It is said that Honoré Bourdeau enjoyed walking around on his land with his wife Rose to contemplate the vast oat and corn fields that were the fruit of their labour. Pulling a sheaf of oats, they would admire the beauty of the golden grains rolling in the palm of their hands.
Bourdeau had farming in his blood just like his father and grandfather, who cultivated the rich soils in the Ste-Marie range in Embrun for more than a century.
Born on February 28, 1914 on the family farm, he took over the operation from his grandfather Ovila Bourdeau in 1936, at age 22. His father Émile had bought the farm from his father-in-law in Crysler.
When he settled on the 75-acre farm, it was already paid for since the young Honoré had invested the money he’d earned as a teacher at the rural school.
It was a rocky start, though, because they had to find additional resources to buy purebred cows, build barns and silos, get more land, buy machinery and drain the land.
Honoré and Rose successfully met all the challenges. With a strong physical build and business experience, he solved problems one day at a time. Family life was very busy too. The couple gave birth to and raised – in the noblest sense of the term – four daughters and three sons. When the youngest son, Denis, took over the farm in 1978, he became the owner of a whole estate: a productive, well-managed farm business which belonged to the agricultural elite class in Ontario.
However, Honoré Bourdeau’s accomplishments in agriculture are not limited to the development of his business.
In order to better understand his achievement, it should be pointed out that Bourdeau was an “educated” man for the time. After earning his eighth-grade diploma from the village school, he enrolled in the Embrun Model School where he earned the equivalent of a tenth-grade diploma. He then earned an elementary school teacher certificate. At 17, he got his first teaching job at anelementary school in St-Albert. He then taught school in the Sudbury area, where he met Rose Henri who would later become his life partner for 53 years.
When he returned to his native Embrun in 1936, at age 22, his reputation as an educated, honest and generous young man already had preceded him, and for the rest of his life, he was called upon to help numerous voluntary organizations.
He first got involved in the farm sector. Upon his return to Eastern Ontario, he accepted to hold a secretary position at the St-Albert Cheese Coop. He then became a founding member of the Coopérative agricole d’Embrun, which he served as a director for six years. From 1960 to 1970, he was the president of the Producteurs de porc (the hog farmers association). During that period, he was also the president of the Russell County Federation of agriculture. From 1967 to 1984, he was the Ontario crop insurance representative and a member of the loan review committee for Eastern Ontario. Throughout his working life, he was also a diligent member of the Russell County Soil and Crop Improvement Association. In 1985, the association awarded him the Ordre du Mérite agricole, a recognition awarded annually. From 1956 to 1982, he was an insurance broker with the Co-operators company, a mutual insurance company serving farmers. For 15 years, he was also a representative of the Prescott Mutual Insurance Company, another co-operative serving the agricultural community.
Alternately, he got involved in municipal politics as a city councillor and deputy reeve. His teacher training also led him to work with school boards for many years.
Throughout his life, he also dedicated himself to parish and community work as a member of the parish council and as the president of the Embrun recreation centre, a position he held for nine years. He also generously served in the Knights of Columbus council, the Richelieu Club and the Seniors club.
A man of faith with a welcoming heart, he was deeply attached to his Church and to organizations of the time such as the Ligue du Sacré-Cœur and the Société St-Jean-Baptiste. He was also involved in the administration of temporal matters in his parish. He expressed his faith through his sympathy and his generosity. Many people received food and shelter in his home, where they would stay for months or for years.
Bourdeau was also a firm believer in another religion: co-operation. Throughout his life, he strongly believed that co-operative institutions could be an important lever of socio-economic development in the Franco-Ontarian community. A man of action rather than words, he led by example when it came to co-operation. In 1945, in the aftermath of the Second World War, he was part of a group of 25 that founded the Caisse populaire d’Embrun by purchasing membership shares of five dollars each, payable ten cents a week. He was the founding president of the institution. He held that position for 34 years and served as a director for 36 years, from 1964 to 1983.
Moreover, he held an administrative position at the Chapitre des caisses populaires St-Laurent Outaouais from 1964 to 1982.
As mentioned earlier, he helped the St-Albert Cheese Coop and was a founding member of the Coopérative agricole d’Embrun. He also worked in two mutual insurance companies. In 1985, he received the highest distinction from the Ordre du Mérite coopératif ontarien.
This outstanding Franco-Ontarian pioneer passed away on March 20, 2000. He left a rich and fruitful heritage: a progeny who took over the community leadership role, a model farm business skillfully managed by the fifth generation, a strong co-operative movement which drives today’s community and associative life in his community, and the memory of a man who deeply loved the land and his fellow men.