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Jérémie Tremblay and Mariette Bergeron Fonds (P757)

Excerpt from a letter from Jérémie Tremblay to Mariette Bergeron (detail), 1952. Gift of Mariette Bergeron and Jérémie Tremblay, Jérémie Tremblay and Mariette Bergeron Fonds P757, M2013. © McCord Museum

The pharmacist's calling

"The practice of Pharmacy, Marie, is not just a business, but a profession [crossed out] that demands an uncommon intellect and integrity. If a pharmacy was simply a store selling therapeutic products (not to diminish this very honourable way of life), all these years of study would not be worth the effort."

Jérémie Tremblay's decision to withdraw from his university program in dental surgery to study pharmacy instead caused a real uproar among those close to him. In the candid words of Mariette Bergeron, his sweetheart back home in Arvida, they were unaccustomed to change. The news of this career shift was so unexpected and upsetting that the Université de Montréal student felt the need to explain himself to her.

Though motivated by a sincere vocation, as this letter demonstrates, the choice also involved economic benefits, as Jérémie would later note in his memoirs. Since he alone was financing his costly university education, the opportunity to work in a Montreal pharmacy while a student was a significant incentive. However, the field of pharmacy was a genuine passion for this ambitious, assertive young man. He would go on to devote over fifty years of his life to it.

The true story of an intimate loving relationship, the Jérémie Tremblay and Mariette Bergeron Fonds contains over 700 letters. Written for the most part in the years preceding their marriage when Jérémie was studying in Montreal and Mariette was working in the Saguenay region, they chronicle the couple's determined efforts to bridge the geographic distance between them. These documents offer an exceptional look into the private and daily lives of two young adults in 1950s Quebec.

P757 Jérémie Tremblay and Mariette Bergeron Fonds. - 1930-2016. - 131 cm of textual records. - 166 iconographic documents. - 1 object.

Biographical Sketch

Jérémie Tremblay was born January 6, 1930, in Hébertville near Lake Saint-Jean, the son of Marie-Louise Bouchard and Joseph-Cléophas Tremblay, a travelling salesman. The daughter of Marie-Anna Bouliane and Paul-Émile Bergeron, a grocer, Mariette Bergeron was born April 16, 1931, in Jonquière, near Saguenay.

In 1943, Jérémie's family moved to 344 Saint-François Street in Jonquière, several blocks from the Bergeron family home. At this time, both young people were in school. Mariette went to teachers college (École normale), where she took the "Complementary Course," followed by the "Superior Course". She received her credential in 1948 and was hired to teach in an Arvida elementary school the same year. She was 17 years old. During the same period, Jérémie followed the classical curriculum at the Séminaire de Chicoutimi, where he received his diploma in 1952.

When Jérémie's brother became engaged in April 1950, his mother suggested that Jérémie invite the daughter of Paul-Émile Bergeron to the engagement party. Following this first meeting, Mariette and Jérémie would see each other every Sunday when Jérémie would come home from Chicoutimi. After a short period of uncertainty, during which religious vocations were considered, the young couple decided to plan a future together.

In 1950, Mariette, then 19 years old, received a promotion and was made the principal of a small Arvida elementary school. She worked as a principal and teacher in two other schools until 1956. In September 1952, Jérémie was enrolled in dental surgery at the Université de Montréal, but he quickly left this field to study pharmacy instead. For most of his stay in Montreal, Jérémie lived in an Outremont rooming house and worked part-time at the Messier pharmacy on the corner of Mont-Royal and De Lorimier Streets. During Jérémie's four years of university, he and Mariette would see each other the occasional weekend and during holidays. The couple's relationship developed primarily through their letters. They married on June 11, 1956, six days after Jérémie graduated. Mariette then had to resign as principal.

From 1956 to 1960, Jérémie worked as a pharmacist in Jonquière. The couple had two children: Louis-Michel (1957-) and Jean-Pascal (1959-). Jérémie decided to pursue graduate work in pharmacy at the Université de Montréal, so the family moved to Montreal in 1960. In 1961, Mariette also enrolled at the Université de Montréal, part-time, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1967. The six years during which she played the role of homemaker by day and student by night were marked by the births of two more children: Stéphane (1962-) and Roseline (1963-). In September 1964, Jérémie, who had just obtained a PhD in pharmacodynamic and clinical biochemistry, was hired as an assistant professor at the Université de Montréal. He became an associate professor in 1967, and was named dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy from 1968 to 1970.

