Pictured above, the CN railcar with Alice Blanchette arriving on the first passenger train to Edmonton, with son Henri-Paul Blanchette at six months of age. This picture taken in June 1929.
Henri-Paul was born on December 23, 1928 at Notre Dame du Bon Conseil, Québec to French Canadian parents, Hervé Blanchette and Alice Faucher. He is the oldest of five children, two boys and three girls. Along with his mother, only six months old, he arrived in Girouxville in 1929 to join his father, whom had arrived in March of that year to come and see what the West had to offer. The day they arrived was the first day the train ever stopped in Girouxville, there was no train station at that time. Upon their arrival, they stayed with M. Rodolphe Jutras while their log house (shack) was being built. M. Jutras’ house was not very big, therefore Henri-Paul slept in the lid of a suitcase. His siblings often attribute this to being the reason he never grew very tall.
Pictured above are Annette Lafrance and some of her siblings going to school with their horse, ‘Buckskin’ leading the way.
In 1936, at the age of seven years, Henri-Paul was enrolled at Gauthier School, situated two miles from their home. In the summer they would walk and in the winter, they would travel by horse and cutter (buggy). In 1942, Gauthier School was closer to have a central school for all the surrounding students in the village of Girouxville. Being 14 years old and the oldest of the school kids, he was put in charge of driving the school van, a covered wagon pulled by a horse. He continued this for three years, 1941-1944, until he was needed to stay and help with seeding and harvest on the family farm. Having finished his grade eight and only begun his grade nine, this was the end of his studies.
During this time there was an abundance of hares and many buyers for their pelts. At the age of 12, Henri-Paul wanted to make some money to buy a bicycle. He started trapping them and selling their hides for five cents and five cents for the carcass which was used as bait by the trappers on their trap lines. Finally, after two years, he had saved enough money to buy his first pedal bike.
Henri-Paul Blanchette at 16 with his first bicycle that he bought with his own money.
As a young teenager, 13-14 years of age, Henri-Paul would earn money by working for the neighbour down the road. Mr. Smith was married but had never had any children of his own. During the summer when the weeds were in full bloom, Mr. Smith would hire him to go pick by hand the weeds in his fields as there was no such thing as spraying herbicides in those days to control the spread of weeds. He was paid twenty-five cents cash per day and given dinner and supper too. He was so happy to go home with that quarter in his pocket every day.
Henri-Paul Blanchette, 18, working at a sawmill in McBride, B.C.
Now a young man, age 17, Henri-Paul had finished helping his father with the fall harvest and decided he would try working in the lumber camps for the winter months. He headed out to a camp in McBride, British Columbia along with Noé Rochon, Jos Bugnet and Eva Bugnet (she was the camp cook). There he was first put on a lumber planer crew; he was at the receiving end of the planer and was expected to pick-up the lumber and stack them into piles. He quickly found out that this was not a safe job, as the lumber came shooting out of that planer at high speeds directly at his head and trying to stack the lumber at that speed was impossible. He decided that he was going to leave before he got himself hurt or killed. As he walked away from the site, he runs into the camp boss. When asked where he was going, Henri-Paul told him he was quitting before he got killed! The boss did not want to see him leave so he offered him another job at the camp. He became the camp’s bull-cook for that winter; this job involved supplying the camp cook with the necessities needed to keep the food coming, like hauling in the wood for the wood-stove, hauling water and supplies to the cook shack, taking out the garbage and whatever odd jobs that needed to be done. Henri-Paul recounts that this was the best winter job he ever had; he was kept warm and well fed especially with those fresh home-made pies that the cook would make, and he would have every after-noon! For the next ten years, from mid December until mid March he would return to work in the lumber camps for M. Paul-Emile St. André or M. Stéphanus Soucy as a labourer.
Pictured above is another family photo with Annette and her children, circa 1961.
In those days, there were many late-night gatherings in people’s homes. Even if the houses were small, there would be room for everyone to sing and dance to the music of violins, guitars and the harmonica. Card games were also a favourite past-time. Every year there was an annual picnic held at the Culp Lake, on the land just to the West of David Hallman’s and South of Irvin Kopp’s residence. It was a day filled with base-ball games, games for the kids including potato sack races, three-legged races and various other types of races. The day would end with a potluck supper and a dance was held in the Culp School, later known also as the Culp Hall.
