Home Town or Home Community:
St. Brieux, SK
KERNALEGUEN FAMILY and FARM HISTORY
From France to Canada
Full of dreams and ambitions, late in 1919, a young couple from northern France set foot on Canadian soil. This was the first and only known offshoot of the Kernaleguen clan on the American continent. According to Churchill, in history, the farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see, hence the family tree for the Kernaleguen family was traced back to Alain Kernaleguen, 1707-1777 and his wife, Marie Le Hemon, 1709-1771, who lived before the French Revolution which overthrew the monarchy and marked the beginning of the Napoleonic era. They had three sons: Corentin, a priest was incarcerated and later exiled to Spain when he refused to swear allegiance to the revolutionary forces; the other two were Yves, 1746‑1794 and Francois, 1735-1804 from whom Pierre and Marguerite, who immigrated to Canada, were 6th generation direct descendant respectively, hence 6th cousins. Both were ‘Kernaleguen’ which in Breton translates to ‘house of white beeches’.
Pierre was born in Ploare, Brittany, France in 1886. He and his three siblings immigrated to Canada prior to WWI but in 1914, he took first passage back to join his regiment in Brest, France. In 1916, he was wounded in Trahur at the Battle of the Somme, taken prisoner of war in Germany where he remained until the end of hostilities. Marguerite was the fifth child, born in Douarnenez, Brittany in 1894 to a family of 14 who lost three sons to WWI.
In 1919, Pierre and Marguerite were married and immigrated to St. Brieux, Saskatchewan, half way between Melfort and Humboldt and a little over one hundred miles from either Saskatoon or Regina. They sailed to the port of New York and came by railway to their destination. They brought relatively few possessions with them thinking that within a few years, they would return to their homeland. For some time after their arrival, they lived with Francois and Anastasie LeBerre, pioneer farmers who had arrived from Brittany in 1906 and who had already learnt the basics of survival in the new land. Pierre and Marguerite moved to their own farm which they bought from Athanase Ronvel and which was to become home for the Kernaleguen family and the site of the Kernaleguen family farm for the following 85 years, exact location NW1 42 20 W2. The farm has passed down from one generation to the next and is currently owned by the third generation of Kernaleguens. To better appreciate the community of St. Brieux where Pierre and Marguerite settled, an overall look at its development is warranted since it closely coincides with the dates when Saskatchewan joined Confederation.
The Community of St. Brieux
Early in its history, St. Brieux could lay claim to being a cosmopolitan community. Located at the north end of Lake Lenore, it was founded by Breton immigrants from France between 1904 and 1914. They were joined by immigrants from Eastern Canada, Italy, Hungary and the United States. In neighboring Humboldt-Lake Lenore area to the south west, there was a great German immigration and the Melfort-Pathlow area to the north east experienced an influx of Anglo-Saxon settlers. Living six miles east and four miles south of town, Pierre and Marguerite had French, Italian, French Canadian and Anglo-Saxon neighbors.
Immigrants who settled between 1904 and 1913 are often classified as ‘pioneers’ because of the isolation they experienced before the coming of the railway. However, when one considers the tremendous progress made between 1904 and 1919, it is justifiable to call the people who came before the twenties ‘pioneers’ and those who came later as ‘early settlers’. Pierre and Marguerite Kernaleguen who came late in 1919 were early settlers.
The first immigrants – men, women and children, set sail from St. Malo, April 1, 1904 landing in Halifax, April 24 after three weeks of stormy weather at sea and atrocious conditions on ship. They boarded a train to Winnipeg and beyond, but were stranded for 12 days in Qu’Appelle due to floods. They arrived in Prince Albert, May 20 via Saskatoon. The last lap of the journey was by wagon via Flett’s Spring to the destination spot they named ‘the Plaine’. By the time they applied for a post office a year later, they had decided to honor their home community in France and changed the name from the Plaine to St. Brieuc. A Post Office error in Ottawa is responsible for the misspelled name – St. Brieux.
