Thursday, 26 April 2012

Brothers on the River

This is the story of a family circling the Vaudreuil-Soulanges region of Quebec beginning in the Montreal region, working their way as sailors and blacksmiths up-river to Kingston, Ontario, north to Ottawa, and finally back down river to Montreal again four generations later.


Vaudreuil-Soulanges is the largely French-speaking triangular peninsula of Quebec, geographically isolated from the rest of the province by the St. Lawrence River to the south and the Ottawa River to the north. Smack in the middle lies Saint-Polycarpe, a small village on the Rivière Delisle. Saint-Polycarpe is ten kilometres east of the Quebec-Ontario border, also roughly ten kilometers upstream from the town of Soulanges, on the bank of the St Lawrence River across from Valleyfield, where the Soulanges Canal bypasses the Coteau-du-Lac rapids. On June 1, 1838 in Saint-Polycarpe Gaspard Rodrigue Lántier was born.

Gaspard was the eldest son of Jean Baptiste Lantier and Catherine Lalonde, each of them on their second marriage. Catherine was native to the Soulanges region, born in 1799.  Her first marriage was to Amable Martin and yielded a son, Ephrem. Amable died in 1832 in Saint-Polycarpe. Jean Baptiste had been born in 1792 in Pointe-Claire (Montreal) and at the age of 24 married Marie Anne Mitchell in Vaudreuil with whom he had at least one daughter, Esther. By the time of Marie Anne’s death in 1834 they too were living in Saint-Polycarpe.

Catherine and Jean Baptiste married January 12, 1836.  After Gaspard, the couple’s new family grew first with the addition of a son, Ozée (1840) and then a daughter, Marie (1842).

On February 7, 1844 at the age of 51 Jean Baptiste died leaving Catherine a widow once more.  It seems that shortly thereafter she dropped use of the Lantier name and reverted to her maiden name.  The 1851/2 Census (Canada’s first) lists her and the children all by the last name Lalonde.  Catherine is identified as a farmer. Gaspard, now age 14, was identified as “Rody”, a somewhat Anglophone nickname derived from his Spanish-sounding middle name, Rodrique. Ozée, whose name properly pronounced (i.e. José) also rings of Spanish, is listed as “Ozy”, which likely means the census-taker was told something like “Ozie”. This is this first occurrence of the linguistic gymnastics that followed Gaspard’s and Ozée’s identities throughout their lives. Between the ever-shifting names actually used, census-takers and parish priests erratically recording whatever they thought they heard, the occasional ‘anglicizing’ of the French-Canadian element whenever expedience or political pressure dictated, and finally the vagaries of modern transcribers’ interpretations of original document handwriting as records were digitized and indexed, it seems one could live an entire lifetime in that era without ever having one’s name recorded twice the same way!  As for ‘Lantier’ versus ‘Lanthier’, both appear frequently (and often within the same immediate family groups), settling only in the more literate modern era.

When the next census was taken, Catherine and her children were once again ‘Lantier’, although Catherine appears simply as the widow (‘veuve’) Lantier.  The family was still in Saint-Polycarpe but ‘Rodrigue’ and ‘Ozé’ are now ‘voyageurs’ or sailors. They had gone to work for the Calvin Lumber Company.

Calvin Lumber Co. and Garden Island

Delino Dexter Calvin was born in Vermont in 1798 and established a lumber company in upstate New York, based in the town of Clayton, on the American side of the Saint Lawrence River, directly south of Gananoque, Ontario. The company owned several ships and employed many sailors to transport timber from the Great Lakes. In 1844 Calvin relocated the company from Clayton to Garden Island, Ontario, a 65 acre island between Kingston and Wolfe Island.  There the company fashioned rafts and barges from the logs, employing even more sailors to float them down the Saint Lawrence to Quebec City and on to Britain.

The sawmill and engine house, Garden Island
Assembling rafts at Garden Island
Calvin became a prominent Canadian businessman and politician. He served as Reeve of Wolfe Island, Warden of Frontenac County, and member of the Provincial Legislature for Frontenac. He became sole owner of Garden Island, building a community for his workers that included a store, telegraph office, post office and a primary school. At one point the village housed roughly 750 people.

The timber rafts were as multiples of crib frameworks, roughly sixty by forty feet in dimensions.  The cribs were filled with oak and pine lumber, then bound together to create ‘drams’ up to three hundred feet long. A dozen or more of these would in turn be bound into a raft up to half a mile long, with cooking and sleeping sheds set up on top.  As  they made their way down river there were many sets of rapids to shoot, and at each one the rafts had to be disassembled into the drams and each dram piloted through individually. It was hard, tedious and dangerous work.
In the course of rafting up and down the Saint Lawrence, the Lantier brothers may have had occasion to call in on their mother frequent enough to convince her they still officially resided in Saint-Polycarpe.  That or a mother’s wishful denial must have led her to identify them as members of her household when the 1861 census-taker came round.  It would appear however, her boys were much more tied to Garden Island at that point. Both appear in the same 1861 census as Wolfe Island residents! (One has to wonder how much double counting like this went on in those days – better to inflate the numbers and keep the Americans guessing).

