|Date of Birth||January 1, 1869|
|Place of Birth||Malville|
|Next of Kin||Melanie Benoiton, wife, Kenora, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||labourer|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Address at Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||August 7, 1947|
|Age at Death||78|
|Buried At||Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario|
Etienne Benoiston (later changed to Benoîton once in Canada) was born on 1 January 1869 in Malville, Savenay, France. His parents were Benoist Benoiston and Francoise Brizay. In 1889 Etienne joined the French Army, his service booklet describing him as having chГўtains (auburn) hair, grey eyes, ordinary forehead, average nose, round jaw, average mouth, and oval face. He stood 163 centimetres (5.35 feet) in height. At the time Etienne’s occupation was given as cultivateur (farmer). Dates of service were given as follows: in reserve of active army, 1 November 1893; in the Territorial Army, 15 November 1903; in reserve of Territorial Army, 1 October 1909; and final release was to be 1 October 1916.
Etienne arrived in New York aboard the SS Statendam on 23 June 1903. Although the passenger list indicated that his final destination was Montreal, after likely spending time in Rathwell, Manitoba, Etienne was to make Kenora in northwestern Ontario his home. According to the 1911 Canada census Etienne was joined by his wife Melanie Mariaud and daughter Berthe (born 6 June 1897 in France) in 1905. Their names were found on the passenger list of the SS St Louis that arrived in New York on July 5th, destination given as Rathwell, although they were listed as not on board. The couple gave birth to son Benoit on 31 October 1907 in Kenora. By the time of the 1911 census Etienne was working as a labourer for the Canadian Pacific Railway.
As written in the local newspaper the Kenora Miner and News, an article of 18 October 1916 reported that Etienne, a French Reservist, had left Kenora the May last to join his regiment in France. The article brought terrible news, that his wife Melanie had received word from the French Consul-General in Montreal that Etienne had been killed in action. It is not known if Etienne had been wounded or what triggered the news of his death but the information was false. According to his service record Etienne had returned to active service on 17 June 1916 until discharge on 28 November 1918. A second newspaper article of 8 January 1919 spoke of Etienne’s return to Kenora a few days earlier. He had arrived in New York aboard the SS Espagne on the 1st of January.
The 1921 Canada census found the family living in the Southward District of Kenora, with family members listed on the census as Etienne and Melanie, and children Berthe, Benoit, and new additions to the family since the 1911 census, Flora, age 11 and Etienne, age 9 (these children were not found in any other records and the family has no knowledge of their existence). Although Berthe was listed on the census she had already left Kenora and was listed on a 1919 Billboard mailing list, Billboard a company for collecting and forwarding mail for performers and showfolk. Over the years Etienne not only worked for the CPR but also for the Rat Portage Lumber Company, the Box Factory of the Keewatin Lumber Company, and in later life, he ran a small market garden in Kenora.
None of the Benoîton children remained in Kenora. Berthe joined the Johnny J Jones Exposition as a dancer after their stay in Kenora, eventually marrying Donald McDaniels, the owner of the Penny Arcade and a donkey ride, the Rocky Road to Dublin. Donald died suddenly in a work accident (he was electrocuted) in 1933, leaving Berthe to inherit the two which she operated up to her demise, primarily on the James E Strates Shows. According to her nephews, she was a kind and friendly soul but learned to be tough in business by necessity. She had no permanent address, living with friends during the winter off season. Because of this lifestyle she was known by most as Aunt Gyp, short for gypsy. She died of uterine cancer in a hospital in Birmingham, Alabama on 17 April 1973. She is interred next to Donald in the Maplewood Cemetery in Anderson, Indiana.
Benoit married Alice Girouard on 15 May 1928 in Somerset in the District of Lorne, Manitoba. Alice was the granddaughter of one of the first settlers in the area who had arrived from Quebec via a stint in Massachusetts. Benoit worked in his father-in-law’s grocery store after his marriage and then a few years in the flour mill. He developed a skin irritation and was advised to move away from the prairies. Benoit and Alice gave birth to seven children, with only Normand Léo and René surviving past infancy. During WW2 Etienne spent the winter months in Somerset with the family and up until they moved to Montreal in 1947. Montreal was chosen because Alice’s sister, then Berthe Girouard, Flight Lieutenant of the Royal Canadian Air Force and later (1951-1956) the recruiting Officer for the RCAF for Montreal, lived there. René and Léo spent, amongst other, the three summer months of the move in 1947 on the carnival with Gyp. Benoit worked as a salesperson in a menswear shop and Alice had a stint as an employee of Simpsons store. Benoit died in Verdun, Quebec on 18 January 1997. Alice continued on her own alone in Verdun until she was moved to Foyer Notre Dame in Notre Dame de Lourdes, Manitoba in December of 2001. She died on 19 June 2004, seven months after her 100th birthday, and is interred in the Somerset Catholic Cemetery beside Benoit’s ashes next to their children that had died as infants.
Following in their grandfather’s footsteps, René and Léo joined the Canadian Officers Training Corps at Loyola College (now part of Concordia University) in the midst of the Korean War, René graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce and Léo with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. They remained members of the military reserve until released about 25 years later.
Predeceased by his wife Melanie on 14 September 1923, Etienne died on 7 August 1947 at St Joseph’s Hospital in Kenora. At the time of his death he was survived by his daughter Berthe in the United States, son Benoit and wife Alice of Montreal, and two grandchildren, René and Léo. Along with Melanie he is interred in the Lake of the Woods Cemetery in Kenora.
by Judy Stockham
newspaper clippings: Kenora Miner and News
family photographs, documents, and family information: courtesy of Etienne’s grandsons