Frank MaheuxI don’t remember my Aunt Grace — technically, my great Aunt — the same way that I remember my grandmother, Ethel. Grace was our next door neighbor for three or four years, but somehow her presence during my boyhood seems less tangible. Perhaps, it was because she lived close to us only when I was quite young.

I do, however, remember her cottage. I remember its smell, its layout, and the land it was built on. I remember the old and the new outhouse. I remember the barrel that collected the rainwater from the roof. I remember playing thirty-one by the light of an oil lamp in the inky dark of night.

I also remember the short walk to the nearby lake. I remember the spot where we’d wade into it to swim or launch the canoe. I remember the shape of the lake, and the spot where we’d collect spring water. I remember the low bridge, a short walk from the lake, where my brother and I would fish a shallow creek for trout.

I don’t remember how often I went to Grace’s cottage when I was a boy, but the depth and clarity of my memories seems to suggest it was reasonably often. I do know that, in my adolescence, I went to the cottage on my own a few times. The solitary time away was regenerative.  

It was Grace who donated Frank Maheux’s war letters to the Public Archives of Canada — now the Library and Archives of Canada. I can’t be sure why she did it, but I seem to remember that she understood the historical value of her father’s letters, which had reached her mother, Angélique, uncensored. I suppose there might have also been a measure of vanity in the gift. Once the letters were accepted by the Public Archives, we were a family with a relative who was institutionally recognized to have been historically significant. We had a place in Canada’s history.

All of that is probably true. I also wonder if the decision was motivated by another kind of hope.

I have read that the land, for indigenous peoples, is a kind of encyclopedia of stories. Plants, animals, places and activities are all cues to tell and retell the stories that remind them of their place on the land, their connection to each other, and the knowledge that makes all of it possible. The land — just as effectively as the letters, words, and sentences of any book — helps a person, a family, and a people remember the stories they tell and retell to know who they are.

When I was in grade school, I went to read my great grandfather’s letters in the Public Archives. I wrote a short speech about his experiences for Remembrance Day and won an award for it. I recently learned that my brother also went to read the letters when he was a teenager. A few months ago, when I returned to the letters as an adult, I found a note slipped in among them. It was written by a relative, unknown to me, who had also gone to read the letters at some point. It stated simply that he, Christian Maheux, had visited the letters and that his grandfather was Frank Maheux.

I don’t know much about the other descendants of Frank and Angélique Maheux, but I do know we are all connected to each other through those letters and the stories we tell about them. Not everyone of us who visits the letters will blog about the experience or leave notes behind, but, every time one of us visits those letters, we create one more story that connects all of us to each other. Our family no longer has a traditional territory, sacred places or the daily routines of life to prompt our collective story-telling, but we have those letters.

And I suspect Grace might have had something like that in mind, when she donated Frank’s letters to the Public Archives — the letters of my great grandfather and possibly yours.

15 thoughts on “A Small Act of Grace: A Story We Can Tell

      1. Only odd because there are certain things from that era I remember clearly…very clearly (for instance: planting the tree in front of our old place on Bell Street) and other things very unclearly (for instance: I have no memory of our first meeting, only vague memories of playing tag after school, vague memories of going to Capital City Gum, Cards, and Comics together, and that sort of thing).

        ‘Course, the same thing goes for a lot of my childhood. And that’s probably true for most kids. I kinda wonder what it must be like to have a photographic memory for this stuff. Bitter sweet, I suppose.

        1. That was a tree from Grace’s cottage wasn’t it? I totally forgot you went up for a visit once. I seem to remember you got a nasty bite from a deer fly.

          I planted one of those trees at another house that is now gone, but the tree is still there. Planting trees from that cottage was a real ritual for us. Until this moment, I had forgotten how often we did it.

          We met because you were playing with some super cool Star Wars toys on your porch, in particular the AT-AT. I was hanging out with (well, probably annoying) my brother and a couple of his friends. Someone came by and said that a new kid in the neighborhood was playing with super cool Star Wars toys on his porch. I went to see and the rest is history.

          1. Yes! I have memories of that visit to the cottage…and yes, mainly because it was a horrible deer fly season, we couldn’t escape, I was bit, and it freaked me out…something not that uncommon at the time.

