Home Town or Home Community:
St. Denis, Vonda
The Story of Léon Denis and his descendants
The following stories show the love, courage, ambition, and determination which characterized our ancestors and which are still evident amongst our contemporaries. We are pleased to share a little of our family history.
The Denis Family
Léon Denis was born April 10, 1862 in Courcelles, Charente Maritime, France. His father passed away accidentally when he was eleven and he had to quit school to look after the family. At the age of 16, Léon apprenticed as a shoe maker. On November 22, 1884 Léon married Héloïse Bon and together they ran a shoemaker’s shop and small store in Courcelles. Léon and Héloїse had five children, Raymond, Clodomir, Clotaire, Marie and Maria. In 1899 the family emigrated to New Caledonia where they operated a dairy farm, cheese factory, coffee plantation and a small store. In early 1902, Héloїse became ill with tuberculosis and the family returned to France. Héloїse passed away on December 2, 1902.
Later Léon started looking at the possibility of emigrating and in 1904 he sent his eldest son, Raymond, to Canada to find good homesteads. Raymond had not found anything by 1905, so Léon sent his second son, Clotaire, with the same mission. Clotaire very quickly found homesteads in the St. Denis area for himself, his father, and two brothers.
Léon in the meantime had married Fernande Lafarchoux. The family left France in August 1905. They arrived in Saskatoon at the end of August 1905 and quickly started building a house on their homestead located at NE 24-37-R1 w 3rd meridian. Shortly after they had moved into their new home, Fernande gave birth to her first child, Louis, on November 9, 1905. The delivery was made at home with the assistance of a mid-wife, Mrs. Léonard.
Léon, Clotaire, Clodomir and Raymond worked together on their farms.
Léon and Fernande’s second child, Héloїse, was born on May 4, 1908. A second son, Roger, was born on January 27, 1910.
On November 7, 1910, Clodomir married Justa Haudegand and Marie married Jules Haudegand. Clodomir and Justa established their residence six miles east of the family farm and Marie and Jules set up theirs one mile to the north.
In 1911, Léon moved to Howell (now Prud’homme) where he took on the John Deere dealership and managed a lumber yard in partnership with his son, Clodomir, who had the Massey Harris dealership. In January 1913, Clodomir came down with pneumonia and passed away on January 7. Léon then sold the business and returned to his homestead in St. Denis where he worked with his two sons Clotaire and Raymond.
Clotaire took another homestead in Witchekan (near Spiritwood) and moved to that area in 1913. The following year Léon and Fernande also moved to Witchekan, a move which was certainly against the wishes of Fernande. The nearest settlement was Debden, 28 miles away via a trail cut through the bush and swamps.
Robert was born in Witchekan on April 2, 1915 and Léon Jr. on August 13, 1917.
The two families moved back to St. Denis in the fall of 1918. Fernand was born in St. Denis on December 5, 1919 and Reine on August 8, 1923.
In 1928, Léon Sr. built a new home, a two storey five-bedroom house. In 1931 Léon owned nine quarters of land but by 1940 he had only three quarters left, the others had been sold by the municipality for tax arrears. He was still renting these quarters however on a crop share basis. He had a lot of cattle and every fall he would butcher and sell the meat door to door to people in Vonda. Throughout the 1930’s, the family never went hungry. Fernande was a good housekeeper and a good cook. She did a lot of canning of meats and vegetables. She also spun her own yarn and knitted mittens, socks and undergarments. Fernande was also the midwife for miles around St. Denis.
On July 2, 1941, Léon was not feeling well. At suppertime he felt dizzy and could no longer walk. Father Pierre from Vonda was called and administered the last rites. Léon was helped into bed, fell asleep but around midnight he passed away peacefully. He was seventy-nine.
His wife, Fernande, and Léon Jr., Fernand and Reine continued to live on the family farm. On December 26, 1942, Léon Jr. married Jeannette Denis. On January 14, 1943 Fernand married Cécile Bussière. A year later, Fernande decided that the house was too noisy for her, since both Jeannette and Cécile now had babies. She moved to St. Front where she became the housekeeper for the priest. She then worked for Mr. Tombu in Aberdeen until the fall of 1945.
