I have an old photograph.


I have an old photograph. I don’t know who took it and I’m not sure exactly when it was taken, but it must have been sometime in 1944 because in the picture my father is holding in his arms my step-sister, Denise, who was born on January 10th, 1943. In the photograph she appears to be a year old or so, which would mean the photo would have been taken sometime in mid 1944. Given that my father’s first wife, Yvonne, died on June 22nd, 1945, it stands to reason that the photo was taken sometime in 1944. It doesn’t look like Yvonne was pregnant at the time with Roger, but she may have been.

There is no obvious way to tell where the photo was taken, but the ground is dry and there’s no snow. I’m guessing it was taken somewhere in or close to New Westminster, British Columbia. Actually everyone in the photo is dressed for a nice, warmish spring day, and they’re all standing in front of my father’s 1929 Ford Model T.

In the photo, my father’s first wife, Yvonne, is farthest on the left. She is standing just behind my step-sister, Lucille, who at that time was two years old or so and she has her hands resting on Lucille’s shoulders. Next to her on her right is my father and he, as I said, is holding Denise. Standing next to him is my mother, Lucienne Leguerrier at the time. Next to her is Rémi Leguerrier who married my father’s older sister, Isabelle, and farthest on the right is my aunt, Cécile, mother’s older sister. Uncle Rémi, standing between them, has his arms around the shoulders of my mother and my aunt. He’s smiling too. The children are not smiling, neither is Yvonne although she may have been suffering from morning sickness and that might explain why.

Who could know when this picture was taken that my father’s first wife would be dead within the year and my mother, Lucienne Leguerrier would be his new wife within two years. So, here we have my father flanked by his wives. Never would he have guessed at that moment, smiling for the camera, holding his youngest daughter, that Yvonne would be gone and that he would be scrambling to find a way to look after his five daughters while still going to work. The picture tells nothing of the sorrow to come.

As it turns out, my father and Yvonne had over the years since moving to British Columbia in 1936 made friends with the nuns who ran St. Mary’s hospital in New Westminster where all their children would be born. Apparently my mother had worked there for a time and it was they who suggested, after Yvonne died, that my father ask my mother to come help look after the children while he went to work in local sawmills. That wasn’t a stretch, because the Albert family knew the Leguerrier clan when everyone was still living in the vicinity of Bonnyville, Alberta a few years before. So, my father knew my mother’s family before a number of them migrated to BC during the Depression looking for work. My father was resourceful and capable of doing various kinds of mill-related work so he was able to find employment. My mother too.

When Yvonne died, my father asked my mother if she would help and she agreed that she would. Months later, actually it wasn’t too many months later, my father had my grandfather and grandmother come to New Westminster to look after the children because my mother had returned to Alberta unexpectedly it seemed. It turns out that she had returned to Alberta anticipating that my father would join her shortly so they could be married in Alberta at Fort Kent and both return to New Westminster as husband and wife.

Now my step-sisters had a new mom. My mother was only twelve years older than my oldest step-sister, Hélène. That caused minor friction to start with because when Yvonne died my father had told Hélène that she would now have to be mommy to the four younger ones. Now, she was being displaced as mother of the family but that animosity soon dissipated because my mother had lived with them for a few months already giving time for attachments to grow between them.

I cannot imagine that my father was not steeped in pain and sorrow during that whole time, but he had no other choice but to carry on.  Sorrow must give way to children and their needs.

3 thoughts on “I have an old photograph.

  1. Your story has some similarities to my own family background, Roger. When Bert Bestwick first started to take my mother out after her first husband’s tragic accidental death, there was one particular time, in a movie theatre, that she burst into tears. She was crying for her first husband. Since Bert had not long before lost his first wife, he understand and took her right home. It must have been extremely difficult for my mom to enter a new relationship without a period of mourning and recovery, but her mother advised her that Bert was a very good man and he obviously loved and cared for mom and my sister and me, so she would be wise to accept his marriage proposal and get on with life, which mom did. I often think, however, that her overprotectiveness toward me and my sister and her underlying generalized anxiety (GAD, that psychiatrists and family doctors now label it) that she has carried throughout her life, stemmed from that first loss. My mother and father were very much in love and looking back, she would say that her first husband, Alex, was the “love of her life” although she did grown to love and appreciate Bert.

    In those days, people just “got on with life” and I think, in some ways, that is a good thing. It is too bad, however, that those who were unable to do so, were labeled inferior (such as those who suffered emotional breakdowns and ended up in psychiatric hospitals). Not everyone is emotionally strong. I wonder if the example set by our families doesn’t make us just carry on though.

    After Bert was killed, mom did the same thing and I followed suit. However, as I told you before, Dr. Pickup helped me to realize that sometimes a person needs counseling or a way to release their grief, which he gave to me through my letter writing to him.

    1. Thanks for this, Marilyn. I think that the times dictated the responses people had to tragedies in their lives. Miscarriages were common in the day as were stillbirths, infant deaths and birth-related deaths. Accidental deaths were common too especially for people working in the woods, on boats and in mines. There was no ‘safety net’ as there is now and if people were to recover it was most often thanks to family, church or community. As you note, some people didn’t recover or took longer to recover than seemed appropriate. They often ended up in ‘insane asylums.’

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