THE SEARCH FOR COUSIN PIERRE CHOLET,  THE CHILD LOST AND FOUND AGAIN

Gregory Gerard Sholette, 1998/2002

 

Introduction

 

Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the very existence of a book about our French-Canadian ancestor named Pierre Cholet, was intriguing even if it appeared at the time to be a family legend of questionable accuracy. Allegedly, the book detailed how Pierre was kidnapped as a child of five, sold to a French sea captain, turned into a cabin-boy, lost his freedom and his identity and only regained both of these as a grown man and after many adventures on land and on sea. Indeed, there were times when my father, Carol C. Sholette, even suggested that the story originated with my grandfather, Maguire Sholette (born Magloire Cholette), the son of Magloire Cholette (see Jack Cholette’s family tree for how Pierre is related to my father and me).

 

But while the transformation of the name Cholet into Cholette and then into Sholette may be something of a mystery, the story of the lost child is no longer so, at least not entirely, for somewhere in Quebec City during the summer of 1974, while on a family outing with my brothers Patrick, William and sister Lisa, my father, Carol and my mother Julia entered a small bibliotech and discovered a cover-less and yellowing copy of the book, L’enfant perdu et retrouve ou Pierre Cholet: the story of the child lost and found again.  What follows is the story of my attempt, many years later and with my own family, to trace Pierre’s steps across what is now North Eastern Canada.

 

The story begins as my wife Janet Koenig, and our daughter Ariana, are about to enter the austere province of Labrador, Canada in the summer of 1998. This was where Pierre and his brother Toussaint along with several shipmates escaped the French vessel they were imprisoned on in the year 1870. And it was from Labrador that they once set off for a home that had become nothing but a distant memory. Meanwhile, Pierre had no idea of the many sorrows and hardships that still lay ahead of him.

 

***

 

Janet, Ariana, and I actually began to trace the footsteps of our 19th century predecessor Pierre Cholet, the child lost and found again, on Thursday, August 20, 1998.  However our story begins 7 days earlier when we pulled away from our apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan initiating a winding pilgrimage to the coast of Labrador.  Why Labrador? Initially to see and photograph the kind of terrain Pierre and his brother Toussaint first encountered on their long trek home some 125 years ago.   Our rented transportation was a green Chevy Nova and thanks to Janet’s prudent thinking the rental contract had no mileage limitations, a real blessing in light of the five thousand miles we logged by the end of our trip. The car was stuffed with a pop-up tent (veteran of 12 years camping), sleeping bags, assorted pots and pans, a cooler, a half dozen maps and a computer print-out of Janet’s first draft, English translation of L’enfant perdu et retrouve ou Pierre Cholet; the true story of Pierre Cholet’s adventures first published in French some 106 years ago.

 

The first stop on our excursion was Dover New Hampshire where we failed in our attempt to find a record of Sebastien Cholet, the family’s oldest known North American ancestor who lived here in the 17th century.  Just before leaving town we discovered that Janet’s Nikon wasn’t working.  It’s old circuitry had shorted-out leaving her with a collection of spare parts.  So we wound up unexpectedly purchasing another used Nikon camera body plus lens, only to have the lens of this replacement fall apart later. I spent an afternoon repairing it with an assortment of cheap tools gathered from the hardware, fishing, and pharmaceutical departments of a Wall Mart in Canada.  Before completing this makeshift operation in the food court of a shopping mall, I would attract the suspicion of several security guards clearly not used to an intense man with a beard and thick black, rimmed glasses sweating over a small, dark device between bites of cold pizza.  Somehow I managed to get the lens back together and the anxious sentries returned to their routine surveillance of teenage shoplifters

 

After leaving the historic town of Dover we advanced north to our favorite camping spot on the rocky coast of Schoodic Point, Maine.   After two days of fresh lobsters and spectacular ocean views we packed the Chevy and again hit the road.  This time we drove across the Canadian border up to the town of North Sidney, Nova Scotia where we had reservations for the super ferry to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland.   Along the way we stopped off in the port town of Pictou, Nova Scotia.  Pictou is the oldest Scottish settlement in North America and a place that Pierre not only visited on his many voyages between Canada and France, but the closest town to where his first shipwreck occurred between the years 1854 and 1855.  In that wreck, twelve of Pierre’s shipmates drowned in the icy waters of “New Scotland.”*

