Historical Notes

Conversations with Maria

This article comes from conversations with Maria Goyetche of Petit de Grat, NS. Portions are from interviews by Ronald LaBelle, Centre d'Etudes Acadiennes, Université de Moncton, and the balance is from a conversation with Cape Breton's Magazine. The article appeared in Cape Breton's Magazine in 1987. When I was born, we had no church in Petit-de-Grat. I was from the parish church in Arichat. We had 7 miles to Arichat Church. We only had mass on Sunday, because there was just the one priest for the two churches, for the two parishes. We had to walk -- there was no car. We always walked. The whole family. We had to get up early in the morning. When we had to go to Arichat Church, we had to get up at 8 o'clock to be in time for mass at 10 o'clock. When we went for communion, we didn't have breakfast. (And would you carry your shoes?) Yes. On a fine day, on a summer day. I had a little pair of sneakers. When I was 9 and 10 years old, my little blue sneakers -- they were 50¢ a pair at that time. When the grass was wet with the dew, I didn't want to wet my shoes. And I'd run for 3 miles before I put on my shoes. I had to learn my catechism at home, and school. I had to learn everything -- my mother had to teach us. When I started going to school at 8 years old -- 8 years old the first time I went to school -- my first reader, the first primer -- I knew it like a song, because I had learned it at home. My first reader was like a song. (And your mother also taught you your catechism at home?) Yes, sure. When I was 10 years old, I had learned French enough from my prayer book, I had learned French enough - I was studying my catechism all by myself. (How old would you be here when you made your first communion?) I was 10 years old and 6 months. It was a happy day for us. We had to walk all the ways from Petit-de-Grat to the convent in Arichat 3 times a week. May and June, before we made our first communion. And we had to know the catechism; we had to know it by heart. When it came for exam, if I hadn't learned French, to study myself, I would have had a hard time to get through. The people of Louisdale had their first church in 1902. Two years before us, three years before us. And they were from the parish of Arichat. When I made my first communion, that is 82 years ago, the girls of Louisdale came, it was necessary to do catechism for seven weeks, at the convent in Arichat; with the sisters of Notre- Dame. They stayed in Little Anse, because they had relatives there. It was necessary that they walk, from Little Anse, they were 5 miles from the church in Arichat. The first convent had burned down. And it was there that we went to catechism. We went to catechism three times a week for two months of time. It was necessary to know the catechism word for word. And we had a good number who could not read French. Their parents could not read French. It was necessary that they depend on neighbours to learn their catechism, those who could teach them. My mother had learned French thanks to her father, my grandfather Martel. At that time, Saint F. X. had started in Arichat in 1851. And it only lasted for three years. It was discontinued and started in Antigonish. But it had started in Arichat in 1851. My grandfather only went to college for two years in Arichat. When it was transferred to Antigonish, he did not have the means of going. He was obliged to stop, but all his family learned from him. He taught his children. What he had learned from Saint F. X. he taught to his children at home. My mother learned enough French. She taught us how to read French. And we did not have any French books, no school books. I learned French from a prayer book. That was how I learned French. And it was the best way to learn. It's like that we learn more quickly, because the prayers that I learned by heart, I know them. The old people, the fishermen at night, when they were not too tired, they always came to our place, and they had all kinds of stories of olden time, about ghost stories. That was the most pastime. They told so much; I'd be so frightened, I couldn't listen to them. I'd run away; I didn't want to hear them. They would talk about seeing -- they thought they had seen the devil. And it was all old tricks. Somebody would play tricks -- they thought they had seen the devil. The only story I remember: one of the fishermen from Rocky Bay. He said, when his first wife died he was so heartbroken that he was praying to see her -- he wanted to see her -- praying to God to see his wife. And he said, one night he was going somewhere with his horse and wagon --there were no cars at that time -- and he saw a white bed across the road, where he was supposed to pass, with a woman laying on it. So he thought for sure that it was his prayers answered, that it was his wife in that white bed. But some were telling stories that were frightening, they were terrible. The poor fishermen, in the time of my late father, I think, first, in the time of my grandfather Boudreau, he told me that lobster did not sell. That was a time when lobster was a pest. They had enough; the lobster got mixed in with the catch when they went fishing. Robert Boudreau was fishing for mackerel and herring. They