Peacefully at the Portage District General Hospital on Wednesday January 18, 2023, Mr. André Girard passed away at the age of 79 years.
He leaves to mourn his sons, Gerald (Lindsay) and Paul (Melanie); his grandchildren Ava, Declan, Gabrielle, Alyne and Jackson; his siblings Claudette Foster, Raymond (Bev) Girard, Suzanne White and Murielle MacMillan; his in-laws Sr. Anita Verley, Annette Verley (Paul Thorsteinson), Della Letain, Lucille (Kevin) Swordy, Sylvia Taggart, Roland (Lea) Verley and Reg (Wendy) Verley, as well as numerous nieces, nephews, relatives and friends.
Andy is predeceased by his wife Irene (née Verley); his parents Lucien and Olive Girard; his parents-in-law Alphonse and RoseAnna Verley; and his brothers-in-law John Foster, Luc Chartier, Russell White, Mark MacMillan, Pete Letain, Aldwyn Taggart, Gerald Verley and Cyrille Verley.
Andre was born on May 11, 1943 in St. Boniface. His mother, Olive was a gentle and caring woman. His father, Lucien a gritty and resourceful man. Andre’s family moved from Elie to Somerset for a short time before returning to Elie and eventually settling on a farm one mile south of Elie on the banks of the LaSalle.
Andre was joined by siblings. Claudette was born in 1946. Given their closeness in age Claudette and Andre had a special relationship as play mates and confidants. Even though Claudette lives in New Mexico they were always very connected even through his illness. As children, Andre and Claudette would often play cowboys fighting off various villains. Raymond arrived on the scene in 1950. Like any big brother would, Andre made sure Raymond was hardened by making spooky sounds as his little brother ran to the outhouse at night. He would send Raymond on missions to find x-mas oranges under their mother’s bed. This relationship evolved into a strong friendship as the boys became men together and built up their farms. Suzanne arrived on the scene next in 1955. Given the wider age gap, Andre along with Claudette cared for their little sister. Andre was very proud of Suzanne’s accomplishments and musical talents. The nickname “la princesse” seems to have recently surfaced. And finally came Murielle 1962, the baby of the family. The age gap was especially noticeable when Andre started dating one of Murielle’s teachers (Irene). Their relationship is best summed up by Murielle’s tone of endearment as she still refers to Andre as her “Big Brother”…not the oldest brother.. not the oldest sibling but as “her Big Brother” with all the care and security that comes with the term.
Andre’s early years were spent like most farm kids. Riding a farm horse, catching frogs, caring for various pets like cats and dogs. There were even a few muskrats and ducklings nurtured along the LaSalle river. Andre enjoyed hockey and football. He proved to be very solid on skates, a skill quite useful in owning the corners of the hockey rink. He developed a sweet tooth enjoying his mother’s baking. He was very helpful around his mother’s house and soon took on more and more of his father’s field work. His parents work ethic and love of labor was nurtured very early on and would serve as one of Andre’s greatest assets.
While in high school, Andre started to work highway construction. His love of labor started to trim back his school year. To please his mother, Andre would still attend school in the construction off season, from November to April. It also coincided well with the high school basketball season, keeping his mother happy was a win/win for Andre. Andre would joke that being one of the few students in grade 12 that could buy beer made him extra popular.
Andre first experienced cancer with his mother. Her lengthy battle with cancer was difficult for her family. Olive died at the age of 42 as Andre turned 19. This disease would claim his father’s life in 1988 and his wife’s in 2006 and most recently his own.
A few years after his mother’s passing, Andre purchased the Girard homestead from his uncle Maurice. This little piece of land along the Mill Creek was his pride and joy. In the early days, he kept his milk and butter in a well in place of a refrigerator. Mowed the grass with his grandfather’s “Giant 8” horse drawn mower which he pulled behind a tractor. While farming his own land, and helping with his dad’s farm, he worked construction, his love of labor shone through. He was on the cement crew for highway 2 from Fannystelle to OakBluff. He was on the cement crew for the old runway at the Winnipeg airport. He also helped build various apartment blocks you see around the Grace Hospital. All this cement work filled out Andre’s broad frame which many will remember him for and was great off season training for the local senior men’s hockey team.
Thank goodness there were no google maps in the late 1960’s, or else Irene Verley may not have met Andre. One day a car full of young school teachers stopped at his little farm for directions to a party. Andre would joke that Irene seemed to always be hanging her laundry outside as he drove through town, catching his eye. The two started to date, and although Irene had sworn off marrying a farmer the two were married in 1971.
