Andrew Redmond's Story

Redmond-Grenier family, 1923, St-Georges-de-Beauce, Québec

French Heritage

My mother, Marie Jeanne Grenier, was about the sixth generation from the first Grenier who came to Canada from Normandy in the 1600s and settled down on the St. Charles River, right in the City of Québec. Her parents were Marie Veilleaux and Olivier Grenier from St. Georges. The Greniers were one family of several butchers and owned a slaughter house. They would travel with a little cart and sell meat, stopping at every door. Although she was born in St. Georges, most of her younger siblings were born in the United States. In 1896, a big flood destroyed a dam and sawmill at the south end in Village Morency. With the mill closed, Grandfather Grenier harnessed his team of horses and went to St. Sebastian (about 40 miles on the road to Lac Mégantic), where he went to work lumbering for the Price brothers.

If you travel between St. Georges and Lac Mégantic, you go by big quarries in St. Sebastian. Price Brothers had some holdings of land which they later sold to the paper mill. My grandfather used to build two story camps and brought most of the family with him. He wouldn't bring the girls, who were just beginning their teens, into the camps around the crew, so he sent them to school at the convent in St. Georges. The little ones were taught by an older sister who served as a teacher. There were about thirteen in the family. My Grandmother was always pregnant, but was in charge of feeding the crews. The kitchen was upstairs and the bunkhouse for the men was downstairs. The dining room was upstairs to accommodate getting the food to the tables. They served everything on the table in big dishes, just like we did in our early logging camps. They didn't stay very long in St. Sebastian, but kept on going with their horses and family to the United States.

A lot of textile mills were getting built in the New England states. The Greniers were recruited and moved directly to Fall River, Massachusetts where they stayed for about five years. They didn't have to buy a house, since the companies provided great big rents, or apartments. The worst job, my mother used to say, was to get rid of the cockroaches which would come in from the cellars, the warehouses, and even from the little lunch baskets in which they brought lunch to the factories. The younger children would take lunch to their family and grab the loom while the older ones ate sandwiches. The companies abused that, they let them do those things so they wouldn't have to pay for lunch breaks.

The Greniers moved two or three times, each time there was a strike. There were a lot of labor disputes then and the unions were hitting hard. The Greniers didn't want to stand with banners and shouts of "Scab." They just wanted to make a living, so they moved to where it was more peaceful. They moved on to Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and my mother went to school in Lawrence and Lowell in Massachusetts. After about seven years of moving around New England, they moved to Anson, Maine, around the turn of the century, where my Uncle Paul lived.

The oldest son in the family, Uncle Paul Napoleon Grenier, hadn't gone to work in the mills. He'd stayed in lumbering, just like he'd done with his father at St. Sebastian. Paul had lumbering on his mind and he wasn't going to weave yarns. He wanted to do what he knew how to do and had established himself in Madison, Maine. I think that my grandfather got the idea that he could join forces with his boy and be a father and son enterprise. I know I had those ideas myself, but it doesn't always work out too well. As years go by, times change. Apparently his plans didn't work out too well. Paul was pretty well established with his own business and associates. So that's how the Grenier's came to be in Maine, where my father and mother met.

Irish Heritage

My father was John Stephen Redmond, son of Joseph Redmond and Elizabeth McNamara. The Irish families had gotten off the boats in Quebec City. I never read Irish history very much and my father never talked about it. But my mother was proud of him, she used to say the Irish were rejected. Some came up to St. Georges. The priest would get right up in the pulpit and tell his parish: "Keep away from those Irish. They're filthy, they have diseases. Keep away from them". It was not much of a welcome for them. I think that's why they were clannish. A few Irish families like the Redmonds, McNamaras, Donovans, Whites, and Mooneys stayed in Beauce. They married with each other and then with the French. For example, Mooney is now spelt "Moonin" by some.

My father's dad, Joe Redmond, would come to Maine for the river drives. Before they built the dams in Skowhegan, the Kennebec waters ran very, very swiftly through there. The men bet a bottle of gin that no one would dare to run it. Grandfather Redmond picked his log and went down those rough waters. He went under and his hat floated up. They said: "There's the end of Joe Redmond". Suddenly he came right back up. He went down like that three times, but hung onto his log. The people of St. Georges used to think of the Redmonds as people a little bit different. I tried a few times to ride a log, but wasn't very successful. Of course, one consolation was that I didn't really need to drive logs, times had changed. Joe Redmond married Elizabeth McNamara. She barely spoke French and didn't like to speak it; things went better for her in English.

They lived in the Harbottle Concession in St. Georges, on the east side, going north. Cumberland was where the Taylors and other Protestants lived, and where the golf course is now. There might have been a few other Irish families. My dad, Steve Redmond, was born about 1887, but lost his father when he was only about two years old. He began to support his mother from the age of twelve years. He only got to go to school to the third grade. My mother had a lot of respect for him for taking care of his family.

The first time my father came to Maine, he was twelve years old. He wouldn't use the stagecoach because it took about three weeks of his salary to pay for the ride. So he walked with his neighbor and friend, Joe Sirois. My father went to work for a big farmer in Bingham who was lumbering. The farmer asked my father to bring some other men to work on the river drive, so he brought his friends over in the spring. Afterwards, in the summer and the fall, he went to work in the logging camps. The loggers at that time were generally big, local farmers who owned several pair of horses.