Henri-Paul Blanchette, wife Annette and first son, Maurice, in 1957.
Henri-Paul was not afraid of hard work so around that same time, at the age of 17, he joined Mr. Bolster’s fall threshing crew from Watino. Every fall he would drive a team of horses pulling a wagon with a rack on it used to haul grain bundles to the threshing machine. The horse team belonged to his father. They were black in colour and weighed approximately 2,000 pounds each. It took eight teams of horses to keep the threshing machine going along with a field pitcher that helped to load the bundles and a spike pitcher to help feed the threshing machine. The days were long, starting at first daylight 7 a.m. and stopping at sun-down 7 p.m. There would be a half-hour break for dinner and a lunch served mid-afternoon usually consisting of sandwiches, apples and coffee. This would allow time for the horses to eat and rest also. The crew of men sometimes lived far from where they were working, and they would bring their bedding and sleep in the hayloft while others that lived closer would go home for the night. The crew would start the fall harvest in the Watino flats and work there way up the hill harvesting each farmer’s crop along the way. The farms were not very big back then therefore they were able to take care of two or three farms per day. Henri-Paul recounts that one year they finished threshing just before Christmas in the snow. Moisture and snow did not stop them as the grain were all in stooks and when it was late in the fall some farmers would stack their grain bundles to try and keep it dry until the threshing machine would finally arrive at their farm.
Pictured above, an 18-year-old Henri-Paul Blanchette with his parents’ car.
A bundle of grain, “bottine” in French, was made by using a binder. The binder was a horse drawn implement, it usually took four strong horses to pull the ground driven binder that was operated by a bull wheel that would control and run the cutter, canvases and tie the bundles with twine. Most binders ranged from seven to eight feet wide. The binder driver would then release the tied bundles from the rear carrier onto the ground, this was operated with a foot peddle. Following the binder were at least two or three other men that collected the bundles and assembled the stooks, these usually consisted of six to eight bundles and one on top to cover the heads. It would take on average eight to 10 days of ideal weather for the grain heads to dry. When the grain was dry, morning dew or little rain showers did not stop the threshing crew from working as the stooks of grain kept the heads well protected from the moisture.
Henri-Paul Blanchette on his homestead in the late 1940’s. He lived in the granary during the summer and used it for storage in the fall.
Once the grain was harvested, it was stored in square wooden grain bins fabricated out of rough planks of lumber approximately 12 feet by 12 feet. Although steel bins were invented in the 1920s, Henri-Paul did not own any until the early 1960s.
Since agriculture had always been his primary interest on December 18, 1947 at the age of 19, Henri-Paul decided to take a government lease on a half section south of Highway 49
(N ½ 25-77-23-W5) for $10. In order to obtain this land, you had to apply in person at the government office in Peace River. So, he borrowed his Dad’s car and drove to Peace River the evening before to be there first thing in the morning to fill out the application. When he went in the next morning, he was surprised to see about thirty other men standing in line, of which ten were applying for the very same half section that he wanted. All those present were asked to draw a number from a hat and he luckily drew the number two. Because he had drawn number two, he should have been second in line to select, however to his lucky fortune; the person that had selected number one did not qualify as he already owned other land. Therefore Henri-Paul had first choice on the two quarters of land in standing brush that he wanted. They believe that a fire past through this land years before, leaving big trees of around 20 inches in diameter half burned and rotten to be cleared with newly grown trees of five to eight inches in diameter and willow bushes. For the next two years he cleared his first 25 acres with an axe and piled by hand. He was then able to use his dad’s first tractor, a 102 Massey-Harris, which his dad purchased from George Galigan (Doug Galigan’s uncle from Culp), he had the Massey-Harris agency in Culp. With the use of this tractor he soon opened another 50 acres, but clearing the land was done only during his spare time in the evenings and on Saturdays. He was given 10 years to open the land and had to give 1/8 of the crop to the provincial government annually. There were no taxes in those days however he needed to prove that he was living on this land for at least six months every year for ten years for the lease agreement to be finalized. Henri-Paul obtained the titles for this half-section after only seven years.
