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DESJARDINS, Douglas and Florence Addison

Our attitudes towards childhood have changed a great deal over the decades. In the pre-welfare state, children played a critical role in child labour.  In Britain, children left as orphans and paupers were  sent to workhouses and  helped by charities to be educated, trained and placed in a home. The push for settling and expansion of the British  Colonies presented an opportunity for some of these youngsters to be sent out as labourers to Canada.

One such story is of Florence Addison as generously submitted by her granddaughter Patti Desjardins.  One of thousands of these young migrants, Florence would become the matriarch of a large and well-respected Westmeath Township family: the Desjardins. Like so often happened in the early settlement years of Westmeath Township,  the family spanned the Ottawa River with extended family on both sides.

Martin Desjardins (Jr.) (born 1834-  ) and Esther Elizabeth French (1848-1892) and family  lived near Fort Coulonge, Pontiac County, Quebec. Martin was a general labourer, and a Roman Catholic, and his wife was a Presbyterian Church adherent. Esther’s parents: Pierre Abraham Guiles/Gail French (1826- ) of Cumberland, Ontario and Susan Lusk ((1831- 1906) of Calumet Island, Lower Canada (Pontiac County, Quebec).

Martin’s parents: Martin Desjardins (Sr. ) and Charlotte Terrien (Therrien) – unknown marriage date. Martin’s grandfather was  François Desjardins (1763– ), who was born at Laval, Quebec, and married there  in 1791,  to Veronique Leblanc (1770– ); then moving to live at Ile du Grand Calumet, Quebec.

Esther French Desjardin. Photo courtesy of Leslie Lang Fisher.

Esther French Desjardins (1848-1892). Photo courtesy of Leslie Lang Fisher.

Martin (Jr.) and Esther’s sons William and Duncan joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force and served in WWI.

1891 Census, Village of Bryson, Pontiac, Quebec. Desjardins Household.

1891 Census, Village of Bryson, Pontiac, Quebec  – Desjardins Household. By 1891 the 4 eldest children were working; Alexander as a Shantyman, sisters Alice & Mildred in Domestic Service and James as a Farm Labourer.

The children of Martin Desjardins and Esther French are:

  1. Hugh Alexandre Desjardins (1869- 1940) m. Margaret Cole; daughter Esther Desjardins m.  Earl Walter Lang of Shawville/Ladysmith. Quebec.
Hugh Alexandre Desjardins (1869-1940)

Hugh Alexandre Desjardins (1869-1940). Photo from

2.  Alice Desjardins (1871-)

3.   Sarah Mildred “Milly” Desjardins (1873-1922) m. James Jack (1865-1930).

Milly Desjardins and James Jack. Photo from

Milly Desjardins and James Jack. Photo from

4.  James Desjardins (1874),

5.  Eddie Desjardins (1877),

6.  Abraham Desjardins (1880- )

7.  Lena Desjardins (1882- ),

William Desjardin WW 1.

William Desjardins WW 1.

8.  William Desjardins (1884-1932) m. Alberta Alexander (1885-1986), lived in Nepean, Ontario.

9.  Duncan Desjardins (1886- ).

Duncan Desjardin WW 1.

Duncan Desjardins WW 1.

10. Douglas Desjardins (1888-1958) m. Florence Addison in 1916 and  they moved across the Ottawa River to Westmeath Township. This Westmeath branch is set out in detail below.

11.  Jessie Desjardins (1891-  ) m. Lloyd Norman Harris (1878-  )  1914 Jessie & Lloyd Marriage

Douglas and Florence Desjardins Family

DOUGLAS DESJARDINs was born in Fort Coulonge, Pontiac County, Quebec and was the youngest son of the family. He farmed in that area and married FLORENCE ADDISON, of Liverpool, England, in 1916.

Florence Addison Desjardin in 1916 at age 23 years.

In 1941, the growing family moved to the Pleasant Valley area of Westmeath Township for better farmland and when the Proven Line farmstead of W.A. McMullen came available, the family settled there; at 413 Desjardins Road, just to the north of the Hawthorne Road corner.

From the McMullen entry:  ” …..purchased some bush land on Lot 15, Concession 9 of Westmeath Township. The family homesteaded; built a comfortable log cabin and cleared the land. In 1928 John T. Anderson erected a house 18′ x 28′ which stands today on the property. John T. was a neighbour with his farm at Lot 14, Conc.9, Canola Road, Westmeath Twp.  This farm would later be purchased by Douglas Desjardin from Pontiac County, Quebec, and it has remained in that family with a Desjardin daughter still living there. The homestead is located facing on Desjardins Road, formerly called Proven Line- a northeast to southwest road running between the Lots 15 and 16 through the township concessions.”

Their farm initially was a traditional mixed dairy operation, but evolved over the years and generations to the present-day where it supports beef cattle and cash crops. The children attended Pleasant Valley School; S.S. No.5.