In February 1946, she married Joseph Puits. They lived in Vonda for 17 years. Mr. Puits died in 1963 and Fernande lived in Vonda until 1965 when she moved to Mont St. Joseph in Prince Albert. She passed away on March 17, 1969. She was 84. Both Léon and Fernande were laid to rest in the St. Denis cemetery.
1ST FAMILY OF LÉON DENIS Sr.
Raymond Denis, 1st child of Léon Denis Sr. and Héloїse Bon, was born October 15, 1885 in France. In 1904, his father sent him to find a homestead in western Canada.
He married Jeanne Hubert on November 13, 1907. He worked on his farm in St.Denis until 1919. At that time, he started selling life insurance for Sovereign Life. In 1921, he accepted an offer from La Sauvegarde Insurance to be the representative for western Canada.
In 1910, Raymond participated in the creation of a French language newspaper, “Le Patriote”. He also contributed to the creation of l’ACFC (The French Canadian Association of Saskatchewan) and l’ACEFC (The French School Trustees Association).
In 1925, he helped organize the annual pilgrimage of some 300 delegates from the French communities of Saskatchewan to travel to Quèbec City by train to draw attention to the difficulty of maintaining the French language in the western provinces.
In 1934, he moved to Montréal to be the Director of Sales for La Sauvegarde.
In 1951, Raymond came back to Saskatchewan to organize a fund drive to build French language radio stations: CFNS Saskatoon and CFRG Gravelbourg. The drive netted over $350,000.00 and the two stations went on the air in 1952.
Raymond and Jeanne had ten children.
Raymond passed away on February 19, 1965 and his spouse, Jeanne, on February 8, 1971.
CLODOMIR DENIS SR
Clodomir Denis, 3rd child of Léon Denis Sr. and Héloїse Bon, was born in Courcelles, France, May 27, 1889. In September 1905, Clodomir emigrated to Canada with his parents where he took a homestead (SE-30-37-R1 west 3rd meridian). On November 7, 1910, he married Justa Haudegand and they settled on their homestead. Later they moved to Howell (Prud’homme) where Clodomir had the Massey Harris, Fairbanks and De Laval farm machinery dealership.
Clodomir contracted pneumonia January 1, 1913 and passed away on January 8. He was buried in St. Denis. His young wife Justa was left with their daughter Rose and pregnant with their second child, Clodomir Jr., who was born in March 1913. Justa lived with relatives until her marriage to Clotaire Denis in Victoire, Saskatchewan, January 11, 1916.
CLOTAIRE DENIS SR.
Clotaire Denis, 2nd child of Léon Denis Sr. and Héloїse Bon, was born December 14, 1886 in Courcelles, France.
In 1905, his father sent him to Canada, to try and find land for them. He arrived in Montréal in May 1905 and boarded a train for Prince Albert. He immediately began looking for suitable farm land. He went to St. Louis by wagon, then on foot to Duck Lake, Wakaw, Bonne Madonne, St. Brieux, Vonda and Howell. In Howell, (Prud’homme) he met Adélard Marcotte who took him southwest of Howell where he found several unclaimed quarters of land adjacent to each other. He took a homestead (NW 23-37-R1 west 3rd meridian) and reserved three other quarters for his dad and two brothers. He then walked to Saskatoon to register these homesteads to their names. Clotaire bought horses and oxen and began breaking land. He hunted rabbits and partridges and thus always had meat. When the family arrived, they immediately started building a house on the father’s homestead (NE 24-37-R1 west 3rd). They sowed wheat and oats and as there were no threshing machines in the area at that time, they had to use flails to thresh their crop. In the spring they had enough grain for their own seed and that of neighbours. They bought a threshing machine the following year. The grain was hauled to Vonda or Prud’homme during the winter. They also had to haul wood from 12 miles away to heat their home.
In 1913, Clotaire, in partnership with his father, took other homesteads in Witchekan. Clotaire had a half section (w 32-51-R10 west 3rd meridian) and his dad also had a half (E-31-51-R10 west 3rd meridian). The area was heavily wooded and there were no schools, churches and almost no roads. The nearest railway station was Debden located 28 miles away. Clotaire became a rancher overnight. He had a herd of 400 head of cattle which because there were no fences were free to roam for miles. Furthermore they had to amass stacks of hay for the long winter months. Haymaking at that time was done by hand.
