VIGNEAU, PLACIDE, fisherman, schooner captain, lighthouse-keeper, and author; b. 29 Aug. 1842 in Havre-aux-Maisons, Lower Canada, son of Vital Vigneau and Élise Boudreau; m. first 9 Jan. 1865 Louise Cormier in Pointe-aux-Esquimaux (Havre-Saint-Pierre), Lower Canada, and they had one child; m. there secondly 23 Nov. 1869 Victoire Doyle and they had seven children, three of whom reached adulthood; m. thirdly 27 June 1887 Suzanne Chevarie in Natashquan, Que., and they had one child; d. 1 March 1926 in Pointe-aux-Esquimaux.
Little is known about Placide Vigneau’s childhood and adolescence, except that he developed his intellectual curiosity thanks to the teachers in his home town on the Îles de la Madeleine. Following in the footsteps of his father, who was of Acadian origin, he learned the trade of deep-sea fishing. In November 1858 his family and a few other people moved from the Îles de la Madeleine to the new village of Pointe-aux-Esquimaux on the north shore of the St Lawrence. A fisherman, labourer, and shipowner, Placide worked with the rest of his family to eke out a living. Aboard his father’s schooner, he began as cabin-boy and keeper of the ship’s log, and later became its captain. In the spring of 1880, after working on many different crews, he would become the owner of his own schooner, the Phoenix.
On arriving in Pointe-aux-Esquimaux, Placide began to keep a journal in which he set down details of everyday life and of the course of his fishing expeditions, in the hope that various events and discussions he had witnessed would not be forgotten. In 1862 he met Louis Ouellet, the first teacher in the village, who became his close friend. Ouellet encouraged him – as did others – to persevere in his writing project. Throughout his life, Placide would gather masses of information, including songs, statistics, notes about his ancestors, and so on, and he would assemble a collection of books and objects, such as marine charts and artefacts retrieved from shipwrecks. Pierre-Étienne Fortin*, the stipendiary magistrate of fisheries, stopped regularly at Pointe-aux-Esquimaux. He too became a friend of Vigneau, who provided him with information for his annual reports, such as data about the seal, cod, and herring catches. Because of his intellectual abilities, Vigneau held a number of offices in the village: chief cantor at the church, secretary-treasurer of the school, and justice of the peace.
In the mid 1880s declining fish stocks led to such a food shortage that many families were forced to find new ways of earning their living. In the spring of 1892, after exploring numerous different possibilities, Vigneau became the keeper of the lighthouse on Île aux Perroquets, in the Mingan archipelago. This post had become open when the previous keeper, who had held it for only a few months, drowned. In 1912 Vigneau would, in turn, be succeeded by his son Hector. In addition to supervising the lighting mechanisms, his duties included maintaining the buildings and giving aid to sailors.
And so, as he approached the age of 50, Placide Vigneau embarked on a career that would give him more free time. Life on an island also provided the isolation that is sometimes necessary for a writer. Furthermore, Vigneau now began to enjoy relative financial security, with an annual salary of about $600 (from which he had to pay his assistant). While continuing to keep his journal, he wrote about an ever-widening range of subjects, including genealogy, folklore, natural medicines, and linguistics, and set down many accounts of events such as supernatural occurrences, shipwrecks, and visits from scientists. He telegraphed numerous dispatches of a practical nature to the Family Herald and Weekly Star in Montreal. By lending his manuscripts, he collaborated, along with Abbé Victor-Alphonse Huard, Paul Hubert, Bishop Charles Guay, and other authors, in producing works on the history of the north shore of the St Lawrence, the Îles de la Madeleine, and Acadia. For those interested in the history of these regions or in maritime history, Vigneau’s work is of immeasurable value.
Placide Vigneau is the author of “Histoire ou journal de la Pointe aux Esquimaux,” ANQ, Rapport ([Québec]), 1968: 5–294; “Les morses dans le golfe Saint-Laurent,” Le Naturaliste canadien (Québec), 35 (1908): 140–42; Un pied d’ancre; journal de Placide Vigneau . . . (Sillery, Qué., 1969); and Variétés de diverses farces et autres faits ridicules arrivés à la Pointe ou encore à des habitants de la Pointe, Guy Côté et Pierre Frenette, compil. ([Baie-Comeau, Qué.], 1996).
ANQ-BSLGIM, P11; ZQ1-S321, 2 oct. 1842. ANQ-CN, CE901-S3, 9 janv. 1865, 23 nov. 1869; CE901-S6, 27 juin 1887; P1; P19; P48; P53. Arch. du Séminaire de Chicoutimi (Chicoutimi, Qué.), C-11 (fonds de l’abbé V.-A. Huard), dossiers 328–31, 333. Antoine Bernard, “Placide Vigneau et la Côte Nord,” L’Évangéline (Moncton, N.-B.), 29 sept. 1931. Le Soleil, 5 mars 1926. Anthologie de textes littéraires acadiens, Marguerite Maillet et al., édit. (Moncton, 1979). Georges Arsenault, Complaintes acadiennes de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard ([Montréal], 1980), 119, 123–24, 126–29. René Bélanger, La Côte Nord dans la littérature; anthologie (Québec, 1971), 71–75. Antoine Bernard, Histoire de la survivance acadienne, 1755–1935 (Montréal, 1935), 5, 372–78; La renaissance acadienne au XXe siècle (Québec, ). “Capture d’un morse,” Le Naturaliste canadien, 35: 49–51. Anselme Chiasson, Les îles de la Madeleine: vie matérielle et sociale de l’en premier ([Montréal], 1981); Les légendes des îles de la Madeleine (2e éd., Moncton, 1976). Gérard Gallienne, “Placide Vigneau,” Soc. Canadienne de Généalogie, Cahier spécial A (Québec), janvier 1969: 3–24. Charles Guay, Lettres sur l’île d’Anticosti à l’honorable Marc-Aurèle Plamondon, juge de la Cour supérieure, en retraite, à Artabaskaville (Montréal, 1902), 131–40. V.-A. Huard, Labrador et Anticosti: journal de voyage, histoire, topographie, pêcheurs canadiens et acadiens, indiens montagnais (Montréal, 1897), 188–89, 253–54. Paul Hubert, Les îles de la Madeleine et les Madelinots (Rimouski, Qué., 1926), 11, 111–17, 132–33, 148–52. Chantal Naud, Chronologie des îles de la Madeleine . . . (L’Étang-du-Nord, Qué., 1993), 61–62. La paroisse acadienne de Havre-Saint-Pierre célèbre, dans l’action de grâce, son premier siècle d’histoire, 1857–1957 (s.l., 1957). Carmen Roy, “Les Acadiens de la rive nord du fleuve Saint-Laurent,” National Museum of Canada, Contributions to Anthropology (Ottawa), 1961–62, part.ii: 155–98. Berchmans Scherrer, Un peu d’histoire: Havre-Saint-Pierre ([Gallix, Qué., 1996]).