The mail service established in 1905 continued to bring mail on the train from Prince Albert to Star City dropping off the St. Brieux mail at Flett’s Spring where it was picked up by a mail coach and delivered to the St. Brieux post office. Sub postal stations were established at Tilly and Kermaria, two districts to the SE. Yves Rohel, a resident, was responsible for picking up the mail destined for the substations, bringing it to his home where neighbors gathered, anxiously awaiting news from family. St. Brieux had its first train service from Melfort in 1913 and for 8 years it was the end of steel but, in that time, it did not carry the mail. It was only in 1922, when the railway line to Humboldt was completed that mail came directly to St. Brieux by train.
From day one, there was a dire need for roads. First, brush had to be cleared but to do this a form of authority was required. Hence, municipal government was established as the Rural Municipality of Lake Lenore in 1913, the same year that the village of St. Brieux was officially formed.
St. Brieux had a resident doctor from 1913 on. In 1919, the Canadian Bank of Commerce established its first branch and served the district for 20 years. There were a number of businesses, a hotel, three general stores and a lumber yard. There was a hardware, a restaurant and implement dealers. Finally a livery barn, a dray service and a blacksmith responded to the needs of the community. Rural businesses included: land clearing services operated by either horses or oxen; threshing services that went from farm to farm to harvest grain and wood sawing services for the sawing of logs for lumber or firewood for heating homes and for cook stoves.
On arrival in 1904, the pioneers built a log church, which they soon outgrew. A new Catholic Church was completed in 1919. A small mission church was built in Kermaria in 1915, approximately 15 miles SE to serve a number of Breton immigrants who had settled in this area. Another mission church was built to the west in Little Moose, to meet the needs of the Hungarian settlers. Pathlow, only 8 miles away had United and Anglican Church services so people could worship there if they so wished.
A school system was established as early as 1905. Seven rural schools were opened between 1913 and 1923. One of these schools was Tilly, located nine miles SE and a mile or so from the Kernaleguen farm. These rural schools served a vital role in the education of rural children but by the sixties, they were all closed as roads improved and children were bused to town. Rural schools had fulfilled their purpose and were no longer needed.
This generally describes St. Brieux as it was when Pierre and Marguerite Kernaleguen arrived from France at the end of 1919. Although still a pioneer settlement, in fifteen years, a sound foundation for a vibrant community had been established. There was a feeling of neighborliness and a sentiment of pride in what had been achieved.
St. Brieux continued to develop through the years, then slowed down considerably during the years of the great depression. In the years that unfolded afterwards, there were some good years and others, which for one reason or another were very disappointing. Today, St. Brieux has a large industrial base for a community of its size, as well as a strong agricultural sector and numerous other successful businesses and organizations. In the seventies, Bourgault Industries opened its doors with a mission to design, manufacture and distribute quality and reliable farm equipment. They have now expanded into other areas, both nationally and internationally.
Today the community of St. Brieux has a newly remodeled Catholic Church and a school system which accommodates students being bused in daily from every direction. As well, the Credit Union, which opened its door in 1956, has now consolidated with several other small branches under the name of Advantage Credit Union to increase its volume and client services. There are also a number of other businesses, including the Co-op stores, the E & A Meat Market and the St. Brieux Agencies.
In 1992, A special Care Home for 30 patients, providing care for level 3 and 4, the Chateau Providence was officially opened. There are also cafes, smaller stores, a post office, and others. Of note also are the number of recreational offerings such as the golf course, arena, camping facilities, swimming beach, boat launch and a number of sports related clubs.
In summary, St. Brieux is a growing community which celebrated its centennial in 2004 commemorating the coming to The Plaine of the first pioneers from France, one hundred years ago. Needless to say, much water has gone under the bridge since those memorable days, but the same industriousness, persistence and courage has typified the people of this community throughout the years.
