THE STORYKEEPERS PROJECT #5: “RIVER CANARD”

VIVIAN LeMAY for THE STORYKEEPERS PROJECT

Vivian LeMay, the author of The Last Lord of Paradise – A Family Saga of Early Michigan French Canadians, presents a reflection on childhood in the Detroit River Region. The experience she describes of having family on both sides of the river, many speaking French, is one of the unique qualities of the French Canadian experience in the region. Many generations of French Canadians have had family on both sides of the Detroit River and families often moved back and forth many times over the course of centuries, and continue to do so.


IS RIVER CANARD, ONTARIO HEAVEN?

I was in the doctor’s office and recognized the name on the nurse’s badge. It was my mother’s maiden name. I asked if she was from River Canard, Ontario. She looked surprised and said, “Why yes.”

“Then you live in heaven,” I told her.

She looked up from the blood pressure gauge with a big smile and said, “Yes. How did you know?”

I grew up in the Detroit area. My only connection to that hamlet on the Canadian side of the Detroit River was my grandfather whose ancestors settled there about 1750. But what a joyous connection it was. He came from a family of eleven children and I grew up hearing my mother and her sisters talk about their many relatives and friends––Meloche, Bondy, Beneteau, Lajeunesse, Drouillard, the names they spoke seemed odd to me as a child…Lucier, Langlois, Reaume, and my personal favorite LaFramboise. (After I learned it meant raspberry I liked that name even more!)

When I grew up and began researching the family tree, I understood. Those names seemed odd because they were names frozen in time. These were the first families of the Detroit River Region, featured on Detroit’s earliest land maps, and though River Canard has grown from the farming community I remember as a child into a modern suburb, those old French names that roll off the tongue like poetry remain.

Every time I hear one of those names it brings back memories of my visits there––Memories of wild cats and cornfields, of laughing babies at family get-togethers, of bonfires and dancing, of neighbors who spoke French to each other and attended Mass more than once a week because of the many holy days on the Catholic Church calendar…of weddings, baptisms, funerals and First Communion parties.

Here on the American side there were always worries of job loss or cutbacks, and of bills to pay. I know my Canadian cousins had the same problems, yet somehow they were always forgotten in River Canard. I remember only good times there, and those wonderful people with the strange-sounding names.

And I am still quite certain that River Canard, Ontario is heaven.

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4 thoughts on “THE STORYKEEPERS PROJECT #5: “RIVER CANARD”

  1. Thanks for your memories….My roots are from there also. I know of many RENAUD’S from there. My grandfather was born there in 1873. His father moved the family to the U S side when he was a kid. Oh did I mention he visited there often turning the Rum running days. His cousin was the priest there. He would row across the river to pick up his hooch…..from him….

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