Henri-Paul Blanchette and Hervé Blanchette with their first self-propelled combines in the late 1950’s.
Around 1948, Pépère Blanchette purchased his first second hand threshing machine. Although it was smaller than Mr. Bolsters’ machine, it allowed them to have control on harvesting their crops when they were ready. It was in 1950 that the combine era became visible in our area and Pépère Blanchette purchased a new Case pull-type, six-foot header with an air-cooled motor that they had to start it with a crank, this was purchased from the Case dealership in Girouxville, owned by Paul Bourgeois [now known as Boisvert’s Garage]. At that same time, Pépère purchased an International pull-type swather from the dealership in Falher. One year later, Henri-Paul bought himself a used 400 Cockshut self-propelled combine from Bessette’s Garage in Girouxville for $2,800. This deluxe combine had a twelve-foot cutting table with an attached pickup in front of the cutting bar. It was also at this same time that Henri-Paul acquired his first brand new, 1951 grey, half-ton, Chevrolet pick-up. He purchased them in the fall before harvest began, but in those days your word was as good as a signed contract therefore Mr. Henri Bessette [Donna’s grandfather] told Henri-Paul to come back after his harvest was done to pay for the combine and the pick-up. The combine was paid in full by cash, but the $2,150 pick-up was financed through Chevrolet Financing.
The family farm where Henri-Paul Blanchette grew up, circa 1955.
Between the years 1949-51, while clearing his leased land, he also worked at the “Alberta Pacific” elevator for Germain Dufresne in Girouxville and at times replacing other workers at the Dréau and Juda elevators. This dusty work proved to be hard on Henri-Paul’s health as inhaling the dust often made him sick and therefore he left to become a full-time farmer instead.
It was around 1950 when Henri-Paul bought his first tractor, a new 44 Massey Harris from Chalifoux Motors in Falher. He soon traded up to a 55 Massey Harris to have more power. He did not own this second-hand tractor very long as Henri-Paul soon found out that it was built too low to the ground and he was always getting stuck while trying to open his leased land. Again, he traded it in for another newer 44 Massey Harris and eventually traded this one in for a 95 Massey Harris. This tractor, still with no cab, stayed with Henri-Paul for several years.
In 1952, Henri-Paul bought a quarter section of land from a M. Norbert Juneau with the intention of making his home on this land; it only had approximately 60 cultivatable acres. Highway 49 was planned for construction in front of this land and it was also located near the leased government land that he was still breaking open. But in the spring of 1955, after a long winter in the logging camps and finishing the season with literally no payment, Henri-Paul was fed up of working in the bush and decided it was time to expand his farm. Henri-Paul went to visit his good neighbour, Mr. Smith and made him an offer to buy his half-section with the yard that was for sale. It had a good house and a barn and a few other buildings. Knowing that he had no money to offer him as a down payment, Henri-Paul approached him with an offer of $12,000 dollars; this was $1,000 dollars more than he was asking for. After confessing that he had no money to pay him in cash, he promised to pay him with one-third of the crop in the fall until it was all paid for. Mr. Smith said he would think over his offer and Henri-Paul went home to his parents only to hope and dream that his offer would stand. Henri-Paul was awakened the next morning at 7am by Mr. Smith who was asking if he was ready to sign the papers for the sale agreement. Henri-Paul was thrilled and could see his dream of farming becoming a reality.
Henri-Paul also comes to realize that he wasn’t getting any younger and he did not want to be a bachelor all his life. Now age 26 and having heard of a new girl from St. Paul was living in town, he arranged to try and meet her. Annette was hired as a housekeeper for Emile J. Doucette. There was a play that was organized by the parish themed “National Pride”, Agathe and Laurette Doucette, Alice Blanchette and “the new girl in town” were all participating in the play. Henri-Paul’s mother made arrangements for him to pick them all up and bring them to a practice. This was the first of many dates between Henri-Paul and Annette. They had a short courtship of six months and were married on October 17, 1955 in St. Paul, Alberta.
Henri-Paul Blanchette and Annette (Lafrance) Blanchette were married on October 17, 1955.
