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87. RESTRICTIONS AND PENALTIES IN DAYS OF YORE

Yarmouth Vanguard, Tuesday, August 28, 1990


As I have already said in one of the previous sketches, one of the traits by which our 20th century will be characterized in history will surely be that of changes. We who were born in its first decade and are heading for its last, seem to be living in a different world. During that first decade, electricity was a very rare commodity, very few homes had a telephone, automobiles were just in their infancy, airplanes had hardly gotten out of their cocoon. Radio was thought of as a possibility, while television was not even thought of. People then lived an entirely different life than that of today. And what about manners which used to be daring, but now are of commonplace? Or what about attitudes which used to be outlawed, but are now taken for granted? In what follows we will see that, as our century is about to come to a close, much of the course of our daily life, now considered as being entirely admissible, used to be banned and even punishable, especially on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities.


Let us take, for example, dancing. Some of you, in this day and age, might be astonished to learn how the ecclesiastical authorities and even some good people were madly against it. Just before the American Revolution, for example, Jeanne Duon, widow of François Mius, came back from exile and settled with her son Ben in what the French people call, for that reason, “La Pointe-des-Ben” (Muise’s Point). January 2, 1777, her daughter Isabelle writes to her from Pubnico, saying that she has heard that she, her mother, allowed dancing in her house, even on Sundays. Moreover, “I hear of the bad use that you have made of the clothing of my deceased sister Cecile; instead of selling them so that people might have prayed to deliver her from purgatory, you have let my other sister make use of them to go to the ball and amusements and serve the devil.”


And what do you think of this? In the time of Father Sigogne, dancing was allowed sometimes at weddings; but then, the boys were to dance among themselves in one room, and the girls were to dance among themselves in another room.


Without going back that far, at the beginning of this century, dances were entirely forbidden by the pastor in private houses or public places, except at the dance hall. And even at that, permission from the pastor was required. It was given at weddings and at very few other occasions, as on New Year’s Eve. Some pastors would strictly ask that the dance would end at ll:30, so that people could get home to say their evening prayer before midnight. Time and time again, permission was sought to have a dance on Shrove Tuesday; some pastors would refuse to grant it, pretexting that it was not the way for Christians to prepare themselves for Lent.


Of all the misbehaviors that could take place, unlawful unions especially were rapped most severely by the ecclesiastical authority. There was in Abram’s River a man that people called “Guelou.” Becoming a widower, he wanted to remarry the first cousin of his former wife; they were cousins on both sides. That constituted what is called a double impediment of affinity, which invalidated the marriage. It would seem that Father Sigogne would not bother asking for a dispensation from the Bishop. So what happened? They went to Tusket to be married by a Justice of the Peace. That brought the wrath of Father Sigogne. In such cases, the guilty parties had to stay in the lobby of the church during Mass, being forbidden to enter the church proper, and often times people were asked to have no communication with them. It was only ten or eleven years later, when the Bishop visited Sainte-Anne-du-Ruisseau, that the required dispensation was granted and that the marriage was blessed.


Another marriage of a couple from Sainte-Anne-du-Ruisseau that took place before a Justice of the Peace made quite a fuss. It was that of Pierre Surette and Marcelline Babin who were closely related. When Father Sigogne, who was in Church Point, heard about it, he rushed to Sainte-Anne-du-Ruisseau and on Sunday, before starting the Mass he told the guilty parties to leave the church along with those who had encouraged the marriage. “I will not start to say Mass before those eleven persons that I have mentioned have left the church,” he told them. After some time, the couple reconciled themselves with the law of the church, but it had been under the condition that, during the next six years, they had to attend the divine services at the entrance of the church, the man on the side of the men (as the men and women were separated in church) and the woman on the side of the women. The woman would have to wear a white kerchief on her head and the man a white kerchief around his neck. Each would have to hold a lighted candle, at least from the “Sanctus.” Only the Bishop and himself would be able to dispense them from this penance. The marriage was finally blessed November 5, 1826.


Father Sigogne was not the only one to act so severely against illicit unions. We read in the Quinan church registers the following: “Nov. 25, 1877. Public reparation of scandal. At the parish Mass in St. Ann’s Church, Anselme Muise and Vitaline Doucet made public reparation of the scandal given by their living together as man and wife for two years without being validly married. (They had gone to Yarmouth to get married before a Justice of the Peace.) They knelt at the altar rail while Father Restler, S.J.(who was preaching a mission) asked pardon of the congregation for them and the choir sang the ‘De Profundis’ “. They were validly married after obtaining a dispensation from the Bishop. They were first cousins on both sides.


With regard to the way that women dressed, especially during the last century, we find a number of examples in the church registers of the penalties inflicted on those who did not dress modestly, or even on those who wanted to follow the “latest style.” At a time when every woman would wear as head covering a kerchief, two ladies from Church Point went to Weymouth and bought each a hat. The following Sunday, Father Sigogne, noticing those “stupidities”, directed his whole sermon blasting against the “immoral” styles of the day.


It must have been around the same time that at the beginning of the Mass one Sunday, when the priest used to go along the middle aisle of the church sprinkling holy water to bless the people, that a certain priest, coming to this certain lady, stopped and watered copiously the artificial flowers that she had on her hat. And not long ago, when a priest giving communion to the people kneeling in a row at the altar rail, would skip women wearing a low-cut dress. This reminds me of a pastor whom I heard complaining from the pulpit many years ago that women’s dresses were going up at the bottom and down at the top.


I have many more such examples in my repository. Those given here are enough to show how things can change even in the course of a century.

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