Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sail Away, Sail Away, Sail Away

Within the hustle and bustle of 2012 La Rochelle, especially on a week-end celebrating "FrancoFun" with throngs of people crowding the streets, it's difficult to imagine what Jean and Jeanne Gobeil might have been thinking and feeling as they prepared to leave on their journey to "La Nouvelle-France".

The two towers that guard the entrance to the port would have been there in 1665, looking just as impressive as they do today.  La Rochelle would have been a very busy port city even back then, with more people and activity than Jean and Jeanne had ever witnessed.

Perhaps their sailboat, Le Rubis, was harboured nearby, waiting for their embarkation.  They would have been tired from their journey from Niort to LaRochelle which today takes 40 minutes by car, but probably took a few days back then.  Would they have travelled by horse and carriage, by oxen-drawn carts?  I can only imagine them leaving the only home they knew, carrying with them their few meagre possessions.

Jean would no doubt have been the adventurer, looking forward to his departure and anticipating what would be waiting for him in his new, adopted land.  He was a share-cropper in Niort (métayer), so he probably hoped for success as a land-owner in Nouvelle-France.  He no doubt dreamed of a better life for his young family.

Jeanne might have had a very different perspective.  She had never left Niort and that big world out there might have represented too much of the unknown.  She would have worried about her four daughters, wondering if the voyage would be horrendous, whether the children would get sick, whether they'd have enough food, whether there would be any storms...  She probably also wondered what the new land would be like and whether they would have difficult times.  But as the old French saying goes, "Qui prend mari, prend pays".  She had married Jean, so she vowed to follow him.

So they girded their courage and forged ahead.

Entrance to the old town

We are all standing next to a huge anchor, possibly the same size as the anchor on Le Rubis.

And then this young family turned to look at La Rochelle one last time, seeing the towers diminish in size, knowing that they would never see their homeland or their loved ones again.  What an emotional time for them, a heart-wrenching parting.

Had they not been so adventurous, we Gobeils might still be living in Niort, and who knows what life we would have shaped for ourselves.  But this spark of bravery and hope, mixed with strong will and fortitude, made that we are now Canadians.  Generations have migrated within Canada so that Gobeils can now be found from east to west of the country, as well as part of the US, and all of them trace their genealogical roots to Jean and Jeanne.  To this day, there remains a strong link and attachment to the land of our ancestors.

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