Historical commentary and interview of Mr. Claude Brillon with the participation of Anne-Catherine Morel: Stéphane Tessier. Directing and filming for this video: Nicolas St-Germain.
Standing on Île-de-la-Visitation Street, historian and cultural animator Stéphane Tessier (ST) remembers his beginnings at Cité historia and how, over several encounters, he got to know the descendants of the island’s ice cutters. We then hear an excerpt from an interview recorded circa 2001, in which Mr. Jacques Paquette (JPa) talks about this trade. Jean-Louis Legault, on the right of the screen, is sitting in on their conversation. After the interview, Mr. Claude Brillon (CB), grandson of ice merchant Eugène Gendron, shares his childhood memories about life on the island. The clip ends with him meeting Mrs. Anne-Catherine Morel (A-CM), a distant cousin of the Paquette family. She explains that the ownership of these houses tends to remain with the island’s longstanding families.
ST In 2000, I started working at the Sault-au-Récollet historical museum, then named Cité historia. The next year, in 2001, we worked on a project to collect testimonials from of people living in Île de la Visitation.
This was a truly fascinating adventure.
We discovered all kinds of trades, like ice cutting, through encounters with people from various families, like the Paquettes, the Morels and the Gendrons.
JPa [archive footage] My father started selling ice, I think in 1938-39. I was young…
ST What was his name? Eugène Gendron?
JPa My father? No, Herménégilde Paquette. And so Herménégilde Paquette was a young man living on the island who used to work for Mr. Gendron. He married Gendron’s eldest daughter and started selling ice for him.
Eventually he started his own business.
CB [on Île-de-la-Visitation Street] So I am the grandson of the ice merchant Eugène Gendron. My mother, Pauline, who was the 14th born, was the sister of Cécile Paquette-Gendron who happened to live close to here.
There was always something to do! We liked coming to the island when we were young. We loved going to see our grandparents, that was what made it fun.
ST As a child, do you remember playing on the island?
CB A lot! One memory comes to mind particularly, of us playing hide-and-seek in our grandparents’ house. There was something special about it, all those rooms. The fireplace too.
These are images that stayed with me. Just thinking about it brings back so many happy memories, playing hide-and-seek with my family… My cousins, my brothers.
I remember it being festive, it was a party. That’s what I remember about the Gendrons, really.
I often take walks in the neighbourhood, and realize how much of that life is still part of me.
ST Were people on the island different from the people living in Ahuntsic? Outside the island?
CB It truly felt like one big family. That’s it. And since it’s a small island, we felt there was something special about La Visitation Island.
That’s really how I remember it. Just one big family.
[Claude Brillon runs into Anne-Catherine Morel] Hi, sorry to bother you, are you related to, or know the people who live next door?
A-CM Sure so, just next door, towards the back, is my first cousin, Philippe Paquette. He lives there with his wife and three children. And also Philippe’s mother, Monique Paquette.
CB The reason I asked is that Cécile, who used to own that house with Herménégilde, is my aunt.
A-CM Oh, right.
CB Right, so I am a member of the Gendron family. That’s why I came up to you. So, it’s a pleasure to meet you…
A-CM So we’re cousins!
CB Sure seems that way! I’m Claude.
A-CM I’m a Morel, actually. This is my grandmother Émilienne’s house.
Émilienne Paquette bought back the house when she married Richard Morel, my grandfather. They lived here all their lives; they grew old here.
When the city wanted to build the park, they made offers to everyone to buy their houses. The amount they offered… I think it was $12,500.
Then, yes, many houses on the island are now passed down from generation to generation.
CB That’s what I heard!
A-CM You don’t often see a “for sale sign” here, for sure. Some families even—mine at least—made arrangements to make sure it would stay in the family. So even me, I can’t go and sell the house to an outsider.
CB I’m happy to know I have a cousin here!
A-CM Right! A distant cousin!
ST What a coincidence!
CB Do you really believe in coincidences?