Parents Marriage & Early Life

Before the turn of the century, my dad and mother met near the logging booms, in down-town Madison. She was raffling tickets to raise money to build the Catholic church. All the Canadians there were Catholics and there were several other Catholic ethnic groups in Madison, but the town didn't have a Catholic Church. The mills brought in a lot of people. A major thing for them became the building of that church. My mother and another woman knew the river drivers would be paid in cash in Madison and decided to catch them before they went to the bars. The first one she met was my father.

They liked each other, so she invited him over to her family's house for dinner. After he got to the house, they both discovered they knew the same people from St. Georges. They got married in 1905 in Madison. Just before the wedding at the house, her brother had climbed a ladder to cut a branch. But he got too close to the electric wires, it was raining, the current grounded, and he got burnt bad. It didn't kill him, but it was a big thing at their wedding, I'm telling you! She was the only one of her family who came back to live in Canada. My father and mother decided to raise their family in St. Georges. They agreed to have grandmother McNamara live with them and to speak English in the house. That way the children would grow up bilingual.

My father was an active young fellow. He saved some people in the big flood of 1896. Almost everyone had a rowboat, being on the river. Some farmers had nice, big flats on good land, a little ways off, but during that flood some suddenly found their house in the middle of the Chaudière. Baptiste Labbé was a strong individual. He raised a big family out of St. Georges and had a good solid house. It wasn't in the current, but when rescuers got to him he was saving two piglets. At first, he had brought them into the house, then was bringing them up into the attic when the boats came to rescue him.

Beauce had a reputation for lumberjacks. My father used to show off on the Chaudière. He would have someone bring one of the children to the bridge pier in the middle of the river, when the logs were going down. He'd choose a log with his pick pole, hold the kid on his shoulder, and maneuver that log to land in front of our house. He was very serious about everything, but when he did something he went all the way. He had a lot of pride.

My father had come on the river drives in Maine, but he kept growing and got jobs right in St. Georges. He went to work as the right hand man for an entrepreneur named Sillsby from Maine who had bought timber limits on the Rivière Famine, in the vicinity of St. Georges. He needed someone who knew the drives, even though it was not a very big river. They built the Dam at Sevois. We used to go swimming there when I was young. My father would see to the cutting of Sillsby's wood and even helped to build his sawmill in St. Georges. It was convenient, since the mill workers could live at home. The lumber must have been pretty much for local consumption; without a train coming to St. Georges, they couldn't have sent the sawed lumber very far. When Mr. Sillsby moved out, about 1908, he said to my father: "You've been very good to me. We've had a good time and now the job is over. I'll give you the sawmill with the two houses for the key mill people."

My father turned him down. He was very competent, but wouldn't try to do anything himself. He was more of an operator, more accustomed to hire people and find the right job for them. If he had mountains, he knew where to get workers who he didn't have to tell how to hitch a bridle chain or hitch a bunch behind a sled. He told Sillsby: "I'm no mill man. I did a good job for you, but it was because we hired some good people. I don't want a mill". Another man from St. Georges bought the mill and moved it onto his property. My mother used to tell us these things; my father never spoke about them.

My father then went to work for the Brown Company. They owned timber limits in the Chaudière watershed and Rivière DuLoup which comes into the Chaudiére above St. Georges. Mr. Brady was in charge of the Brown Company office in St. Georges. The company used to drive the Chaudière to about twenty miles from Lévis. At Scott Junction they pulled the logs out of the river with a conveyer, where they fell into open-top box cars and were transported to the St. Lawrence Paper Bag Company in Trois Rivières.

The Brown Company offered a job to my father in New Hampshire. They had more operations on the Arnold Trail, between Eustis, Maine and Woburn, Québec, towards Aziscohoos Dam. Their camp was on the Megalloway River, going towards Errol, New Hampshire on the headwaters of the Androscoggin River. It was just terrible, the roads had never been improved. Model-T Fords had to climb some of those hills in reverse, as they had more power in reverse gear. My father went to this job, but only stayed a week at the camp. He quit the Brown Company just about the time that I was born in 1920.

It wouldn't have been practical for him to stay on the job. He had ten kids. Even though the company was going to pay him more and leave him his car to travel, it was a completely different situation than he was used to. The roads weren't plowed in the winter. He would've traveled by train, but would have had to go to Sherbrooke, then transfer. His conscience wouldn't let him do it, so he quit. The people in St. Georges were worried. My mother used to tell me that they asked, "What's Steve Redmond going to do? " He had been the highest salaried man in St. Georges. He had only gone to school to maybe the third grade, but it's experience that counts.

 

 


Andrew Redmond, circa 1937
For more of Andrew's story see his book:

Andrew Redmond; Andrew Redmond, Borderlands Entrepreneur; Barry Rodrigue and Warren Strout, editors; Madison, Maine: Andrew Redmond, 1994-95.

Or listen to his and his brother's oral history at the Maine Folklife Center at the University of Maine in Orono:

Andrew Redmond and Sylvester Redmond, Interviews, 1993-94, made by Barry Rodrigue, in St. Georges, Quebec City, and Madison, Maine; NA 2325, (C1155B-1178B).