Biographical narrative for Louis Bezeau

(2011 02 08)

by

his children


           Louis Manning Bezeau was born Louis Manning Bezzo in 1911, on November 14, in Berlin, Ontario.  In 1916 Berlin changed its name to Kitchener and in 1921 the Bezzo family name was changed back to Bezeau, its original spelling.

 

           Louis was the second youngest child of Charles Mortimer Bezzo and Edith Clara Manning.  He had three older brothers: Mortimer, Lawrence, and Mervin and one younger sister, Mildred.  He also had two older sisters who died young.  Vena died at the age of four, before Louis was born.  Izetta was 26 when she died in 1929.  Louis was especially close to Izetta.  Years later, he said that her death, when he was 17, was one of the worst experiences of his life.

 

           From 1929 to 1932, Louis spent his summers working at the Ontario Boys' Work Board Leadership Training Camp on Beausoleil Island, in the Georgian Bay.  This was the start of an interest in camp activities that lasted for decades.  In 1930 he received the Royal Lifesaving Society service medal in recognition of his work.

 

           Louis attended the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph, Ontario from 1932 to 1936.  He was a playground supervisor in Kitchener in the summer of 1933 and worked as a farm hand at the Waterloo County House of Refuge in the summer of 1935.  The minutes of the Municipal Council of the County of Waterloo for that year record the approval of 99 dollars to pay him for his summer's work.  While attending the Ontario Agricultural College, he was active on the interfaculty wrestling team.  He graduated in 1936 with a bachelor's degree in agriculture with a specialization in animal husbandry.

 

           In 1937, he started working for the federal Department of Agriculture as a Record of Performance inspector.  This job required that he travel from farm to farm, testing samples of milk.  He met his future wife, Neva Claire Stansell, while visiting one of these farms.

 

           In September of 1940 he married Neva Stansell.  They initially took up residence in Montreal where their first child, Lawrence Manning, was born in 1941.  Here Louis attended McGill University where he received his master's degree in 1941.

 

           In 1942, the family, now consisting of three persons, moved from Montreal to Summerside, Prince Edward Island, so that Louis could take up a position as an animal nutritionist at the Dominion Experimental Farm in Summerside.  This experimental farm specialized in small fur-bearing animals, mainly foxes.  It was often called the “fox farm”.  Shortly after the family arrived, in 1942, another son, Arnold Wesley, was born.  At that time the family lived with another family in a large house on a farm.  This was the Hunter farm and was located near the Summerside water tower, within easy walking distance of the fox farm.  Canada was now very much at war.  Louis had joined the militia as a student at McGill University and, while in Summerside, volunteered for active service with the Royal Canadian Artillery.

 

           In mid-1943, he took basic training in Charlottetown.  From there he was posted to Barrie­field, outside Kingston, and later to Petawawa, northwest of Ottawa, for additional training.  He qualified as a driver and as an artillery signaller.  In April of 1944, he landed in the United Kingdom.  In July of that year he arrived in Italy and was assigned to the 17th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, with the rank of gunner and the job of providing signals support for an artillery battery.  Although he was not wounded during the war, Louis spent a week in hospital because of illness while in Italy.  In February of 1945, he sailed with his unit from Italy to Marseilles to join the western European front.  He participated in action in northwestern Europe including the Battle of Otterloo, in Holland, in which the 17th Field Regiment, acting partly as infantry, successfully defended itself and its divisional headquarters from attacks by a much larger unit of the German army.  In July of 1945, after the end of the war in Europe, he was transferred from the 17th Field Regiment to the 4th Anti-tank Regiment.  Late in 1945, he returned to the United Kingdom and then home.  He was discharged from the army in January of 1946.

 

           For his time in the army, Louis received a number of service medals, including the Italy Star and the France and Germany Star.  In spite of his medals he had a low opinion of war and, in his later years, he spoke of the insanity of war, not the glory.

 

           During the time that Louis was absent in the army, the remainder of the family relocated from Summer­side to Port Stanley, Ontario to be closer to Neva's family, in the area around Aylmer and Tillsonburg in southwestern Ontario.  In November of 1943, their third son, Kenneth Charles, was born in St. Thomas, Ontario.

 

           In 1946, after Louis was discharged from the army, the family reunited in Summerside and Louis resumed his job at the fox farm.  During this four-year period in Summerside the family lived in two places: on East Street (now Autumn Street) and on Hawthorne Avenue.  Also during this period, a first daughter was born, Suzanne Alma, in 1948, bringing the number of children to four.  While in Summerside, his three sons started school.

 

           Some events in Summerside recalled by his older children show how Louis approached life.  One day Lawrence came upon a newly hatched robin that had fallen from its nest but that was still alive.  Louis took the robin in and cared for it.  We cannot say that he was a better mother robin than a real mother robin but, as a practising animal nutritionist, his professional qualifications were superior.  The robin thrived.  It learned to fly on its own and befriended the family dog, a large gentle Saint Bernard called Susie.  A family picture shows the bird happily perching on Susie's head.  Before it was fully mature, it disappeared and we never saw any sign of it again.  We do not know whether it was taken by a predator or whether it simply left to be with its peers.

 

           Family life in Summerside came to an end for reasons beyond the control of Louis or other family members.  By the late forties, animal furs were rapidly going out of style and fox farming in the Maritimes was a dying industry.  The federal government decided to close the fox farm and gave Louis the choice of transferring to the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa or the large prairie experimental farm located just outside Lethbridge, Alberta.  Louis chose the latter.