            I don’t think I had any idea planting trees was that much of a ritual. Certainly a neat ritual, though.

            When we met: see? I have no memory of that whatsoever. Damn it all. Dave’s good for this, too. He remembers things from our time at elementary school far, far better than I do. It’s somewhat unsettling because it’s not intuitive; I’ve “blocked” out both good and bad experiences. It might also be that certain things that I think I should remember just weren’t significant to me as a kid. It’s kinda funny how memory works.

            The other thing about the AT-AT and a whack load of other toys: I traded most of ’em for comics when I was in grade 4 or 5. Shoo, toys, shoo! Gimme comics! Seemed like a good idea at the time…and it still seems like a good idea in hindsight! 🙂

            1. I don’t know… you had some pretty choice toys!

              Memory is a very complicated process. Maybe, you don’t really remember because you don’t talk about it.

              And yes, that’s right — Lloyd! I had forgotten his name but I remember where he lived — just around the corner from us.

  1. Thanks for these family memories. I didn’t know before now what happen to the letters. Now I’ll be able to see them for myself. Did you know that great-grandma Angelique also made movies? We were brought as children to a church to see them. Do you know of them and if so, where we would be able to find them? By the way, I’m your second cousin. Gale and Jean-Pauls daughter.

    1. HI Karen!

      Thanks for saying, hello! I would definitely recommend going to see the letters. It’s worth the trip.

      I remember seeing one movie, when I was quite young. If you happen to remember the title(s), please let me know. I will take a look for them.

      1. Found this from our cousin Kinwa (Janets oldest daughter). I haven’t had to chance to fully read it but it is a thesis she wrote. 🙂 Karen

        Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

  2. My great grandmother, Angelique Maheux, acted in a small role in a show on CBC. I am the daughter of Shirley, who was the daughter of Irene, a daughter of Angelique. I am thrilled to know I have cousins who still remember Angelique and her family. And Sterling, your grandmother Ethel sat in at parliament to fight for her rights and the rights of all indigenous women. I remember Grace and Ethel from my childhood. My Mom would bring my sister and I every summer to stay with our Nanny in Ottawa and often they all lived together in the same house.

    1. Hi Patsy,

      Thanks for saying hello!

      You are from a branch of the family I don’t seem to know anything about. Irene and Shirley feel like new names to me, but I have probably forgotten them over the years. I also don’t remember anything about Parliament, so that certainly supports the case that there are some big gaps in my memory. That’s exactly the sort of thing I would have thought I would remember. But, I’m not all surprised to hear about it. I remember her association very well. If we are in the ballpark of the same age, we might have even spent some time together during one of your Ottawa visits. What years did you come to visit?

      1. Aunt Angelique was my grandmother’s (Elizabeth Gagnon Logue) eldest sister. I have early memories of sitting at Angelique’s feet, at my Nanny’s house, listening to her tell tales of how life was in my hometown of Maniwaki à Québec in the “old days”. I just stumbled upon your writings and appreciate them as I have a passion for our genealogy. Do you know the names of all of Angelique’s children? And their descendants?

        1. Hi Johanne,

          Thanks for reading and saying, “hello!”

          Unfortunately, I don’t know the names of all of Angélique’s children.

          This site will be of interest if you don’t already know it:

          http://www.weskarini.ca/r%C3%A9pertoire.html

          On the record for Frank Maheux, you can find the names of their four oldest children:

          http://www.weskarini.ca/assets/maheux-françois-francis-frank.pdf

          I suspect the other children aren’t listed because they were born somewhere other than Maniwaki.

          Here is a search that pulls up some records that might reference your grandmother:

          https://www.google.ca/search?lr=&as_qdr=all&ei=QfoLXNbrEsWMjwTmlILYDg&q=%C3%89lisabeth+GAGNON+site%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.weskarini.ca&oq=%C3%89lisabeth+GAGNON+site%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.weskarini.ca&gs_l=psy-ab.3…4374.6593..7662…0.0..0.61.176.3……0….1j2..gws-wiz.k3NGSZPGg4c

          If the link doesn’t work, paste this into Google:

          Élisabeth GAGNON site:http://www.weskarini.ca

          I hope you make some discoveries! 🙂

          – Sterling

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