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Grignon and Guèvremont Families Fonds (P747)

Extract from Chalet des Vignes diary (detail), 1918-1921. Gift of the Succession Germaine Guèvremont, Grignon and Guèvremont Families Fonds P747, M2012.36.1.38 © McCord Museum

Guèvremont family vacations in the islands of Sorel

"'We're finally here, in the Islands,' as Margot would say. My aunt believes that life will be more affordable in the Islands, what with all the fish. My uncle promises large quantities of yellow perch, which my aunt assures us we will be eating in any number of ways. It's as if the food dictator were planning to vacation here." (July 5, 1918)

Although it's hard to know how closely the family followed the yellow perch diet promised by Olive Beauchemin Guèvremont, this passage about the "food dictator" does raise a smile. In 1917, during the First World War, the Canadian government created the controversial position of "Food Controller," whose mandate was to restrict the population's food consumption and thereby boost exports of foodstuffs to soldiers on the front line in Europe. Several months before the end of the Great War, it was not surprising to hear this civil servant described as a "dictator." Despite ridicule in the press, this bureaucrat exercised iron-fisted control, waging a veritable legal and popular campaign to modify the eating habits of Canadians.

The Chalet des Vignes summer journals, preserved in the Grignon and Guèvremont Families Fonds (P747), contain stories and anecdotes recorded almost daily between 1915 and 1921. This rich, animated chronicle of cottage life offers a unique look into the history of leisure in Quebec.


P747 Grignon and Guèvremont Families Fonds. - 1892-1974. - 18 cm of textual records. - 17 photographs.

Biographical Sketch

The members of the Grignon and Guèvremont families covered by this fonds primarily lived in the regions of Saint-Jérôme, Sainte-Scholastique, Montreal and Sorel.

Both natives of Saint-Jérôme, VALENTINE LABELLE (1868-1932) and JOSEPH-JÉRÔME GRIGNON (1863-1930) had two daughters, Jeanne and Germaine.

In 1915, JEANNE GRIGNON (1890-?) married Benedict W. (Bill) Nyson, a journalist of Norwegian extraction. Their twin daughters, GERMAINE NYSON (1916-1984) and JEANNE NYSON (1916-19??), were born in 1916. Daughter Jeanne married Gordon Bryan Dawson in 1957.

GERMAINE GRIGNON (1893-1968) attended school in Sainte-Scholastique, Saint-Jérôme, Lachine and Toronto (Loretto Abbey), and then worked as a court reporter in Sainte-Scholastique. In 1916, she married HYACINTHE GUÈVREMONT, son of notary ALFRED GUÈVREMONT (1859-?) and OLIVE BEAUCHEMIN (1859-?). They had five children: Marthe, Louise, Jean, Lucille and Marcelle.

The family moved to Ottawa in 1916, then lived in Sorel from 1920 to 1935, and finally settled in Montreal. During their time in Sorel, Germaine Guèvremont began her career as a journalist, writing articles for The Gazette in Montreal and Le Courrier de Sorel. She also wrote for the magazines Paysana and L'oeil. In 1942, she published her first book, a short story collection entitled En pleine terre. A year later, two chapters of what would be her most famous work, Le Survenant, appeared in the magazine Gants du ciel. The novel was published in 1945 by Éditions Beauchemin, and in 1946 by Éditions Plon in Paris. It was awarded the Prix Duvernay, the Prix David and the Prix Sully-Olivier de Serres from the Académie française. Marie-Didace, the sequel to Le Survenant, came out in 1947. With this additional literary success, Germaine Guèvremont was invited to join the Académie canadienne-françasie in 1948. Additional awards and honours included the Governor General's Award in 1950 (for The Outlander, an English translation of her two novels in one volume), honourary doctorates from Université Laval (1952) and the University of Ottawa (1960), and election to the Royal Society of Canada (1962). In addition, her novels were adapted for radio (1951), television (1954-1960) and film (1957), earning her much public recognition.

Scope and Content

This fonds chronicles the lives and work of members of two Quebec families, covering the years 1892 to 1974. It is a fascinating contribution to the artistic and cultural history of Quebec, family and domestic history, military history and the history of leisure.

Much of the fonds relates to the life of author Germaine Grignon Guèvremont and various members of her immediate family, including her husband Hyacinthe Guèvremont, her parents-in-law Alfred Guèvremont and Olive Beauchemin, her mother Valentine Labelle and her father Joseph-Jérôme Grignon. Several documents are also associated with her sister Jeanne Grignon and her husband, Bill Nyson, along with their twin girls, Jeanne and Germaine Nyson.

