This history of our Lafrance ancestors in Canada covers the period from about 1660 to the present, and includes some information dating to the 1640’s.
Aso on this website, we have provided a chart showing the complete descendancy of our family in that span of time. There are, unfortunately, gaps in our knowledge of some generations, because some records are not complete. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church in New France (now Quebec) was amazingly thorough in its record-keeping from the very inception of the colony, and genealogists have benefited from this thoroughness.
Since the marriage of Francois Daragon dit Lafrance to Marie Guillemette in 1697, the Lafrance family has seen eleven generations. Those members of the family who are small children now are part of the eleventh generation.
The descendants of the first generation are numerous. If we assume a very conservative figure of four children producing offspring in each generation, the expansion of the family proceeds as follows:
· 2nd generation: consists of 4 descendants
· 3rd generation: consists of 16 descendants
· 4th generation: consists of 64 descendants
· 5th generation: consists of 256 descendants
· 6th generation: consists of 1,024 descendants
· 7th generation: consists of 4,096 descendants
· 8th generation: consists of 16,384 descendants
· 9th generation: consists of 65,536 descendants
· 10th generation: consists of 262,144 descendants
In the past two generations, families have tended to include only one or two children, but the number of descendants of Francois Daragon dit Lafrance and Marie Guillemette in North America must by now exceed 300,000, and may approach half a million.
The First Generation
Francois Daragon dit Lafrance
The first member of the Lafrance family to arrive in North America was not named Lafrance at all -- he was Francois Daragon, a member of Louis XIV’s Troupes de la Marine. He appears in a list of soldiers in a 1694 document from the Ile d’Orleans, near Quebec city. His later marriage record shows him to have been 37 years old in 1697, so he must have been born around 1660 somewhere in France.
At that time, newly-arrived soldiers in New France (what is now Quebec) were sometimes given the nickname "dit Lafrance" by their companions -- this happened to settlers named Dubois and Pinel, for example, and it also happened to Francois Daragon. The "dit" name persisted for several generations, until the 1800’s. At that time, Francois’ descendants became weary of this lengthy name. Some began to call themselves Lafrance, and others used the name Daragon (or some corruption of the name, such as Darragon or Deragon).
There is considerable speculation among Lafrance family historians regarding the origin of Francois Daragon. At this time, no date or place of birth have been found. This lack of specific information has given rise to a variety of theories.
One theory is that the name Daragon (originally D’Aragon) indicates that he was from the ancient kingdom of Aragon, which is now part of northern Spain. This theory is an empty one, however. Genealogists have found members of large 17th-century Daragon families in areas of northern France such as Normandy, Picardy and L’Orne. Since these areas are on or close to the coast of France, it seems more likely that an emigrant such as Francois Daragon was born there, rather than in Aragon. His name does indicate that some of his ancestors must have come from Aragon, however.
Francois Daragon dit Lafrance died on August 25, 1734 in Montreal.
Marie Guillemette and Her Family
Marie Guillemette (this name is variously spelled Guillemet, Guilmet) was born on May 31, 1678 on the Ile d’Orleans and was baptised at the church of Ste.-Famille. In 1697, at the age of 19 years, she married Francois Daragon dit Lafrance in St.-Jean, Ile d’Orleans. Her husband was 37 years old at the time.
Marie's father, Nicolas Guillemette, a habitant, was born in 1641 in Soissons, France. Her mother, Marie Selle, was born about 1647 in Rouen, France. Marie Selle was a "fille du roi", a young woman sent to New France as a prospective wife for a soldier of the Carignan-Salieres Regiment of the 1660’s. One of the regiment’s soldiers is recorded as "Nicolas Guillaume", and this is probably Nicolas Guillemette, the father of Marie Guillemette.
