to sell to whomever they choose.  Ordinarily, it is Mr. de Courval, of Point aux Esquimaux (Today Havre St. Pierre), who buys all the fish.
Serious cod fishing begins here at the end of May, and continues until mid August.  As bait, Herring is used, and at the end of the season, squid.
"If we take more herring than we need for fishing, we salt it, and sell to the traders, to augment our revenues.
It happens occasionally that, in netting the bait, we find a few salmon in the bottom of the net. We take advantage of this bonus, even though we don't have a licence for fishing salmon."
 That day, the family treats itself famously, drinking tea, the terribly strong tea of the fishermen, to the health of the honorable minister of Oceans and Fisheries of Canada.
"And on the subject of salmon, let's admit immediately that we fish on a line at Jupiter River, about forty or fifty miles from here, on the south coast of the island." 
Jupiter River?  I was not able to find out from the fisherman why such a name was given to this water flow.  It would be absurd to figure that the ancient Romans had come as far as Anticosti."

In 1895 the entire Island was purchased from Canada and Quebec, without regard to the rights of the inhabitants, by Henri Menier.  He was a billionaire from France who inherited his vast wealth from the chocolate business.  Henri paid $125,000 for the entire island, and set about turning it into his personal feifdom.

Menier introduced 28 statutes or bylaws that restricted the rights of residents of his island, and were punishable by banishment, without resort to "due process". Actually, Henri Menier accorded himself full rights of lord of the island and had final say in all matters.  The first to be banished were the English speaking, Methodist settlers of Fox Bay.  They were were moved to Manitoba where some reportedly perished.  The resulting bad press encouraged Henri to be a little more generous with his financial settlements with the remaining French-speaking, Catholic settlers, such as the ones in Anse Aux Fraises.

In 1902, Francois "Frank" Bezeau (my great grandfather now 61 years old) sold the land he occupied in Anse Aux Fraises, 4 acres and a partially completed house, for $125 cash to Henri Menier and moved to Riviere au Tonnerre on the mainland north of Anticosti.
Anse Aux Fraises Today

SOME OF THE RULES LAID DOWN BY HENRI MENIER FOR THE INHABITANTS OF THE ISLAND, May 1, 1896 (Translated by me from French to English)"Whereas Anticosti Island is a private property, in the Province of Quebec, and ruled by the laws of Canada and this province.The inhabitants, who may only reside on the island by a lease, or the "regular permissions", must submit to these regulations, and all other regulations of the administration, or policies which may be dictated in the future."
1. It is forbidden to land (debark) on the island, to stay, live, engage in commerce, or industry, or profession without having obtained special authorization, signed by the administration.
2. Any permission to inhabit the island, or exercise a profession, is revocable at any time.
3. No one may give shelter, under his roof, to anyone who does not have a permit to live on the island.
4. No one may import to the island, nor transport, [unintelligible],  beverages, 
[unintelligible], seeds, plants, dogs, animals, or in general objects of any sort other than by the commercial services, or boats with the authorization of the administration.5. Alcohol and spirits and fermented beverages are prohibited.
6. It is forbidden to possess or hold firearms, except in special cases where temporary permits will be issued, which are revocable at any time.  The permits will be numbered to the firearm, which must also be stamped with an identifying number.
7. Hunting is forbidden, for any animal, in any manner. The same with the capture, concealment, destruction of any animals, its young, its homes, its nests or its eggs....
9. No one shall have a boat, except by special temporary, revocable permission.  The permission must state the size and tonnage of the boat, it's inventory, and its intended use.  Permits are always revocable
13 Any mine or mineral discovery, must be immediately declared to the administration, not only by the person making the discovery, but by anyone else who has knowledge of it.
?3.  Except in the case of a shipwreck, no-one may debark, no ship may load or unload merchandise without authorisation, as stated in article 1.


  1. L. P. Hartley started his book, The Go-Between, with the line, 'The past is a different country; they do things differently there.'

    The 19th century in Canada was a different country. They did things differently.

    But a fascinating write-up of a piece of family history ... and of a rarely mentioned aspect of Canadian history.

  2. My ancestors were the English speaking Methodists (last name Whiting). Thank you for this. I am grateful for any slice of family history I can find.

    1. My ancestors were also Whiting. My great grandmother was Annie Whiting, daughter of Catherine Gallant. My grandmother was Pearl.

  3. My ancestors were also part of the English speaking Methodists who came to the island and were later evicted and re-settled to Manitoba. The last name is Osborne. To the person who posted about the family name Whiting I would be interested in corresponding further about this and am wondering if you have any information you can share. If interested please email me at kellybennett@comcast.net Thank you!