Clotaire married Justa (Haudegand) Denis (his brother Clodomir’s widow) on January 11, 1916 in Victoire. After a lot of hard work and hardship, Clotaire decided to sell his land in Witchekan and returned to his homestead in St. Denis in August 1919.
Over the years Clotaire managed to acquire more land, eventually requiring thirty horses to work his farm. He had cattle, sheep, hogs, chickens and ducks.
Clotaire was involved in l’ACFC and in the newspaper, “Le Patriote de l’Ouest”. He was instrumental in the formation of the Casavant School District, and served as secretary or trustee from 1920 to 1961. He also served as councillor for the rural municipality of Grant; was one of the founders of the Vonda Rural Telephone Company and served as its director, president or secretary; served as a trustee of the St. Denis Parish council and a director or president of the Vonda Cooperative Association. He participated in the organization of Radio Prairie Nord Ltée and was one of its directors or president.
Clotaire and Justa had ten children.
Justa Denis passed away September 20, 1966 at the age of seventy-one. Ten days later their daughter, Suzanne Labrecque was killed in a car accident. She left her husband, Wilfrid and five young children. Clotaire passed away January 24, 1978, at the age of 91. Both Clotaire and Justa are resting in the St. Denis Cemetery.
MARIE DENIS HAUDEGAND
Marie Denis, 4th child of Léon Denis Sr. and Héloїse Bon, was born in Courcelles, France February 6, 1894. Marie only completed her primary schooling.
The family emigrated to Canada in September 1905 and settled in the area which was to become St. Denis.While still very young, Marie was noticed by a young man named Jules Haudegand. Jules was a handsome man who enjoyed music and singing. He played the violin and the trumpet. He was also handy as a blacksmith and mechanic; but his thoughts were for none other than beautiful Marie. They were married in St. Denis November 7, 1910. Marie was sixteen years old. They settled on a quarter of land (NE 25-37-R1W 3rd meridian) where Jules and his dad had built a small house for themselves. Life on the farm was very difficult. Through hard work, they survived the dirty thirties, and suffered through the heat and dust storms of the summers and the cold and snow of the winters.
Jules and Marie were both hard workers; Marie had large gardens, and plenty of chickens, turkeys and geese. She looked after the pigs and milked the cows. She also made clothes for the entire family. Marie was known for her generous heart and her willingness to help anyone in need. Jules’ Dad lived with them until his death in 1927; Justa, her widowed sister-in-law and her two children, also lived with them until Justa remarried in 1916. Jules, the ever-ready mechanic and blacksmith helped neighbours with the repair of their farm machinery. For many years Jules was the secretary for the Rural Telephone Company and was responsible for line maintenance. He also served as a school trustee for several years.
Marie and Jules had ten children. Jules passed away in 1947 and the boys took over the operation of the farm. In 1956, Marie moved to Vonda.
Marie suffered her first stroke in 1968. Being unable to live alone she spent a year with her daughters, Germaine and Marie, then moved to Le Foyer Youville in Gravelbourg until 1974, and eventually to St. Ann’s Home in Saskatoon.
Marie passed away March 8, 1988 and was laid to rest next to her husband in St. Denis.
MARIA DENIS TURGEON
Maria Denis, 5th child of Léon Denis Sr. and Héloїse Bon, was born January 25, 1896, in Courcelles, France. In 1905, the family moved to what was to become St. Denis in Saskatchewan, Canada.
In the fall of 1916, Alfred Turgeon went to St. Denis for harvesting at the Denis farm where he met Maria. They were married October 30, 1916, in Prud’homme. In 1917 Alfred and Maria purchased a half section of land in Shell River. On April 10, 1918, they left for their Shell River farm with a wagon, a team of oxen and very little else.
In 1928, they purchased a farm in Laventure. In April 1934 they opened a store in Laventure, with their living quarters upstairs.
Maria and Alfred had seven children.
Alfred passed away on September 28, 1961. Maria continued to live in the family home with her two sons, Aimé and Robert. In November 1980, she left for Vancouver to live near her daughters. She passed away April 12, 1981. She was buried in the cemetery in Laventure next to her husband.
2ND FAMILY OF LÉON DENIS Sr
Louis, 1st child of Léon Denis and Fernande Lafarchoux, was born November 9, 1905. Louis attended Casavant School but left school at a very young age to help out on the farm.
