GHISLAINE (KINGSBERRY) SINCENNES (1948-2015)
Ghislaine Sincennes was a busy farmer, mother of five, craftswoman, and volunteer, but she always made room in her life for more—more people at her kitchen table and more community causes to support.
During the summer, you could always find her on her International tractor, raking hay in the fields with her husband, Gérard. Spring would find her at the couple’s sugar shack, la Sucrerie Sincennes. Following a request to allow school children to visit, the Sincennes opened the sugar shack to the public, who delighted in learning about the process of producing some of Quebec’s most famous maple syrup. At both the farm and the sugar shack, Ghislaine and Gérard were wonderful hosts. Over the years, they welcomed countless young people from the Katimavik program, who loved being on their farm so much they sometimes chose to live there instead of returning to the group accommodations at Camp Gatineau. During the summer, Ghislaine often cooked for over a dozen people, including family, friends, neighbours, and Katimavik participants, who kept in close touch long after their stay on the farm was over.
When her husband’s illness prompted a move from the farm to the village, Ghislaine threw herself into work at her church, the Paroisse Ste-Cécile de Masham, where she sang in the church choir and helped organize the church’s 150th anniversary celebrations. She participated on countless committees, including the Cercle des fermières du Quebec, where she worked at the local and provincial levels. She was also a talented craftswomen, particularly skilled at knitting and quilting. An active member of the parents’ school committee, she was instrumental in lobbying to establish Masham’s high school, École secondaire des Lacs. In 2001, during the International Year of Volunteers, she was honoured as Volunteer of the Year for La Pêche. [PHOTO: COURTESY OF ANDRÉ SINCENNES]
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Mary McConnell (1816-1887)
This extraordinary pioneer was one of the builders of the Outaouais region. Mary was born in 1816 and was a McConnell, a prominent family involved in the logging industry. In 1837, she married Robert Conroy, an ambitious merchant with whom she had 10 children.
The couple settled in Aylmer and built the British Hotel. Later, the McConnell-Conroys invested primarily in the development of transportation services, such as wood slides, embarkation docks, paving the Aylmer Road, and bridges, as well as stagecoach services.
In 1857, Mary bought the Deschênes Rapids farm, which became one of the most successful dairy farms in the Outaouais region. After her husband died in 1868, she took over the family businesses and modernized their sawmill. Later, she built a second sawmill with railway tracks running through it. Her mills produced up to 30 million feet of board in one season and employed 200 workers. This economic boom helped to establish the beginnings of the village of Deschênes Mills along the banks of the Ottawa River.
When she retired, she left her businesses to her children. Her sons, Robert and William Conroy, built a hydroelectric generating station on the Deschênes Rapids to power the surrounding neighbourhoods, factories and the streetcar linking Hull and Ottawa to Aylmer. The foundations of the hydroelectric dam are still visible today.
Mary’s acute business sense could have made her a ‘lumber baron’, a title reserved only for the men of that time. (Portrait ca 1875-80, artist unknown)
Lucy Faris (1855-1924)
Lucy Faris was born in Aylmer in 1855 to one of the first families to settle in the village. Her father, John Faris, was probably a farmer; her mother was called Mary Benedict. They had eleven children.
From a young age, Lucy enjoyed reading, listening to music, playing games, embroidery, crocheting, drawing, and so on. She had a lifelong dream of creating an educational and cultural facility for the good of all Aylmer residents, large and small, so they would have the chance to learn and play.
This benefactress, who lived her entire life in Aylmer, made her mark upon her death in 1924 by bequeathing the assets of a fund bearing her name, “Lucy Faris”, to open a library. She also donated her entire personal collection, which included 220 books, as well as periodicals, games, works of art and records. Her vision and community spirit led to the opening of Aylmer’s first library in 1938.
In May 2004, the town named a new library to honour her memory, which occupies two floors in Place des Pionniers. We should never forget the name Lucy Faris, a visionary who emphasized the importance of education for all, according to their interests, in a community space that will always be called the Lucy Faris Library, situated in the Old Aylmer neighbourhood of Gatineau. (Photo courtesy of Robert Ferris)
Marjorie Davison (1915-67)
Marjorie Davison was born in Aylmer in 1915. She was a member of one of the pioneering families. Her great-grandfather, James Finlayson Taylor, was one of Aylmer’s first inhabitants and a contemporary of Charles Symmes, the city’s founder.
