Savoie, Antoine

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                                     Photographs & Memories
                  Antoine Savoie photo collection includes hundreds of faces from Neguac’s past
                                     By Denise Berthelotte

Antoine Savoie keeps a room full of relatives and absolute strangers in the basement of his home. Thousands of smiling faces are frozen in time on black and white photos, filed alphabetically in dozens of albums. The collection is a spin-off of Savoie's efforts to collect and arrange as many pictures of his ancestors as possible. As he wandered from house to house retaking photos of Savoie ancestors, he was compelled to shoot photos of other village families, too.

Savoie's collection was featured at a large family reunion held during the province's bicentennial year in 1984. The collection expanded to over 3,000 photos - about 650 Savoie relatives - before Antoine Savoie decided to take a break from his hobby. All the people whose pictures he photographed are ancestors of residents in Neguac and surrounding areas. Savoie used a special magnifying lens which attaches to his camera lens to take pictures of the old photographs. He also had the necessary equipment to develop his own photos.

The photos are of people born as early as the 1850's. Each photo is identified and in some cases, their parents or childrens' names are also included. At the moment, Savoie isn't sure what will become of his collection nor does he know if he will pursue the hobby.

For the time being he is content to dig out certain albums from time to time to share the collection of memories with residents at various family and community gatherings.

                             Love of photography, history sparks hobby

A career in the military led Antoine Savoie to his photography hobby. Over the years, Savoie has created his own personal photo museum bearing the images of thousands of people.

His love for photography developed in 1977 at a small radar station about 17 miles from Sept-Isles, Quebec. Savoie spent six years there developing pictures of military events and filling albums with the memories.

Meanwhile, his father was sending him old negatives of people who had long since passed away. "Dad use to borrow old negatives and send them to me to have them developed." Savoie was intrigued with the faces that appeared to him under the red light of the dark room. "I started seeing photos of ancestors I didn't even know existed." He was hooked from the beginning. When the small radar station closed in 1981, Savoie bought all the equipment and took it with him to Chatham where he was relocated.

Savoie was thrilled to hear of a Savoie reunion in time for the bicentennial reunion planned in 1984. It was then that the Savoie collection of photos was born. Savoie spent countless hours visiting houses and digging through attics to recapture images of old black and whites. "I have about 650 photos of the Savoies. They're all 8X10's," he said. Savoie said the photos are most appreciated whenever someone is recognized. "A lot of people don't even know these photos of their relatives exist," he said.

                        Cecile Godin, 95, matches stories to Savoie’s faces

Two of Neguac's richest historical resources got together Friday when photo historian Antoine Savoie met 95-year-old Cecile Godin. Godin rocked steadily in her chair with a serene look on her face. She knew someone was going to be tugging at her memory strings again. The twinkle in her eyes clearly stated she welcomed the opportunity. A smile flowed as her daughter, Hilda Robichaud, made the introductions. Antoine Savoie extended one hand to Godin while the other held onto a thick leather binder. No sooner were they introduced than the binder was opened and Godin was peering through hundreds of black and white photos.

Savoie flipped through the pages and came to an abrupt stop at the sight of an elderly woman with a widespread smile. "Do you recognize her?" Savoie asked Godin. "Oh", she said with a giggle. "That's me." He flipped to the next page to a much older photo of an elderly lady and asked Godin again if she recognized the woman. Godin stared at the picture for several seconds before answering. "It's me again, isn't it," she asked. Savoie told her no and asked her to look again. But the photo remained a mystery. "It's your mother," Savoie said. Godin's eyes raced back to the photo as her fingers outlined her mother's figure. "Oh, Mom," she said tenderly. "She looks so much like me. I thought it was me."

                               Godin started work in factory at age 10

Through Antoine Savoie's photograph collection, Cecile Godin was able to see pictures of her brothers and young men she remembered going to war and never returning. "So many young men left and never came back," she said with an exasperated voice. Godin remembered the war well. She also remembered the hardships that came with it and "continued for years after its end. I started working in the lobster factory with my mother when I was just 10 years old," she said. That was in 1912. Three years later she started working as a maid in private homes from Neguac to the former Chatham area. "We started very early in the morning and only got home late at night," she said.

Hard work was no stranger to the hands of Godin during her teenage years. In some cases, she was barely older than the children she cared for. It was only when she was 30 and married that her work was confined to her own home. But it didn't get any easier. The years of the Great Depression offered no mercy to those who put their pride ahead of hunger. People were able to get food stamps for items including flour; but many shied away from it. "I remember one man who made his daughter bring back food she got from 'La Dole'. They had no food but he was still too proud to accept it,” she said. Godin said although everyone worked hard in those days, poverty lurked in virtually every home. We ate a lot of herring those days,” she said laughing. Godin said they ate a lot of other fish and salt pork too. “They don’t make meat like they did back then.”

Despite the hard times, it appears as though people also knew how to have fun. Godin remembered ‘dancing up a storm’ on more than one occasion. “We were pretty wild back then, but I’m not telling on myself.”

Godin continues to enjoy one of her favourite card games; 45s. Since Godin has always made it a point to befriend everyone she meets, she has a long stream of friends to chose from for partners. “There are always people here visiting her,” her daughter said. At 95, Godin still holds on to the zest for life she was born with and is eager to share each day with as many friends as she can.

Source: Miramichi Leader – February 11, 1997

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