A unique story of FORTUNÉ MOLLOT and LÉOPOLDINE BENOIT
Following is an article written by historian Christian Rey, from Die, France and translated to English by Richard Theriault. The original article was published in the journal Chroniques du Diois, No 8, December, 2007. The French language version from the Chroniques du Diois has photos and illustrations.
2 0 0 8 S U M M E R E D I T I O N
z By Christian Rey
Translated by Richard A. Thériault
A unique story of FORTUNÉ MOLLOT and LÉOPOLDINE BENOIT
CHRONIQUES DU DIOIS
F RO M D I E ( F R A N C E ) T O W I N N I P E G ( C A N A DA )
H I S T O RY O F F O R T U N E & L E O P O L D I N E M O L L O T
In our previous chronicle No 2 dated December 2004, we introduced an article in our “Complementary Investigation Section” concerning a then recent visit to our beautiful City of Die by Lucille and Victor Mollot; Canadian descendants of Doctor Benoit and founder in the 19th century of the MARTOURET thermal establishment.
Since our original contact in 2004, we were able to obtain much more interesting additional complementary information on this unique family. So, today, we felt it necessary to give everyone a more profound opportunity to further discover the beautiful circumstances, from their original Die encounter in 1871 to their decision to immigrate away to Canada in 1892.
DR. BENOIT’S ELDEST DAUGHTER
In the city of Die, Léopoldine was born three years after her brother Hubert in 1852. The same year, Dr. Benoit founded the MARTOURET thermal establishment. Two more children followed; Eugenie in 1855 and Adolphe in 1857. After receiving the basic classical education available at the time, Léopoldine is quickly distinguished within the family business and finds herself naturally oriented along side her mother, in the daily hotel administration. In his memoirs, written in 1912, her husband Fortuné Mollot describes her best as;
“The eldest was charged of garnishing the tables in the dining and living rooms with flowers. I was always thrilled to watch her come and go like a little bird, in her girlish and delicate dress, firstly collecting her favorite flowers, then creating outstanding arrangements of flower beds in various baskets and vases throughout the dining and living room” .
Léopoldine could have easily chosen a nice peaceful life by marrying into a very notable local family... But her destiny was not to be as such.
A VERY UNIQUE HANDICAPPED PERSON
In 1868 Fortuné Mollot was an apprentice clerk in a silk factory, Injuring himself during a horse riding performance, he becomes a paraplegic and has to spend the next three years of his life trying to achieve a somewhat normal usage of his legs.
Fortuné, who by the way, in 1871, inherited a considerable fortune, discovers in his daily newspaper “Le Salut Public de Lyon” a notice concerning the opening of an Establishment of Thermal Baths in the Drôme region, aiming to comfort his persistent pains. Consequently, he decided in July of 1871 to travel from Lyon to the city of Die.
In his memoirs, he delivers his first impressions:
“Back in those days, the only transportation available between the cities of Valence and Die was an all beat-up stagecoach which would take on travelers, some postal and or commercial merchandise. The railroads were still the talk of some future project.
The trip would take seven or eight hours and was very tiresome especially during those summer months, because of the intense heat and dust. However, everyone knew the road to be very interesting, especially between Crest and Die where the views were very picturesque”.
Upon entering this old Roman City, one can quickly recognize the difficulties and encumbrances, such as its dark, unkept, very narrow, and sometimes unfriendly streets.
“Fortuné rapidly discovers the charms of the MARTOURET establishment whereby all the patients, proudly dressed up. After receiving their treatments, they would all join a parade of patients leading its way to the dining area, reuniting themselves with Doctor Benoit, his family and all the interns”
This new environment reminds him a little of his own family lifestyle and this surprises him, as he gradually starts to detect certain pleasant feelings and even smiles at the “ various prejudices, one encounters, within the walls of such small cities “ various prejudices, one encounters, within the walls of such small cities such as gossiping neighbors and sometimes opinionated citizens with narrow-minded ideas”
Fortuné Mollot would pursue his medical cure for more than three months before returning to Lyon at the end of September. Having established a very good friendship with Doctor Benoit’s family, he continued over time to embellish the relationship.
WHENEVER FATE GET S INVOLVED. . .