Annette Lafrance was born on July 4, 1927 in Lafond, Alberta (a small hamlet outside of St. Paul) to French Canadian parents, Joseph and Marie Lafrance. They were farmers and owned a herd of 30 dairy cows. Annette was the fifth child in a family of 11 children and the fourth girl. The farm was a true family affair, and everyone had to help. It was the responsibility of Annette’s mother and the girls to milk the cows. At the age of eight to twelve she had to milk nine to ten cows by hand before going to school in the morning and the evening between the month of April and November. Summer holidays were kept busy with the hay season, cutting with a sickle-mower then raking it into rows with the help of horses. One day when Annette was about 12 or 13 years old she was asked to do the raking, with a very calm mare and a little more nervous horse by the name of “Buckskin;” this was also the same horse they used to take them to school. The rake had two pedals to lift and lower the rake which you had to keep your foot on either pedals at all times, Annette did not know this but learned very quickly when she missed the foot-pedal and fell down onto the “tongue” of the rake between the horses, this was attached to the “neckyuke” which kept the two horses tied to each other; lucky for her that “Buckskin” was really good to her and didn’t take off running. Annette, now nervous, got back into position and managed to finish the 80 acres left to be done.
Pictured above, far left, is Henri-Paul Blanchette driving the neighbours’ children on the “school bus,” which was a horse-drawn caboose.
After the rows of hay were done and dried, they had to make little piles by hand with a pitch-fork. Then these piles were put into a wagon rack to bring them to the hay barn in the yard. To unload the wagon into the barn a special fork which was installed on a track suspended from the ceiling of the barn, a horse would pull the fork forward thus pulling the hay off the wagon. This was a job designated for the kids to do along with picking roots and rocks found in the fields. Unfortunately, the rock picking was a never-ending job as new rocks appeared every spring after the winter frost would push them to the surface.
We’re open for business. Mayor Henri-Paul Blanchette, left, helps to put up the sign for Girouxville’s chamber of commerce. Circa, early 1990’s.
The children’s hard work did not go unappreciated, in 1938 Pépère and Mémère Lafrance took the family to Edmonton to an exposition (like a trade-show today). This was their first time out of Lafond. They slept at the Cecile Hotel and the next morning they watched the parade as it passed by in front of the hotel. Although money was scarce, they each received an ice cream cone but had to share one cotton-candy and popcorn as a special treat. Annette recalls the crowd of people and being only 11 years of age, she was memorized by looking at the crowd of people around her, she soon realized that she didn’t know any of them; she had lost sight of her parents and siblings. With her quick thinking, she knew they would have to leave though the same doors they came in, so she went and stood by the doors until they showed up. It was a long tiring trip back to Lafond.
Henri-Paul and Annette (Lafrance) Blanchette with their children, circa 1980.
Annette’s first six years of schooling (1934-1940) were taken at École Cartier. In the 1940’s there was a lot of talk about centralizing the rural schools to Lafond, like École Cartier. Her parents therefore decided that the three girls, Ida, Thérèse and Annette, should be placed in a boarding convent that was operated by the Sisters of Assumption, so they could attend the school in St. Paul. Annette continued her grades seven, eight and nine there after which she returned home to help on the farm only for a short while. Now 17 years old, Annette followed her calling to serve God and entered the convent, the Sisters of Assumption A.S.V. She spent the next eight years there but chose not to make her final vows; she decided to leave the convent in search of her true calling. She was then employed as a hired-hand in private homes and at the hospital where she worked in the nursery. During these times, the delivery of 10 to 20 babies per week was the norm and mothers stayed in hospital for approximately 10 to 12 days.
In 1954, Annette and Denise went on a holiday along with their parents to Québec. This was one of the best gifts she received from them, the opportunity to meet her aunts and uncles back in Québec. It still brings Annette great joy to write and visit her extended family she met years ago. Upon her return in September, she had lost her job, however she was asked to do some sewing for the hospital. A new type of light olive-green hospital clothing was being introduced. A pattern for a “V” neck enclosure had to be made and then many different sizes were made. This neckline is still being used in the uniforms and scrubs used today.
Henri-Paul Blanchette dances with this mother, Alice (Faucher) Blanchette at her 80th birthday.