Four Generations Evolve
Pierre and Marguerite had a family of two, a son and a daughter. Paul J., born in 1921 took his early education at Tilly School, then proceeded to College in Gravelbourg where he completed high school and received a thorough education in French. Following this, he attended the University of Saskatchewan where he enrolled in Agriculture and graduated with a B.S.A. in 1944, at which time, he decided to return to the farm and take over from his father. This he did and, except for the time he was away at school, lived his entire life on the Kernaleguen family farm. Pierre and Marguerite’s daughter, Anne P, born in 1926, left the farm for employment in the field of education. Pierre and Marguerite were the first generation on the Kernaleguen Farm, roughly 1920-1950. They built a retirement home on the farm in 1953. Pierre died of cardiac arrest in 1959 at 73 years of age, Marguerite passed away from cancer in 1982 in her 88th year.
Anne P. attended Tilly School for ten years and St. Brieux High School for two years. After completing a degree in Home Economics at the University of Saskatchewan, she alternated further studies with work, graduating from the Universities of Alberta (B.Ed.), Michigan State (M.A.) and Utah State (Ph.D.) Universities. Throughout the 50’s and 60’s, she was involved in high school and adult education in Ontario and Alberta. Later on, she worked at the Universities of Michigan and Utah State, Saskatchewan and Alberta as professor, administrator and researcher. In 1983, she was awarded an Alberta Achievement Award for excellence in the field of clothing and textiles. After retirement in 1988, she spent the next ten years in the condominium management industry. A second retirement in 1998 culminated an active career spanning 50 years at which time, she relocated in Saskatoon where she currently resides.
An important event that occurred around 1942 in the Kernaleguen Family was the coming of Rose Snyder (nee Baron), a young girl, then about 10 years old whose parents lived in the district but not within walking distance to school. Pierre and Marguerite offered to have Rose live with them, go to our country school and help with chores after school. Rose was a vivacious, happy-go-lucky, exceedingly kind individual who took to the family like a duck to water. Rose was always good for a laugh and for that Marguerite liked to have her around as there was never a dull moment. She became very attached to Pierre and Marguerite and they to her. She remained on the farm until about 1951, then went to work in Melfort and later to Eastern Canada. Rose has returned to the farm a number of times in the intervening 50 years. She now resides in Florida from where she keeps in touch with all the generations of Kernaleguens.
Paul J. married Marie Crozon from the Lac Vert district, also a descendant of early Breton settlers, who took her early education in the rural school of Kermaria They had a family of three sons and two daughters. Pierre J., 1948; Joseph P., 1951; Anne Y., 1952; Jean M., 1956 and Fernande M., 1958. Paul and Marie were the second generation owners of the Kernaleguen farm, approximate years, 1950-1980. Marie died of Alzheimer in 1995 at the age of 73. Paul continued to live on the farm and died following a series of strokes in 2005 at 83 years.
Pierre J. is a graduate from the University of Saskatchewan in Agriculture. In 1977, he married Jeannette Kerbrat. They have a family of four: Jasmine, 1978; Mathieu, 1981; Simon, 1984 and Jacinthe, 1987. For a number of years, Pierre worked with his father, Paul and brothers, Joseph and Jean on the home farm, but later decided to farm on his own and raise beef cattle.
Joseph and Jean, both graduates from the University of Saskatchewan in Agriculture, B.S.A., in 1973 and 1978 respectively and both worked with their father ever since. Joseph and his wife Brenda, and Jean and his wife Eva Marie are the third generation owners of the Kernaleguen Family Farm, approximate years of joint ownership, 1980 on.
Jean M. married Eva Marie Carfantan, who is of French and Norwegian background, and was raised in the Pathlow district. She was trained as a laboratory technician and coaches skating. Jean and Eva Marie have four sons: Nicholas, 1978, Victor P., 1983, Julien J., 1985 and Marc A., 1988 and three daughters: Guen, 1981, Anne Marie, 1989 and Colette, 2001.
Joseph P. married Brenda Williams, a teacher by training. Brenda teaches part time at St. Brieux School and is particularly interested in teaching music, band, and choir. Joseph and Brenda have two sons: Paul F., 1988 and Hugh P., 1990.
