The French Settlement In Combermere

Dennison’s Bridge, or later called Combermere in 1865, was first settled by people from England (Hudson, Dennison), Ireland (Kelly, O’Brien, Fitzpatrick), Scotland (McFarlane), Germany (Boehme, Schweig, Richter, Marquardt, Drevniok), Polish (Shulist, Yantha, Kosnaskie, Dombroskie, Peplinskie, Etmanski, Coulas, Lepinskie, Maika) and French families from Quebec and elsewhere.

When an individual takes a drive around the Combermere area, French names are evident such as Perrier Rd. and Robillard Mountain or when you take a walk through the rows of tombstones in various local cemeteries: Perrier, Blais, Robillard, Bellisle, Francois/Franswa, Bouchard, Dupuis, Godda (Godin), Mayhew, Goyea, Pesheau and Clemoux. Other French people settled in the Centreview, Purdy, Bells Rapids area such as the Parisien and Dupuis families. When did the French settle in the area? Where did they come from? and why?

Sam and Mathilde Perrier (who lived in Brudenell) were married in St. Benoit, Quebec and had seven boys and one daughter. They were Sam Jr., Ben, Alfred (Fred), Henri, Christopher (Christie), Anthime, (the latter were twins) Joe and Azilda. The original Perrier homestead was located on Dafoe Rd. where Tony and Irene Shulist now live. The Perriers were very active in the Canadian Martyrs Catholic Church (previously called Sacred Heart Church) in Combermere and especially when it was first built in 1907. Sam had to look after the children as Mathilde died about a year after daughter Azilda was born, from complications of childbirth. He had to cook, bake, look after the house and apparently was a good sewer, making the children’s clothing.

Anselme (Sam) & Matilda Perrier came from St. Benoit, Terrebonne Co. in Quebec near Montreal to the Combermere area in the 1890’s. They were attracted to the area by the offer of free land from the government of about 200 acres. Other French families came to the area for the same reason and settled on land on both sides of highway #517 (Dafoe Rd now) and the Lower Craigmont Rd. and all the way up Sand Hill and down Dafoe road for a considerable distance. That whole area was referred to as the “French Settlement” in the early part of the 20th century.

Some of the French families moved away from the area in later years. For example: Sam Perrier went to Ohio where he was a tool & die maker as well as a carpenter; Ben Moved to Kirkland Lake and worked in the mines as a steel sharpener; Alfred went to Cobalt to work in the mines; Henri went to Cornwall and was a Blacksmith. Earlier in Henri’s career, he had a blacksmith shop behind the family homestead on Dafoe Rd. and later a shop where the Motel and boat launch is now; Anthime moved to Smooth Rock Falls. His arm was injured as a teenager and eventually he came back to Combermere. Azilda married Fred St. Laurent and he worked in the silver mines in Cobalt. Other French families moved to Kearney, ON north of Huntsville east of Burk’s Falls. Some of these were children of the original homesteaders such as: Arthur Bouchard, brother of Victor and several Goyea family, Ned Mathew Sr., and other Perrier and Bouchard families. Many of these descendants still live in the Kearney area.

Hermidos (Medos) Perrier was a first cousin to Sam Perrier and owned property where the Catholic Church is now.

The mountain where Henri or Henry Robillard and daughter Annie found the corundum crystals in the late 1890’s at Craigmont was named after that family. They became very famous at the time for what would in 1902 become Craigmont, Canada’s largest corundum mine with an ultimate population of 1,200 people.

Victor Bouchard and his wife Annie Clemow came to the Combermere area about 1916 and settled on hwy #517 on about 200 acres. They owned where St. Mary’s (Madonna House property) is and all the way up Sand Hill to where the Yantha’s live now. It also included land behind the Combermere Service Centre. Their son Wilfred and now grandson Emile owned quite a bit of land where Madonna House stands and up to Yantha Rd. At one time there was a cheese factory (Combermere Butter & Cheese Company) where the main building of Madonna House now stands. Emile owns and operates Rainbow Rafts and provides an invaluable service building and installing docks and boat lifts around the many lakes in the area.

