Belgians in St. Boniface

Belgian Settlement in St. Boniface

Last revised: Oct 20th, 2000

   1The first Belgian men started to arrive here alone in 1880s and but soon their families and whole families began coming. The first recorded Belgian family which arrived was that of Charles-Louis Menu from Passendale, West Flanders. Felix, the brother of Charles-Louis from Wingene, also came with them. (Click here for a bigger map) of West Flanders.
   In the next year 1889 a larger contingent from the same villages in West Flanders arrived including Felix Menu senior, the father of Charles-Louis and Felix, and his wife came but they soon return to Belgium where she died. However, Felix senior returned in 1903 but died the next year in St. Boniface. Others whose family names were Vermander, Duyvejonck, Van Walleghem, Leie, Van Brabant, Pattyn, De Cuypere, Lammens, Verhaege, Wynant, Elslander, Leenknecht,Verhelst, René, Bossuyt, Van Belleghem, Beheyt, Budens, Bettens, Bonne and Boone arrived around 1889-1890. Others may have gone directly to the farms in Swan Lake, St.Alphonse, Mariapolis, St.Rose-du-Lac, St.Emélie, Brandon, Ninette, Holland and Deloraine where Belgian, and especially Flemish names are,common. A similar story of Belgian
immigration was told by Camille DeBuck in 1955.
   Although most were from West Flanders, other arrived from East Flanders and Wallonia. However the names of founding members indicates they were predominantly Flemings.
   
   The rapidly growing Belgian population, especially in St.Boniface, resulted in the formation of "Le Club Belge" on October 4th, 1905 with
45 founding members. It is not recorded why the first Directors included equal numbers, two, of women and men: Mrs Cyriel De Meeter, Mrs. Edmond Gustement, Ivo DeBlaere and Edward Lammens were the first Directors of "Le Club Belge". This Executive was elected at a meeting of the Club held on November 5 th 1905. Note that this all occurred long before a Club building was erected on property purchased in 1907. Construction was begun in August 1908. By that time the Executive Committee had a more "conventional" composition (all men) with 1 Louis De Nobele, President, 2 Albert Doigny, Secretary, 3 Theophile Elewaut who had obtained the Club's charter). A life membership in the Club was then (and remains) only $4.00! But it is clear from the number of bartenders in this picture that beer sales must have been an important part of the Club's revenue.
  During the early 1900's industrial growth in St. Boniface took off. Industries such as flour mills, rolling mills, a linseed oil mill, a factory making tarpaper and roofing materials and the St. Boniface Union Stock Markets were major employers. Some local St. Boniface entrepreneurs did quite well. Arthur Cusson (Cusson Lumber), like his former boss Senecal (Architect and designer of the Belgian Club) before him, did well in the construction industry, getting the big contracts from the Catholic institutions of St. Boniface and of Western Canada. Financiers like the Belgian Prosper Gevaert and the French Francois Deniset would become promoters of large real-estate developments. The brick works of Lamontagne and Chartier later became the Marion Brick Works. According to Arthur Cusson, the original brick works (1879-1889) were located on the West Side of the Seine south of Provencher where the IGA store now is.

  So where did the Belgian settled in St. Boniface? Many were in the Tissot Street area known as the "Belgian Quarter", this Seine River neighborhood was the location chosen by the first Belgians who arrived in Manitoba after 1879, finding employment in various St. Boniface industries. A sizable community grew up through "chain" migration. The Belgian Club was nearby as were the Belgian Sacred Heart Church and Rectory built in 1917.
 Some of those who lived in the
"Belgian Quarter" around that time were (Click here for a bigger map):
Frederick Callewaert, a builder had his residence in 1913 at 394
Deschaumbault.
Theodore Bockstael, a contractor, built his home in 1912 at 455
Desmeurons.
T.H. Vanassche, another builder, built a home at 370
Desautels in 1912.
Bruno Verhaeghe had a home at 397
Desautels in 1915.
  Place Cabana was a housing co-operative for French speaking Catholic families. Initiated by the Archdiocese of St. Boniface in 1952, by the end of 1953, 32 homes had been built by the Belgian contractor Boel at a cost of $9,000.00 each.
   Belgians also lived in an area west of Archibald and north of Marion in some of the 50 dwellings on
Doucet, Cherrier, Giroux and Kavanagh streets. Close to this older area along the Seine River provided housing for workers in various industries including the Barrett Co., Ltd., Winnipeg Steel Granary & Culvert Co. Ltd., Canadian Carbonate Co. Ltd., Hooper's Marble & Granite Co., Northwest Grain Dealers Association, Continental Oil Co. Ltd., and the Union Stock Yards.
   
Prosper Street was named after the Prosper Gevaert, born in Lievin (Pas de Calais) Belgium, a financier and businessman. He was a founding member of the Belgian Club and Band, and served as alderman of St. Boniface from 1922-1925.

   A Grotto of Our lady of Lourdes was constructed near the Belgian Sacred Heart Church, on the banks of the Seine river in 1936. It was opened officially on May 25th, 1936 in the presence of an estimated crowd of 5 to 6 thousand2.This Grotto became famous throughout North America as a tourist attraction and place of pilgrimage.It was demolished after the flood of 1950 and only wrought iron fencing survives at the Grotto in St. Malo, Manitoba.
   On Desmeurons Avenue the Oblate Fathers built an Indian Industrial School in 1890. Following a devastating fire they set up their own boys school called "Juniorate de la Sainte-Famille" in 1905. In 1907, the Oblates sold the building and the large tract of land to Oakholm Development Company and leased it back until the building burnt down in 1911.

   

   Another area of Belgian settlement developed near the Church of St. Francis of Assissi, in the part of St.Boniface called "the dump". Some wonderful tales from "The Dump" have been told. After Fr. Chrysostomus was named Local Superior in St. Boniface on April 18th 1934, and also as pastor of the Belgian Sacred Heart Church, he shifted his activity towards the chaplaincy of the neighborhood of the St. Boniface. On May 5th, 1933, Fr. Chrysostomus had received after wearisome pleading he received from Msgr. Jubinville, Vicar General of the Archdiocese, verbal permission to erect a chapel in the remote corner of St. Boniface known as the dump, about a 40 minute walk from the Belgian Sacred Heart Church.

Tell me more about the Fathers at those Churches
 


1 Most of the materal on this page was researched and verified by Neil Pryce
2 Information from "The Belgians in Manitoba" by Keith Wilson and James. B. Wydels, Peguis Publishers, Winnipeg, 1976, ISBN 0-919566-52-9

 

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