 

           Late in 1949, the family boarded a train in Summerside for the trip to Lethbridge.  It took four days and involved stops in Toronto and Winnipeg.  The family, now numbering six, arrived in Leth­bridge in bitterly cold weather and lived for several months in a motel while awaiting the completion of what was commonly called a “wartime house”, one built by the federal government and rented to World War II veterans.

 

           Louis lived in Lethbridge and worked at the experimental farm until 1967.  He did considerable research and published many scientific papers about animal nutrition.  During this period, his last child, a daughter, Yvonne Gwendolyn, was born in 1956.

 

           He also continued to be very active in the United Church, the Y's Men's Club, and the camps associated with both the United Church and the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA).  He was on the board of directors for the church and was a camp leader at Camp Inuspi, the YMCA camp located on the south shore of Lower Waterton Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park.  For several years he was the president of the Canyon Church Camp Association.  His name, along with the names of many other leaders, is carved on the wall of the main lodge at Canyon Church Camp, on the road to Red Rock Canyon in Waterton.

 

           When Dad was camp leader, he frequently amazed the campers with a fire-starting trick.  Every night in the main lodge one of the cabins would light a fire in the big fireplace and provide entertainment for the whole camp.  Using his knowledge of chemistry, Dad placed a small bottle of concentrated sulphuric acid in the centre of the fireplace and surrounded it with a cup or so of white sugar.  He tied a string around the neck of the acid bottle and ran it out to one side the fireplace, covering it up with soot and ashes.  Then he put crumpled paper over the acid bottle and sugar and piled, on top of the paper, all of the kindling and firewood needed to make a good fire.  The leader of the cabin tasked with the night's entertainment was in cahoots with Dad, and as the cabin leader beseeched the fire gods to bring fire to the great lodge fireplace, Dad, who was sitting beside the fireplace, pulled the string attached to the acid bottle with his foot without anyone noticing.  The acid spilt on the sugar resulting in a highly exothermic chemical reaction.  There came from the fire place an orange glow and smoke and steam and the paper ignited and lit the kindling.  Within less than a minute there was a roaring fire in the great lodge to light the evening's entertainment.  The whole camp ooooed and awwwed (including Dad) not believing what they had just seen.

 

           Louis was also a big supporter of the Red Cross and, in 1965, he received an award for having donated 53 pints of blood.

 

           In 1966, Louis left the United Church and joined the Unitarian Fellowship.  He was a frequent speaker, delivering talks such as “Just What Do We Teach Our Children” and “Religion Without Dogma – The Easter Story”.

 

           In 1967, Louis moved to Nairobi, Kenya where he worked with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.  Here he helped the local farmers manage the range that their cattle grazed on.

 

           In 1969, he returned to Canada, divorced Neva, and moved to Kamloops, British Columbia a year later.  There he found employment in his field with the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture.

 

           In 1972, he married his widowed sister-in-law, Helen.  They soon moved to Kelowna and Louis continued working for the provincial government until his retirement in 1976.

 

           The last decade of his life was probably his happiest.  Louis loved Kelowna.  He took up residence near the lake and swam every chance he got.  He was an avid gardener and loved the weather that allowed him to grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.  He was active with the Garden Club, and passed his knowledge on to other gardeners by completing the “Master Gardener” program.  This program utilized volunteer master gardeners to assist the public with their gardening problems and questions.  This freed up the provincial district agriculturalists to concentrate on issues of interest to commercial farmers.  For Louis, this was a shift from his professional specialization in animal science to a concentration in plant husbandry.

 

family photograph on an outdoor stairwell

           He also loved to travel, both near and far.  He and Helen often spent week­ends ex­plor­ing back roads in the moun­tains.  They also took many trips abroad, to South Amer­ica, Aus­tral­ia, Asia, and more.  In the early 1980s, he joined Foster Parents Plan and spon­sored a fam­ily in the Philip­pines.  He en­joyed travel­ling there to visit with them.  One of his last mem­or­able jaunts was to Ar­nold's farm in Coch­rane, Al­ber­ta, in 1983.  Many rel­a­tives had ga­thered and the pic­ture of the event, with every­one laugh­ing while Helen held a chic­ken, was still hang­ing on the liv­ing room wall long after Dad had passed away.

 

           Photography was another hobby that Louis en­joyed, one that he started in the 1920s.  He en­joyed taking pictures at all of the camps and schools he at­ten­ded and on his travels.  Re­tire­ment gave him addi­tional photo op­por­tu­nities.  One sunny day in October of 1977, he got up at dawn to photo­graph the Sails statue tra­veling down the lake, sus­pended from a heli­copter.  The statue was then erected in down­town Kelowna.

 

           In September of 1983, Louis developed colon cancer.  Surgery and chemo­therapy were not suc­cess­ful.  The cancer was ag­gres­sive, and spread rapidly.  It soon became clear that he was ter­min­ally ill.  He spent the last of his time and energy making arrange­ments and attending to paper­work that would lessen the bur­den on his wife.  He died at home in 1984 on January 14, with his wife and daughters by his side.

 

           On January 19, a memorial service for Louis Bezeau was held in Kelowna.  His daughter and son-in-law, Suzanne and Nestor Sirias, composed a song especially for that service.  The music was com­posed by Nestor and the lyrics by Suzanne.  The song was sung at the service by Nestor.  Clicking on the link below will play a recording of this song.  On some browsers, it will be necessary to click on “yes” to allow blocked content, before playing the song.

 

Bless this Man