Joe Perrier lived on the Perrier Rd. in later life, but grew up on the homestead. He served in the Canadian Army in WW1 for three years. Joe, born in 1897 and died at age 89, married Agnes Ruddy and they lived in the first house on #517 just after the Lower Craigmont Rd. turn. They had seven children. Joe worked at both the Craigmont and Burgess corundum mines cutting wood for the boilers.

The Blais family, Alphonse (Al) and Clair, lived in the second house on the west side of Lower Craigmont Rd. at the junction of #517. They moved there from Chapeau, Quebec in 1944 as Claire was from the Combermere area. From 1945 to 1975 they operated a convenience store called “Blais Grocery, Flour, Feed, Gas and Oil”. It was open seven days a week and also had a separate building that was used as a barbershop. Al Blais was a barber on weekends. The store had Imperial Esso gas pumps from 1947 to a1952. During the week, Al worked at Foymount as purchasing agent and also as township and creamery truck driver, and barbered at Bicroft Uranium Mines near Bancroft. Pauline Smith was a Perrier and sister to Leona Mayhew and Etta Dombroski and lives in the house of her parents. Al Blais bought the property from Victor Bouchard.

Ursula Bloom, a daughter of Joe Perrier, at one time in the 1940’sand 1950’s worked at Maggie Hudson’s Sunset Inn, which had six cabins in addition to the two-story brick building. Ursula along with her husband Walter operated the Valley Market store for six years from 1947 – 1953. In 1951 Walter became the postmaster of Combermere located in the store and then built a house across the street, that had a post office attached to their home until 1982. The Bloom’s also operated the bus stop. In their home they operated an ice cream parlor for a short time.

Ursula’s son Gerry Bloom operates MV Satellite selling and installing satellite TV dishes, accessories and television sets. The other son Evan is a chartered accountant and has clientele around the area. Daughter Diane married Anthony (Tony) Harrison who is a general contractor building and renovating cottages and homes.

Etta Yarascavitch, daughter of Christie Perrier, worked at the church parish for many years when father Dwyer was parish priest. At that time the parish had cows and horses and she daily milked the cows. Etta married Alex Yarascavitch, a hydro worker and they lived in Moosonee for a while and then Chubb Lake in northern Ontario about 80 miles from Sault Ste. Marie where he was a crib worker for Ontario Hydro.

Leona Mayhew, daughter of Christie Perrier and Lucy Lepinskie (who was Polish) remembers having to learn French, English and Polish in the home with English the dominant language. John and Martin Lepinskie are first cousins of Leona. Leona also at one time worked at Sunset Inn. Leona is well known for her good cooking. She and her first husband Dominic Shulist had seven children, Dominic died in a tragic automobile accident in 1964 and Leona remarried Ivan Mayhew.

Another French family, the Belliles’ lived on Dafoe Rd. past the Perrier homestead. Many of the descendants lived in the area such as Raymond, Lionel, James and all of these families have been active contributing to the growth and energy of the community.

The Franswa family was well known in the area. They were an Algonquin French family and lived on the Craigmont Rd. where Mahon’s Landing is today. Moise was a trapper and fishing guide and very popular with everyone who knew him. Moise’s grandfather was Chief Negeek and that is where the name Negeek Lake came from.

It’s interesting how the spelling of surnames get changed. For example, the Godda name. The original spelling was Govreau and then Godin and then Godda. They originally came from other parts of Ontario and Quebec to the Combermere area. There were many Godda’s in the area with Pete, Paddy, Christie and Andy to name few are probably names that sound familiar with everyone who has lived here for some time.

The Goyea name was well known in the Combermere and surrounding area one hundred years ago but has long disappeared from the area. There are still many descendants living in Kearney.