Transitions: From France to the St. Lawrence Valley

Transitions: From France to the St. Lawrence Valley

For the last five years, I have been working on a biographical history of my family and what brought the family to North America and eventually to the United States. Though there is much that remains to be done I intend to use this space to share a draft book. What follows is tentative and incomplete illustrated history but is intended to define the parameters of this project.

The ancestral heritage of the founder of the Picards’ of Saginaw, Alfred Picard, was French Canadian. His ancestor, Jacques Hughes Picard first sailed from Nantes, France, in 1653 to “clear land…as a sawyer” in Villa Marie, New France (now called Montreal, Canada). He stayed in New France for three years.  After completing his contractual obligation, Hughes sailed back to Nantes.

In 1659 Hughes returned to New France, this time to work for the Sulpician Fathers, then “the feudal lords of Montreal.”[i] In the 1666 census of New France, Hughes Picard was enumerated as “48 years old,  …a farmer and plowman.  He farmed land some of which had been granted to him by the Sulpicians.  The rest he had purchased.

In 1666 Hughes Picard was one of only 627 Europeans enumerated as living in Montreal.

Hughes had two sons, Jean Gabriel and Jacques, who inherited their father’s property when he died in 1707.  Besides farming, Jean and Jacques were fur traders (voyagers) on the Great Lakes.  Jean Picard was Alfred’s great-great grandfather.[ii]

[i] Choquette, Leslie P.  Frenchmen into peasants: modernity and tradition in the peopling of French Canada: Harvard University Press, 2009, p. 159.

[ii]Picard, Louis A.  Transitions: the biography of a North American Family, an illustrated history (draft document powerpoint), 2009. Used with permission of the author.

An Overview

Focus starts with the origins of the Eastern Michigan Picards in France and Francophone North America and ends with  French Canadian immigration to the United States. The final part of the book will be a cross between genealogy, memoir and cultural history focusing on the clash between Anglo-Saxon and French cultures and on the nature of North America as a settler society. It differs from genealogy since it will include speculation on origins, descriptions and motives.

The first section of the book will focus on the French origins and culture of the Picard family which eventually settled in Saginaw in Eastern Michigan. Only ten people (generations), and of course some five hundred years or so, separate my generation from Northern France.

I’ve been able to confirm that the genealogy in my possession of the Eastern Michigan Picard Family, founded by Alfred Picard (my great grandfather) is accurate as far back as circa 1598 and Nantes, France and one Hugues Picard dit LaFortune who migrated to Quebec from Nantes in 1653.

Hughes’ father, Gabriel, who remained in France, is our oldest family link thus far (though my  genealogy site contains speculation that goes back further. See ).

The second section of this book places the Picard family within the context of the history of New France and Canada between 1653 and the present. The third section of the book (and a focal point of this research) is on the descendents of Alfred, my immediate family who migrated from Beauharnois County, Quebec in the nineteenth century to Eastern Michigan (Saginaw). See the section entitled “The Eastern Michigan Picards.”

This is not the Picard to be discussed here.

The French Connection

Though I have no idea of the accuracy of this image, the Male Lineage I am tracing is as follows:
Gabriel Picard (c. 1597-1660)

Hugues Picard (c. 1618-1707 ) Emigrated to New France/Canada)
Jean-Gabriel Picard (c. 1669-1723)
Antoine Picard (c. 1700-1777)
Antoine Picard (c. 1735-c. 1795?)
Paul Picard (c. 1770-1845?)
Isaac Picard (1817-1881)
St. Louis de Gonzague
Alfred Picard (1846-1909 Emigrated to Eastern Michigan).
Saginaw, Michigan
Louis A. Picard (1883-1952) and his brothers and sisters including Frank A. Picard (1889-1963 and Joseph Picard (1892-1975)
And the Families of Frank and Alex Picard (The present generation).
Note: Though the approach is patrilineal   it is not patriarchal. Tracing through sons is easier particularly since I am interested in the Picard family legacy.
Supposedly the Picard Shield. Since it was a big family there are many shields and other myths.
My own belief then is that Gabriel Picard’s branch of the family was originally either from Normandy or Picardy (Picardie) or perhaps Wallonia in what is now Belgium. We are part of a French “tribe” which spoke one of the Oil languages, regional dialects related to French. Many people in Northern France and Southern Belgium still speak a dialect or patois self-styled as chti, chtimi or rouche or labeled informally as “Picard” after the ancient French province of Picardie.
I label Gabriel Picard “The Wanderer Who Stayed Behind.” We really know little of Gabriel Picard at this point other than that he lived and worked in Nantes, France. He was probably a skilled artisan and most likely worked with wood as did his son Hugues. Gabriel married Michelle Clavier c. 1631. He likely died before 1660. His wife, Michelle died in June of 1660.
Gabriel Picard was likely born about 1597 and lived and died in the small village of St. Colombin (en-Marche) du Pont James, near Nantes, which was then the capital of Brittany (Bretagne) and is now in the Loire-Atlantique region of France. He was a member of a Northern French “tribe” named picard.

