Coming to Selkirk
Alphonse Langlois was born in Terrebonne, Quebec in 1844. He married a French Arcadian woman, Marie Cartier, from New Brunswick. The large family moved from Quebec to Nova Scotia before relocating to Crookston, Minnesota in 1860. Several years later they travelled down the Red River in 1884 on a raft to St. Laurent where Peter Langlois was born in 1888. Alphonse was a boatbuilder who taught Peter his trade.
John (Jock) MacDonald, immigrated from Scotland on a stolen two-mastered ketch with eight other Scottish boys. He met and married a Cree woman, Catherine Thomas from Selkirk. They had three children, Kate, Jessi, and John (Jock).
Peter and Jessi met in Selkirk and were married in 1912. Their fifteen children would then become the beginning of the legacy left behind by the Langlois Family.
The Next Generation
Peter made masts out of balsam wood. He would shave the bark off each log, place it on a rack, and turn the mast by a quarter turn each day for one year. This made very light, very strong sailing masts. Aside from mast and boat building, Peter was also a trapper, fisherman navigating Lake Winnipeg aboard the C.G.S. Bradbury, lighthouse keeper at George Island, and a Lake Winnipeg Surveyor for the Department of Public Works.
Like many other fishermen and mariners, Peter took up a room at the Merchant’s Hotel while working for the Department of Public Works. While staying there, he met Jessi, who was working as a chambermaid. She caught his eye so much so that when he noticed her with her banjo in the Salvation Army Band, he rushed home to get his fiddle and sign up.
After Peter and Jessi married in 1912, they had fifteen children: Cyril, George, Carl, Edward, John (Jock), Norman, Gordon, William, Henry, Charlie, Jean, Jessie, Ernest, Dorothy, and Herbert. The large family lived at 442 Manitoba Avenue.
Supporting a large family through the 1920s was difficult, but the 1930s came with even more challenges, which led Peter to trade Timothy Eaton his design for a two-piece snowshoe in exchange for housing. The Timothy Eaton company owned numerous stores throughout Canada. Timothy Eaton owned a few stone quarries at Hecla Island. He offered Peter the Quarry Master House at the abandoned Limestone Quarry on the north-west side of what is now called Hecla Island. The house had previously been inhabited by sheep who had escaped from the Icelanders at Hecla Village. A lot of clean up had to be done before the place was habitable. However, the sheep provided leftover wool which was used to make warm mitts, socks, sweaters, and toques.
The children grew to be resourceful and hardy. They were raised on the land, hunting, fishing, boat and mast building, and crafting snowshoes. When five of the Langlois brothers left home, they walked 32 miles across Lake Winnipeg to Manigotagan, where they worked at logging camps for one dollar a day. They spent two and a half years living in the wilderness, travelling by canoe in the summer and snowshoe in winter. Gradually they moved on to work at sawmills and gold mining towns in Northern Ontario.
When World War II broke out six brothers enlisted at the same time, and three brothers followed, making a total of nine brothers to serve in the war.
A Fighting Family
Cyril enlisted in 1941 with the King’s Own Fort Garry Horse where he then became Squadron Sargeant Major of the 10th Armoured Tank Regiment.
George was a Private in the West Essex Scottish Regiment. He was taken prisoner by the Germans twelve hours after landing in Normandy. He and several other soldiers were able to escape capture by tunneling out of the prisoner of war camp.
Carl attempted to join the forces twice but was refused the first time due to poor health. He joined the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry and served as an officer’s mess cook until the war ended in 1945.
Edward enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force and was on one of the bombing squadrons that raided Germany nightly throughout the war. He remained enlisted for 20 years. He retired from Bristol Air in Winnipeg as Chief Mechanic.
John (Jock) enlisted with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders as a radio operator. He later completed a course and joined the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry and then the Calgary Tankers. He was sent to Dieppe and Normandy with the Churchill Tag. When he landed with 7000 other Canadians at Dieppe, his was the only tank to return from the raid. They had spent two days camped upside down in their tank and had been presumed dead. After Dieppe, Jock was sent to Italy in 1943.
Prior to the war, Jock worked as a fisherman and freighter for the Paulson’s on Hecla Island. He spent his summers freighting fish from fishing camps to Winnipeg, cutting hay for the horses, and preparing for winter. In the wintertime he freighted fish from Hecla Island. He was paid in wool mitts, rubber boots, room and board, and a little pocket money.
William enlisted in 1942 with the Royal Canadian Artillery. He supported the First Canadian Reinforcement Division in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany.
Three younger brothers, Arthur, Ernest, and Herbert were too young to join the war when their older brothers left, but by the time the war ended all three of them were in the service overseas. Arthur enlisted with the Navy in 1944 escorting freight ships to Europe.
In all, 9 out of 12 sons from the Langlois Family joined the Canadian Forces in the war effort, but the Langlois contribution to WWII didn’t stop there. Peter was a WWI veteran. His example of self-sacrifice undoubtedly influenced his children. Jessi was active in war work as a member of the Lord Selkirk Chapter I.O.D.E., and the Canadian Legion. Jean, trained as a nurse at Grace Hospital, and then worked as a nurse’s aid at the major hospitals in Winnipeg during the war.
Like the story of the Dufferin Gang, the nine Langlois brothers accomplished a tremendous feat. They were not only nine men from the same residence, or street, but they were brothers, and who, for most part enlisted at the same time. Furthermore, they all returned from war safely. While their families are spread across the country today, their legacy of service, dedication, and bravery is forever remembered in Selkirk.
Langlois Family Collection
Jock Langlois Family Research
Jock Langlois Interview
The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 1944 and 1945
The Terrace Standard, 1994
The Selkirk Journal, 1986