 

 

We finally reached the town of Sidney.  There are two super ferries that operate across the Cabot Strait from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland.  We drove our car into the hold of one named the Caribou.  It was named after another ferry that began operating in 1898.  A German U-boat sank the first one sometime in the 1940s and a few hundred people lost their lives, a tragedy carefully documented in a museum display found on-board the newer vessel.

 

Essentially the modern Caribou is a gigantic, floating parking garage.  It has room for 300 hundred cars and trucks and 1200 passengers.  Because the trip to Newfoundland takes six hours, there are accommodations available for sleeping.  We opted to make the crossing starting at midnight, however our budget left us curled up and napping on large reclining chairs along with hundreds of other men, women and children.  Some of these nocturnal travelers had brought sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows, a policy we adopted on the return journey.  On a wobbly 1AM tour of the ship I found sleeping people scattered throughout the large staterooms of the vessel, draped across dining tables, slumped in front of the museum displays and even huddled against the heavy sea mist on the outside deck 

 

We had decided on this late night excursion in order to get an early start on the road across Newfoundland and up to Labrador. The goal was to locate a campground as close as possible to the second ferry that would take us to Labrador before it got dark the next night.  But so great are the distances on Newfoundland that after disembarking from the Caribou on August 18th at Port aux Basques it took us the entire day to reach Shallow Bay or about half the length of the island’s west side.  In Shallow Bay we enjoyed a solid presentation of regional Newfoundland theater offered by a group of young thespians.  The play was a comedy entitled “The Fisherman’s Revenge.”  It was genuinely funny but it also provided evidence about the lives that people lead in these parts, including their dialect of mixed Irish and Scottish accents and their familiarity with long, hard work and often eventless winters spent near an ever present sea.   As things turned out it was not until the morning of August 20th that we finally walked onto the ferry for Blanc Sablon Labrador.  The 90-minute crossing over the Straits of Belle Isle did not prepare us however for the longer and more surprising venture we ultimately encountered 

 

We knew that it was not far from this stretch of the Labrador coast, and just about this same time of year, that Pierre and Toussaint Cholet, along with five other sea mates, would dessert the French ship they had been working on order to avoid conscription in the Franco-Prussian war.  After rowing ashore to rest on a sandy beach near a fresh water creek, the men conspired to dessert ship.  The book names this place as Black Bay.  We knew from a footnote in the book that Black Bay was situated on the Labrador side of the Straits of Belle Isle, across from the north end of Newfoundland; still we couldn’t find it on any map.  Once away from their captors the two Cholet brothers set off on foot across the wet and boggy terrain of Labrador to begin the search for their parents.  They knew that they had been stolen from the French speaking part of Canada and had surmised that their home was most likely near Montreal, Quebec.  This is the direction Pierre eventually took but not until his younger brother, Toussaint, perished, either from exposure or food poisoning; the book does not make it clear.   To give a sense of scale, consider that the distance from the coast of Labrador to Saint- Polycarpe is a minimum of 1100 miles or 1500 kilometers and unlike us, Pierre was without the benefit of a rent-a-car.

 

We had made an assumption early on that we would never actually find Black Bay since it did not appear on any of the three maps of the region we had come across.  We soon discovered our mistake. Initially satisfied that we would only be spending an afternoon photographing the details of the natural terrain in and around the ferry port, we had decided to save money and travel across the straits sans car carrying what we needed for the day in each of three small backpacks.   The hour and half trip is pretty disorienting because of an odd half-hour time shift.  Even more so because the Ferry actually lands in Blanc Sablon which is in the province of Quebec, smack on the geographical border of Labrador.  This means that we add an hour to the local Newfoundland time until traveling a few hundred feet into Labrador proper where the time shift trims an hour and a half off ones day in a single step. 

