The Charest-Frenchette Family in America: A Success Story
Editors Note: Shortly before my father had his stroke which ultimately was fatal, I managed to convince him to write some stories and family history. I promised him I would get them at least published on a family website if he did. Well, with a lot of “encouragement” from myself and possibly my brother Howard, Dad did write some of the family stories. This is part I of a three part series.
I have taken the liberty of re-formatting Dad’s writings to be suitable for this website. Otherwise, I have posted them as written. I may on occasion add some editorial comments of my own; these will be clearly marked when I do.
Part I – Growing Up in Rhode Island
The Charest family traces its ancestry with any definite knowledge to Canada as early as 1812. The ancestral home in France has never been definitely established. Some family members feel that the earliest settlers in Canada came from Central France; others feel that Normandy is the likeliest home; others say that the first Charest came from Lacadie, France.
In any event it is most likely that the Charests came to Canada before 1763 since, in that year of the English conquest, the British government forbade immigration from France. Therefore, we can say with a certain amount of truth that the Charests arrived in Canada in the early or the middle of the 1700s or possibly in the 1600s. However, we must also say in all honesty that since the territory contained few French females, the probability exists that the first Charest males might have taken Indian women as wives. This statement might offend some descendants, but the possibility is there, nonetheless.
We have been able to trace the Frechette family as far back as the late 1600s in Canada. We have no way to know where they came from in France However, we must limit this story to the exploits and lives of Alphonse and Emilie Charest, a prolific and energetic couple.
Alphonse was born in the village of St. Gabriel, in Quebec province. Not much is known about his early years. Emilie was born on a farm in St. Didace, also in Quebec province. We do know that she received a fairly good education from the convent nuns. She read books and did receive a daily newspaper from Montreal when the family lived in Woonsocket. I and my children inherited the love of reading from her. She and I spent many evenings discussing world politics and the approaching war.
They first met in the year, 1912, on the road to Lincoln Park, an amusement park somewhere between Fall River and New Bedford, Mass. According to the popular belief, Alphonse and his brother, Armand, were two men about town who enjoyed flirting with the ladies who traveled on the streetcars between the two cities. It so happened that Armand knew the lady who accompanied Emilie on that particular day and she introduced Emilie to Alphonse and the rest is history, as people tend to say.
Due to a health problem Alphonse’s doctor advised him to travel out West where the pure air might cure him. Subsequently, Alphonse became a cook on the Canadian Railroad somewhere in Manitoba or in one of those Canadian provinces where no one can say whether it is east of British Colombia or west of Ontario. He also found work in the lumber camps.
He returned sometime in 1914 and promptly signed on with the Canadian government as a cook on the icebreaker, the Laurier, that according to tradition or rumor had picked up survivors from the Titanic.
By 1916 Emilie is supposed to have stamped her foot and demanded, yes, demanded that Alphonse choose the care-tree life or marry her. According to family legend the young man is supposed to have scratched his head, mumbled something about freedom, walked the floor, argued about the demand but he finally gave in.
So Emilie and Alphonse were married in Joliette, Quebec on October 4, 1916 by the Reverend Msgr. Forbes. According to family legend the couple took up residence in Quebec City where, and this information cannot be verified, Alphonse found employment at the famous Hotel, the Chateau Frontenac. Emilie spent one winter on that iceberg and gave Alphonse another ultimatum.
So the couple moved to a city called Grandmere (grandmother). The first Charest children were born there: Marguerite Albina on Sept 19, 1917 and Louis George on October 4, 1918. The couple’s need for milder weather eventually made it relocate to Pawtucket, Rhode Island in 1919. Two more children made their debut: Therese Jeanne D’arc on June 9, 1920 and Rita Edmire on Sept 21, 1922.
At that time Alphonse won the food concession at the new factory built by the J.P. Coats Thread company. It was a prosperous time for Alphonse and Emilie who were able to furnish an apartment with the latest appliances including an electric sewing and washing machine. At the expiration of the contract Alphonse opened a restaurant in Pawtucket.
We have no explanation why the couple then decided to move to a bustling textile manufacturing city called Woonsocket where two more little ones joined the growing clan: Lucille Evelina on Dec. 13, 1922 and Armand Gabriel on August 16, 1924. I believe that Alphonse still kept his restaurant open with the help of two brothers.
A business opportunity presented itself so Alphonse moved the family to a small town called Manville where he bought a country house and opened his second restaurant at a busy intersection in the village. It was also a happy and prosperous time for the family. I remember distinctly the house that sat next to a bubbling brook and the swamp to its rear where Alphonse raised his pigs. The final three children came into the world in that house: Claire on November 2, 1925, Noella on Dec 15, 1927, Rosaire on November 7, 1930.