The fonds records Germaine Guèvremont's writing career, in the form of autographed works and an invitation to receive an honourary doctorate. There are also letters exchanged with her mother Valentine and her daughter Marthe. In addition, numerous records document the relationship between Jeanne Grignon and her husband Bill Nyson, a journalist for The Montreal Star.

Among the family documents in the fonds are birth, baptismal, marriage and death certificates, declarations of transmission for estates, and two hand-written journals from the Chalet des Vignes (1915-1921). There are also a few documents about the brief professional hockey career of Hyacinthe Guèvremont, notably his stint with the Montreal Canadiens.

The fonds features several epistolary documents, including a letter from Claude-Henri Grignon to Jeanne Grignon Nyson about Germaine Guèvremont's last visit before her death, and love letters sent to Germaine Grignon Nyson from Andràs, a Hungarian immigrant imprisoned in the Ontario Reformatory. In addition, the fonds contains a large number of insurance bonds and mining securities purchased by the family.

Studio portraits of Valentine Labelle, Sheriff Pierre Guèvremont and sisters Jeanne and Germaine Guèvremont supplement the textual records. Finally, photographic media related to Germaine Guèvremont's literary output document things like the filming of the TV series "Le Survenant."

Physical condition: The Chalet des Vignes journals are fragile and must be handled with care.
Language: The documents are in French and English.


The fonds is divided into the following series, subseries and files:

  • P747/A Grignon Family
    • P747/A1 Joseph-Jérôme Grignon
    • P747/A2 Valentine Labelle
    • P747/A3 Jeanne Grignon Nyson. - [1915-1969]. - 0.8 cm of textual records.
      Digitized documents: P747/A3,1 - P747/A3,2 - P747/A3,3

    • Scope and Content: This subseries chronicles the personal life, family relations and finances of Jeanne Grignon Nyson.

    • It includes a marriage contract dated November 24, 1915, between Jeanne Grignon and Bengt-William (Bill) Nyson, a journalist born in Christiania (Oslo), Norway (who apparently inspired the title character in Germaine Guèvremont's novel, Le Survenant), and an invitation to the celebration of their union the following day. There is also a Superior Court judgment formalizing their separation on January 18, 1931, when Bill Nyson was living in New York City.
    • The subseries also contains correspondence sent to Jeanne Grignon, notably from her husband. In a handwritten letter dated July 4, 1929, Nyson discusses his work situation and precarious finances, promising to send his wife money as soon as his job becomes permanent. Bill Nyson's letters often mention his twin daughters (Germaine and Jeanne Nyson). For example, in the same July 1929 letter, he explains that he had previously sent two paper dolls, one for each girl. A typewritten letter dated August 16, 1930, written on stationery with The New York Times letterhead, mentions sending money for their 14th birthday. In a missive sent to his wife on March 24, 1930, he says he has enclosed a note for the girls.

    • In addition, the subseries contains a note dated October 30, 1944, from a cousin of Jeanne Grignon Nyson confirming that the maintenance of a cemetery plot registered in the name of Médard Grignon has been paid for in perpetuity. Another cousin, author Claude-Henri Grignon, replies to her Easter greetings with a warm missive sent from St. Adèle on April 22, 1968. There are also two letters from the Wartime Prices and Trade Board, dated September 18 and 19, 1944, respectively, concerning a salary payment and the refund of retirement contributions. Several letters document Jeanne Grignon Nyson's efforts to obtain a war veterans allowance from the Department of Veterans Affairs since her husband was in the military during the First World War.

    • Finally, the series is completed by certificates and contracts documenting Jeanne Grignon Nyson's financial investments, such as stock certificates issued by United Securities Limited, Pandora Cadillac Gold Mines Limited and Aldermac Copper Corporation, Ltd.

    • Language: The documents are in French and English.

    • P747/A4 Germaine Nyson
    • P747/A5 Jeanne Nyson (Neyson) Dawson

  • P747/B Guèvremont Family
    • P747/B1 Genealogy
    • P747/B2 Olive Beauchemin Guèvremont. - 1903, 1915-1921. - 4.5 cm of textual records.
      Digitized documents: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

    • Scope and Content: This subseries is composed primarily of two journals from Chalet des Vignes, the summer cottage on Île aux Fantômes (near Sorel) owned and run by Hyacinthe Guèvremont's parents, Olive Beauchemin and notary Alfred Guèvremont, as of 1886. Located next to Îlette-au-Pé, an historic site listed in the Quebec Directory of Cultural Heritage, the cottage was the meeting place of friends and family. Serving as both journals and guest books, these hand-written documents were used to record daily events as well as the names, addresses and remembrances of visitors who came during the 1915 to 1921 summer seasons.

