Californian connects with past in Coaticook
With all the attention the 150th anniversary of Coaticook is getting and the many entertaining and dynamic activities that have been going on all year, it’s no wonder that people from near nad far are visiting the historic town.
Last Saturday, one visitor came from quite a distance to visit Coaticook for the first time and ‘get back to her roots’. “I knew a little about my family’s history, but not much. I had tracked down that my grandfather had gone to Laval University, but that’s as far as I could get. Then my nephew posted some information on Ancestry. com,” explained Nicole Durand Tonelli, of Colfax, California.
That posting would be the game changer in Mrs. Tonelli’s search for the past, attracting the attention of an amateur historian and a former president of the Societé d’histoire de Coaticook, Leandre Gaudreau. Mr. Gaudreau was working on an historic article for the Society on the Durand family and, in particular, Dr. Charles Durand, Mrs. Tonelli’s paternal grandfather. He had come across a very old newspaper, back in 2004, with an article about the death of Dr. Charles Durand in Colfax, California, where he had become a valuable and well-loved member of the community, and he wanted to learn more. After all, the Durands were a prominent Coaticook family and the town has both an elementary school and a street named after two of its members.
Looking for the descendants of the Durands from Coaticook, Mr. Gaudreau recruited a cousin living in Maine, Patricia Gaudreau, to help him with his search. “Luckily, one of my cousin’s daughters lived in California, so she checked the phonebooks for me to find Mrs. Tonelli,” he explained.
Once contact was made by phone, in 2011, Leandre and Nicole began sharing information and photographs by email, filling in the missing pieces for each other. “Leandre gave me a lot of interesting information. He found a lovely article written about my grandfather when he died,” said Mrs. Tonelli. “So when he wrote to us about the 150th celebrations of the town and invited us to come for Townshippers’ Day, we said Let’s go!” explained Mrs. Tonelli who made the trip in September with her husband Jerry and daughter Celsa, who now lives in New York.
It being their first visit to Canada, they spent a few days in Montreal and some time in Quebec City where Mr. Gaudreau and his wife Giselle showed them around, before coming to Coaticook for an ‘all-inclusive’ whirlwind tour on Townshippers’ Day. People who attended Ry-Guy the Magician’s show on T-Day actually got to meet Celsa Tonelli as she was cho- sen by Ry-Guy, who had been approached before the show by Leandre, to come up on stage to help with a few tricks.
“We showed them the house where her grandfather, Dr. Charles Durand, lived before moving to California for health reasons, in 1914. We showed them Durand Street, went to the cemetery where Nicole’s greatgrandfather is buried, and we showed them the school named after Bishop Durand, her grandfather’s brother. We have a daughter studying at Laval University, so we brought them there, too,” said Mr. Gaudreau. “She is a really nice lady and they were a nice family,” he added.
“Mr. Gaudreau, everyone in Coaticook, really everyone in Quebec that we met in hotels, on the streets, and in restaurants was charming and gracious. We got to meet mayor Lamoureux and visited the Beaulne Museum, which was fabulous, and the Coaticook historical society. The people there were very helpful, making copies of documents about the Durand family for me. My great-grandfather was married to Alice Cutting who could be related to Gerry Cutting, the president of Townshippers’ Association,” commented Nicole from California.
“One thing that I noticed while we were driving and walking around Coaticook, looking at the homes with their big porches, the hills around the town, it reminded me a lot of Colfax. I can understand why my grandfather felt at home in Colfax.
“The Gaudreaus were such lovely hosts and we learnt so much from Leandre’s research. We had a wonderful and informative visit,” said Mrs. Tonelli.
“We didn’t know each other at all before this, but that’s what I love about researching history,” said Mr. Gaudreau who provided the information about aviator Roger Smith to the town which resulted in a new street being named in his honour. “That’s what I find important about history: not the buildings and landmarks, but the people.”
“It was very moving to find this little piece of my family’s history. And to have my husband, who adored my father, and one of our children there with me was amazing. I would love to return to Montreal, Quebec City and Coaticook, this time to see Foresta Lumina and to try some Coaticook ice cream!” said Nicole.
Celsa Tonelli helps Ry-Guy the Magician at T-Day, in Coaticook.
Jerry Tonelli, Nicole Durand Tonelli and Celsa Tonelli in front of the Coaticook school named after Mrs. Tonelli’s great uncle, Monseigneur Louis Prosper Durand.
Gracious hosts and amateur historians Leandre and Giselle Gaudreau.