In 1927, he began to go steady with his sweetheart, Laurette Chalifour, and they were married November 27, 1928 in St. Denis.
Louis and Laurette farmed in St. Denis for a few years but poor weather resulted in crop failures and on December 3, 1930 the family moved to their homestead four miles north of Léoville, Saskatchewan. During the winters Louis worked in the bush, cutting and hauling firewood to sell locally, and cordwood to be shipped away. In 1943 they moved one mile north of Léoville. Louis and Laurette farmed three quarters. Being closer to town, they decided to run a dairy service. Every morning the boys delivered milk to town with a horse and cart.
Louis later bought a house and moved into town. He continued to farm until 1963. However, even after retirement Louis remained active with farm work. In his retirement, Louis enjoyed playing cards, reading, and traveling with Laurette to visit their children and grandchildren. They spent fifty-four happy years together. There is no doubt they both loved children as they had thirteen of their own, adopted one son, and raised two additional foster children.
On December 13, 1982, Louis passed away and was buried in Léoville. His love of life, hard work, and wonderful easygoing demeanour has been an example and inspiration to all of his family. His life was his greatest gift.
In 1994, Laurette, Louis’ widow, married André Bussière. They resided in Vonda. Laurette passed away on January 4, 2004. She was interred in Léoville next to her 1st husband.
Héloїse DENIS DETILLIEUX
Héloїse, 2nd child of Léon Denis and Fernande Lafarchoux, was born in St. Denis May 4, 1908. When she was six years old, her parents decided to move to Witchekan Lake. Her father had gone before them and had built a house which he claimed was very beautiful. It was not however viewed the same way by Héloїse’s mother who did not like the rain coming through the roof, nor the walls plastered with mud, nor the feeling of isolation because the house was in the middle of the forest with only a small path leading to Héloїse’s brother Clotaire’s house a quarter mile away. A serious forest fire broke out one day. Héloїse’s family lost all their cattle. They had depended on one particular cow to provide milk for their baby brother, Robert. Her mother mixed some flour and water to try and sustain the baby but he didn’t like that mixture very much. Her father stayed up all night to watch for any fires that might flare up. Early the next morning, he heard a bellow from someplace away from the house. Upon going towards the bellow he found the milk cow. She was very badly burned and eventually lost her hooves but Héloїse’s father took good care of that cow and she survived and baby Robert had his milk again.
The family returned to St. Denis in the fall of 1918. Héloїse’s mother taught her how to keep house, sew, cook and garden. At 19, Héloїse met a handsome young man, Edgar Detillieux. They were married December 26, 1929. They had three children: Angèle, Etienne, and Adèle. In 1951, they sold their farm and bought a store in Vonda. Edgar looked after the store and Héloїse kept busy as a seamstress. Edgar would go to Saskatoon by bus every week to purchase groceries, he would put in his order and the goods would be delivered the next day. One day he left for his regular shopping trip and never came back. He had collapsed and died in the bus depot in Saskatoon December 12, 1972. He was 77 years old. He was buried in the Vonda cemetery. Their son, Etienne died November 6, 2002. Héloїse passed away March 29, 2005 and was buried in Vonda.
Roger Denis, 3rd child of Léon Denis and Fernande Lafarchoux, was born in St. Denis, January 27, 1910. He attended Casavant School until he was thirteen. In 1936, he married Marie-Anne Hamelin, a young lady from St. Laurent. They lived in St. Denis until 1940 and then moved to Léoville. Roger had a Model A Ford truck with a small trailer behind, in which they had all of their meagre furniture. They had four children at the time, ranging in age from three months to four years. They left St. Denis October 28 and arrived at Roger’s brother Louis’s place November 1, 1940. After their shack was made half decent they moved in and lived there until 1943 when Roger bought some land a half mile north of Léoville. Besides growing grain, they also had a lot of cattle, milk cows, pigs and chickens. Their summertime work consisted in putting up hay for their cattle and then harvesting. During the winter, Roger would cut lumber for firewood and railroad ties and he also hauled hay that he had stacked some twelve miles north of Léoville.
