Guest curator: Sara Chatfield

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.

Canada: Who Do We Think We Are?

Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.

A page for Joliette, Quebec, from the first Census of Canada, 1871

Can you find the entry for Adolphe Perrault? Times change: Perrault made his living as a voyageur! As time passed, census data would feed social policy. Many programs by which Canadians define themselves are the result.

Tell us about yourself

I am a lover of history and enthusiastic about unraveling family history puzzles. I have worked at Library and Archives Canada for over a decade, most of that time spent with the genealogy team answering questions, giving tours, recording podcasts, wading through family folklore and giving advice at the Genealogy and Family History desk.

Is there anything else about this item that you feel Canadians should know?

When I first saw the entry in the 1871 Canadian census return for Adolphe Perreault (also spelled Perrault), I noted that his occupation was “voyageur” and that he was from Joliette, Quebec. I assumed that this was a cut-and-dry census entry for a fur trading family. I was even a little disappointed as it seemed so plain, so ordinary. I made a list of sources to check that may give hints on his voyageur career, such as the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives biographical sheets, and the BANQ notarial records (in French only) and then hurried back to my work as a genealogical consultant, putting it off for another day.

But then a colleague pointed out that the term “voyageur” can be ambiguous. At first I thought my colleague was overcomplicating a simple census entry, but then I started digging into the life of this voyageur Adolphe Perreault.

Adolphe Perreault was born in 1848 in Saint-Sulpice, Quebec, son of Alexis Perreault and Victoire Peltier. In the 1861 census, our voyageur was living with his family. His father Alexis was listed as a farmer. Adolphe married Odile Vézina in 1866 in Joliette. His marriage record lists him as a “cordonnier,” which translates to shoemaker. They had two children who died soon after birth in the late 1860s.

Black-and-white photo of a church set among trees with church goers standing along the walls.

Notre Dame de Bonsecours in Joliette taken ca. 1881, about 10 years after Perreault is listed in the census (MIKAN 3321968)

Next time we see Adolphe is in the 1870 U.S. federal census. He and Odile were living in Spencer, Massachusetts with the Vézina family. Adolphe is listed as working in a boot shop along with his father and brother-in-law, whose occupations are listed as “boot bottomer.” Their first surviving child, Zelphrin (Marie-Selférina) Perreault (Perrault), was born in 1870 in Massachusetts.

He then crosses the border to Canada and we find him back in Joliette with his young family a year later in the 1871 Canadian census, where he is listed as a “voyageur.”

He then returns to Spencer in 1872, where his next daughter Cordelia is born, and he is working in a boot factory. Adolphe is well documented over the next three decades in Spencer either as the father listed on his many children’s birth records or in the U.S. census returns, always listed as being in the shoe business. He died in 1906 in Spencer, his occupation listed as shoemaker.

In the end, we will never know if he tried his hand at being a fur-trader for a year. There are no hints that he was involved in the fur trade during his time in Quebec in any of the sources that I found. My guess is that he was a “commis-yoyageur,” which can be translated as a travelling salesman, perhaps selling the boots that he constructed with his in-laws in Spencer.

Either way, I can now say that I will never again be disappointed by a Canadian census return. A simple notation can lead to a fascinating search and bring you in a different direction than you originally thought.


A colour photograph of a smiling woman wearing a black and grey striped shirt.Sara Chatfield is a Genealogy Consultant in the Public Services Branch of Library and Archives Canada.

4 thoughts on “Guest curator: Sara Chatfield

  1. I am looking for information regarding the death of my grandfather Charles Kady who died in Locke8 of the Welland Canal on Nov. 14, 1928. There will be a dedication of a memorial to the 137 fallen workers who died building the canal from 1917-1938. Specifically, I am looking for the police report the day he died. The RCMP in Niagra has no such reports and I thought that you might direct me to information either through the Canals and Railways Data Base or something else. Thank you, Charlie Banasky

  2. I’m looking for any information on my Great Grandfather James Fraser dob1881-1886, he’s Merchant Navy papers say he was born in Vancouver, they also say his fathers name was also James Fraser, but it doesn’t say his mothers name, all I know is she was Indian and the family had links or worked in the fur trade. My Grandfather ran away from home age 10/11, and as far as I know he never returned, he joined the Canadian navy, he also served in the America and Spanish war of 1898? He eventually crossed the boarder to America where he spent 7 years in the American Navy, eventually coming to England in about 1915/16, where he married and remained until 1970 when he died. He was very secretive about his life in Canada as if he had something to hide though we don’t know this to be true. We would love to find out more about his life and family in Canada
    Thank you

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