Nicolas Guillemette and Marie Selle were married in Notre-Dame, Quebec City, on October 17, 1667, and had nine children between 1668 and 1691, including Marie Guillemette. The children were:
- Barbe, born September 12, 1668, baptised at Chateau-Richer, Quebec
- Jeanne, born April 20, 1670, baptised at Chateau-Richer, Quebec
- Prisque, born in 1672 and baptised at Ste.-Famille, Ile d’Orleans
- Jean, born February 20, 1674 and baptised at Ste.-Famille, Ile d’Orleans
- Nicolas, born February 25, 1676, baptised at Ste.-Famille, Ile d’Orleans
- Marie, born May 31, 1678, and baptised at Ste.- Famille, Ile d’Orleans
- Agnes, born in 1680, and baptised at Ste.-Famille, Ile d’Orleans
- Catherine, born March 27, 1683, and baptised at St.-Laurent, Ile d’Orleans
- Jeanne, born May 15, 1691, and baptised in St.-Famille, Ile d’Orleans
Using these years and places of baptism, we can trace the Guillemette family’s movements between 1667 and 1691. For the first three years of their marriage, Nicolas and Marie lived in Chateau-Richer, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River about 25 miles east of Quebec City. They then moved to the Ile d’Orleans and settled in Ste.-Famille, on the north-centre part of the island.
Why did they move from Chateau-Richer on the mainland to Ste.-Famille on the Ile d’Orleans? The answer to this question may be found in the book Historical Reminder: Quebec and the Isle of Orleans, by J. C. Pouliot:
"The first settlers [of Ste.Famille] came from Beauport, L’Ange Gardien, and Chateau-Richer, anxious to protect themselves against the incursions of the Iroquois. Besides, the natural meadows on the north side of the island afforded them excellent pasture for their cattle".
Nicolas Guillemette died on December 10, 1700 at the Hotel-Dieu hospital in Quebec City (the first hospital established in New France). He is also recorded as having been a patient there in April-May of 1692, and may have had an extended illness in the last years of his life.
After Nicolas’ death, his wife Marie Selle remarried. She died in St.-Jean, Ile d’Orleans on June 13, 1719.
Children of Francois Daragon dit Lafrance and Marie Guillemette
As has been mentioned above, our ancestor Francois Daragon dit Lafrance married Marie Guillemette in St.-Jean, Ile d’Orleans in 1697.
The first of Francois and Marie’s children, a girl named Marie-Marthe, was born there on December 13, 1698.
By the time their second child, Marie-Marguerite, was born in 1701, the young family had moved down the St. Lawrence River to Montreal Island. They do not appear to have been in the main settlement, but on the north part of the island, in St.-Laurent. It is here that their fourteen remaining children were born.
The second-youngest of these children is Philippe, from whom our branch of the family is descended.
But why did Francois Daragon dit Lafrance move his family from Ile d’Orleans down the St. Lawrence River to Montreal Island?
At this time, Montreal was becoming the centre of the fur trade in New France. In 1666, a census of Montreal showed about 900 inhabitants. By the year 1700, there were around 15,000 Europeans spread throughout the colony of New France, and 1,800 of these settlers lived in Montreal. This settlement needed to be defended to protect the profitability of the fur trade, and Francois Daragon must have been among the soldiers charged with that task.
The Second Generation -- Philippe Daragon dit Lafrance
Nine of Francois and Marie’s fifteen children survived to adulthood, married, and had children.
Of these, the second-youngest, Philippe, born on June 6, 1720, is our direct ancestor.
Philippe married relatively late in life: he was almost thirty years old when he married Josephte Jean-Vincent in Lachine. However, they had no children and Josephte must have died before 1756 (perhaps in childbirth), because Philippe married for a second time. This marriage was to Felicite Briquet St-Didier in the village of Ste.-Genevieve on Montreal Island.
A notation on the marriage certificate describes both bride and groom as "unable to sign", indicating that both Philippe and Felicite were illiterate.
Philippe and Felicite’s nine children were all born in Ste.-Genevieve on the northwest shore of Montreal island, which is where their family must have lived.
Very little information survives regarding the occupations of our ancestors at this time. We can speculate that, as the settlement of Montreal grew, farming must have been a logical occupation for most of the inhabitants.