Pont James, c. 1910

Nantes was of course a major city and port then as it is today. Gabriel was most likely not a native of Nantes. His father or one of his ancestors probably moved to Nantes from Normandy or Picardie, the historical lands of the Picard clan. It was not uncommon for artisans to move around in search of work during the sixteenth century.  Gabriele’s wife, Michelle, may also have come from the far north of France (Picardie)

 The work below is of Louis Le Nain who was a painter  from Laon in Normandy, He was unparalleled  in the seventeenth century for its portrayal of ordinary life. Louis Le Nain most often painted family life around meagerly furnished tables, peasant homes without much in the way of resources but supposedly rich in spiritual life. This picture is titled, “The Happy Family.” Images in this painting suggest to me how Gabriel Picard and part of his family might have looked some eighteen years before Hughes Picard emigrated to Quebec for the first time. (

French Interior, e. 1645 an oil on canvas by Louis La Nain.

I imagine that Gabriel wore a black or brown floppy hat and a white blouse, somewhat worn, and a red waist shirt. He often appeared unkempt with his white hair and his beard windblown. To keep away the cold he often wore or carried a brown tunic or cape. His white collar was plain and slightly frayed.
Gabriel’s pants were often baggy and loose. He wore his beard full. It was dark gray and sometimes unkempt. His hair was thinning around the temples. Gabriel was stout, fond of cheap red wine and ale. He was a skilled worker who aspired upward to the gentler classes but lacked the money for the fur lining or the soft cloth. In an austere sort of way, he often attracted children to him.
(Note: This description is based upon paintings and images of the Eighteenth Century Northern France.)
 Map  showing Picardie as it existed prior to the French Revolution
Nantes 2007
The main street of the Village of St. Colombin (en-Marche) du Pont James, near Nantes, c. 1910.

The Language

Picard or chti is a language which is closely related to French, and as such is one of the larger group of Oil languages. It is spoken in two regions in the far north of France – Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy – and in parts of the Belgian region Wallonia, district of Tournai and a piece of district of Mons.
Residents of Picardy often call it picard; but in Nord-Pas-de-Calais its dialects are more commonly known as Chti or Chtimi, in and around the towns of Valenciennes and Lille as Rouchi; or simply as patois by Northerners in general.  Many in New France spoke the dialect which in North America is often referred to as Norman. Linguists group all of these under the name Picard. In general the variety spoken in Picardy is understood by speakers in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, and vice versa.
Oil Languages
The building below has Picard language signage in Cayeux-sur-Mer . Belgium’s French Community (La Communauté française de Belgique) gave full official recognition to Picard as a regional language along with Walloon, Gaumais (Lorraine), Champenois (Champagne) and German Frankish in its 1990 decree.
The French government has not followed suit and recognized Picard as a regional language (this is in line with its policy of linguistic unity, which allows for only one official language in France), although some reports have recognized Picard as a language distinct from French.
This is said to be the flag of Picardie.

