After much soul searching, the Fortuné Mollot family decided to leave their native France! It may have been much easier for Fortuné for he virtually had no family ties left; his mother, father, and only aunt and uncle had all passed on. The only remaining family members were his adopted sister Pauline and her family. As to Léopoldine, her whole family were still living in France. Deciding to leave the family, let alone the lifestyle they had, must have been much, much more difficult for Léopoldine than for Fortuné!
The question was to where should the family immigrate? Some consideration was given to Haiti and to Algeria. At the time, both were colonies of France. However, the influence of the religious order in Blandin was a major factor that influenced their ultimate decision to immigrate to CANADA. To quote from the memoires of Fortuné, “Finally, the l’Abbé of St. Antoine, l’Abbé Cusset, whose sister was the Superior at the convent and school in Blandin, told us that the Regular Canons of the Immaculate Conception also had a house in Notre Dame de Lourdes, MANITOBA, CANADA. This country, we were told, had a great future and we would certainly find what we were looking for. The more I learned, the more enthusiastic I became. In Canada, my children would be able to grow up free and independent, so long as they were willing and energetic.”
Blandin was put up for sale and, after some difficulty, was sold effective July 4, 1892!
Now, just imagine, with only about two months to go before departure to Canada, Fortuné, age 47, and Léopoldine, age 40, and four children (Gabrielle, age 17; Ernest, age 13; Marcel, age 12; and Marie Louise (Lily), age 1 ½) make the final preparations to immigrate to Canada and establish themselves somewhere in Manitoba before the harsh Canadian winter months set in. According to Fortuné’s memoires and the August,1892 ship’s passenger list manifest, when they set sail for Canada, all they knew was that their destination was the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba! They had not selected the specific community in which to settle. That would be done upon their arrival.
In late August 1892, the family said their final “adieus” to all their relatives and friends! They journeyed to Paris, then to Antwerp, and across the North Sea to Liverpool, England, where on August 25, 1892, they board the ship called “Circassian”, destined for Quebec City, Canada. According to the ship’s passenger manifest, they were listed as follows; Fortime Jos.(for Fortuné) Mollot, head, Annis L. wife, (for Léopoldine-Anais was her middle name), Therese G. (for Gabrielle), Louis J. (for Ernest), Gabriel H. (for Marcel) and Marie L. for Marie Louise. Besides using mostly all their middle names as given names, many of those were misspelled. This was not uncommon on passenger lists.
After probably a difficult trip across the North Atlantic Ocean, the ship’s manifest indicate that they arrived at their port of call, Quebec City on Sept. 4th and then still had to take a train to reach their destination, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. They arrived on September 10, 1892….after some fourteen days on a small ship and a train! What a grueling voyage this must have been for the whole family!
The Mollot family then spent a few days in neighboring St. Boniface and, after consulting with various priests, such as Bishop Taché and others as to where they could possibly settle, they ended up visiting a number of French speaking villages such as Lorette, St. Pierre and St. Malo. However, as Fortuné explains in his memoires, they finally chose Fannystelle because of the warm welcome they received from the French priest L’Abbé Perquis and other families such as the Guyots and the Guilbaults who had immigrated there from France. They were also delighted that they could purchase land immediately adjacent to the town. According to the certificate land title # 28191 that I obtained from the Manitoba Lands Title office, on September 15, 1894, 80 acres of land was registered under the name of “Léopoldine Mollot of Fannystelle, Manitoba, wife of Fortuné Mollot.” The two lots that they also purchased upon which to build their house were in town and the 80 acres of farm land was immediately south and adjacent to the town. This property was purchased from M. Veronneau who was the local postmaster. The legal description is as follows; “Being the north half of the northeast quarter of Section 10 in the Ninth Township and Third Range West of the Principal Meridian in Manitoba containing eighty acres more or less.” It is interesting to note that this property is of low elevation. In fact, it is very good farmland today but it is prone to flooding and has been nicknamed “le marais”, the swamp. Given that there were no drainage ditches in those early years, it is likely that this land was only good for grazing and this is what Fortuné attempted to do by raising cattle and sheep.
