Up the Gatineau! Articles

The following article was first published in Up the Gatineau! Volume 50.

A Shanty Cook: Yvette Saumure Bénard

By Louise Schwartz

The mystery has been solved. This is Yvette Saumure Bénard, calling loggers to a meal with a makeshift dinner gong at one of Quebec’s logging camps.

Her photograph is just one of several hundreds of thousands taken by the renowned photographer Malak Karsh. Professionally known as “Malak,” early in his career he worked on contract in public relations for the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association. In 2020, we featured this photo and a dozen others in Volume 46 of Up the Gatineau!, all from Malak’s assignments at Quebec logging camps in the late 1940s. At the time of publication, we didn’t know this cook’s name.

Shanty Cook
Yvette Saumure Bénard. 1947. Malak Karsh fonds/e011154187. Copyright assigned to Library and Archives Canada by copyright owner Malak Karsh. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada.

In 2023, the photo popped up on a local Facebook page, “Il était une fois une vallée du Nord,” and her name was finally revealed—Yvette Saumure Bénard. We feel it important to acknowledge her name, now known, with a reprint of her photograph.

Many commented on the Facebook posting, writing that they were either related to Yvette or knew of her. It appears she was admired and well-loved, as evidenced by the comments, including “tellement gentille cette dame” and “impossible d’oublier Madame Yvette Saumure… Je l’ai adoré cette dame….”

Even though I appealed on Facebook and did some searching for information on Yvette’s life, I found little. She lived in Maniwaki, and she was born on July 31, 1919, the youngest of 14. Yvette lived a long life, dying on October 5, 2018, only nine months short of 100 years. She was married to Aldé Bénard (1910–1992), who himself worked as a chef, at the Maniwaki Inn. It appears they had no children.

In spring 1949, when Malak captured her image, she would have been about to turn 30, and was likely already married. In the masculine sphere of a logging camp, women were a rare sight, and kitchen work was probably the only position open to them. To be the sole woman surrounded by hundreds of men, in rough working conditions, must have taken strength of character and a certain toughness. The job certainly entailed hardships, including long absences from her husband, but it may also have given her a sense of freedom.

Yvette would no doubt have had many fascinating tales to tell us about her life as a shanty cook. This is a reminder to all of us to seek out and document the memories of our elders before it is too late.

Volume 50 table of content.

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