Leeds Moral & Industrial School for Pauper Children 1865

Leeds Moral & Industrial School for Pauper Children 1865

Florence Addison was born in 1893 in Bootle, a borough of Liverpool, England. Her parents were Pearson Addison (born 1868) and Mary Ann Jones (1863). The Addison family descended from Quakers from Cumberland, Wales. Both of Florence’s parents died within a short span of years and her two older siblings, Ernest Addison (1888) and Nellie Addison (1891), were just old enough to look after themselves (Ernest went to sea and Nellie into service).

Young Florence was committed to the Leeds Moral and Industrial School for Pauper Children. This school trained girls for domestic service. While there, Florence came to the attention of the Liverpool Education Committee because she seemed like “a nice, gentle, willing girl.” This assessment resulted in her becoming a Home Child, one of thousands brought to Canada for farm labour.

Annie MacPherson ran an organization from 1862 to 1920 which brought orphan children, many from workhouses, to Canada. The records of her charitable work were turned over to the Liverpool Sheltering Home for Orphans, Fatherless and Destitute Children, which in turn, transferred its records to Barnardo Homes.

One week after Florence was deemed a suitable candidate for emigration, she was put on a boat, the SS Corsican, and sailed to Canada in May 1908. Florence’s passage, and the names of the other children who accompanied her, are available in ship passenger lists online. Florence was sent to, and subsequently fell under the jurisdiction of, the Knowlton Home in the eastern townships of Quebec. Knowlton Distributing Home.

Home Children: Between 1869 and the late 1930s, over 100,000 juvenile migrants were sent to Canada from Great Britain during the child emigration movement. Motivated by social and economic forces, churches and philanthropic organizations sent orphaned, abandoned and pauper children to Canada. Many believed that these children would have a better chance for a healthy, moral life in rural Canada, where families welcomed them as a source of cheap farm labour and domestic help.

After arriving by ship, the children were sent to distributing homes, such as Fairknowe in Brockville, and then sent on to farmers in the area. Although many of the children were poorly treated and abused, others experienced a better life here than if they had remained in the urban slums of England. Many served with the Canadian and British Forces during both World Wars.”

Home Children Commemorative Plaque

Home Children Commemorative Plaque

The commemorative plaque from Parks Canada for Home Children erected outside the Stratford Home, 51 Avon Street, Stratford, Ontario, reads:

Between 1869 and 1939, about 100,000 child immigrants, casualties of unemployment and poverty in Britain, were uprooted from their homes and families. With hopes of giving them new lives in Canada, British agencies sent children to receiving homes like this one. From there, a few of the younger children were adopted into Canadian families, but most were apprenticed as agricultural labourers or domestic servants. Often deprived of education and the comforts of family life, Home Children suffered loneliness and prejudice. Their experience reveals a poignant chapter in Canadian immigration history.”

In recent years, Florence’s family obtained her employment records from Barnardo Homes. Every year she was visited by an inspector. She worked in various homes in Montreal, Granby, Campbell’s Bay, and Shawville. She received $36 per year. By 1913, Florence was old enough to leave the guardianship of the Knowlton Home and she had saved enough money to return to England. She stayed there for three years and then returned to Canada in July 1916, to work again for a previous employer. She married Douglas Desjardin in December 1916.

Florence maintained a correspondence with her siblings in England and developed close ties with her husband’s family and strong friendships with neighbours. Douglas and Florence had twelve children, eleven of whom were lifelong residents of the Westmeath community. Their son Clayton served in World War II.

Florence and Douglas Desjardins in 1954.

Florence and Douglas Desjardins in 1954.

Desjardin-Addison stone, Westmeath Cemetery.

Desjardin-Addison stone, Westmeath Cemetery.

Of their twelve children, three daughters married McMullen men and two daughters married Timm men. The children of Douglas Desjardins Desjardins, Douglas and Florence Addison Desjardins are:

1.Esther Desjardins (1917-1971) married Willard McMullen, and had three children. McMullen Williard and Esther Desjardins. See MCMULLEN entry.

2. Alice Desjardins (1920-1984) married Hugh Desjardins, and had four children.

3.  Bertha “Bertie” Desjardins (1922-2001) married Norris McMullen, and had two children. See McMullen entry.

4.  Clayton Desjardins (1923-1989)  served in World War II. Unmarried.

Clayton Desjardin WW 2.

Clayton Desjardin WW 2.

5. Florence “Dolly” Desjardins (1924-2000) married Stanley McMullen, and had two children. See McMullen entry.

6. Reuben Desjardins (1926-2006) married Noreen Conroy, and had four children. See CONROY entry.

7. Nellie Desjardins (1928) married Robert Bromley, and had five children. See Bromley entry.

8. Jean Desjardins (1929) married Bert Timm, and had one child. See TIMM entry.

9. Evelyn “Evie” Desjardins (1933-2010) married Harold Timm.  Timm, Harold & Evie.

10. Clinton Desjardins (1934-2006) married Marilyn Moore, and had four children.

11. Emma Desjardins (1937), still lives on the family farmstead.

12. Isabel Desjardins (1940) married Willard White, and had three children.