Anne Y., daughter of Paul and Marie, received her early education at Tilly and St. Brieux School. She attended the University of Saskatchewan graduating with a B.Sc. (honors) in 1974 and a D.V.M. in 1978. She owns and operates the Stoughton Veterinary Clinic and treats mostly large animals. In 1992, she married George Charles. They have two children: John, 1992 and David, 1998. In 2003, she was awarded the Ida Petterson Memorial Award for outstanding entrepreneur at the Saskatchewan Power and Quota Club International Women of Today Awards. Throughout her years of practice, she has helped the Kernaleguen farm with animal health and related endeavors. She is mentor to her nephew Victor (son of Jean and Eva Marie) as he progresses in the field of veterinary medicine.
Fernande M. attended school in St. Brieux and later on the University of Saskatchewan earning a B.A. in 1980 and a B.Ed., in 1984. She taught for a year in Guingamp, France. Upon her return, she taught in Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Spalding and Naicam. In 1987, Fernande married Bernard Ferre from the St. Brieux district and a graduate from the School of Agriculture at the U. of S. Fernande and Bernard live a short distance from the Kernaleguen Farm. They have two daughters: Celine, 1998 and Emilie, 2002. Fernande has given of herself with great compassion to care for Marguerite, her grandmother; Marie, her mother and Paul, her father when ill health came their way and for this the family will be forever grateful.
The seventeen children of the third generation constitute the fourth generation. Approximately half of them are late teenagers and older and already have made career decisions which will undoubtedly pave their way in the future. The other half are still in school and being exposed to a variety of activities and studies which should assist them in finding an orientation that appeals to them.Members of the fourth generation of Kernaleguens can be divided into four groups.
First, those who have completed their education and taken up work positions: Jasmine completed a B.A. degree, U. of S. and is working as secretary for the Rural Municipality of Rivers, Manitoba; Mathieu is working as Manager for Radio Shack in Saskatoon; Simon has completed an internship in welding and is Working in St. Brieux. Nicholas, who has worked on the farm for a number of years, is now building a feedlot cleaning enterprise.
The second group of the fourth generation are those four who are currently involved in higher education. Guen is studying Nursing at the University of Alberta and excels as a member of the Panda Women’s Hockey team. Victor is in first year, Veterinary Science and Julien in first year Agriculture, both at the University of Saskatchewan. Jacinthe, is currently attending the University of Saskatchewan and as recipient of a figure skating scholarship, hopes to undertake a veterinary technician program at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.
The third group of fourth generation Kernaleguens consists of those still in junior and senior High school. John Charles is in 7th grade and interested in art, music, literature as well as sports. Marc and his sister Anne Marie are in grades eleven and ten respectively. Both are interested in sports, beef 4-H clubs, outdoor activities including hunting and fishing. Paul and Hugh are in grades ten and eight respectively, both are very musical, play in the band, play soccer and other sports and belong to a light horse 4-H Club.
The fourth and last group of fourth generation Kernaleguens are the much younger ones: Celine Ferre and David Charles are in their first year at school while Colette and Emilie are too young for school. They all love books, music, videos, games, dancing, skating and are always ready to try anything that looks like fun.
This outlines the four generations of the Kernaleguen Family in Canada. From two people in the first generation, there were two in the second, five in the third and seventeen in the fourth.
Four Generations Survive and Thrive
Over eighty years, each of the three generations on the Kernaleguen farm has experienced trials and tribulations as well as aspirations and successes. The first generation had to cope as early settlers in a new land. From the day colonists settled on a homestead, there began a life of hard work and painful privations. But Pierre and Marguerite were strong, determined, ambitious people who struggled for many years and survived.
The small one-room log house, which they occupied for fourteen years, was very limiting and provided neither privacy nor storage. Fortunately, they came to Canada without many belongings. In 1934, they built another larger log house which, like the first one, was relatively easy to keep warm and both had unfinished basements suitable for storing root vegetables and other foods. The added room was a welcomed addition for working, storage and living space.