    • The first journal covers the 1915 season, with very few entries, as well as 1916 and 1917, while the second recounts the summers of 1918 to 1920 and, to a lesser degree, 1921. The stories in the journals offer a rich, animated chronicle of this cottage devoted to hunting, fishing and relaxation, thus providing a window into the history of family leisure activities in Quebec. Beginning in the summer of 1916, the owners' nephew, Paul E. Monarque, assumed the task of recording the stories of life at the cottage on an almost daily basis. Other members of the household, such as Margot Langlois and P. P. de la Bruère, took over when he had to leave, which was usually in the late summer so he could return to college. Often adopting a light, playful tone, the chroniclers provide detailed descriptions of everyone's activities: expeditions in the rowboat, swims, picnics, or, in less clement weather, reading, writing and needlework. They recount the social gatherings, card parties, birthday celebrations and plays held at the house. They also record all the chores required to keep the cottage running smoothly: cleaning, meal preparation, shopping and excursions to find milk or ice, and chopping wood. Some entries are illustrated with a few drawings. Cottage visitors came from the surrounding area, as well as from Montreal, Longueuil, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières and Ottawa. Among the vacationers who wrote in the journals are notary Wilfrid Martel, A. de Ch. Francoeur, H. Emery, Father Louis Bourque, Prior Réginald Dupras of the Dominicans at Montreal, Marguerite Clark, Jane O'Sullivan and Mariette O'Bready. There is also an entry by Germaine Grignon Guèvremont dated September 10, 1916, in which the young woman describes the household's merry atmosphere and her relations with her in-laws.

    • In addition, the subseries contains a letter dated July 28, 1918, in which several guests express their best wishes to Olive Beauchemin and Alfred Guèvremont on the occasion of their 34th wedding anniversary. Several documents have also been inserted or glued into the journals, including press clippings, a postcard, a business card and several notes.

    • Language: The documents are in French and English.

    • P747/B3 Hyacinthe Guèvremont
    • P747/B4 Germaine Grignon Guèvremont
      • P747/B4,1 Extract from the register of baptisms
      • P747/B4,2 Published Works
      • P747/B4,3 Correspondence of Germaine Grignon Guèvremont. - [1908-1966].- 0.5 cm of textual records.
        Digitized documents

      • Scope and Content: This file focusses on correspondence between author Germaine Grignon Guèvremont and members of her family.

      • When she was a student at Loretto Abbey in Toronto, Germaine sent her mother, Valentine Labelle, in Sainte-Scholastique, a postcard dated September 21, 1908. In it, she asks for news about the family and informs her mother that she is feeling less homesick and likes her new teacher.

      • Many years later, two letters from the author to her daughter Marthe document a family trip to the United States. Dated July 22, 1964, the first letter explains that she has had trouble finding a suitable place to stay and provides a temporary address in Old Orchard. She also shares her state of mind: "It isn't easy to write here and I'm just getting used to being around other people." She goes on to mention visits from Jeanne and Germaine (probably her nieces), and the presence of Louise and Sat (probably her daughter Louise Guèvremont and her husband, Saturno Gentiletti), along with Lauretta and Eliza's "handsome Irmo." In her second letter, sent from Old Orchard on July 29, 1964, the author confirms that she has finally found a cottage near the ocean that is clean and big enough, and tells her daughter how to get there, since she is scheduled to join them. She also notes that she is glad that Marthe has visited the cemetery, following the recent death of her father, Hyacinthe Guèvremont (Germaine Grignon Guèvremont's husband), on July 7, 1964.

      • In addition, the file includes two postcards that Germaine Grignon Guèvremont sent from Florida in December 1966 to her niece Jeanne Dawson and her husband, Gordon Dawson, along with two undated greeting cards, one of which is signed "Aunt Germaine." The other card, which was probably sent to (unnamed) family members, refers to the fact that she is recovering from a recent illness.

      • Finally, the file is completed by an invitation to the University of Ottawa Convocation of May 29, 1960, addressed to her daughter Marcelle Guèvremont at 1010 Sherbrooke Street East, Montreal.

      • Language: The documents are in French.

      • P747/B4,4 Finances
    • P747/B5 Other Guèvremont family members and friends

  • P747/C Photographs

 

Last update: March 29, 2019