In fact, Gaspard or ‘Rody” had married Margaret Woods at Sacred Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church on Wolfe Island in November, 1860, the previous year!  (Ozée would later also marry an island girl, Margaret Dufour.)  Rody identified himself in the 1861 census on Garden Island as a sailor, consistent with what his mother was saying down river. But perhaps with married life pressuring him to settle down, the next time he appears in the records he is a blacksmith, a trade he likely learned from his father-in-law Joseph Woods, a long-time blacksmith for the Calvin company.  Rody and his young wife appear in the 1861 census as the amusingly phonetic “Rody and Margaret LANCHAY”.

Margaret Woods was likely born in or near Clayton, New York.  Her father was a blacksmith for the Calvin company, as was her mother’s father.  Her mother was Rachel Campbell, who appears to have been born Marguerite Campbell in 1819 in Trois-Rivieres to Frederick Campbell and Margaret Hamel of Montreal. After another girl was also born in Trois-Rivieres, the Campbells moved to Montreal and had a third daughter and two sons. Sometime later Frederick entered the employ of the Calvin Company and the family took up residence in Clayton.  Rachel/Marguerite’s sisters Marie Anne and Sophie married brothers Nelson and Joseph Duford and established families in the Clayton area.  When Calvin moved the company to Garden Island in 1844, Frederick and Margaret Campbell went with him, their two sons in tow.  So too did Rachel and her husband, Joseph, also a company man, and the first two or three of their children (it is unclear whether daughter Margaret was born in Clayton or Garden Island).

Rody and Margaret had nine children: Joseph Henri, Ursuline Josephine, Catherine, Marie Sophie, John Baptiste (Phileous or Philip), Frederick Thomas, Nelson, Esther and Wilfred.  The first five were born during their time at Garden Island.  Shortly after the birth of John Baptiste in 1869 they moved to the mainland, in the county of Grenville close to the town of Prescott.

In the 1871 census Gaspard ‘Rody’ is recorded as “Rodrick”, while son John Baptiste is captured as “Philease”.  In the census of 1881, still in south Grenville, Gaspard has become “Gaspier” (and indexed in the digital version as “Lantier or Lantin”).  In 1891 they are in Carleton County, in Nepean, and he is “Gasper”.  Phileous, here referred to as “Philip” identified himself at this time as a “Tobacconist”. By 1901 the family was at 177 Rochester Street, in the Dalhousie Ward of the City of Ottawa. Margaret and Gaspard have four of their adult children still living with them (Frederick, Nelson, Esther and Wilfred) and Gaspard for the first time in his life since appearing in the register of the Saint-Polycarpe parish, is listed by his proper name.  He died August 21, 1907 as “Gaspard”, of “myocarditis and nephritis” (inflammation of the heart and kidney).

Ozée, was still a “mariner” on Garden Island when his brother moved away.  He eventually moved to U.S. side of the border and died in Jefferson County, New York in 1925.

Full Circle

John Baptiste or Philip stayed with his parents until he was a young man in Ottawa.  In 1897 he married Catherine Helena Tallon (1869-), daughter of Thomas Tallon and Elizabeth Birdwhistle.  Catherine was born and raised in Ottawa, as was her mother “Betsy”.  Her father was born in Ireland and married the slightly older Betsy in Ottawa shortly after Betsy’s first husband Patrick Murphy died.

Philip and Catherine in turn had six children: John Gaspard (Jack), Catheline, Mary Frances Helen, Tallon Marcus, Edwin Philip (Ned) and Elmer Harold.  At least two (Ned and Tally) migrated down the Ottawa River as young adults to marry and settle in Montreal, bringing the family back to its geographic roots.

Steve Rogers is married to Gaspard Lantier’s Great Great Grand-daughter Jennifer Lanthier.

Births, Deaths and Marriages

Quebec Vital and Church Records – Drouin Collection (1621-1967),  Institut Généalogique Drouin, Montreal, Quebec (database on-line at

Canadian Censuses of 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, Library and Archives Canada
(Indexed on-line at and

Genealogical and Family History of the County of Jefferson New York, R.A. Oakes, Jefferson County Historical Society, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1905
Photo of Saint Polycarpe

“Bridge and church, St. Polycarpe, QC, about 1910”, ink on paper mounted on card, at the McCord Museum,
690 Sherbroke St. W., Montreal
D.D. Calvin Biographical Information

Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
Raft Building and Photos of Garden Island

A Kingston  Album: Glimpses of the Way We Were, by Marion Van de Wetering, Dundurn Press Ltd., 1999. Photos from Queen’s University Archives.

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