would only get $2.50 for a boatload of lobster. When my father was fishing, lobster was $2.50 for 100 pounds. Now it's $2.50 a pound. My father, he fished by hand line - and the beautiful cod sold for $4.00 for 100 pounds. Now, at the price per pound, we can hardly afford to eat cod. There was only fishing or farming here then. And there wasn't much farming. They weren't equipped for farming. In that time they didn't have plows or harnesses for working the land. But they had an advantage for example; produce was available for sale at a good price. My grandfather Boudreau, he had a boat, he fished around Iles-de-la-Madeleine, and in the autumn he went to Prince Edward Island and brought home all his produce for the winter. Potatoes were 25¢ a bushel. And cabbage was the same, 25¢ for 50 pounds. Think of the difference in price to what we have to pay today. They brought all their produce from Prince Edward Island. The fishermen had no time for farming, they didn't need to because they went to Prince Edward Island with fish, salt herring in barrels, and they brought all their produce for the winter. All they would get for 200 pounds of salt herring is $4.00. That was the price of salt herring. In my time and grandfather's time and my late father's time: $4.00 a barrel, for 200 pounds of salt herring. They called that trading. They went with a load of fish and they brought a load of produce. On Prince Edward Island it was all farmers. And they had good land and were well equipped for working the land. My grandfather's boat was not too big. It was called the schooner Maria. That was the name. His grandmother was named Maria and his daughter was also Maria. That's what he called his schooner, his boat for fishing. It was maybe 25 years old. It had two masts. And it had sails, there was no power. He was pretty young when he began, he never went to school. He learned by experience. When I stayed with them, I worked for them, at 13 or 14 years old, he went fishing. (How old were you when you got married?) Twenty years old. (How did you choose your husband?) I didn't have to choose. (How did you find him?) I met him when I was working for my sister that was married to his brother. I had only been going with him for two months when we got married. (In order to get married, did you need anybody's permission?) Well, we were supposed to ask our mother and father, grandfather, and godfather. That was, in our time, that was the rule. (Did you go to all those people?) Oh yes, I went. (And they all said it was all right?) Yes. (And what would you do if they said, no, it wasn't a good idea?) I was healthy, I could work my way out -- I didn't have to get married. I just got married for God's sake, to bring up the family. (You feel you could have lived on your own. But you got married so you could have a family.) Yes. That's what Fr. Mombourquette told me, when I said I wanted to be a nun. And he said it was better to raise a family, there were more needed, than to be a nun. (You had thought that you might like to be a nun?) Yes. (Why?) Because there was - if I had been a nun, I had no responsibility. It would save me a lot of trouble. And raising a family is a big responsibility. A painful one. I had 4 sons in the army. Two were wounded. And oh, what I went through. I know if I had been a nun, I would have been saved -- it would have saved me a lot of worry, a lot of pain. (You weren't even 20 years old when you were thinking of being a nun. Did you realize then that it would save you pain?) Yes, I thought so. (When you saw other nuns, and what they did for work, did you want to do that?) Yes, I thought it was a good life. (Would you have liked to have been a nun right here in Cape Breton, or somewhere else in the world?) Any place in the world. I had a friend -- Sr. Claudia Marchand -- she was a nun, and she traveled. And the further that she went, the happier she was. She liked traveling. (What did your husband do?) Oh, he was a fisherman. (Was he already a fisherman when you met him?) Oh, yeah. (So you pretty well knew what your job would be when you got married.) Yes, I was sure. (Still, you wanted to get married then?) It's not that I wanted to get married. He was in a hurry. He didn't want to wait. (But you didn't feel like you were in such a hurry.) No. (But you didn't turn him down. You married him. Why didn't you say, "Wait"?) I should have let him wait. He was in a hurry because he wanted help for his mother. I had to take care of the old people. (And did you take care of her?) Yes. The two of them. (His father too?) Yeah. The old lady died in 1932, and the old man died in 1939. And then my father and mother died here, too. (And you took care of them as well?) Yeah. My mother used to say when she was old -- she died when she was 87 -- she'd say it was terrible to be old and helpless. So that's how I feel now. This is the way I am now, helpless. I'll be 95 in October. That's too old. I have to be thankful that I have not too much pain, very little pain. But it's hard to be going blind, though. Maria passed away in September 1985, approximately one year following this interview. She was the matriarch of the Goyetche family in Petit de Grat, NS.
The Goyetche Family Genealogy

The Goyetche Matriarch