Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Pepere Gagnon" 1863-1961

His affectionate name was "Pepere Gagnon". His given name was Pierre or Peter. Like a number of Albert and Gagnon family members, he lived to a ripe old age. See a photo of Mr. Gagnon with one of his daughters in the May 31, 2010 post on this blog. It was my discovery of a newspaper article at the Walker Library in Westbrook this year that interested me in writing this post. The article printed in the Westbrook American (page 9) on July 1, 1953 was entitled "Peter Gagnon Honored On His 90th Birthday". There was a picture of Mr. Gagnon holding a pet but I am not showing it here because its photo clarity was so bad. The caption said "Peter Gagnon with Freidi". I am assuming Frieda was one of Aunt Jo's cats. Mr. Gagnon's birthday party in 1953 was described as an open house at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Auguste Albert, of Oceanside Drive in Kinney Shores. Other information given was he was born in Canada on June 28, 1863 and moved to Westbrook in 1878.

The town in Quebec where Pepere Gagnon was born is called L'Islet-sur-Mer, a tourist village according to a website entitled quebecvacances. They also decribe the village as having its "lands caressed by the tides". This map provided by Google shows its proximity to northern Maine. Shown to the right is an image of the Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours Church in the town as it looks today. Pepere Gagnon may well have attended this church as a child.

The article goes on to say that Mr. Gagnon worked on the railroad for nearly fifty years. In a taped recording from 1990, his daughter, Bernadette, recalled that he was gone so often that he was like a guest in the house. She remembered as a child that he would bring gifts home such as tubs of butter or bars of maple syrup. In the 1926 Westbrook City Directory (pg. 127), he was listed as a foreman for the Portland Terminal Company. On Wikipedia, the Portland Terminal Company is listed as a terminal railroad and was known for its control of switching activity for the Maine Central Railroad. PTM's activities were vital to Portland's role as a winter seaport receiving Canadian products for shipments to Europe.

In doing my research for this article, I found a really cool 1930 map (above) showing all the railroad lines in New England. Mr. Gagnon worked on the Rochester, NH to Portland segment for five years according to the Westbrook American article. In a recent conversation with his grandson, Roland Albert said that he held a pretty important well-paying position for someone without an education.
Roland described the position of "track foreman" as one which led a team of about twenty men. These men worked on the section of the Maine Central Railroad between Portland and Standish. Hand cars were used by his men to maintain the integrity of the rail line.The last twenty years of his life he lived with his daughter, Josephine, at Kinney Shores in Saco. He was remembered as always being dressed formally, but my mother tells of times when he must have looked very informal: "He liked walking along the beach picking up logs of driftwood. He would then cut and prepare them for use as logs on the fire," thus the reason I posted a driftwood scene to open the piece.

Other guests who attended Mr. Gagnon's 90th birthday party included four daughters and two sons: Mrs. Ovide Harvey, Mrs. Albert, Mrs. Rocheleau, Armand Gagnon all from Westbrook, Mrs. Leon Casey from Philadelphia, and Edward Gagnon from Lewiston. Also in attendence: 35 grandchildren and 29 great grandchildren!

Source of the map: http://trainguy.dyn.dhs.org/bmrrhs/archives/system_map_c1930.gif.
Source of the hand car image: http://www.hobbylinc.com/~hobbylinc/htm/idm/idm1008202.htm.

1 comment:

Phil Gagnon said...

Pepere occasionally popped in when we lived on North St. I may have been seven yrs old. I recall complaining that I was bored and there was nothing to do.

Pepere: "Prend ton chaplet et fait une visite a l'glise."

I rated his advice as having little merit. I'm sure he knew that.