During all their married life, Roger admits that his wife took upon herself a large share of the load of raising their family. She always worked hard especially in their first years in Léoville. She milked the cows, fed the pigs, in addition to doing all her housework. She was always good at sewing, mending and knitting. She could turn old clothes into pretty new dresses and suits. She also made a large garden every summer. She canned a lot of vegetables and wild fruit. Every year the family went blueberry picking. It was an outing which they all enjoyed.
Life was not always busy, they had a great deal of fun with their children and neighbours. For many years it was their tradition to have a gathering at their place for New Year’s Day. Roger’s brother Louis and family would come for dinner. Then, everyone from miles around gathered at Roger’s place for the evening, to dance to the music of violins, guitars and harmonicas which friends had brought.
In 1972, Roger and Laurette sold their farm to their son René and moved right into Léoville where they were both able to take life a bit easier, playing cards at the Golden Ring and also at Louis and Laurette’s home.
Roger and Marie-Anne had sixteen children.
Roger passed away October 3, 1994 and Marie-Anne May 1, 1999. Both are interred in the Léoville cemetery.
Robert Denis, 4th child of Léon Denis and Fernande Lafarchoux, was born April 2, 1915 in Witchekan, Saskatchewan. He did all his schooling in Casavant School until he had to quit school to help out on the farm. Robert’s dad had eight quarters of land at that time and a herd of 60 head of cattle, about 50 hogs, 60 horses and 200 chickens. So there was plenty of work.
Robert started going out when he was fairly young and was quite the party animal. In 1939, he met a beautiful young lady at a basket social. She was Rachel Lévesque from Prud’homme. 1940 was a leap year and Rachel proposed to Robert, and he gladly accepted. They were married April 23, 1940.
They had a rather difficult life. In January 1941, Rachel gave birth to twin boys who both died at birth. Then a son, Henri, in 1943 who died in a tractor accident in 1951. Their daughter, Julia, born in 1955, died after a long illness in 1962.
In 1993, Robert had a quadruple bypass, had one heart valve replaced and another repaired. He recovered fully and feels very well now.
For seven years, from 1991 to 1998, he enjoyed serving as counsellor for the R.M. of Grant # 372.
Rachel and Robert had 12 children.
On June 9, 1999, Rachel took ill and was admitted to the hospital where she passed away on July 23. She was 76 years of age.
Since losing Rachel, Robert has been very lonely. He finds comfort in visiting with his family and relatives. The Robert Denis family ritual of gathering together every New Year’s Day is still very important to them all.
Robert is proud of being able to look after himself at 90 years of age.
Léon Denis , 5th child of Léon Denis and Fernande Lafarchoux, was born in Witchekan August 13, 1917. He attended Casavant School in St.Denis until the age of 14. The family experienced the dirty thirties and suffered like everybody else, especially from not knowing if things would ever get better. However, they never suffered from hunger, but their cattle and horses did. Several died every spring if the good weather was delayed. Despite being poor, the family still had lots of fun. There were dances in homes on a rotating basis, ball games on Sunday afternoons, and card games in the church basement or in homes. Léon had several girlfriends during his youth, but his favourite was Jeannette. Their friendship turned to love, but there was a serious obstacle to their relationship. Jeannette was Léon’s half-brother’s daughter. However they found out that in Quebec that degree of relationship was not an obstacle to marriage. Consequently, Jeannette moved to Montreal to establish residence and the young couple was finally allowed to get married. They were married December 26, 1942 in Notre Dame de Grâces Church in Montreal. Together they had fourteen children. Their second son, Raymond, died of pneumonia when he was four weeks old.
When Léon Denis Sr. passed away he left his land to his sons, Léon and Fernand, as well as all the cattle, farm machinery and debt. They were also to provide for their mother. Fernand had gotten married three weeks after Jeannette and Léon, and the house was full with the two newly married couples, plus their mother Fernande and their sister, Reine.
In the spring of 1942, Léon and Fernand bought a Model D John Deere tractor and a 10 foot disker with seeding attachment for $900.00. In 1943, they bought a brand new 14 foot self-propelled Massey Harris 21 combine for $2700.00. These three pieces of equipment changed their whole farming operation. The first year they combined their own crop and did enough custom work to entirely pay off that combine.