Even though there were neighbors in every direction, there was a sense of isolation. The first means of travel was with horses after which a Model T Ford was purchased and used during the summer. In winter, the battery was removed, the car was put up on blocks and horses were hitched on to a sleigh and later on to a caboose with a little furnace. At times the roads were so blocked with snow that even horses could not get through. It was then that people stayed home until things improved.
Pierre and Marguerite, like all settlers, undertook the long tedious job of clearing and breaking land. Then came the depression which brought its own problems. Business was at a standstill, there were no markets for agricultural products and all people experienced hardships and suffering. Fortunately, the farm always had milk cows, chickens and pigs as well as a garden so there was always food to eat and cream and eggs to sell, even though prices were deplorably low. Everything eaten was made from scratch. There were absolutely no luxuries. Clothing was mended many times over and handed down from one to the other.
During the depression and the years following, people lived very frugally and worked hard to make ends meet. Any housewife who has had to cope with the threshing crews and had to feed eight or nine extra men for a few days will attest to the fact that those days were extremely long and depleted all the energy one had in order to cope.
While living in the first house, Marguerite would always set her clock by the position of the sun. Standing in the doorway on the south, she could always judge what time it was and corrected her clock accordingly. In approximately 1935, a cabinet-type Marconi radio was purchased and introduced us to such programs as ‘la Famille Plouffe’; Fibber McGee and Mollie; Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy; Foster Hewitt and Hockey Night in Canada; Bing Crosby; Jack Benny; Amos and Andy and others. Following closely were the more serious minute by minute developments in the abdication of King Edward VIII for ‘the woman he loved.’ And in 1939, it started bringing sobering news of the war and the sound of Churchill’s determined voice that sent shivers through a person, ‘we will fight in the skies, we will fight on the seas, we will fight on land, we will never surrender’. Fortunately, in the mid-forties, it also brought the good news that the war was over. In those years, a windmill was installed on the house to produce power for lights and radio and a telephone line was installed so the feel of isolation was somewhat alleviated.
Pierre worked for bilingual education in schools. He also volunteered for the cooperative movement and served as councilor for the R.M. of Lake Lenore and as such worked passionately, as did other councilors, for the improvement of rural roads. Pierre and Marguerite were both interested in gardening and planted strawberry and raspberry plants which became heavy producers for the years that followed. As well, they planted crab apple and apple trees which are still producing many years later.
1950-1980 represent the years of the second generation farm. Paul and Marie took over where Pierre and Marguerite left off. They lived for 18 years in the second log house to which an addition had been built. In 1966, they moved into a new larger house which provided running water and electricity. The great improvement that came about in their ownership years was rural electrification in 1953 and eventually, better district roads.
Recuperating from the depression and the war years, the main focus in the fifties to eighties was to develop a greater land base, increase the livestock both dairy and beef and build a good supply of farm machinery. They were helped by their five hard working off springs. Marie was accustomed to doing all the housework by hand without electricity, but with power, there was a totally new world to become acquainted with and she was caught between the old and the new. It was also a time when there was a good supply of fruits and vegetables to be picked and preserved, one way or another. Much of the food was made from scratch but there were some exceptions when a ready-made product was purchased. Neither Marie nor Marguerite drove and therefore, the problem of isolation was probably felt by both, fortunately, they were quite happy at home. The number of neighbors kept decreasing in those years due to the low prices for wheat, but roads improved and thus travel became easier, so it was a different type of isolation than previously.
This was also the age of the first television set. The local one-room school which was opened in the twenties closed and children were bused to town every day. All five children, completely bilingual, spent their summer holidays from university working on the farm and contributed a great deal to its operation.
Paul volunteered for over thirty years to each of the Rural Municipality of Lake Lenore as its Reeve, the Melfort – St. Brieux Co-op, the St. Brieux Credit Union and the Wheat Pool. He was recognized for his achievements by the Province of Saskatchewan- receiving the Certificate of Merit for contributions to the community. As well, the College of Agriculture presented him with a distinguished graduate award for dedicated leadership in co-operative development, municipal government and development of the family farm.