The village of Fannystelle was founded in 1889 by the Countess Marthe d’Albuféra, a Parisien philanthropist, who named it in memory of her deceased friend Fanny Rives. The name Fannystelle was derived from the Latin word “stella” meaning star (Star of Fanny). The Countess d’Albuféra’s project was managed by a Mr. T. A. Bernier who encouraged the immigration of nobility and well-to-do families from France. Noël Bernier, a Manitoba historian, wrote the book Fannystelle published in 1939. In the story, this new settlement is described as “une fleur de France éclose en terre manitobaine”… A flower from France blooming in Manitoba soil!
On arrival to St. Boniface, Ernest, age 14, and Marcel, age 13, were quickly enrolled and boarded at le Collège St. Boniface, 200 rue de la Cathédrale under the Jesuit Fathers. According to the Collège St. Boniface archives, the boys attended “le Collège” for three years.
However, within a few weeks, there was bad news from France. The sale of Château Blandin had fallen through. Fortuné then instructed his brother-in-law, J. P. Algoud, to sell the property again. Château Blandin was eventually sold to the Ballofay family but for considerably less money than they had expected and much less than the previous offer which had fallen through.
On October 19, 1892, Fortuné, Léopoldine, Gabrielle age 17 and 1 ½ yr. old Marie Louise (Lily) settle in at their final destination, FANNYSTELLE, MANITOBA, CANADA! From all accounts, they were ill prepared for the things to come! Throughout his life, Fortuné had not really worked at any job for any length of time. Since his teenage years, he had focused on painting and being an artist. Just imagine the scenario! With paint brush in hand and canvas under his arm, he and Léopoldine and four children settle in Fannystelle, Manitoba, Canada. They had shipped from France mostly non-essentials to survive the bitter elements and the “new” farm lifestyle: mayonnaise maker, family silverware bearing the family crest, some Louis XVIII furniture, a 3x4 ft. crucifix on a large frame, stacks of French literature books, encyclopedia, bible, boxes of letters and memorabilia and a number of paintings that Fortuné had done while at Blandin.
In the family archives, we have a couple of black and white photos that were taken in 1893 and 1894 on a platform in front of a house of some family and community members. The photos depict the rugged lifestyle of the times…. somewhat like an old Wild West scene from the John Wayne movies!
Front porch photo – family & friends. Fannystelle April, 1894. Left to right: Mr. Allard, Rosenberg, de la Borderie with Lily Mollot on his knees, Mrs Léopoldine Mollot, Mr Marchisio, Duflot, Thomas & Miss Gabrielle Mollot.
When the Mollot family first arrived in Fannystelle on October 19, 1892, the town had only six houses as well as a school, a church, a creamery owned by Pierre Rosenberg, a blacksmith shop operated by Honoré Lavasseur and a large stable. That’s it! There wasn’t even a railroad. In 1892, the CPR railway only went as far as Starbuck, the neighboring town, eight miles to the east. Other than mail from the postmaster, Mr. Veronneau, the only form of communication was telegraph and one had to go to Starbuck to the CPR rail station by horse and buggy on very poor roads for that. According to the 1892 Henderson’s Directory at the Manitoba Genealogical Society, the population of the village of Fannystelle was thirty! Just imagine only twenty-four other people besides the Mollot family.
In his memoires, Fortuné describes it this way, “What struck me most about this place was the curious mixture of the civilized and savage worlds which I found so different from Europe. It broke my heart!” Life had to be most difficult in those pioneer years.
As previously mentioned, the Mollots had purchased from the postmaster, Mr. Veronneau, an 80 acre piece of land that bordered the town on the south side. In those years, as you can imagine, land was very inexpensive to purchase.