During the winter of 1871-72, the MARTOURET had to be closed, which prompted Mrs Benoit to make certain decisions regarding the completion of her eldest daughter’s education. Léopoldine was thus, sent to Lyon to further her singing classes and both of them took the opportunity to regularly meet Fortuné Mollot, who did later confide in his memoirs:
“Léopoldine had a very strong and beautiful voice and could sing very well. I had many occasions to meet with these nice ladies whenever they visited Lyon and I even had the pleasure of having them all for lunch in our own home in MONPLAISIR...
This young girl really pleased me; even though, she wasn’t the most beautiful, she was surely the sweetest and most darling girl, though a little skinny, I was persuaded that with very little time, she would grow into a very fine wife and that I should start to think about asking her to marry me”.
FORTUNÉ, A GOOD NAME
Fortuné was born on November 4th 1845, the eldest son of a modest traveling salesman who succeeded through hard work to create his own silk corporation which developed with time an important fortune. Even though, Fortuné was more naturally interested by the Arts and Paintings in general, he had to follow the same business career as his own father had already planned this for him. Fortuné had planned to study Science at the Polytechnique School, either in Saint-Cyr or at the Central School. But the death of his beloved mother really put a stop to all of his academic pursuits and all he could think of doing at the time, was to invest himself into the real jungle of the active working life, which he did in 1863 for at least five years until he fell off his horse as previously mentioned above, forcing him to renounce his business career as he had originally planned his life. This situation was not totally displeasing to him as it permitted him to concentrate even more time to develop his artistic talents exclusively in the Art of painting, for which, he had originally discovered interest in his junior Seminar School in Lyon. While at this school, he undertook a one-year drawing class, all given by his teacher Pierre Bonirote (1811-1891), a renown professor at the Fine Arts School of Lyon.
During his continuous convalescence and once he became more physically mobile, Fortuné Mollot spent a couple of months studying with Louis Guy in Lyon (probably Jean-Baptiste-Louis Guy, 1824-1888), a water-based painter and sculptor.
In 1870, his dad passed away, leaving him with a colossal annual income for the era, of five hundred thousand Francs and also one hundred thousand Francs in various real assets. This young man would later admit, that he was certainly not ready to administer such a large inheritance. To him, all this money represented a new source of discomfort and a constant battle. He would eventually declare the inheritance, to have been a torture and punishment to him, and even admitted that he had lost a little of his “head”; sometimes seeing too big of anything he wanted to undertake. It was then, that he had a castle built in BLANDIN, a small Community of l’Isère which, as of today, has no more than 120 residents. He kept himself busy with the whole project including decorating and furnishing it, with good taste while he rented an apartment in Lyon. Not prepared for such a massive financial venture, he somehow went way beyond what was reasonably needed, but successfully achieved his sentimental mission to deepen the “encounter” with Léopldine Benoit.
T H E B E A U T I F U L S U M M E R O F 1 8 7 2
The end of the winter and spring of 1871-72 appeared to be never-ending for Fortuné, who had to wait until June before coming back to Die where he intended to stay for a long while; at least long enough to appropriately evaluate his sentimental feelings towards Léopoldine, who had so far constantly occupied his mind.
Right away at the beginning of summer, he mandated Gabriel, Léopoldine’s younger brother, to deliver his marriage proposal to the Benoit family, according to “current customs”. A sympathetic and favorable response was sent back just a few days later. Numerous details of the marriage project is found in Fortune’s memoirs.
"What a beautiful and memorable summer it was for me in 1872! I was filled with joy, plenty of high hopes and projects or fabulous illusions for my future. I ordered to have my horses and carriage from Lyon, hoping to provide us with plentiful long rides in the neighborhoods, so rich in picturesque views and warm natural colors. All preparations aimed at the marriage date, fixed, for October 5th, right after the closing of the MARTOURET and included the purchase of the classical wedding basket, which I wanted to be as beautiful as possible”.