The Move to New France

A mental Picture from New France.
The Descendents of Gabriel Picard family lived in New France and Canada between 1653 and the present. Gabriel’s son, Jacques Hugues Picard dit Lafortune, was born about 1618 in Nantes. Hugues Picard apprenticed as a wood worker, most likely working with his father for the better part of ten years.
He was likely short, muscular, corpulent later in life. He often wore a dark brown cape, used a walking stick and favored his left foot, which was slightly shorter than his right leg. His hat was round with a thin rope above the brim and he often wore a feather in it. His work pants were made of heavy brown cotton.
One pictures his wife in a white head scarf, a red jacket, a long brown dress with a white full blouse. Her hair was triple braided. In the kitchen she wore a yellow and brown apron. In the evenings she wore a white laced shawl with a red bow-neck.
New France in 1700
Artisans, particularly carpenters and wood workers were in particularly high demand in New France. In 1653, our ancestor, Jacques Hugues Picard, left Nantes, France as part of the “Great Recruitment” on a three year contract to go to Villa Marie (now Montreal). According to Ellen Picard, “Hugues Picard hired to clear land and as a sawyer in the spring of 1653 at 75 french [livre symbol] a year. He returned to France at the end of his contract but returned to Ville Marie (Montreal) in 1659 as a carpenter employed by the Supician Fathers.“[i] Hugues left his father Gabriel and his mother Michelle Clavier behind in France and set off on a harrowing journey to the new world. Hugues and his fellow immigrants “must have been an unusually adventurous, enterprising, even innovative group….”
The Ship “The Saint-Nicolas du Nantes.”
The Voyage of the Saint-Nicolas
“The departure from Saint-Nazaire takes place on June 20, 1653. It is the beginning of a harsh and tragic crossing. As soon as they leave the shore, the passengers find out that the Saint-Nicolas is nothing but an old tub.”
Marguerite Bourgeoys writes of the Situation: “I was most distressed to see us in this dangerous situation… Our people were ill prepared to die… Monsieur de Maisonneuve left all of his soldiers on an island from which it was impossible to escape. Otherwise none would have stayed with us. A few of them try to escape by throwing themselves into the water. They became crazy and accused us of leading them to their perdition.”
A Militiaman in New France circa 1700
Ville de Marie
Hugues Picard was a Sawyer (he cut logs into planks) a skill no doubt needed to clear the forests in New France.  He likely worked on the construction of the wooden Fort at Ville Marie. At the end of his three year contract he returned to Nantes where he stayed for three years and then for reasons that are not clear (though his father’s death about that time may have been a factor) he returned to Montreal in 1659 to work for the Sulpician Fathers who were the feudal lords of Montreal.
In the census of 1666 Hugues is listed as 48 years old, as a farmer and plowman (habitant) and one of 627 Europeans living in Montreal that year. He was granted land by the Sulpicians and purchased additional acreage which he cleared and farmed.
Montreal,  circa 1642
Hugues married Anne Antoinette de Liercourt on Jun 30, 1660 at Notre Dame de Montreal, Quebec.  Sir Paul de Chomedey the Governor of Montreal stood up for the couple. Hugues had two sons, Jean Gabriel and Jacques Picard who were born in Ville Marie in 1669 and 1672 respectively. As a reward for his service, Hugues received a land grant from the Sulpician Fathers on April 4, 1667 on the shores of the Lake St. Louis rapids in the LaChine/Dorval area. On April 26, 1693, Hugues sold the land to his sons Jean-Gabriel and Jacques Picard. Hugues died Dec 22, 1707 in Notre Dame de Montreal, Quebec.
Montreal, circa 1666.

The South Bank of the St. Lawrence River

This is the Robert Selkirk house in St. Louis de Gonzague, Ormstown taken in 1950. Leandre Picard and his wife Maria Brault lived here from 1907 to 1922.
Leandre Picard was a son of Leandre Picard and Maria Beaudry (Leandre senior was a brother of Alfred Picard) an his wife Maria Brault.  Leandre and Maria farmed the land and lived in the house named “La Maison Robert Lelkirk.
Leandre (born in 1881) was most likley about 30 plus years old when the picture was taken. He lived on the property from 1907 to 1922.
These are the children at the St. Louis de Gonzague School in a picture taken in 1920. The picture  includes Rene Picard, #4, Fernand Picard #6 and Arthur Picard #16. They are, I presume children of Leandre and Maria Brault Picard.
Denis and Ginette Brault
Denis and Ginette Brault live in Valleyfield Quebec. Denis’s mother is Georgette Picard Brault whose father was Clodiimire Picard. Clodimire Picard’s father was Leandre Picard who was a brother to Alfred Picard, the father of Frank, Alex and Joe Picard (and their brothers and sisters). Denis is a retired businessman. Information on these linkages are available on