 

Once on shore at Blanc Sablon we immediately went for a hike around the rocky bluff near the dock.  This took us up a series of rolling hills blanketed in carpets of wet mosses and lichen.  This jaunt turned out to be both lengthy and arduous, although Ariana, who was seven, handled it with ease.  During this trek we were delighted to confirm a number of the details Pierre relates to the reader about the region.  First, walking on the Labrador ground was like hiking on a spring mattress, just as Pierre describes it.  Second, the forests that surrounded the area were made of dwarf pine trees exactly the foliage he relates was so difficult to hide behind as he and the others fled from the ship captain’s searching gaze.  Finally we found patches of the local berries that he and Toussaint had survived on.  My favorite is today known in Labrador as the Bakeapple.  It looks like a swollen orange raspberry but tastes a bit salty like a fish egg.  Neither Janet nor Ariana had any use for them, preferring the tart, cranberry-like Partridgeberry instead.  However they continued to pick my favorites, passing them on to me with a sour looking wince as a source of amusement.  A misty rain fell on us throughout the hike adding to the feeling of having stepped back into the previous century.

 

We shot several roles of film on this junket, more than enough to use as source material and then returned to the ferry landing for lunch and the return trip.  We ate soup and fried eggs in the combination canteen/gift shop/ticket office.  While browsing the display of Labradorian souvenirs, mostly woolen socks and mittens, Bakeapple Jam and syrup, I noticed a pamphlet about Labrador’s history entitled.  “Just One Interloper After Another: An Unabridged, Unofficial, Unauthorized History of the Labrador Straits” edited by David J. Whalen.  It was one of those inexpensive newsprint editions found on the racks of gift shops in small towns and consisted primarily of reprints from newspaper articles selected by a local amateur historian.  Haphazardly thumbing through it, I stopped on a page that provided details of French cod fishing and shipping in Labrador during the 19th Century.  My eye was suddenly caught half way down the page by a sentence describing French vessels stopping in a place known as “Black Bay or Pinware.”  I hurried to show my discovery to Janet who then asked the store manager where we could find this Pinware/Black Bay.  He hadn’t heard of Black Bay, but he explained that Pinware was not far up the coast and it had both a large harbor and a river as well as a public park leading out to a sandy beach - all the elements Pierre described as belonging to Black Bay.  Was this the re-named Black Bay after all?  Following a short deliberation we altered course, rented a small van in Labrador and the three of us drove off toward Pinware with loaded cameras.

 

The park at Pinware is beautiful.  Hills surround the bay, which is fringed with grasses and black rocks covered in pale green lichens.  There is a large sandy beach.  However the river is just that, a full-fledged river and not the small creek that the story offers Pinware appeared to be Pierre’s Black Bay and, despite the voracious black flies, we documented it well with both of our cameras.  Not until we entered the local interpretive center and museum further east in Red Bay did we discover our mistake. The center has several display’s and miniature dioramas of the first Basque fishermen who arrived on this coast as early as the 1500s.  In fact between 1850 and 1600 Red Bay was the whaling capital of the world. SOURCE? We casually mentioned the purpose of our trip to the young museum attendant.  No, he had never heard that Pinware was once called Black Bay, but there was a place known as Black Bay only a few kilometers north of Red Bay.  Instinctively Janet and I knew we had erred and that this was the actual site we came to see.

 

Red Bay is a small coastal village today where the only road used in this part of Labrador comes to an abrupt end.  After that point one is either on foot or in a boat except in winter when the snow skidoo --a sort of hybrid of a watercycle and sled -- is used for local transpiration.  Only one local appeared to still maintain a pack of Huskies for use as sled dogs. 

 

We soon discovered that several Red Bay residents had built small hunting shacks at Black Bay.  After checking into the Bayview Bed and Breakfast it’s owner, an Innuit women named Blanche, kindly helped us to make arrangements for one of her relatives to ferry us up to our longed-for destination in the morning.  Blanche also offered to watch over Ariana while we went off on our business, an idea no doubt first proposed by our daughter who had made fast friends with Blanche’s ten year old girl Natasha.