In 1971, Jérémie took a sabbatical year in London, England, where he did a fellowship in the Department of Biochemistry at St. Mary's Medical School, University of London. He left academia in 1983 but continued to work, notably as a consultant for pharmaceutical companies. Mariette, for her part, worked full-time as a teacher at Collège Sophie-Barat in Ahuntsic until 1979. She then held leadership positions in several Montreal schools until her retirement in 1991. The years that followed were marked by travel and various personal and professional achievements.

Scope and Content

This fonds documents the epistolary relationship between Mariette Bergeron and Jérémie Tremblay from their meeting in 1950 to their wedding in 1956. It contains the couple's entire correspondence: some 700 letters filled with numerous details about their day-to-day activities along with the concerns, aspirations and values that guided their respective lives. In fact, it paints a particularly vivid portrait of daily life, intimacy and romantic traditions in Quebec's middle class during the 1950s. The remarkable love story that develops out of these missives seems full of passion and acceptance of the other's identity. The letters are candid and very personal. Tinged with great piety and informed by the relatively conservative environment in which the couple grew up, the letters also reveal a modern vision of the role of men and women in Quebec society. The style is refined, sometimes even elegant, illustrating that both of these literate, educated young people had a facility for writing.

Between 1952 and 1956, the sweethearts sometimes wrote to each other every day. With Mariette Bergeron working as a school principal in Arvida and Jérémie Tremblay studying at the Université de Montréal, the letters chronicle their struggle with this separation and their efforts to sustain their love for each other, while still developing their respective vocations.

The fonds also contains their correspondence during Jérémie Tremblay's 1971 stay in London. The 87 letters written during this ten-month period of separation and compromise provide a weekly look at the dialogue between the two spouses.

In addition, the fonds contains a photo album of 163 original prints, dated 1930 to 1964. These photos accompany the couple's correspondence, illustrating their youth, courtship, wedding and the birth of their children.

Source of title proper: Based on the creators of the fonds.

Immediate source of acquisition: The Jérémie Tremblay and Mariette Bergeron Fonds was given to the McCord Museum by the couple in three separate donations in 2013, 2015 and 2017.

Arrangement: The classification plan adopted in 2017 reflects the original organization of the fonds whereby the correspondence received by Jérémie Tremblay was separate from that received by Mariette Bergeron.

Language: The documents are in French.

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

  • P757/A Jérémie Tremblay
    • P757/A1 Biography
    • P757/A2 Letters to Mariette Bergeron
      • P757/A2,1 Correspondence - 1950
      • P757/A2,2 Correspondence - 1951
      • P757/A2,3 Correspondence - 1952. - May 1952-December 1952. - 4 cm of textual records. - 1 object.
      • Digitized documents
      • Scope and Content: This file, composed of 33 letters sent by Jérémie Tremblay to Mariette Bergeron, documents the epistolary relationship between the young student and his future wife, from May to December 1952. The first two missives, sent from Jonquière, are spread out over several months (May 5 and August 6, 1952). Jérémie was completing the classical curriculum in Chicoutimi during this period, so the young couple could see each other on Sunday evenings. The pace of the correspondence picked up in September when the young man had to leave his sweetheart to study dental surgery in Montreal.

        In his letters, Jérémie Tremblay recounts the activities and meetings that punctuated his life as a student. He shares his impressions of his classes at the Université de Montréal, describing the solemn atmosphere that grips the auditorium when the professor enters the room and the colourful lunchtime crowd that populates the university canteen. He tells Mariette about his colleagues and friends, some of whom are fellow alumni of the Séminaire de Chicoutimi and, at the end of his first semester, he reveals his doubts about his chosen field, which eventually lead him to switch to pharmacy. The correspondence also relates information about the young man's social life -- characterized by both an omnipresent clergy and the discovery of a certain freedom.

        Jérémie in fact takes advantage of Montreal's rich cultural offerings, going out to explore the town. For example, he frequents various movie theatres (Cinéma Alouette, Cinéma Saint-Denis, Théâtre Saint-Henri) and attends the play Au soir du 16 janvier, presented by the "troupe du Nouveau Monde" at the Gesù, and the operas Rigoletto and L'Elisir d'Amore, at Her Majesty's Theatre. The young man enjoys strolling down the city's legendary St. Catherine Street, where one Saturday evening he and a friend found themselves in front of the Forum where the Canadiens were playing an exhibition match against the Royals. "We had never seen Maurice Richard play before, so...," he would write to Mariette. He even ventures into the Bellevue Casino nightclub one evening, where his sense of decency is challenged.

