The Roys of Québec

I began my research on my grandfather’s side of the family. My father’s name was Tony Roy (Louis Antonio Henri Roy). He was the son of J. O. Henri Roy and Eva Castonguay and was born on 20 August 1910.

I am truly amazed by how much I have been able to discover about the Roys of Québec. One reason there is so much information available is that the Roy family is one of the most prolific families of the province. You can safely assume that if your ancestors came from Québec, and your name is Roy, you are related to many of the other Roys from Québec.

L’Association des Familles Roy d’Amérique (the Association of Roy Families of America) offers membership to and information on the Roys of Québec who descended from 21 main families that came from France in the 1600’s and established roots in Canada and the United States. I became a member of the association in 2018 and have learned so much from them, much of which I include in my forthcoming book.

71-e1395599408646.jpgThere is even a coat of arms! The official coat of arms for the French-Canadian Roys was inaugurated by the association in 1997.

The heraldic description is as follows: “The shield: Azure behind a ship of the seventeenth century made of gold, equipped and decorated with silver, supported by waves of silver and azure (called a champagne) and accompanied above by the gathering of a man and woman’s hand in silver, all accompanied by two ears of golden wheat, counting forty-two grains together; mounted above by a rope of silver and red; for the crest: a rose of the silver winds; and for motto: Joy – Fraternity – Respect.”

Each element has a symbolic value: The ship is modeled after one of the last built in France; in later years, ships like these were bought from Holland. At least 40 Roys emigrated to Canada in the 1600’s and the association recognizes 21 families who established roots in the country, which relates to the 42 grains in the wheat, one for each pioneer and one for each of their wives who were equally brave. The hand of the man and woman conjoined denotes respect for the family, and fraternity for the relationship between the newcomers and natives. The wind rose signals to the world that the great Roy family is now established in every corner of America.

There was not just one Roy family who came over from France to Canada, but in fact, between 36 to 40 different men with the last name Roy who settled in Canada in the 1600’s. The mother of Samuel de Champlain, who established Québec City, was a Roy.

There are some remarkable men and women in this large Canadian family. Among others there are: Etienne-Férreol Roy (1771 – 1852) polititian, Joseph-Edmond Roy (1858 – 1913), editor, historian, political figure; Gabrielle Roy (1909-1983), novelist and woman of letters; Monseigneur Maurice Roy (1905-1985), cardinal of the Catholic Church; Pierre-George Roy (1870-1953) first curator of the archives of the province of Québec; Yolande Roy, comedienne; Chantale Roy, former weather presenter on TV; Claude Roy, considered the founding father of pediatric gastroenterology; Claude Roy, politician; Fabien Roy, politician; Jean-Yves Roy, politician; Sylvie Roy (1964-2016), lawyer and politician.

Although many of these Roys may not be related to my family directly, Roy is a well-established name throughout the world. From actors to athletes, musicians to political figures, there are many Roys who have come into the public eye. Beyond the ones mentioned above there are: Brandon Roy is a retired American basketball player who played for the Portland Trailblazers and Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA; Patrick Roy is a Canadian former hockey goaltender and currently head coach and Vice President of the Colorado Avalance team in the NHL; Drew Roy is an American actor who appears in mostly independent movies but also played Robin in the “Robin” movie; Bryan Roy is a Dutch football manager and former professional player; Lesley Roy is a singer/songwriter from Dublin, Ireland.

Roy is a common name in India: Arundhati Roy (novelist and peace activist), Raja Ram Mohan Roy (founder of a socio-religious movement in Bangal), Kamini Roy (leading Bangali poet), Chinmoy Roy (comedian and actor), Tathagata Roy (politician), and Ambar Roy (cricketer) are just a few. The name in India was adopted by those who had a title of honor conferred by the British Raj.