In 1921, when she was only six years old, Marjorie was deeply affected by the great fire that ravaged much of the city. Perhaps this explains her fascination with the fires that marked her professional life! Marjorie documented many fires. A talented photographer, she was one of the first women in the country to join the national press in the 1940s, at a time when the world of journalism was still fiercely male. As part of her journalistic duties, she interviewed and photographed numerous political figures, as well as several dignitaries from varied backgrounds.
Marjorie quickly gained prominence as her photos appeared in prestigious magazines and newspapers such as Time, Mayfair, Life, Saturday Night and The Globe and Mail. The success and toughness of this determined woman in a male-dominated environment would go on to inspire many stories about her career. She eventually realized her dream by creating and running her own Ottawa news agency, the Capital Press Service, which employed six people.
Marjorie was passionate about history and antiques and went on to write a book on Canadian furniture with her husband, Philip Shackleton. Her archives are held by the Aylmer Heritage Association. They are a valuable resource for knowing and appreciating our regional history and heritage. (Photo: Aylmer Achives)
Yvette Debain (1926-2008)
Born in Ottawa in 1926, Yvette Bond was passionate about literature, French culture and exploration. For a few years, she corresponded with Pierre Debain, a young French artist who lived in Algeria and Morocco. He decided to come to Canada to marry his sweetheart Yvette, who was 26 at the time.
Yvette and Pierre started a family in a heritage house in Old Aylmer at 7 Front Street. In the 1970s, they built the L’Imagier Art Centre as an annex to the house using wood from the old barn located behind it and recycled materials. L’Imagier was officially opened in 1975. Successive exhibitions reflected contemporary regional artistic expression in an educational space created for Yvette Debain, who strove to convey the pleasure of discovering works of art.
Yvette loved animating tours and making young audiences experience a sense of wonder at the sight of a picture or sculpture. She always welcomed her visitors with her legendary smile and kindness. She appreciated the pleasure people felt in discovering artworks in the spaces of L’Imagier.
In 1987, in partnership with the City of Gatineau, Yvette created the Parc de l’Imaginaire, a small outdoor museum with sculpted benches and a Japanese fountain featuring musicians and professional performing artists. A pavilion welcomes artists during the summer months. In 2005, the city awarded the Ordre de Gatineau to Yvette Debain. The Imagier Art Centre and Parc de l’Imaginaire will continue to thrive with artistic performances. (Photo: Ville de Gatineau)
CATHERINE (TIMLIN) O’BOYLE HOLMES (1825-1911)
Catherine, known as Ketty, was born in County Mayo, Ireland, to tenant farmers. She experienced the horrors of the Great Irish Hunger of 1847 and the death of a husband and two children before immigrating to Canada. She embarked on the perilous Atlantic crossing with her sister, brother-in-law, and their children. One by one, the family died, and Catherine, always a religious woman, bribed the sailors with biscuits to ensure they were allowed a small wake before being thrown into the sea. After making her way to Kingston, where she was quarantined, she joined a group of people walking the nearly 200 kilometres to Bytown (Ottawa), where she found work as a maid.
Through friends in Cantley, Catherine met and married another Irish immigrant, William Holmes. Thus began the second phase of Catherine’s life as a busy farm wife and mother of nine on an isolated farm in Wilson’s Corners. She worked the land, raised a large family, smoked a clay pipe, and never missed saying the rosary at night. Her faith saw her tramping through the bush with her two-week-old daughter, ferrying across the Gatineau River, and continuing the journey to St. Stephen’s Church in Chelsea on foot to have her baby baptized.
Catherine and William worked their piece of farm land for 14 years before receiving their land grant, and the farm has remained in the family ever since. Although Catherine received letters from Ireland, she never returned to her homeland.
To view video of Catherine’s life click HERE
[PHOTO: COURTESY OF AGATHA HOLMES DALY]