 

The next morning at about 8:45AM, August the 21st, we met up with Albert Ryan.  Like most of the men in this part of Labrador, Albert was an out-of-work cod fisherman.  He had agreed to transport us up to Black Bay for a reasonable amount of “Loonies” (Canadian dollars) in his uncle’s, Ron Ryan’s, boat.  It was a small boat with a powerful outboard.  Until this point we had resigned ourselves to walking the six or so kilometers to Black Bay.  As it turned out the distance was far more than we had anticipated since even the boat ride took close to forty minutes.    We bounced across the tops of waves as a chilly sea-spray woke us from any lingering sleepiness.  Then Albert turned the boat toward the shore as a rocky coast opened onto Black Bay harbor.  We knew right away that this was worth the trouble because the setting fit Pierre’s description so well.  The bay was large enough for a sea going vessel to anchor; the shore was sandy and seemed a good spot for tired sailors to rest; plus there was a creek, not a river, linking the bay to the surrounding hills that were covered in miniature pines.

 

After tying off the boat to a large rock, Albert kindly took us on foot to the mouth of the creek.  Bushwhacking through the bushes that edged the shore, we saw bear scats and the footprint of a wolf.  We documented the entire area and after a look inside Albert’s uncle’s shack we headed back to Blanche’s house, retrieved our daughter with thanks and drove back to the ferry at Blanc Sablon.

 

Our next target was the large port city of St. Johns where Pierre’s ship had often anchored during his years as a captive seaman.  Because of the limited highway development in Newfoundland we re-traced our route four times, going to and from the eastern parts of the island province.  One notable stop we made was outside the Gross Morne National Park at a place called Table Rock where carnivorous Pitcher Plants abound, lying in wait for hapless insects to fall into their limpid pools of digestive juices.  St. Johns is still a big port city but today the ships are steel and are loaded with huge containers while the city hosts numerous cafes and restaurants including a very good Indian eatery.  Not eating meat, and coming from a food-fussy place like New York City, I can only say that after days of watery coffee, fried cod fish and french fries (fish & chips) St. Johns offered a culinary oasis.  We stayed an extra day.

 

While camping near St. Johns we stopped at a small harbor town called Bay Bulls.  Here we enjoyed an early evening excursion on board a tour boat run by the Mullowney family.  What we saw were thousands of Puffins and hundreds of gulls that unhappily share an island that is off limits to people (Puffin eggs are a seagull delicacy.)  We also spied a bald eagle, dozens of translucent purple jellyfish called Lion’s Mane, and an extraordinary fish known as the Ocean Sunfish or Mola Mola.   Next morning, after a sleepless night spent over an expanding puddle of rain that cruelly formed beneath our tent, we broke camp early and retraced our path back to Port aux Basques where the Caribou would return us to the mainland.  From there we would once again be able to pick up Pierre Cholet’s 125-year-old trail.

 

From Sidney, Nova Scotia we cut across the base of the Gaspe Peninsula.  Our goal was to reach Restigouche or Listuguj (the Micmac spelling), a region at the mouth of Chaleur Bay.  It was here that Pierre had landed after navigating around the tip of the Gaspe in a small sailboat he had stolen on the shores of Riviere-au-Tonnerre, Quebec on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence River.  On foot he travels north again from Listiguj to the town of Matane then turning west to follow the coast of the St. Lawrence.  On the way he passes through a number of small towns including Saint Luce, Rimouski, Saint Fabien. Saint Simon, and Trois Pistoles.  In each one he goes to the local parish church to ask about his family name and to pray.  Little did he know then that the sailors who raised him had long ago changed his family name to Marin, which means simply sailor in French.  It is this mistaken identity that prevented Pierre from locating his true parents for over ten years following his desertion in Labrador.

