Wife, 3 children die in fire at Big Meadow near High Prairie
Just over 72 years ago, on May 15, 1945, a fire took the life of Cecile Elizabeth Yandeau, 30, and her three children, Frederick Lawrence, 3, Helen Rita, 1, and Diane, 5 months, in the home they lived in on Philippe Maingot’s farm, which they rented about four miles north of Enilda.
The explosion woke Russell Yandeau and he escaped through a window, sustaining burns to his hand and neck. He tried to re-enter the home, but flames and fumes prevented him from rescuing his family. The home had been doused with kerosene or gas. When lit, it went quickly up in flames.
Russell rushed to a neighbour and an alarm was sent to the High Prairie police. Constables Brown and McCollough rushed to the scene. The fire had consumed the home and only charred bodies remained.
Apparently, there were disputes between the Maingots and Yandeaus, possibly a dispute over land rent. Anyway, Maingot wanted them to move out, which lead to this tragic fire.
Many others speculated on the reason, but only Maingot wanted them gone. It is known that Maingot took the train from High Prairie to Enilda, walked to the farm, poured gasoline around the perimeter of the home, then set it on fire. He then returned to the Angeline Rooms in High Prairie, where he left a suicide note and committed suicide by taking poison.
A footnote to Angeline Rooms: They were built on 50th Street by Pete Wiwchar, now between the health food store and ice cream parlor. The rooms were named after Pete’s wife, Angeline [Capp] Wiwchar.
Phillipe Emile Maingot was born in Algeria in North Africa in April 1879. He emigrated to Canada in 1906 or 1907, according to 1911 and 1921 census. He may have fought with the French in Algeria. In 1919, his residence was Kirriemuir, Alberta. In May 1920, it was Grouard and in Homestead Records it was Enilda.
After checking land titles, the Diocese of Athabasca first got title to NE-31-74-15-5 on April 26, 1915. On May 25, 1920, Maingot got a special grant from the Canadian Soldier’s Settlement Board for a home and S.S.B. got title to it on Oct. 14, 1937.
Maingot later acquired the east-adjoining quarter, NW-32, that Martin Ouellette filed on July 8, 1908. He got title on Oct. 12, 1911.
Then a Desire’ Lawson shows up in 1919, followed by Maingot with no date given, but it is known he lived on this quarter.
In the 1921 census he claimed to be a fur rancher. He also leased SE-31, a school quarter. He became friends with Henry and Helen Lemay, who lived in the Kathleen area. They moved to High Prairie in 1941 and later purchased an acreage on Soren J. Fevang’s land.
Henry Lemay built a house on 47 Street, close to the hospital, where he worked. They planted a large garden, had a cow for milk for their growing family and even sold some. They went into raising mink. It was here that Lemay and Maingot began working together raising mink on shares.
Further investigation shows that in the 1911 census, Maingot was single. By the 1921 census he was married, so sometime between those dates, about 1918 or 1919, he got married. His spouse was listed as Catharine, born in France about 1880.
However, his wife, Leonie Celine, died in the Providence Hospital on Jan. 5, 1942 and was laid to rest in the Grouard cemetery. She was born in Montmarault, Allier, France on Jan. 17, 1874, so she was 12 days shy of 68. Leonie had been married for 23 years to Maingot.
In the 1940s, Donald Fevang got to know Maingot as he walked past the Henry Lemay home on his way to and from school to his nearby grandparents, Soren and Soveriene’s, home. He was befriended and given a book of published poems that Maingot had written, but it was in French, so Donald couldn’t get the true meaning in translation. He had only learned some French in school from Grades 3-12. Donald remembers Maingot as a slight stature of a man, a friendly guy with a strong French accent.
Maingot’s suicide note was also his will regarding his possessions and land. He wished for his land to be purchased by Henry Lemay with conditions attached, that Lemay forward a specified amount of dollars to be forwarded to his two sisters in France.
According to church records, Philippe Maingot died on May 16, 1945 at 64 years of age. The 1911 census shows Maingot was born in April 1879, so that would make him 66 years old. A regional newspaper article dated May 18, 1945, stated he was suffering ill health at the time of his death.
In 1951, the Lemays moved to the land they acquired from the estate of Maingot. Henry continued to work at the hospital until 1966, when they built a house in East View. Son Robert and Janet took over the farm, where they still reside. It was on NW-32-74-15 that the Yandeau family lived.
In 1939, Russell Yandeau had married Cecil Elizabeth Gauthier, daughter of Omer and Mary [Brunelle] Gauchier at Galahad, Alta. He was 27 and she was 24. Sadly, she and their three children perished that fateful day in 1945 and were laid to rest in St. Paul’s Roman Catholic cemetery in High Prairie.
Much of the statistical history of the Yandeau family and Maingot was recorded in Trails We Blazed Together, but the murder story was not freely talked about, so recently it was compiled by Diana Oliver and others. Now, more information has been obtained and as Paul Harvey would say, “Now you know the rest of the story,” as tragic as it was!
After, Russell moved to Manitoba, remarried and had a second family. He did come back occasionally to the area to visit his brother, Eugene, Camilla and their family, but it was painful. One can only imagine the pain and sorrow Russell Yandeau had to endure the rest of his days and years.
Addendum by Violet Komisar: The Anton Exner family lived on SE-18-75-15 and rented land belonging to Anna Travers for about five years from 1925-30. She had lost her husband, Oliver Travers, in 1917 in WW1 and was left with six sons.
That is another interesting story of this area and time. Anna Exner, who had a large family was a devout Catholic, drove with horses to church in Grouard regularly, which was about six or more miles each way. The priest would be welcomed many times for dinner at their home. As a daughter born later to Anna Exner, I, Violet Komisar, wondered how many times the Exner and Maingots paths crossed? It is very possible that they knew each other, only living about three miles away and may have even sat together in church.