The third generation Kernaleguen farm ownership started roughly in 1980. When they were married, Jean and Eva Marie built a house on the farm and later on built an extension to accommodate their growing family. Jos and Brenda remodeled Pierre and Marguerite’s house in the nineties. Paul continued to live in the house built in 1966. Since 1998, the farm has natural gas so all houses are heated by gas.
This third generation farm has developed a dairy with approximately 75 milk cows and a herd of three to four hundred beef cattle. As well they produce grain and forage crops. In recent years, like all farmers, they have faced unequalled problems which call for diversification and are experiencing falling markets and trade problems which affect both production and marketing thus creating an uncertain future. In addition, the unfavorable growing conditions – drought, hail, frost have all taken their toll.
The greater ease of car travel in recent years has helped overcome the new sense of isolation created by the abandonment of farms, the dying of towns and villages at the beginning of the twenty first century. Isolation and its causes are different for the three generations. Just as one could feel isolated in pioneer days, one can suffer isolation of a different nature in a more highly developed environment.
Eva Marie and Brenda are living through the changing role of women due to vast social change. While in the first generation, children played sports at recess; in the following generations, children played sports and other activities in close proximity to their home. Today activities are highly organized and children must travel great distances in the evenings and on weekends for instructions and competitions due to the dwindling population. The onus is on women to drive them to their destination. Likewise, the task of going to town for errands such as getting repairs for farm implements, banking, shopping, while it was done almost exclusively by men in the first and second generation, is now almost exclusively the role of women.
Joseph and Jean have been active in the community. Joseph has been on the Boards of the Provincial Dairy Producers, the Co-operative and the school. Jean has coached and played hockey, has served on the local Recreational Council for over twenty years and since 1995, has been Councilor for the R. M. of Lake Lenore.
Each generation occupying the Kernaleguen farm has had dreams of what it hoped to achieve and each has worked diligently in pursuit of its goals. Sometimes, efforts were rewarded; at other times, efforts have had to be redirected and regrouped. Two things common to the three generations is their industriousness and love of the land. Without these, they could not have risen above difficulties.
In looking back at the history of the Kernaleguen family and farm, it is evident that the same values which were guiding principles in the life of immigrants Pierre and Marguerite have survived throughout the four generations. They placed a very high value on work and one of their favorite saying was ‘work is a prayer’. This concept has been foremost in the life of members of all generations. Members of the first generation felt a strong attachment to the farm and many members from all generations, even the fourth express the same strong bond to the land. Likewise, Pierre and Marguerite placed high value on education and the first three generations have made remarkable sacrifices through the years so that younger members may be able to avail themselves of a good education. A common saying of the first generation was ‘education is easy to carry’. Family life and spirituality were highly valued in day to day living. It was a deeply ingrained sense of living one’s life respecting the equality of all mankind, no matter a person’s beliefs as well as respect for all living creatures and an awareness of the need to care and protect the environment. In writing in a French paper a short time before his death, Pierre recalled the early years and referred to Canada with admiration as ‘a land of great freedom and acceptance of all people no matter creed or color’. Emphasis was placed on being thrifty and ‘waste not, want not’ was repeated over and over again and life was always lived according to that guiding maxim. Lastly, but no less important in the scheme of beliefs is the value placed on a sense of humor. Maintaining a good sense of humor has enabled them to pull through in the past and could serve future generations equally well.
Four Generations Celebrate Christmas
Christmas through four generations on the Kernaleguen family farm focuses on the cyclical nature and stability of the feast and on the ever changing roles individuals assume as time marches on.
Throughout the years, attendance at church on Christmas Eve depended largely on roads, temperature and weather. At first, travel was by horse and sleigh, travel time and church service equally long. Three and four generations later, the service is earlier and shorter with cars and roads no longer a problem. Once there, the same contagious feeling of rejoicing fills the air. Years ago, bells on sleighs announced those coming. Year after year, the church bell tolls and beckons the faithful. Everywhere, there are people greeting people, young and old, parents and children, men and women, regulars and visitors, Joyeux Noel ! and Merry Christmas ! In the church, the creche is a vivid portrayal of the nativity, while candles flicker away nervously and the choir, always impressive seems to perform with more gusto than at any other time of the year. Attendance doubles on Christmas eve and every pew, chair, bench has had to be called into service at one time or another.