The ancestors of the Canadian Roys settled in the St. Lawrence River valley starting around 1660 and lived in clans for over 300 years. Although many have since left Québec, many others who stayed in the region still live in those clans and that is why Roy is a common name there. It is the third most common name in Québec after Tremblay and Gagnon. (source: Roy, Remi)

Most of the ancestors lived (and many descendants still live) on the south shore, across the St. Lawrence River from Québec City, from Lévis in the west to Montmagny in the east, only about 50 miles apart. The scenery between Beaumont and Saint-Vallier is spectacular. The view of Île d’Orléans (the Isle of Orléans) and the mountains on the north shore is among the most beautiful in Québec, as is the valley between Beaumont and Lévis.

The clan lived together without moving more than a few miles. Everyone knew most everyone else and intermarried over several generations. For example, Rosalie Cameron married one of my direct paternal ancestors, Eustache Roy. Both Eustache and Rosalie were descendants of the same couple who came over from France. Rosalie’s mother was a Roy, and her father’s mother was also a Roy, both of whom descended from the same branch of the family tree. It appears that at least three generations of Camerons married members of the Roy family.

I had never been to this area before. But in the summer of 2018, I visited for the first time several of the villages along the south shore: Bertier-sur-Mer, Saint-Vallier and Montmagny. In the small village of Saint-Vallier is a church. If you turn down Roy Avenue from the main street, there is a cemetery overlooking the river. I would say about sixty percent of the headstones have the name Roy on them.

During my visit, I met several of the descendants of the Roy ancestors. A reunion had been organized by the Association of Roy Families of America in Saint-Vallier. About sixty people attended, all named Roy. This is but a fraction of the Roys who I can claim blood ties with.

It was a wonderful thing to be among perfect strangers who nonetheless had something more in common with me than just their name and blood. They, too, were seeking their identities, their histories, their connection to the old world of the French-Canadian colony called New France and with the country of France. They, too, wanted to hear stories of bravery and perseverance and survival; to know that they came from strong French stock who, with a stubbornness that is in all French-Canadians, had been able to make a decent living on the hard land of the Canadian landscape, and who still do so today.

In fact, the purpose of the association is two-fold: not just to find your relations but to share with them what you’ve learned about your family, so that a larger and more vivid picture can be created for all of us. This is about our history, our own personal story, not the story of some strangers. It helps explain who we are.

bellechasse
Bellechasse

The land of this beautiful valley is still primarily agricultural. Enormous farms with land as far as the eye can see stretch on and on along the shores. On the southern horizon one can make out the foothills of the northern edge of the Appalachian Mountain range. On the northern horizon are the hazy, sloping hillsides that form the base of the Laurentian Mountains. The large farms grow wheat there in the valley, peas and other staples. The people also grow blueberries, tap trees rich in maple syrup, and make their own local cheeses.

My husband James and I had dinner a few times in Montmagny, outside on a terrace in the unusually hot, summer weather. No one sat indoors. The few restaurants without terraces were forlorn and empty. We felt like we were in France, the language spoken around us was only French, the food was delicious using small, European-size portions, and everyone was busy talking to one another, not checking their cell phones. The lively, friendly atmosphere helped us to feel like we wanted to belong, too.

The St. Lawrence River is spectacular and massive: an estuary like the portion of the Hudson River I grew up on, it rises and falls with the tides around Québec City, creating mudflats along both the northern and southern shores which are nesting grounds for birds.

It is far wider in places than the Hudson, however, much deeper and far longer. The river flows 744 miles from Lake Ontario into the largest estuary of the world, the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Today, thanks to the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, it is now connected to Lake Erie as well. In winter, it can freeze over and form an ice bridge, that used to be used for crossing before there were bridges.

The basin at the site of Québec City is so enormous that an entire island fits into its width still leaving room for passing ships: the Isle of Orleans, which is 21 miles long and 5 miles wide. A bridge now connects the island to the norther shore of the river.

It was in this environment where my ancestors lived and settled. I was glad to know it and I look forward to going back and exploring more.

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