ABOUT THE MARRIAGE
The ceremony had to be separated into three different stages. Firstly, it began October 4th 1872 with the official signatures of the marriage contract, in the presence of a lawyer, (notaire);
Fortuné and Léopoldine were duly united under the lawful provisions of the Common Ownership. Doctor Benoit, father of Léopoldine, granted her an advance of thirty thousand Francs, while the new husband, Foruné was required, to grant a grand sum of two hundred thousand Francs, a considerable financial amount for the period. Once this part was finished, all members of the immediate families were summoned to gather at City Hall for a second “ceremony” presided by the Mayor Adrien Joubert. For Fortuné, that day represented to him, more or less, all of the boring but obligatory legal formalities commonly required for all weddings. In his opinion, the real marriage which really would unite them as husband and wife was the religious celebration to be held on the next day in the Cathedral as he had so well written:
“Only in the presence of God, the legitimate union of a man and woman is freely consented from one another; A union containing sufficient devotion and love between two partners can miraculously transform them into a single being for all eternity”
This ceremony was followed by a very fashionable banquet in the MARTOURET spacious halls. Once the festivities were over, the young couple undertook their initial wedding trip to the City of Lyon, where Fortuné had just completed the large residence in the Monplaisir District. He had it designed to be just the perfect love-bird’s nest which Léopoldine would be its perfect mistress. During that following winter, they visited beautiful Paris, then by fall, they took the excellent opportunity to visit Vienna in Austria, during its World Fair, to finally return to France by traveling through Italy, where Léopoldine’s most treasured wish was finally realized; to see in person the Pope, the Vesuvius and to discover the splendors of all the Museums in Florence, Naples, Venice and Rome.
After living the “perfect marriage” involving all of the above mentioned pleasure trips and experiences, anyone would have expected certain transformation of this young naive and ignorant girl into a real high society lady. But, Fortuné began to discover that his wife Léopoldine did not have an easy character to handle...It all began with her total disapproval of the BLANDIN Castle of which she disliked the furniture and the construction of the castle itself. Furthermore, she finally admitted her lack of appreciation for the countryside.
Trying to win her back by making her happier, he conceded and accepted to move back to Lyon on Bourse Street. It’s there, that their first daughter, Gabrielle was born on December 4th 1875. The couple would often be seen in various local Opera Theaters, Concerts, Art Galleries and Expositions, where they would occasionally purchase paintings, only to be re-sold at a very good profit, later on.
In 1877 a sudden and new French Government orientation, brought along new “radical practices”, and badly affected the Stock Market, which consequently, crashed and greatly affected Fortuné’s family wealth... The Panama Canal crisis hit in 1889 and this second event would eventually prove to be a fatal blow.
Feeling lost and incapable of facing this dramatic and challenging situation, Fortuné resigned himself to make a final drastic call for help and entrusted the administration of the family holding to his sister’s husband. The first asset to be abandoned was the apartment in Lyon. The Chateau Blandin once again became their primary family residence. Desperately trying to find a quick and comfortable source of income with the Chateau, Fortuné, had numerous new vineyards planted around the whole property; but nobody could have predicted the disastrous PHYLLOXERA invasion, (fleas transmitting disease) which finally forced the sale of the Chateau Blandin.
Once nominated to the Municipal Council of Blandin, Fortuné, decided to put his candidature under the Catholic Party for the next-coming municipal election, thus, running against the existing official party. Consequently, this decision,, created a conflict, only to be resolved by when the magistrate revoked his position on the Municipal Council. It did not take much time for Fortuné to counter- react to this “anti-clerical scandal”. He made a quick business deal with the local parish representatives and legally transferred to them the proper titles of a small lot, just large enough to erect a statue of the Virgin Mary. The statue was placed in a perfect public view, but Fortuné, gave the specific instructions to include an inscription, that NO CIVIL AUTHORITY were ever allowed to even touch the statue.
S A L E O F T H E C H A T E A U B L A N D I N
Within Fortuné’s memoirs, he notes the year 1891: “My father-in-law who was getting
“My father-in-law who was getting
more and more fed-up with the management of his MARTOURET Institution, decided to
rent it out to another medical Doctor. However, Doctor Benoit was really never satisfied
of this arrangement since the accumulating problems continued to irritate him and the
profits continued to diminish. As for our own financial situation. It was not really better,
it was a disaster for the whole family which was not an illusion but a reality which we
would need to face in the very near future”. In the end, Léopoldine and Fortuné had no
choice but to resign themselves, to sell Chateau Blandin and the titles were officially
transferred to the new owners on August 1st 1892.
LOOK ING INTO A NEW S TART ELWHERE
“What else was there for them to do in France?”
The couple kept asking themselves repeatedly, especially since the political
orientations undertaken by their own country, were really never reassuring to them.
Understandably, their eyes began to focus to other lands, foreign, that is.
