Desire' d'Eon. Courtesy of the Acadian Museum, West Pubnico.
By Laurent d'Entremont
Le Courrier de la Nouvelle-Ecosse is the only French newspaper published in Nova Scotia today. Its origin goes back 75 years to 1937 when it was first printed under the banner of Le Petit Courrier.
The idea for this small newspaper was the brainchild of Desire d’Eon, born October 2, 1905, when it was expected every able-bodied man would earn his living either from the sea or a trade. Instead, d’Eon studied at Le College St. Anne in Digby County and at the Normal College in Truro with plans of earning his living as a teacher. His teaching career only lasted a few years, until he decided to further his education by going to Washington DC, where his studies were in English. He graduated with an MA from Catholic University of America.
Although d’Eon was more educated than most at the time, he never lost touch with what was going on around him, including the fishing industry and the “every day working man”.
Near the end of the Great Depression, he returned home again to Yarmouth County and decided to start a small newspaper in French to report the Acadian news and the local happenings. The big city papers could report the hard core news; his would be the friendly neighborhood paper in those pre-World War Two days, before TV and when radio was just static, noise and dead batteries. The Digby Courrier printed its first copy February 10, 1937. Later the Yarmouth Herald printed it until it was eventually published and printed in West Pubnico where Desire d’Eon called home.
The purpose of Le Petit Courrier was to entertain and inform the Acadians, those in other French villages and, especially, those living away on what was going on back home. Birth, marriages, deaths, would be announced on a regular basis, fishing and farming news would be there also. During the war years it reported the activities of our soldiers serving their country, letters from overseas, the war front, etc. it was a paper for the people and the editor/owner kept it that way for thirty five years until it was sold in the early 1970s.
Many of my generation will remember the “Courrier Building” with the printing press and equipment on one side and the Credit Union, with Desire d’Eon also as treasurer/manager, on the other side.
D’Eon, who commanded lots of respect, looked every bit the newspaperman that he was. He was always attired in a dark suit, tie and hat. When he did some proofreading the tip of his necktie would drop into the fresh ink and act as a blotter. The local joke was he had gotten his tie stuck in the press and stopped it just in time to save his neck. Of course, we only made that joke when he was out of hearing distances.
Although d’Eon was more educated than most at the time, he never lost touch with what was going on around him.
Desire d’Eon was a true gentleman. If you tried to engage him in conversation about himself, or on a subject like his honorary doctorate from the University Ste. Anne, he would say little - this was not what he wanted to talk about. He would talk about places he had been and people he had met, as a way of changing the subject.
The Petit Courrier/credit union man retired at 70, but would make the news one more time. D’Eon who had been single for seventy years, surprise everyone when, at 71, he married the one who danced in the songs of his dreams, Jane-Rose Twomey of Massachusetts, formerly of Yarmouth County. They settled in a new house they simply called “Chez-Nous” (home) and there they lived for the next twenty years. As the Acadian legend grew older he never lost interest in what was going on and had a keen interest in the Acadian Museum where every copy of Le Petit Courrier and the first printing press form part of the permanent collection.
As a former coworker and friend I kept in touch with Desire d’Eon. Time creeps up on one and the last time I visited him, death was lurking behind the door less than two weeks away. He spoke of how important it was to save the local stories, because every time an older person died these tales which formed the character and culture of our lives were lost forever. A few days later, his wife Jane-Rose died at 87 and, on November 3, 1996, d’Eon came home to an empty house, took off his overcoat and threw his car keys on the kitchen table. It was the last thing he ever did; at 91, his heart was just worn out.
When his personal belongings were sorted from the house, many plaques, awards and citations were found, enough to plaster a whole wall. How many did this humble man display? None.
Lots of people had known Desire d’Eon, but perhaps it was the late John Nicholson, a professor from the University College of Cape Breton, who said it best at a Credit Union Convention in Antigonish many years ago. As d’Eon took his seat with the other director, Nicholson leaned over and whispered to me, “there goes a true Christian gentleman. Indeed he was.