 

Meanwhile, in Listiguj, we discover that Pierre most likely came ashore in what is today a Mi’gmag Indian reservation.  From the book we know that he first tried to sell his stolen boat to a Mi’gmag man who declined the deal.  On our visit to this place we discovered Fort Listiguj: a log cabin fort that combined the functions of a motel with a historic theme park and restaurant.  Built several years ago and financed by a local, entrepreneurial Micmac, Fort Listiguj consisted of a wrap-around fence of yellow pine logs stripped of their bark.  Inside this simulated palisade was a dozen log-cabin style rooms each one containing a set of bunk beds also made from stripped pine limbs.  In the center of this pseudo-fort was a reconstructed Mi’gmag village complete with hanging animal skins and a Roman Catholic chapel once again constructed of pine logs. A salmon smoking oven, an enormous outdoor soup kettle with blazing fire, and a circulating pond finish off the fantasy that is meant to evoke the Listiguj region in 1760.  Fort Listiguj’s staff were costumed either as French settlers, trappers, or monks, or they were in fact Mi’mags wearing traditional Indian garments; all were very knowledgeable about the history of the area. Despite my raised hopes, our whimsical fort’s rustic restaurant served the usual vapid coffee and overcooked fish.  However, the wine was decent and sleeping out of the rain in bunk beds fashioned from branches and twine was a treat for all three of us.

 

From the curious motel museum we passed the spot in Listiguji where the French lost a decisive battle to the British in 1760 during the French and Indian War.  This decisive loss ended France’s control of New France or French Canada.  We soon caught up with Pierre’s trail along the Saint Lawrence, stopping and photographing several of the churches he describes in his story.  The ones we visited had been reconstructed in the early 20th century but the old cornerstones were proudly embedded in new walls revealing dates from before Pierre’s time.  In Saint Luce we purchased croissants and a tasty vegetable spread as well as a fresh fruit tart.  A bit further up the road we stopped for a picnic along the riverside.  Even this far from the sea the Saint Lawrence is so wide that the distant shore was barely visible.

 

For a time our trip took on the semblance of a traditional tourist junket as we stopped in the city of Quebec to watch fire jugglers near the Chateau Frontenac and walked along the old French batteries on the Plains of Abraham.  Here as well as in Montreal, we asked booksellers if they had any copies of “l’enfant perdu.”  Even though Pierre had stopped in all of these places he left no traces that we could detect.  However, at the University of Montreal library we discovered a few papers on the priest, J. B. Proulx, who had penned Pierre’s narrative.  While none of these texts mentioned our Cholet, they did offer a sketchy profile of father Proulx, who turns out to have been an accomplished man of letters.  Our final week of travel arrived with our last destination, Saint-Polycarpe, still ahead.  Unknown to us at the time our most surprising discovery was waiting for us there.

 

We arrived in the village of Saint-Polycarpe towards the end of the day on August 31st.  This had been the original home of Pierre and his brother Toussaint as well as the place where Pierre was eventually reunited with his father and mother in 1881.  Because it was late when we entered the village we decided to travel to a campsite in a nearby town and then start fresh in the morning.  We expected to find some grave markers with family names on them and perhaps, if lucky, even the grave of Pierre’s parents Hyacinthe and Angelique.  Since there is no precise record of where Pierre himself died his resting-place was uncertain.  After a very pleasant night camping by a canal in Coteau Landing, we drove back to Saint-Polycarpe.  Our first stop was the local chamber of commerce that also boasted a library.  After a few minutes discussing who we were and what we were looking for in French, the attendant explained to Janet that we must speak with Marcel Cholette.  “Who is Marcel Cholette,” Janet asked with excitement.  Pierre Cholet’s great nephew.

 

Needless to say we were thrilled and anxious to meet Marcel and his wife Carmen who lived only a few streets away.  Our friendly attendant called them and, after explaining who we were, they invited us to their home.  A short drive took us to the small neat house on Gauthier Street.  Marcel greeted us at the door.  He quickly surmised that I spoke no French but was very pleased to be able to communicate with Janet.  Once again she explained who I was and why we had come to Saint-Polycarpe.  Marcel is a man in his seventies with abundant blond hair and a short, stocky build.  As we entered the interior of the house I could see he was also bow-legged, no doubt from the laborious life of a farmer.  After an awkward moment or two Carmen, Marcel’s wife, appeared from an adjoining room.  She spoke good English and immediately made unnecessary apologies about the untidiness of their house.  Janet, Ariana and I sat down on the living room couch and before long we were at ease with each other.  Only Ariana seemed ready to bolt but this was from boredom and not trepidation. 