        Finally, Jérémie's letters describe the strength of his love for Mariette and his difficult adjustment to living far away from her. Although his letters generally demonstrate great confidence, supported no doubt by the sincerity of his own feelings and his fervent piety, some passages reveal the apprehensions inevitably triggered by long separations. Without reproaching Mariette, and taking a philosophical stance, he tells the young woman how he feels about the idea of her being courted by other suitors during his absence. On several occasions, he himself chooses not to attend dances and parties that could put him in contact with other young women: "[D]ancing with another woman in my arms, while I am far away from you, would make me feel too much like I'm being unfaithful, and I don't want to feel like that.

        Source of title proper: Based on the contents of the file.

        Physical description: Contains 1 fabric handkerchief.

        Language: The documents are in French.

        General note: One of the letters is unfinished.

      • P757/A2,4 Correspondence - 1953
      • P757/A2,5 Correspondence - 1954
      • P757/A2,6 Correspondence - 1955
      • P757/A2,7 Correspondence - 1956
      • P757/A2,8 Correspondence - 1971
    • P757/A3 Story

  • P757/B Mariette Bergeron
    • P757/B1 Biography
    • P757/B2 Letters to Jérémie Tremblay
      • P757/B2,1 Correspondence - 1950
      • P757/B2,2 Correspondence - 1951
      • P757/B2,3 Correspondence - 1952. - April 1952-December 1952. - 3 cm of textual records.
      • Digitized documents
      • Scope and Content: The 28 letters that make up this file were sent by Mariette Bergeron to her future husband, Jérémie Tremblay, from April to December 1952. The couple had been dating for two years when Jérémie had to leave the Saguenay region that year to pursue a degree in dental surgery. A veritable chronicle of a shared love that endured despite the separation, the correspondence reveals the hopes and fears of a young woman on the cusp of twenty in the early 1950s, whose confidence is sometimes undermined by the hardship of separation.

        Along with words of love and musings on their possible future together, Mariette writes about her daily life working at an Arvida school and her social activities, primarily visits with family and friends. We learn that she enjoys listening to the radio series Metropolis by Robert Choquette and occasionally attends Jeunesses Musicales concerts. She also goes to the movies, where she sees Passion immortelle (Song of Love), a film about the life of musician Robert Schumann, and a screening of the fight between boxers Jersey Joe Walcott and Rocky Marciano. As she is very devout, however, she spends a lot of her free time with the Marian Congregations, where she gives a talk about the Virgin Mary in November 1952, and in meetings of the Third Order.

        Although her work and activities keep her busy, she still finds the separation very difficult. Mariette's letters express the boundless joy she feels whenever a letter from her beloved arrives, though this is unfortunately overshadowed by her seemingly constant feelings of melancholy and solitude. She reveals that she must work hard to maintain her confidence, which is undermined at times by friends and family members who believe she is wasting her youth by pining away. In successive letters, Mariette is seen limiting her social activities, which she does not really enjoy, and making herself lead a quiet life on the outskirts of society. She is pleased that Jérémie is doing the same thing, congratulating him, for example, on attending meetings with the Cercles Lacordaires (the predecessors of Sobriété du Canada), which advocate sobriety and abstinence. The correspondence reveals the great piety that guides the young woman's life and gives meaning to this period of sacrifice, which she sees as a stepping stone to later happiness. On several occasions, she shares her thoughts on the question of marriage and the period of courtship preceding it, which she envisions from a Christian perspective. Her thoughts on the subject are enriched by the books she reads and shares with her beloved, including L'art d'aimer by Marcel Clément, a specialist in Catholic social doctrine. Finally, her letters express the turmoil she experiences when she learns that her sweetheart has decided, after several months of school, to study pharmacy instead, a change of plans she perceives as sudden and unsettling.

        Source of title proper: Based on the contents of the file.

        Language: The documents are in French.

      • P757/B2,4 Correspondence - 1953
      • P757/B2,5 Correspondence - 1954
      • P757/B2,6 Correspondence - 1955
      • P757/B2,7 Correspondence - 1956
      • P757/B2,8 Correspondence - 1971

  • P757/C Photographs


Last update: March 29, 2019