However, the fur trade was still a focal point of New France at this time. Philippe Daragon dit Lafrance’s brother Rene-Joachim was a voyageur in the fur trade, transporting furs down the Ottawa river in a large canoe with a crew of four men. A contract from 1740 has survived which shows him engaged as a voyageur in the service of one Julien Rivard, a merchant of Montreal. Once again, the document is signed only by Rivard and the notary, but not by Joachim Daragon himself, a fact which suggests that he was illiterate.
Perils of 18th-Century Life on the Ile de Montreal
Although day-to-day life on the Ile de Montreal was probably uneventful for our 18th-century ancestors, it was also fraught with hazards which are unimaginable in our own time.
Firstly, we must consider the infant mortality rate. About 20% of children did not survive beyond infancy at this time in New France (and this observation is certainly true for our own family, as the ancestry chart at the end of this document reveals).
For those who survived beyond childhood, diseases such as cholera and typhus were a threat. The causes and treatments for these diseases were unknown at the time, and epidemics might kill hundreds of settlers in a matter of weeks.
Another peril of life on the Ile de Montreal, especially in Montreal proper, was fire. There was simply no fire-fighting technology at that time, and fires could be astonishingly destructive. In 1721, a blaze destroyed nearly half the city. In 1765, one-quarter of the city was razed by fire, and only three years later in 1768, yet another one-quarter of the city fell victim. The later 1803 fire, in which 25 homes were destroyed, was small in comparison to previous incidents, but would be considered catastrophic today.
A fourth danger was that of invasion by the Americans. An unsuccessful American invasion of Montreal took place in September, 1775, and the city was actually taken by the Americans in November of that year. But the American forces, under General Benedict Arnold, were finally forced to retreat from Montreal seven months later in June, 1776.
The Third Generation -- Louis Daragon dit Lafrance
The first of Philippe Daragon dit Lafrance and Felicite Briquet’s nine children was a boy, Louis, born in Ste.-Genevieve in 1757. He is our direct ancestor.
Two years after Louis was born, the British forces of Admiral Wolfe defeated the French troops of General Montcalm at Quebec city, and the colony of New France fell into British hands.
In February, 1779, at the age of 22 years, Louis married Marie Lauzon in Ste.-Genevieve.
The first of Louis and Marie’s children, a girl named Marie Jeanne, was born later that same year in December in Ste.-Genevieve. However, the remainder of their eleven children were born on the mainland, across the river in St.-Eustache, where the family appears to have moved in 1780.
The eighth of these children, Joseph, is our direct ancestor.
The Fourth Generation -- Joseph Daragon dit Lafrance
Joseph Daragon dit Lafrance was 22 years old when he married Pelagie Beauchamp in St.-Eustache in 1809. Pelagie Beauchamp was 17 years old.
At this time, our only record of children is their son Louis, from whom we are descended. Louis was the first of our ancestors to refer to himself only as "Lafrance".
The Fifth Generation - Louis Lafrance
Our ancestors appear to have lived in St.-Eustache for about eighty years (1780-1859). Their marriages and baptisms occur there between 1781 and 1837. Then, abruptly, our family begins celebrating the sacraments in nearby St.-Hermas. Why?
The answer to this question involves an historic and tragic episode in the history of Canada -- the Rebellion of 1837.
The Rebellion of 1837 in St.-Eustache
During the early 1830’s, a spirit of reform had begun to spread through Europe and the colonies of Britain in the wake of the French and American Revolutions. The American experiment in democracy appeared to be successful, and people in other nations viewed this model of government with some envy.
The early 1830’s also saw several years of crop failure and cholera epidemics in Lower Canada. Many members of the working classes, who suffered most from these calamitous events, began to bristle at the indifference of the small clique of merchants (many of them British), who effectively governed Lower Canada through influence. These working class people were supported by some doctors, lawyers and journalists such as Louis Papineau, who also found fault with the Roman Catholic clergy for their complicity with the British in refusing to promote universal education of the working class.
In 1837, mass meetings of these reformers, who called themselves patriotes, were held in Montreal and through the Eastern Townships, with thousands in attendance. In Montreal, the patriotes stormed the Armoury and removed weapons. Fearing an armed uprising, the British authorities sent troops to Montreal to crush the rebellion.