 

Carmen cleared off a card table, on which she spread out photocopies of Cholette family documents.  Among these were: the deed transferring land to Marcel’s grandfather Hyacinthe from his and Pierre’s father, Hyacinthe Cholet; a printed article written in French about Sebastien Cholet our mutual 17th century forbear; a recent news clipping about Pierre Cholet; and a birth certificate dated 1844 bearing the names of Pierre’s parents and his brother, Hyacinthe Cholet.

 

It would seem that there are either three generations of Cholet men with the name Hyacinthe or only two.  The first married Rose Marie Leboiron in the early 1800s; the second married Angeliqu Andre known as Saint-Amand in 1838 in Saint-Polycarpe.  This second Hyacinthe and his wife gave birth to Pierre and Toussaint as well as several other children including yet another Hyacinthe born in 1844 who in turn fathered Philies Cholet who would later become the father of Marcel Cholet, our wonderful host.   Now all of this was pieced together using genealogical lists provided by Jack Cholette with Janet translating as we went along however none of this seemed to impress Marcel all that much but as we sat down for lunch he offered his own position on the Cholette family tree.  After I accepted his offer of a beer he said to Janet “Si vous aimez de la bierre, vous etes certainement une Cholette,” which translates as “you must be a Cholette if you like beer.” He then made a brief twirling gesture with one hand and I immediately recalled my grandfather, Maguire, making the same motion.

 

Now why did I hint that there might in fact be only two Hyacinthe’s during this period and not three?  This is in fact Jack Cholette’s hypothesis, one that Janet and I now believe to be extremely likely.  Here is what Jack proposes: the Hyacinthe who married Rose Marie Liboiron is the same man who later married Angeliqu Andre Amand (according to Marcel she was referred to as Julie). This would mean that the woman, Justine, whom Pierre describes as his sister and godmother, was actually his half sister --his father’s daughter from the first marriage.  Furthermore, the copy of the baptismal record Marcel gave us documenting his grandfather Hyacinthe’s christening is dated 1844, and the godmother listed on this record is a Matlida - again like Justine a name the genealogy indicates is a child of the first Hyacinthe.  Most likely Hyacinth’s first wife who bore five known children died in the early 1830s, possibly during childbirth, which was not an uncommon occurrence back then.  Hyacinth then remarried and had several more children among them Pierre, Toussaint, and later a boy who is the other Hyacinthe, and a girl born after the kidnapping.  Janet and I also suspect that Hyacinthe was the younger son who disbelieved that Pierre was his lost brother.  This Hyacinthe inherited the father’s farm, property that might have gone to Pierre had he not been missing.   Nevertheless, according to the book Pierre was simply happy to be with his parents again and made no claim on the brother’s goods. 

 

One of the most interesting details we learned from Marcel and Carmen was the news of the discovery of Toussaint’s makeshift gravesite in Labrador made by a scholar of Quebec history.   We immediately regretted not having this information available to us earlier on our pilgrimage.  *

 

After enjoying a very satisfying lunch provided by our hosts that included fresh berry soup, the Cholettes drove us to the graveyard of the local church.  Several weathered markers were pointed out to us, one which maybe the grave of Pierre’s parents.  However no imprint could be found for Pierre himself despite Marcel’s assurance that he had returned to Saint-Polycarpe in his later years and was buried in or near his parents plot.  From the church they brought us to the Cholette farm where the couple presented their second son, Pierre, his name coming as no great surprise.  This Pierre is forty and works the farm with his wife.  They have two children Damien and Etaonne.  Marcel and Carmen sadly reported that these were the only grandchildren they expect to see despite their family of five: two men (Gilbert and Pierre) and three women (Sylvie, Celine, and Dianne). 