In February 1955, a friend of Françoise Fortin offered her and Annette to go visit the Peace Country where there were three job opportunities in Girouxville. After a few days at the “Miliciennes du Rosaire”, she worked at M. Philippe Lavoies’ of St. Isidore (Michel’s parents) for one week while she waited to start her new job in Girouxville at the home of M. Emile J. Doucette. This is how fate brought her to meet her future husband Henri-Paul.
After their marriage, Annette and Henri-Paul settled on the land newly purchased from Mr. Smith. As the family was quickly growing, a new house was built from 1964-65. Henri-Paul started raising hogs with three sows that Pépère Blanchette gave him to start with; there was also the one good milking cow which grew into 30 head of cattle. Around 1958, Henri-Paul built his hog barn and found that the haying season to feed the cows was making him sick all the time with hay-fever therefore it was then that the cows had to go. The steady work-load of taking care of the hogs while still opening land and slowly acquiring more land proved to be a full-time job.
In 1959, Henri-Paul decided to sell the quarter of land that was purchased from M. Norbert Juneau along highway 49 to Darius and Judith Fontaine. They were living further south and west of the highway and she found it far for the children to go to school everyday. They had no money to pay for the quarter, so Henri-Paul asked that Darius open, clear and break another 50 acres on his government leased land south of the highway in exchange for the quarter of land. This was also a way to pay fewer taxes.
MLA Walter Paskowski, left, presenting a plaque of a grain car to Mayor Henri-Paul Blanchette of Girouxville. The grain car had the Village of Girouxville’s name on it as part of Alberta Heritage’s naming program for communities with grain elevators.
Over the next few years a series of combines were bought and sold, first the 400 Cockshut was traded for a 90 Massey Ferguson, this second-hand combine was purchased from M. Léo Maurier (Mme. Luce Rochon’s brother) from Legal, Alberta, than that one was traded for a 92 Massey Ferguson the next one that followed was also a 92 Massey Ferguson but this one was “fluid driven” they called it, it had no clutch. All those years and still no cabs on the combines, until he traded up for a 510 Massey Ferguson with a cab….BIG improvement especially for Henri-Paul’s allergies!
Henri-Paul and his father farmed together for many years up until the fall of 1965. Pépère Blanchette became ill with lung cancer and died on January 3, 1966. At which time Henri-Paul’s younger brother Gérard took over Pépère Blanchette’s home farm. They continued to work together until their sons became old enough to help on the farm then they separated the equipment and went out each on their own.
Henri-Paul was always drawn to serving the community so after the death of his father in 1966, he accepted to replace his father as chairman for the parish council. He later would also serve on the finance committee. During the winter months, he worked on the basement of the church, replaced the weeping tiles, finished the walls and replaced the flooring. He and Gerard Mackell were the foremen for the renovation job. Henri-Paul continued to be active in the community by serving several years on other organizations such as the school board, Carda and the Credit Union.
Over the years, the farm started to grow, and Henri-Paul was still dreaming of having a tractor that would pull with all four wheels so that he wouldn’t get stuck so often. It finally came to be that in 1965 Henri-Paul was able to trade in the old faithful 95 Massey Harris and upgrade to a 97 Massey Ferguson with front wheel assist and this one also had a cab…. what an improvement that was!
Pictured above, Henri-Paul and Annette (Lafrance) Blanchette with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, celebrating the couple’s 60th anniversary in 2015.
Now already with six children, of whom four were boys, Henri-Paul decided he should purchase more land. From 1966 to 1970 he bought land from Emile J. Doucette, a 50-acre piece along the creek that was located next to another quarter that he already owned at a bargain price of $3,000 dollars. Soon after, he bought Jos Bugnet, for $11,500, a quarter that was almost all opened except perhaps 20 acres, which he opened afterwards. From 1971 to 1980, Henri-Paul continued to acquire more land from neighbours south of the highway 49. There was land purchased from Raoul Audet, Ernest Limoges, Robert Laflamme, Jean-Louis and Réjean Trudeau and André Albinati. Henri-Paul was fortunate to have good neighbours that showed him good faith as he was given the option to purchase most of these quarters without having to borrow money from the bank. He was often able to strike up a written agreement [done at the accountant’s office in town] where he would make his payments annually with the profits of the crop grown that year. For example, Henri-Paul bought 4 quarters from Trudeau’s at $10,000 per quarter and he was able to pay them off with three years of crops. By the time he purchased Albinati’s six quarters, the price of land had started to climb, and he was now paying as much as $75,000 per quarter. Many times, the purchase payments were done with the crop or so much per year paid to the seller with little or no interest at all.
