Young Therese Bernier, first expeditionSociété d'histoire de la Baie-James

Thérèse Bernier (1905-1964),

is from Cap-St-Ignace, in the lower St. Lawrence. At 23, she married Jean-Baptiste Gaudreau, surveyor. Did she know at that time that she also embraced solitude and the North?

Thérèse Bernier taking part for the first time in an expedition of Jean-Baptiste in the forest. Chaperoned by her father, she joined him a few weeks before their wedding, in 1928.
SHBJ  P171,S1,SS2,SSS3,P5

J.-B. GaudreauSociété d'histoire de la Baie-James

Jean-Baptiste Bernier, posing with his surveying equipment, around 1925.
SHBJ, P171,S1,SS2,SSS1,P1

Young Therese Bernier, before her wedding.Société d'histoire de la Baie-James


Thérèse Bernier, visiting with her father, to discover her fiancé's work, shortly before their wedding, 1928.SHBJ P171,S1,SS2,SSS3,P7

Mistassini lake.Société d'histoire de la Baie-James

From their home in Quebec,

Thérèse's life as a wife would be marked by her husband's long absences. His surveying expeditions of several months took him to the four corners of Quebec… But mainly on this territory that is now called Eeyou Istchee Baie-James.

Transport of provisions and equipment on Lake Mistassini, for the survey of the 51st parallel, february 1939.
SHBJ P171,S1,SS2,SSS13,P1

Woollett lakeSociété d'histoire de la Baie-James

Cree camp at Lac Woollett, 1938.
SHBJ P171,S1,SS2,SSS11,D5,P7

Survey lineSociété d'histoire de la Baie-James

These moments were made of uncertainties.

Landed in the forest by plane, the teams of surveyors were left to themselves for several weeks. If they sometimes counted on sporadic supplies, this North, it was on snowshoes, canoes and often without means of communication that they traversed it.

Survey line, place and date undetermined, [193-?].
SHBJ P171,S1,SS2,SSS26,P1

4th meridian lineSociété d'histoire de la Baie-James

Section line of the 4th meridian, in 1939.
SHBJ P171,S1,SS2,SSS18,P5

Neoskweskaw lakeSociété d'histoire de la Baie-James

Thérèse Bernier interspersed these months of separation,

by long visits to her husband. Their archives reveal to us the moments of a happy life as a couple in the heart of the forest.

Thérèse Bernier, her son Gilles and a Cree group during Jean-Baptiste's expedition to the Eastmain and Rupert rivers. Neoskweskaw Lake, June 1937.
SHBJ P171,S1,SS2,SSS11,D3,P4

Therese Bernier in an expeditionSociété d'histoire de la Baie-James

Their daily life frozen on film

also reveals the place of a woman who played an active role in Jean-Baptiste's team, acting as an aide-de-camp during his stays in isolated territory.

Thérèse Bernier, during an expedition of her husband. Unidentified place, around 1930.
SHBJ P171,S1,SS2,SSS4,P5

Therese BernierSociété d'histoire de la Baie-James

Possibly the Eastmain-Rupert expedition. Thérèse Bernier, circa 1931.
SHBJ P171,S1,SS2,SSS29,P11

51st parallelSociété d'histoire de la Baie-James

These long absences of Jean-Baptiste

which weighed heavily on Thérèse, announced that great changes were taking place in the North.

Survey line, 51st parallel, 1938 or 1939.
SHBJ P171,S1,SS2,SSS13,P6

HBC Post, NeoskweskawSociété d'histoire de la Baie-James

Prospectors multiplied,

the government wanted to better understand the economic potential of the territory. The fur industry was living its last hours. A scramble for resources was brewing. For the Cree population, the following decades will be marked by great upheavals.

Cree group gathered at the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post in Neoskweskaw, in 1938. Jean-Baptiste Gaudreau was working at the time surveying the Eastmain and Rupert rivers.
SHBJ  P171,S1,SS2,SSS11,D6,P2

Report, Eastmain-Rupert expeditionSociété d'histoire de la Baie-James

Report of the Eastmain-Rupert expedition.
SHBJ P171,S1,SS1,D6,P1

Thérèse Bernier en vacances au lac Trois-Saumon, 1933.Société d'histoire de la Baie-James

Between each of his visits to the North,

Thérèse Bernier resumed her life as a housewife and mother, in her small house in Quebec. Each return home for Jean-Baptiste was only temporary: after a moment of rest, he would return to the key of the woods for a new contract.

Thérèse Bernier during her vacation with her husband at Lac Trois-Saumon, 1933.
SHBJ P171,S1,SS2,SSS7,P1

Sakami lakeSociété d'histoire de la Baie-James

Ces moments étaient difficiles

for the one who confided that of her first 15 years of marriage, she had only lived in the end for 7 years with her husband.

Thérèse Bernier and Jean-Baptiste Gaudreau during the Opinaka and Sakami lake surveying expedition, circa 1939.
SHBJ P171,S1,SS2,SSS15,P1

Therese Bernier & J.-B. GaudreauSociété d'histoire de la Baie-James

In 1951, the couple's house burned down.

After 28 years of marriage and 2 children, the couple makes a big decision. They will not rebuild the house. The family will follow Jean-Baptiste into the forest. Good years were ahead of them.

Thérèse Bernier & Jean-Baptiste Gaudreau, [194-].
SHBJ P171,S1,SS2,SSS27,P12

The Bernier-Gaudreau family camping at Opemiska lake, 1952.
SHBJ P171, S2, SS4

Therese Bernier in expeditonSociété d'histoire de la Baie-James

The story of Thérèse Bernier

is similar to that of many women: on the fringes of traditional history, which is only interested in prospectors, bush pilots or “explorers”.

A journey that would have been forgotten,

without the family records. They reveal to us a relationship full of tenderness, the landscapes of a changing North and a luminous woman.

This is the power of archives: freezing the ordinary and keeping track of the most discreet in history.

Thérèse Bernier taking part in an expedition of her husband, around 1930.
SHBJ P171,S1,SS2,SSS29,P5

Credits: Story

Research and writing: Marie-Claude Duchesne

Thank you to our partners: the City of Chibougamau, Sayona and the James Bay Regional Administration.

Françoise Gaudreau in : Thomas Fecteau, Au Nord du 48e parallèle - mémoire d’un pilote de brousse, 2009.
Sylvie Tremblay. Les récits de Philippe Tremblay, GID, 2020.
Réjean Girard, Normand Perron. Le Nord-du-Québec. Presses de l’Université Laval, 2016. 
Archives : Société d’histoire de la Baie-James: Funds P171 Thomas Fecteau & Françoise Gaudreau.

Credits: All media
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