 

Marcel explained that while the farm house was relatively new the adjacent building they now used for storage is what remains of the home Pierre and Toussaint Cholet had lived in with their parents up to the fatal day of their abduction.  Across the street, not more than thirty yards, stood the refurbished home of Pierre Doucet, second cousin to Pierre and Toussaint and the third boy kidnapped those many years before.  The cousin had perished on board ship not long after being abducted.  After a few minutes, Marcel’s son Pierre disappeared into the house.  He returned carrying a rectangular wooden plaque, which he told us Pierre Cholet had painted himself.  Indeed the three foot long panel was inscribed with the words “Pierre Cholet, Pentre,  [painter, although misspelled] 1907.”  This was the year before Pierre apparently died at the age of 68 after working for some time as a house painter in and around Saint-Polycarpe.  We were told he had a daughter but discovered little more about any other descendants of the man, living or dead.

 

 

Before parting we promised to send Marcel and Carmen copies of the photographs from Black Bay and they in turn said they would mail us copies of other documents related to the lost children as they turned up. By late Tuesday afternoon we were ready to begin the drive home.  Our return trip was uneventful with one more night spent camping at Fish Creek Ponds in the Adirondacks.  We arrived at our apartment the evening of September 2nd greeted by Socks, our colossal alley cat, which had been cared for by a neighbor.  Immediately after this reunion we began the tedious job of unpacking our camping equipment, sorting through backed-up printed materials and downloading accumulated e-mail, a job still underway some five days later.

GS 9/9/98

 

Post script

* The evening of September 9th we got around to calling the Canadian historian M. Antonio Cormier whose name and phone number was given to us by Marcel and Carmen Cholet.  He lives in Lourdes, Labrador and has indeed been researching the story of Pierre Cholet.  He became interested in our relative after a he mentioned to someone on a trip to Gaspe Bay area that he lived in Labrador.  This fellow then asked him if he knew of a place called Black Bay.  M. Cormier asked why and this fishery worker then explained that as a child his mother had often read him the true story of kidnapped boys and their escape at Black Bay.  M. Cormier has been hooked on the story ever since.  He then told us that he believes that he has indeed located the pond beside which Pierre had buried his younger brother Toussaint.  His next step will be to return to the spot with a group of helpers in order to find the actual pile of rocks that Pierre made to mark the grave.

 

M. Cormier has also been looking into the descendants of Captain Cottin in the town of Saint Malo France.  Cottin is the man who purchased the three boys for service on his crew.  And yet another project M. Cormier has undertaken is that of locating the wreck of the first ship that Pierre and Toussaint been shipwrecked on in 1854/55.  M. Cormier believes he may have indeed found a likely candidate for this disaster. Naturally Janet and I will be following up on these exciting developments as they unfold.

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Post-Postscript: 2002

 

The following year, in the summer of 1999, Janet, Ariana and I traveled to San Malo in France. While living in a lovely country house or gite, we made several car trips to places described in the story L’enfant perdu et retrouve ou Pierre Cholet. One of these trips took us to the city of Cholet, from which we get our name. Another was to Ren, which is the county seat of Brittony and where the maritime records are stored for the region. We spent most of a day pouring over enormous ledger books to see if any mention of cabin boys named “maran” could be found or the name of captain Cottin, the man who first purchased Pierre and Touissant. Neither could be found.

 

It is possible of course that none of the three stolen boys where officially recorded because of the illegal manner they were procured. Likewise, Captain Cottin’s real name may have been altered by either father Proulx or Pierre himself out of fears of legal action. And then there is the question of Pierre’s daughter. Who was she and did she have children? Is there a direct descended of Pierre alive today even as I write this? At this point, and without a more time and money to devote to the research, these speculations will remain a mystery, that perhaps someone reading this account will uncover about Pierre Cholet, the child lost and found. Meanwhile, Janet Koenig is busy finishing up a new, English version of the story and looking for a publisher in the U.S. or Canada.

 

G.G. Sholette, February 10, 02.

gsholette@artic.edu