Joseph Edward Brazeau: Some local history
There are very few figures that have marked Canada and Alberta’s history that saw their names given to so many geographical entities. Thirteen official toponyms – and not minor ones – carry on Joseph Edward Brazeau’s memory (1812-1871).
Two mountain ranges (Brazeau Range and Le Grand Brazeau), two rivers (Brazeau and North-West Brazeau), two lakes (Brazeau and Brazeau Mine Pit), a high peak (Mount Brazeau), a municipal district (Brazeau County), a dam (Brazeau Dam), a canal, a reservoir, a confluence, and a railway station claim his surname.
Originally from America, Joseph Edward Brazeau was born on March 10, 1812 in St. Louis, Missouri. He was the son of Joseph Brazeau Jr. and Julia Robidoux; they themselves were from Kaskaskia (Illinois).
Very little information from his younger years remains today. Around 1830, he joined the service of the American Fur Company, and was successively assigned to positions in Yellowstone and in High Missouri.
He lived among the Cheyenne and the Pieds-Noirs (Blackfoot) for several years. He earned himself a desirable reputation among them, namely, that of him being a fearless man. Brazeau worked for many years on behalf of the Hudson’s Bay Company (1846-1869), which had hired him as both a master of a posthouse and a civil servant. He was assigned to various posts: Fort Carlton, Fort Assiniboine, Jasper House, Rocky Mountain House, and Fort Edmonton amongst others.
Accomplished polyglot, Brazeau is said to have known nine languages and dialects. He would express himself in French, English, Spanish, and was quite capable of conversing with the Apsáalooke (Crow), the Dakota (Sioux), the Nitsitapii (Blackfoot), the Cree, the Assiniboine, and the Saulteux.
His services as an interpreter were frequently selected and valued. Many figures that have left a mark on their era enjoyed his company, praised his interpersonal skills, and pointed out his sharp mind.
This was the case for John Palliser, James Hector, Captain Arthur Brisco, James Carnegie (Earl of Southesk), and for the painter Georges Catlin.
In 1831, Brazeau married Marguerite Brabant (Salois) (1815-1885). Their children’s names give clues about the man’s distinct in historical great names. One of their boys was named George Washington (1845-1880), another one was John Horace Nelson (born 1850).
Another one of his original traits was his somewhat unusual outfits. He preferred wrapping a cloak around himself rather than wearing an overcoat. And in order to have more panache, he would put on a large sombrero that had dark colour.
It has been written numerous times that Brazeau was of Metis and Creole descent, and that he descended from an old Spanish family. Though his Iberian ancestry was never questioned, his paternal lineage has recently been laid out (I believe further research is needed) that situates his distant ancestors in France, and Paris to be more specific.
It appears that Joseph Edward Brazeau was Nicolas Brazeau’s descendant, a wheelwright that lived in St. Paul Parish on La Cerisaie Street in Paris. Nicolas married Perette (or Perinne) Billard, who was from Chaumont-en-Vexin. In June 1680, the couple joined the service for three years in New France on Sirs Jacques Leber and Charles Lemoine’s behalf. The couple embarked for America in 1681. Two years later, Nicolas put in a request to Frontenac in order to create “a mastery of skills,” which would oblige those who wanted to be wheelwrights to do “a masterpiece right before his eyes.” Many years went by, then Nicolas and Perette took up residence in the St. Lawrence Lowland. Thus, Joseph Edward Brazeau’s ancestral family established their line of descendants in America.
Joseph Edward Brazeau passed away on September 1, 1871 in Big Lake (St. Albert).
Originally published in Le Franco, 18-24 February 2016 issue, by Carol J. Léonard. Reprinted with permission from Le Franco. Translated by Germain Richard.
Many thanks to history enthusiast Philippe Gibeau for bringing this article to our attention, and doing the work to have it translated and obtaining permission to reprint it.