Henri-Paul Blanchette and Annette(Lafrance) Blanchette with their children at their 50th wedding anniversary. In front, from left, are Doris (Blanchette) Aubin, Henri-Paul Blanchette, Annette (Lafrance) Blanchette and Pauline (Blanchette) Lavoie. In back, from left, are Rene Blanchette, Roger Blanchette, Albert Blanchette, Camille Blanchette and Maurice Blanchette.
With the farm growing more and more, in 1977 he decided to build a grain handling system along with a larger grain dryer to help dry, store and manoeuvre the grain more easily. This simplified and helped save time in many ways.
As the Blanchette boys started to show interest in agriculture and becoming farmers themselves, it was decided that in 1981 a farm company show be formed with Henri-Paul and three of his sons, Albert, René and Camille. This necessitated the purchase of more land and larger, more modern equipment. From 1981 to 1988, they bought land from Dave Hallman, Hormidas Chauvin, Arthur Tardif and eventually the Lots 12 and 13 on Block 1 in the Town of Girouxville. This would be Henri-Paul and Annette’s next move; in 1985-86 they built their retirement home in town allowing René to move in to the family farm house to raise a family of his own.
Throughout this time, Henri-Paul remained active in the community by being a director and eventually the president of the local Credit Union (serving 25 years), director of the East-Peace Gas Co-op (28 years) and the Co-op St. Isidore. In 1986 began an organization called SARDA [Smoky Applied Research and Demonstration Association] an organization that focused on research and experimentation of seeding grains in the region. Henri-Paul was the first president of this organization that continues to play a vital role in the Smoky River region. Once he became a resident of Girouxville, he served nine years on Town Council, first as a director for three years and then Mayor for another six years.
Mayor Henri-Paul Blanchette of the Village of Girouxville participating in the Honey Festival parade in Falher on July 30, 1994.
Annette was also active and interested in helping the community. She was a member of “Les Dames de Ste. Anne” then “Les Dames Chrétiennes” which she continues to be a part of. Since the 1960s she has followed “les session d’action catholique” and the A.C.F.A organization, realizing the importance of the survival of the French language in the area. Seeing for herself how her children learnt the English language at such a young age easily simply by watching television, she voiced to Marguerite Dentinger and A.C.F.A. members about the importance of having a French television station in the region to help in the survival of the French language. Mrs. Dentinger, coordinator of A.C.F.A. was a key instrument in achieving the French TV channel in the Smoky River Region.
From 1972-1973, Annette along with Rollande Boisvert and other women from the area, they formed a Craft Club committee which evolved into the Girouxville Ceramic Club that was located in the Girouxville church basement. They later organized craft courses for the local school students during the summer months to give the youth something fun and constructive to do throughout the summer.
In the spring of 2011, Henri-Paul and Annette decided it was time to leave their larger home in Girouxville and move to the Villa Beausejour seniors housing in Falher where they continue to reside today to live out their golden years.
Henri-Paul and Annette were blessed with seven children, five boys and two girls who in turn blessed them with 28 grand-children [with 3 sets of twins]. Also have 12 great grandchildren thus far.
This family photo was taken with Henri-Paul Blanchette’s siblings and parents, Hervé Blanchette, Alice (Faucher) Blanchette, Henri-Paul Blanchette, Sr. Dolores Blanchette, Simone (Blanchette) Limoges, Rollande (Blanchette) Boisvert and Gerard Blanchette. This picture was taken Dec. 25, 1965.
Joseph Lafrance and Marie Lafrance, who were Annette (Lafrance) Blanchette’s parents, were married on July 3, 1917.
Joseph and Marie Lafrance celebrating their 50th anniversary.
Hervé Blanchette and Alice Faucher were married on June 21, 1927.