And now the problem they faced was, ‘Where to live?’ As indicated in his memoires and also in an article in the newspaper ‘Le Manitoba’ dated Nov. 9,1892, Fortuné hired a Mr. Cinq-Mars to build a new house in town but it would not be ready for occupancy for at least four months. Luckily, one of the makeshift houses in town became available and they rented it. In this rented house, quoting Fortuné, “We lived out of our trunks and cases that were scattered about, disguised as chairs. Only the piano, our first major purchase in Canada, stood so beautiful and brand new in this mess of crude wood.” The piano was likely purchased for their eldest daughter, Gabrielle, who was a very talented musician and for Léopoldine who enjoyed playing it. In January 1893, the Mollots were finally able to move into their new house! Besides having only coal oil lamps for lighting and wood for heating and cooking, there was another problem…no water! Because of the hard ground water, all water for drinking and washing had to be brought in by horse-drawn tanks or taken from ponds or melted snow.
Overall, it was a drastic lifestyle contrast to that of Blandin and Lyon….from a 16,650 sq. ft. mansion in Blandin to a modest 700 sq. ft. wood framed prairie house in Fannystelle, Manitoba, Canada! The Mollot house which is no longer standing was located on the corner lot just across from the existing church on the east side of the street.
First Mollot family home in Fannystelle. The home was originally built in 1893.
This photo was taken in the late 1890’s. The home was sold around 1903 to the Black family. Note the church – far right.
In his memoires, Fortuné indicates that the first winter was not as horrible as expected. However, one of the stories told by Léopoldine and passed on was that it got so cold in the house that the bread would freeze hard as a rock and that, at first, she would wonder why it became so hard overnight! From all accounts, life in a new prairie settlement in the early 1890’s must have been a great challenge: some Canada Post mail, no telephone, no telegraph, virtually no communication with the outside world, no convenient well water, only outdoor toilets, no electricity, poor heating in the homes during the harsh winter climate, poorly insulated houses, no cars nor tractors, only horses and mules for transportation and for working the land. As for food, families had to rely on what could be grown or raised. General stores only came into place as the population grew in these small towns. One wonders how they even survived!
Approximately one year after their arrival, on October 22, 1893, Marie Thérèse Albertine (25) was born. This was the last addition to the family.
During the next few years, approximately 1893 to 1903, Fortuné attempted to farm by raising cattle and sheep…but with little success. According to the 1901 Canadian Genealogy Index, Fortuné was classified as a farmer. To quote Fortuné, “With the winter of 1894, our first disappointments began. All the rest, until 1902, were filled with disappointments! I should have abandoned the animals and farming.”
According to the Certificate of Title # 28191, after having little or no success at farming, Fortuné and Léopoldine abandoned the idea of farming and sold the 80 acres on November 19, 1903. This was no doubt another setback in their lives.
By the end of 1895, Gabrielle (aged 20), much to the disappointment of her parents as Fortuné stated in his memoires, moved to Winnipeg to pursue her music career. She established a music studio in Room 22 in the Clement Block over the Mason & Rich’s piano store on Main Street. Ernest (aged 17) and Marcel (age 16), having completed their studies at “le Collège” in St. Boniface, find employment.
After only three years in this country, Fortuné, aged 50, and Léopoldine, aged 43, were virtually left at home with two babies; that is, Marie Louise (Lily), aged 4, and Thérèse, aged 2. There were actually eighteen years difference in age between Gabrielle, the oldest, and Thérèse, the youngest. From all accounts, the family lived on their diminishing inheritances. Fortuné tried to farm and continued to paint: one of his large projects was the painting of religious scenes on the ceiling of the Fannystelle Church. Unfortunately, the church burned in 1912 and all his work was lost! Léopoldine initiated a theatre group in Fannystelle which consisted of friends gathering at their home to practice theater performances.
An old family friend, Donalda Guilbeault, who has passed on, always had great stories to tell about the Mollot household and their involvement in theatre performances for family entertainment. The historian, Noel Bernier, who wrote up the history of Fannystelle also vividly describes the “séances” that occurred in the Mollot home for the community. Music and the arts flourished in their home and it is rather interesting that all three daughters, Gabrielle, Lily, and Thérèse, pursued careers in the arts. Furthermore, in the next generation, the tradition has been carried on. Thérèse’s daughter, Yolande, has had a very successful acting career in England and Hollywood.
Sacred Heart Church, Fannystelle, 1894.
Nearby, the statue of Fanny Rives
L. to R.: Marie Louise, Léopoldine with Thérèse. A large copy of this photo hangs in the back of the church today.