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An ancestral tour

By Staff | Sep 5, 2019

What do Canadians think of Americans? They will not say that one of their traits is to be extremely polite. If they have nothing good to say, they remain quiet. They do note that they often hear of Americans saying that they would like to move to Canada. They also note that they have never heard a Canadian say that they wanted to move to the U.S. (Yet that is what my ancestors did in 1854). The angst and polarization that now divides the U.S. persona is not evident in Canada. They are generally happy with their country. They celebrate and embrace the diversity there that many Americans view as a threat. They have a welcoming attitude toward immigrants, essentially requiring them to maintain their culture while also adapting to theirs.

Many Americans do not like the dual-culturalism that they are very comfortable with in Canada. They do not understand U.S. problems with the cost of education, child care, health care and gun rights. They get the government that they vote for, which many here would call socialist, but they are happy with it. I spent a week in Quebec on vacation with my brother and members of our families revisiting family roots that literally go back 375 years there.

I am an ancestor of John Dumay who was a master-ship builder in Dieppe, France. Dumay later became Demers and once in the U.S. the name became DeMars. My mother was a DeMars. I was told that Madonna’s grandmother was a Demers but was thinking of keeping that a secret. There were Demers who escorted both LaSalle and Joliet on their explorations. The King of France, Louis XIV, commissioned the Company of New France to bring 4000 volunteers to New France (Quebec) to settle the colony converting the Indians to Christianity.

My ancestor, John, helped build the ship in Dieppe that he would later travel to Quebec on in 1644. He brought three of his sons as colonists with an objective of settling them as part of the group in the new world. They were Etienne, Andre and Jean Dumay. Each later had 9-13 children which formed the Demers family in Canada. I am descended from Jean. When that was accomplished, John later returned home to France where his wife and several other children remained. John bought some land near Quebec City that fronted the St. Laurence River. There was an island there that they used as a livestock paddock taking advantage of the natural fencing. We visited the site which has a monument there denoting the Demers family settlement. There is a house there what was in the Demers family until just recently.

Being outside of Quebec City there was a threat from Indians and they decided for safety to move into Quebec and build a house along the riverfront that still stands there today. It is now a jewelry store in the old section of town and has a plaque on it denoting it as the Demers House built in 1669. My great-great grandfather was Joseph Demers who was born in 1827. His father was one of the founders of Marieville, located north of Montreal. Demers family relatives escorted us there where we met with the town historical society.

The King had a representative in Quebec called a Sovereign who would bequeath land to settlers. The Demers property in Marieville was 2 acres wide by 30 acres long which fronted what is now the main street. They also had two other properties, which was a lot of land back then. My great-great grand-father Joseph married Roselia Rainville in Marieville in 1849.

There are over 8 million French Canadians living in Quebec today with 10 million having emigrated to the U.S. My direct ancestors did that in 1854, moving first to Kankakee, Illinois and then later to settle in O’Brien County, Iowa.

I was told that it was unusual for French Canadians to move to the Midwest and that most who left Canada went to the eastern U.S. My great-great grandfather was the only one of the family known to have come to Illinois as he did. He found work as a carpenter in and near Chicago surviving the Chicago fire.

He tried farming in O’Brien County, Iowa and did not like it eventually moving back to Kankakee while his children all remained in Iowa. He had essentially tagged along with his wife’s family in coming to the U.S. Roselia has two sisters and four brothers who moved to the U.S. with them. They had 13 children including my great-grandfather Samuel DeMars. My great-great grandfather Joseph did not have to serve in the military because he had such a large family. Rosalia’s four brothers however all served in the Union army. She, a sister and two brothers are buried in the Trimello cemetery just west of Royal, Iowa. His remains are in Kankakee.

During the trip we toured Fort Chambly and were delighted to learn that by a fluke, the tour guide assigned to us was a ‘Demers’. The Demers experience with agriculture continues today in Quebec through the Demers Greenhouses in Saint Nicholas where they produce and market strawberries, raspberries and tomatoes as a regional supplier in both eastern Canada and the U.S. They have 25 acres of greenhouses with an expansion in 2017 featured in the Packer Industry newsletter.

We traveled between Montreal and Quebec City by train so that I could see the countryside. They produce a lot of corn/soybeans in Quebec along with winter wheat and potatoes. The crops looked behind there, same as at home. While we settled the Midwest by land grants with square sections of 160 acres, the land in Canada was given to settlers there in long narrow parcels similar to the one I described that the family received from the Sovereign in Marieville. That makes for less than ideal operational logistics. They put them together but the old borders are still evident.

As far as I know our return to Quebec was the first for our limb of the family tree in 165 years. We were welcomed.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

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