In 1973, Léon and Jeannette sold their farm and bought nine and a half quarters located 15 miles east of Saskatoon. They quit farming in 1980 and Jeannette and Léon moved to Saskatoon where they got a job with the Saskatoon Housing Authority, supervising and maintaining the Shepherd Apartments, a 158 suite senior apartment. They would work all week and go back to the farm for the week-end. They retired from this job in 1990 and moved back to their farmhouse.
On September 10, 2002, their farmhouse burnt down and they decided to move to Saskatoon permanently. They are now residing in a condo on Egbert Avenue in Sutherland.
Fernand Denis, 6th child of Léon Denis and Fernande Lafarchoux, was born December 5, 1919. He attended Casavant School until he was 13. On January 14, 1943, Fernand married Cécile Bussière. They lived in the same house as Léon and Jeannette, along with their mother Fernande and sister, Reine. Reine moved to Ontario after a few months and Fernand’s mother left a year later. In 1950, Fernand and Cécile already had three children and Léon and Jeannette had five. The two brothers decided it was time to split up their farming operation. They drew straws, by agreement it had been decided that he who drew the long straw would move. Fernand drew the long straw. The brothers split their possessions equally and in May 1951, Fernand, Cécile and their children moved to Vonda.
Over the years, Fernand has served as a school trustee; a Knight of Columbus; a member of the local A.C.F.C.; a member of the Parish Council; a member of the Provincial A.C.F.C., a director of the Prud’homme Credit Union; a director of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool; a director of the Vonda Parks and Recreation; a director of the Vonda Coop; and a member of the Lions Club.
Fernand and Cécile have seven children and they visit with them as often as possible. Recently they both encountered some health problems. In 2000, Cécile lost sight in her right eye. In 2002, Fernand underwent serious heart surgery while visiting family in Winnipeg, but he has now recovered fairly well.
Fernand is now 85 years old and Cécile is 81. They continue to reside in Vonda and are thankful to God for all the blessings that their family has received over the years.
Reine Denis Schatz
Reine Denis, 7th child of Léon Denis and Fernande Lafarchoux, was born in St. Denis, August 8, 1923. She attended Casavant School up to grade eight. She was thirteen years old and was needed at home because her mom was hospitalized. As a young girl Reine worked on the farm, milking cows, feeding calves and pigs, tending the large garden and helping to pick and preserve Saskatoon berries and vegetables.
Her father passed away in July 1941 when she was seventeen.
After her brothers Léon and Fernand got married, she decided that she should leave this overcrowded family setting. She spent that first winter in Laventure working for her half-sister, Maria Turgeon in the family store. The following spring she moved to St. Front until fall, then back to St. Denis and then on to Toronto. She found a job in a small arms factory in Toronto; the company paid her fare and accommodation. However Reine became ill and the company doctor found out that she was being poisoned by the oils in which she often had to dip her hands. The company released her from that job but kept her on payroll until they were able to procure another job for her, washing airplanes. She finally came back to Saskatchewan. When visiting her mother who was working for Mr. Tombu in Aberdeen, she met Emile Hamoline. They were married in Vonda October 29, 1945. They settled on a half section of land that Emile owned in the Aberdeen area. There again she did a lot of the farm work, milking 8 to 10 cows by herself, feeding the calves, pigs and poultry. About this time Reine’s sister-in-law, Rachel, Robert’s wife, was hospitalized and Reine took in their four youngest children, Blanche, Bernadette, Eugène and Ronald. The three oldest went back home as soon as their mother came home but Reine kept baby Ronald until he was two years old.
In 1955, unable to have a family of their own, Reine and Emile decided to adopt.
Over the next few years, they adopted three children.
In January 1970, Reine and Emile split up and Reine moved to Saskatoon. She worked hard to support her family and also took some upgrading, obtaining her grade twelve certificate and then graduating in 1973 from a course in Library Technology. That fall, she was employed by the Saskatoon Separate School Board.
On July 17, 1976, Reine married Herb Schatz.
Reine had her share of headaches, turmoil and heartaches, but she also had her faith. She relied on the Virgin Mary to help and guide her. Her prayers were not always answered, she did not always get what she asked for but she was always given the strength to carry on.
In July of 1983 and again in July of 2003, over 600 descendants of Leon Denis Sr. met for an entire week-end to celebrate ‘Family’. The family will meet again in July 2005, 100 years after the arrival of Léon Denis Sr. and family to Canada from France, to pay tribute to their ancestors.