Townships Mourn Former Reeve Ernie Boudreau
By Vance Gutzman
Residents of the United Townships of Head, Clara and Maria were united last week in their sorrow over the passing of a man who contributed so much, not only to their community, but to his country as a whole.
Ernie Boudreau passed away last week at the age of 85, leaving behind him a legacy of service that ranged from the battlefields of Europe to the minefields of municipal politics.
And it all started so simply.
Born in Pembroke in 1925, Ernie was raised on the family farm in a family of eight children.
In an interview with Mackenzie High School's "Tamarack Magazine" just four years ago, Ernie recalled how hard his father had to work to keep the family fed.
"My dad worked in the bush, on the highway, or any place that he could earn a dollar," Ernie stated in the interview.
"At that time, a dollar was a lot."
Ernie, along with his brothers and sisters, pitched in to help make ends meet.
By the time he was six, he was already milking cows, feeding the livestock, bringing in the wood and assisting with all the other chores associated with keeping a farm going.
There were only eight grades in the local school. Students wishing to advance their education beyond that would have to go through the arduous task of going to Pembroke, finding a place to stay and paying room and board.
Most, including Ernie, just went to Grade 8. And then he went on to get a real-world education, beginning with a job on the railroad for 25 cents an hour.
When the war broke out, Ernie volunteered to serve his country, and ended up fighting his way
through France, Belgium, Holland and on into Germany before a bullet in his side ended his campaign.
"I enjoyed the army, even when I was injured... it was all an experience," he told the Tamarack students.
Perhaps the biggest, and definitely most enjoyable, experience of Ernie's life came after the war had ended, when he met the love of his life, Mary Ellen.
The couple, who met in Ottawa, married in 1948 and promptly set up house in Mackey, and eventually raised four children there.
"My wife was a good worker and she provided a hell of a lot," Ernie said of Mary Ellen in the Tamarack interview.
Ernie would go on to work at a number of jobs, including at Westinghouse, Ontario Hydro and then at AECL, from which he retired after 28 years of solid service.
And, being a life-long resident of Head, Clara and Maria, Ernie took a keen interest in his hometown, and this began a long involvement with local politics, culminating in a five-year run as reeve of the municipality.
Lita Therrien, who was to follow in Ernie's footsteps as reeve, remembers Ernie's devotion to the municipality.
"I respected him in so many ways," Therrien said last week.
"He just loved these townships, and he worked so very, very hard for them."
Therrien recalls Ernie as being a very hands-on type of guy.
"So much of his character came through in the things he did," she says.
"What he didn't know, he made it his business to find out."
And Ernie already knew a lot.
"He knew these townships inside out," says Therrien.
"He knew every pillar and post and every lot line and every culvert. He even knew when a beaver had blocked a culvert, and then God help that beaver."
And beneath the tenaciousness lay a heart of gold.
"There were many charitable acts Ernie did that flew under the radar," says Therrien.
"That side of him he always kept hidden."
But he was more than willing, later in life, to share his wartime experiences with younger generations, including the Mackenzie High School students who interviewed him for the 2006 article.
The year previous to that, Ernie had even travelled back to Holland, and took part in ceremonies commemorating the 60th anniversary of VE Day, when the Germans finally surrendered to the Allied forces who had fought so hard across all of Europe - among them a young man who grew up on the family farm in Mackey.
Ernie remembered the war years well, and he also remembered that many other soldiers in those battlefields hailed from Head, Clara and Maria as well.
In World War II alone more than 55 men from the townships enlisted in the armed forces, at a time when the population of the municipality was only 400 people.
To honour them, and others who served their country, Ernie spearheaded a group whose hard work culminated in the unveiling of the Head, Clara and Maria Veterans' Memorial in 2007.
"I think I should be doing something to honour our veterans," Ernie said when that project was just getting underway.
"We're gonna get a big rock and put our plaque on top of it."
And so he did.