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Topic: The Women of Aspenland
Article: Olivine (Delorme) Miquelon
Date Posted: October 9/2012
Main District: Wetaskiwin
Decades: 1860's to 1920's
Olivine was a quiet and resourceful woman, She was born in 1863 at La Valtrie, Quebéc. She had two sisters (one of whom may have been named Louise) and one brother, Joseph. Her brother came west in the late 1800s, believing that a hoe and a shovel was all that he needed for homesteading. He returned to the east after a couple of years.
When Olivine was about nine years old, her father, Cléophas Riel dit Delorme, was killed at a railway crossing by a train. Her mother, Valérie (Hervieux) Delorme, and the children then moved to Lowell, Massachusetts, where Olivine's sisters worked in garment factories.
Olivine received her education in a convent and later, sometime around 1884, entered the Covenant of the Good Shepherd in Montreal. While Olivine was there, Father Lacombe approached the convent in search of persons to go west with him to teach the Indians. In 1886, Olivine decided to go west with Father Lacombe and taught school at the mission at Lebret, in the Qu'Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan, which was the headquarters of the Oblate Missionaries. She taught reading, writing, arithmetic, cooking, sewing, keeping house, and French to the Indian girls.
At Lebret, Olivine met Louis Timoléon (L.T.) Miquelon, who worked on the building of the mission house, sang in the choir, and drove the buggy for Father Lacombe. He owned a homestead quarter section near Lebret. In 1888, Olivine and L.T. were married and moved first to Regina and then in 1890 to Calgary. L.T.'s father Zoël was the immigration agent in both Regina and Calgary.
L.T. worked on the building of immigration sheds in both cities. In July 1892, with their first two children in tow, along with L.T.'s mother and father, they moved to Wetaskiwin. L.T. opened a butcher shop in Wetaskiwin. The shop not only sold meat, but nails, hardware, and general things that farmers might need. The main floor was the store. Olivine and L.T. lived upstairs.
Zoël, who was now Justice of Peace and postmaster in Wetaskiwin, and his wife, Nancy, lived in a smaller structure built on the back. This store was familiar to a later generation as the Wetaskiwin Produce.
The Miquelons lived in town from 1892 until 1902. However, in 1893, L.T. went to Calgary, tore down their house and brought the lumber back to Wetaskiwin to build themselves another house in town. Then in 1902, they moved to a half section north of town, which L.T. bought from the C.P.R. for $3 per acre. Olivine became for the first time a farm wife. They returned to the city in 1909, when L.T. was appointed Government Road Foreman and Weed Inspector. However, in 1914, they returned to the farm.
Olivine's life was typical of the time. She cooked on a big wood stove with a boiler on the side. She was an excellent cook, as threshing crews well knew. She baked twenty loaves of whole wheat bread for the farm and a further ten loaves that might be given to Indians or hobos. She also baked dozens of cinnamon rolls, pies, and breads for the general store in Wetaskiwin.
In the fall a pig was killed and Olivine would make blood sausage (boudin) and head cheese. An Acadian lady, by the name of Mrs. Casey, who spoke French and always wore white, helped Olivine at these times. There was also a hired girl, remembered as Annie Holtner, who was with the family for ten or fifteen years, as well as another Indian girl.
Olivine could sew like a tailor, having been taught by sisters who worked in the garment industry. She owned a Singer treadle sewing machine and sewed all the clothing for the family. This included suits and beautiful dresses with bustles. She had master patterns, including those for thirteen different women's suits. She also crocheted and made a few crocheted outfits for the porcelain doll Cordelie received in 1910 from her sister Marianne. She taught Cordelie to sew using flour sacks.
There was always lots of laundry to be done with washtubs and a washboard. All the water for laundry as well as bathing was heated on the stove. But as the children grew, Olivine began taking the laundry to town, where it was done by a French Canadian woman. The weekly trip to town was naturally an exciting prospect for a child. Daughter Cordelie, aged five, once hid herself in the big flannelette laundry bag, but was then unceremoniously dumped at the laundress's house, and therefore had no tour of the Wetaskiwin shops. Olivine often scalded and laundered the clothes of passing Indians or hobos, their clothing being infested with lice.
In the course of sixteen years, from the date of marriage in May 1888, to the birth of the last child in August 1905, thirteen children were born. In other words, from age twenty-five until she was forty-two, Olivine was always looking after infants or small children and most of the time she was expecting. Her husband, however, was the one to get up with the babies and toddlers at night, and if the baby was fussing, he put a little brandy in its milk. When Olivine was exasperated with children under foot, she would declare that she would have been better off to have stayed in her Montreal convent! ("J'aurai bien dû rester dans mon couvent!")
Olivine's children were: Rosario (Bill), 1889; Edouard, 1890; Marianne, 1892; Philippe (Pete), 1893; Eveline, 1895; Joseph, 1899; Cordelie, 1900; Gerard; Wilfred; Hector (Buster), 1905; and three others who died very young (two girls, one named Olivine, and one boy).
The family house in Wetaskiwin doubled as a church on many occasions. Father Albert Lacombe, Damase Dubois, Peck and De Lestre, as well as Bishop Emile Legal often said mass there. Olivine's huche à pain, or dough box, served as an altar. Olivine would cover it with a linen cloth. She always had holy candles on hand for the masses in her home and would be in charge of lighting them. The huche, which has disappeared, was built by L.T. The outside of the box was stained dark red, with an insert of light colored wood in the centre of the lid. The inside was light and unstained. Father Lacombe is said to have remarked, "Your breadbox will never be empty, Mrs. Miquelon." There would be many neighbours in the house for mass and others, including many Indians, outside in the yard.
Olivine was a stout person. She weighed about one hundred and ninety-five pounds. She weighed only eighty pounds when she died of liver cancer in 1925. "God afflicts those he loves the most," she said.
Olivine was very strict, especially with her daughters. Boyfriends had to be Roman Catholics. Cordelie had to chaperon her elder sisters Marianne and Eveline on their dates. On one occasion, Cordelie was sent to chaperon Eveline and Ted Reynolds. They bought Cordelie a ticket to the Bijou Theatre and said they would pick her up after the movie. Cordelie in fact arrived home alone, and Olivine was furious.
L.T. Miquelon, while not a teetotaller, drank little alcohol. His brother Romeo, proprietor of the Great West Liquor Store, is said to have given the family a case of liquor at Christmas that provided for the holiday entertaining with some left over. White Horse whiskey was the liquor of choice in the period. In the house, there were always a number of mugs provided by Romeo and bearing illustration of the White Horse. Olivine did like a glass of wine and she thought of this as a tonic.
In particular, she thought it was a useful tonic while she was pregnant. She had some casks of wine in the dirt-floored cellar. Every three or four days she would go to the cellar and pour a jigger glass for herself. The older children would get a jigger too. The wine served a dual purpose: as tonic and as communion wine. There is a story that many times at confession, the priest would say to Olivine, "After you have done your penance, come over to the house for a glass of wine."
Information compiled in 1998.
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