French settlement in Algeria was flourishing at the time and considered by the
Mollot family, but it was quickly discounted since the guarantees of finding there a
safe haven, were still too risky at the time. Haiti was next seriously considered, but
they were fearful of the tropical and humid climate extremes; it was then, that a
priest known by the family’s friends started to inform them about beautiful
Fortuné was impressed immediately and rapidly inquired to get any additional
brochures and information to further study all of the aspects of this new
He quickly learned that Canada would be ideal for his family, where his children
could live freely and independently, under the condition, that they would be willing
to work hard and honestly since in Canada, the up-front cost of land was still very
cheap and easy to cultivate. Fortuné was then 48 and Léopoldine was 40 years old.
It was on August 25, 1892, that the Mollot family immigrated to Canada from the
Port of Liverpool. On September 10th, they were already in the Province of
Manitoba, whereby October 19th, they were permanently settled in the small Parish
of FANNYSTELLE, created only three years prior to their arrival.
The Mollot family had no problems to fully integrate into the community, as it was
already composed of a majority of French speaking residents. Wanting to preserve
their original Lyon traditions and theatrical experiences and culture, Fortuné,
didn’t hesitated to get himself and his children involved in the French Theatrical
Group in Fannystelle.
The repetitions of the first play to be ever presented at the Winnipeg Dramatic Club
in 1910 (The Little Chocolate Maker by Paul Gavault), were indeed rehearsed right
in their own residence. As it became known, the whole Mollot family was involved
in the Arts. His wife Léopoldine was a musician and so was his eldest daughter,
Gabrielle who had already studied at the National Conservatory of Music, under
the renown pianist teacher, Antoine Rubenstein from 1905 to 1907. Additionally, the
Mollot residence in Fannystelle, was often a gathering center for various official
functions held for literature and music amateurs.
One of the Mollot daughters even moved to famous Hollywood in California, USA
with her husband-actor; their own daughter, Yolande Donlan acted in movies
produced by Arthur Rank.
In January, the Mollot family was informed directly from France, of the recent
death of Doctor Benoit. One can only wonder at the destiny of the Mollot family
had Dr. Benoit passed away 4 months earlier!
Excellent artist, Fortuné had not forgotten to bring over to Canada, all of the
sketches that he had accumulated over his lifetime. Since he was a little bit
homesick, he always instinctively used his artistic talent, even with the decoration
of the family dwelling, by including in his drawings, hints of his favorite scenes of
“the Good Old Times”. Even to this day, a magnificent souvenir can be discovered
at the summer cottage of Victor and Lucille Mollot summer cottage in Ontario.
A very well conserved folding decorative screen shows off the beautiful Chateau
Blandin and even the Martouret Establishment. In addition, we can admire various
female characters, who were probably snap shots of the era when Fortune and
Léopoldine lived in Lyon.
In an article which appeared in a study concerning the Art of the French Canadians,
we can read: “Fortune’s drawings are not really well known in our day and age.
Many splendid drawings were inspired by his short visit to Saint-Pierre d’Albigny
(Savoie) in 1882 and are still today, part of Foruné’s Art collection in Canada.
Mr. Nöel Bernier in the book “Fannystelle” described Fortuné, as a Landscape
Painter who was probably from the best Art School of France” (edited in the Saint
Boniface Historical Society 1039 P.48).
Fortuné, was known to be a generous man and donated many of his paintings to a
charitable organization raising funds for his adoptive parish and he painted a fresco
in the church sanctuary (burned in 1912).
Léopoldine Benoit and Fortuné Mollot had a total of five children; four were born in
France: Gabrielle in 1875, Ernest in 1879, Marcel 1880, Marie-Louise in 1891 and
finally Therese who was born in Canada in 1893.
Fortuné passed away in 1924 in Saint Boniface in the Province of Manitoba at the
age of 79; upon his death, Léopoldine returned to France until 1932 and then moved
in with her daughter Therese in California until she reached the respectable age of
92 and died in 1944. Léopoldine left many letters, conserved by family descendants
and one can easily detect in them the nostalgic emotions towards their French
homeland and her great sense of the “Art of Living”...
Who knows, maybe these Letters will one day, inspire me to include them in a
future article for all of you to discover and appreciate.
A family Tour in France is planned for 2008.
During the month of August 2008, Victor and Lucille Mollot, who, we had the great
pleasure of meeting in Die in 2004, will be returning with a group of more than 50
family descendants of Doctor Benoit, thus giving them a chance to better discover
at source, the itinerary of the Mollot family. The visit to Die and to the Martouret
establishment is planned for August 14 and 15.
Translated by Richard A.Thériault
* For pictures, please refer to the French language original.