The climax of this conflict occurred in November 1837 in St.-Eustache, where over a hundred patriotes, led by local doctor Jean-Olivier Chenier, barricaded themselves in the church. The British troops responded by setting the building afire. Most of the patriotes were either burned alive or were shot while trying to escape the flames. Twelve patriotes were later hanged in Montreal, and many others were transported to Australia for life.
Although the Rebellion of 1837 failed, the desire for reform could not be extinguished, and these events finally led to responsible government in the 1840’s. Patriotes such as Papineau are revered in Quebec today, and those who perished, such as Dr. Chenier, are viewed as martyrs of a just cause.
Our family appears to have remained neutral in this conflict. There are no records of any Daragon or Lafrance arrested after the rebellion or compensated for damages arising from it.
With the church at St.-Eustache in ruins in the wake of the Rebellion, our family’s marriages and baptisms took place in St.-Hermas after 1837.
There, Louis Lafrance married Henriette Asselin in 1840.
Their son Onesime Lafrance was baptised at St.-Hermas in 1843.
The church at St.-Eustache has since been rebuilt, and looks much as it did before the Rebellion.
The Sixth Generation -- Onesime Lafrance and the Move to Ontario
Onesime Lafrance is known to have moved from St.-Eustache to St.-Albert, Ontario in 1859. In fact, Louis Lafrance, his wife Henriette and all their children moved from St. Eustache to St. Albert, arriving there by boat via the South Nation River. Apparently, many French-Canadian families migrated from the Montreal area to Prescott and Russell counties in this time period.
At the age of 24, in 1867, Onesime married Sophie Godard in St.-Albert. Like Onesime, Sophie was born in Quebec.
Over the next 18 years, Onesime and Sophie had twelve children. Of these, the eldest, Francois, is our direct ancestor.
Onesime and Sophie’s farm consisted of fifty acres, and was just south of the village of St.-Albert on the west bank of the South Nation River.
By this time, the literacy rate among Canadians was improving. In fact, Onesime Lafrance was sufficiently educated to hold the position of Cambridge Township clerk for Russell County, an accomplishment which would have been unthinkable for his grandfather.
Sometime between 1888 and 1891, Onesime made a decision to move the entire family to Sturgeon Falls, Ontario. At this time, only two of the children -- Francois and Agnes -- were married, and it was natural that they would all move north together.
Once the family had settled in Sturgeon Falls, the remaining children gradually married and established their own homes. The first was Melodie, who married Alfred Tremblay in 1891. The second was Philadelphe, who married Leah Chretien in Sturgeon Falls in 1894.
The Seventh Generation -- Francois Lafrance
The first of Francois and Marie Lafrance’s children, Marie-Agnes, was born on June 28, 1890 in St. Albert, and the last, Simon, was born in Sturgeon Falls on January 25, 1911. He is our direct ancestor.
Simon Lafrance married Julienne French on November 24, 1931 in Sturgeon Falls, Ontario.
The twentieth century, with the introduction of the automobile, increased the mobility of Canadians. If one wished to travel or move, one no longer needed to rely on public modes of transportation, such as the railway. Although several of Francois and Marie Lafrance’s children remained in Sturgeon Falls, some moved to southern Ontario.
The economy within which Francois Daragon’s seventh-generation descendants worked was no longer strictly agrarian. With the move to Northern Ontario, Lafrances became involved in other resource industries such as mining, although some were still farmers. The availability of universal education opened up other possibilities, such as skilled trades and work in the public service.
The Eighth Generation: Simon and Julienne Lafrance's Children
The history of this generation is well known to us.
After Simon Lafrance and Julienne French married in 1931, they remained in the Sturgeon Falls area for some time, but moved to Timmins in the mid-1930's. This is where their four children were born: Bernadette in 1936, Georgette in 1938, Romeo in 1939, and Lucille in 1941.
In 1951, Simon and Julienne moved their entire family south to Kitchener, Ontario, a "booming" city with promising employment opportunities. The four children gradually adjusted to life in their new home -- for the first time, they were not living in a primarily Francophone community -- grew into adulthood, and married.
Simon Lafrance died on October 5, 1987 in Kitchener, and his wife Julienne died in 1997.