Early on, with limited resources, we tried to make Christmas dinner a bit more special than an everyday meal. In the thirties, the custom for the four of us, Pierre and Marguerite, Paul and myself, was to travel by sleigh to Francois and Anastasie LeBerres’, with whom Pierre and Marguerite lived when they arrived from France. Since we had no grandparents in Canada, this kind, childless couple acted as grandparents in our life. I don’t remember what was served but imagine it was a simple chicken dinner. I never paid much attention to the food but can remember the aroma of the meal cooking when we entered the house. I was absolutely stunned by the very ornate china which glistened on the table. I now wonder how gaudy it was with a multi-colored bird adorning it but to me at the time, it was beauty itself, totally breath taking ! Since my world had unfolded in our one-room log house, LeBerre’s house with a kitchen, dining room, living room and an upstairs with three bedrooms was a castle and I explored every nook and cranny of it. I don’t recall ever getting a gift or expecting one, just being there sufficed. Christmas dinner at LeBerre’s came to an end in the forties when that wonderful couple moved away and eventually grew old and passed away- one of my first realizations that time marches on.
In the years that followed, dinner was at Paul and Marie’s. It was usually a chicken dinner, but at times, we had turkey with all the trimmings. Marie was known for her delightful Christmas pudding with hot sauce that everyone enjoyed. Since the nineties, dinner has been at the home of one of their children. It now consists of turkey, chicken or ham with all the accompaniments in great abundance. The houses are a super stimulation of the senses: an enticing aroma of a blend of foods, decorations everywhere, the noise of excited children testing out new acquisitions, runaway windup toys, obviously under the influence of new batteries, spinning uncontrollably in all directions, people talking more or less at the same time, carols playing in the background and the food always delicious.
In the first generation, there was a concert at our small local school. Every year, a dedicated teacher prepared the children for a program of songs, recitations, and plays. I wonder who enjoyed it most, the children or the adults from the community. In the course of the evening, Santa Claus came with a bag full of gifts. The children’s gifts were all identical and identical from year to year – a small brown paper bag containing a mandarin orange, a few peanuts in their shell and a clump of gooey, brightly colored hard candy all stuck together. At home, we might get something such as a pair of mitts, a toque, which Marguerite got from Mr. Eaton via his catalogue. I recall once getting a small box of chocolate buds, half of which I shared with the family and the other half, I hid in the depths of an old trunk to have for my birthday at Valentine. I was trying out the maxim: ’out of sight , out of mind’. It worked.
The closing of the local country school in the 60’s signaled the end of school concerts. But that did not stop Santa from making house calls. On Christmas eve, each child supplied one shoe and these were placed in a row in anticipation of Le Pere Noel. In the morning, there was a case of mandarin oranges, a bag of peanuts and five parcels – one for each child, each containing an item such as socks, mitts, sweater etc. – Ever a puzzle to know how Santa knew what each one needed. This was also the time when children made cookies and left some out for Santa and each year, in the morning, a few crumbs were left but the cookies had been eaten! Concerned about the reindeers, Jean, then a small boy of four or five left chop in a pail close to the house so that they too could have a treat and in the morning, that also was gone! And then, these five eager children ran to Marguerite’s house knowing full well that one could always depend on Grandma to rise to the occasion. Children today usually open their gifts at home and also ran over to their grandparents, Paul and Marie, until that was no longer possible. In the first generations, there were no Christmas trees in the houses but now there is one in each home, fully decorated and surrounded by mounds of parcels waiting to be opened.
Thus Christmas comes and goes. Tradition prevails. The play is constant but the players, ever changing, progress along the path of life assuming different roles. Whether it was in early pioneer days, during the depression or in better times, when we celebrated with little, with more or with much, the value of a Kernaleguen Christmas has never been measured in terms of things, but rather by the sense of belonging and gratitude felt in one’s heart.