Andre was farming on his own and with his dad, raising cattle and hogs and working construction. Irene was teaching in Elie and learning about farming. Together they renovated the farm house and added to the farm. Irene sacrificed her green mustang for a new farm truck. The two kept up this pace until 1973 when Gerald was born. Irene stopped teaching to raise her family, while Andre halted his construction stints. In 1975 Paul was born rounding off Andre’s eventual labor pool. Andre worked incredible hours in the field and the barn. Keep in mind farm equipment didn’t have cabs in those days, so not only was he exposed to the elements but also the dust and the bugs. Andre was also fortunate to have good neighbors who helped, like the Cosyns, the Senecal’s, Lacroix and Chabots and Lachance to name a few. Irene would take on substitute teacher jobs on and off in Elie, St.Eustache and St.Francois to keep it all going. Farm wives were the original “Skip the Dishes”… without getting to skip the dishes. Not only did Irene keep Andre and whoever was helping him in the fields fed, she was also the book keeper and parts runner. She also fueled Andre’s sweet tooth.
Winter afforded Andre some family time. With only the cattle and hogs to look after during the winter, Andre was active at the local rink. He played old timers, taught Paul and Gerald to skate and coached a few kids hockey teams. Irene returned to teaching in 1983. This stretched Andre into the new age and further when Irene layered in University studies on top of working full time at the St.Eustache School. The mid 80’s weren’t great for agriculture but they were pretty good for Andre. He had honed his two boys into dependable hired men, a little hard on equipment but effective, nonetheless. By now Andre’s work ethic and love of labor was solidly instilled in his boys. His kids learned important things like, how properly signal drivers of various farm equipment like a first base coach, how to properly hold a trouble lamp or flashlight during an unexpected breakdown with an 80% chance of rain on the way, and how to handle a grain shovel like a pro using your back and torso to get maximum leverage and strength. Andre not only nurtured his own boys at the farm but all of his nieces and nephews carry fond memories of their farm visits filled with kittens, tractor rides and creekside adventures.
Crops were seeded and harvested over and over as the boys got older. Andre saw Gerald complete an agriculture degree and start a career in Saskatchewan. Paul became a red seal plumber and started a life in Calgary. Fortunate for Andre, his boys departure’s were more like hand off’s from one to the next and he was able to get help during busy seasons.
Andre and Irene had some terrible news in September of 2006 with Irene’s cancer diagnosis. Andre lost his partner and love of his life 8 weeks later. This was a huge loss. Andre always kept Irene close to his heart, often reminiscing of good times and wishing he could share more of his family events and good times with her.
Grandchildren helped fill a portion of this void. He and Irene hosted a barbque for Ava. He strolled along the creek with Alyne, Declan and Gabby. Andre’s lap always had room for Jackson and his jokes. “Knock, Knock…Who’s there?” There were lots of tractor and quad rides with all of the grandkids. One tradition was Andre going “trick or treating” with Alyne, Declan and Gabby. Irene’s birthday was Halloween, so this was a great opportunity to get out of the house. For many years he would hit the candy circuit walking with the kids. Eventually he would man the candy bowl at home and wait for their return to ensure that all the candy was safe with thorough taste tests, again with the sweet tooth. He attended kids football games and hockey games, Christmas concerts and even a piano recital.
Andre eased into retirement first by renting his land and years later he sold his last cows. He bought himself a Harley Davidson. Having said that, retirement didn’t mean he stopped work. His love of labor had him maintaining flower beds and mowing his grass. But his real passion was tending to his firewood. He loved using his chainsaw and wood splitter. Sometimes Andre would add an ariel component with ladders. Once he almost fell off the hay shed trimming trees above it. This love of labor was a form of therapy for Andre. He was still cutting and splitting wood this November. He made sure the house was full of firewood before he left for the hospital last month.
Andre spent a month in the hospital managing his pain before succumbing to his illness. His love of labor, overall health and resilience turned his 3 month prognosis into a 14 month journey. Andre was able to live at home independently until his last month.
This was the theme of his life, at home, laboring away without much care for all the drama and turbulations of the outside world.
Andre will be missed by many. He will be remembered for his strength, his love of labor, his love for family and his incredible sweet tooth.
A Prayers Service will be held on Monday January 23, 2023 at the St. Eustache Catholic Church at 7 p.m.
Funeral Services will be held on Tuesday, January 24, 2023 at the St. Eustache Catholic Church. Memorial Service beginning at 2:15 p.m. followed by Mass at 2:30 p.m.
Memorial donations can be made to Cancer Society of Manitoba, 193 Sherbrook St, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3C 2B7
Adam’s Funeral Home of Notre Dame de Lourdes, Manitoba in care of arrangements. Phone 204-248-2201. To view the service details and leave condolences, please visit www.afh.ca
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