Friday, January 26, 2018

The Blind Beggar of Pinhey Street

Recently while researching another topic, I stumbled across a hilarious little nugget from the Ottawa Journal in 1898. The newspapers of that era had almost a small-town feel to them; especially when it came to talking about the suburbs or the little villages outside the city limits, the papers would run what was the equivalent of hot gossip on the people of the community.

This little article from August 23rd, 1898 made me laugh, for the sheer ridiculousness of it, and so I had to share it here.

Ottawa Journal, August 23, 1898

I decided to take a few minutes and try to find out more, if I possibly could, on John Albert and Mrs. Lazor. A quick check of the list of residents of 1898 show that there were actually 2 or 3 John (or Jean) Albert's in Hintonburg in 1898, making things a little trickier, but not impossible. Through a little advanced research, I was able to confirm that John Albert was a 62-year old man, widowed, living at what is now 81 Pinhey Street in the home of his daughter Mary and her husband William Knowlton. Mrs. Lazor was Mrs. Victoria Lessard, the 34-year old wife of general labourer Joseph Lessard. They lived two doors down, at what is now 75 Pinhey Street.

I was curious if the Journal had ever written anything else about either one, so a few quick searches, and voila, I found not just another article about John Albert, but an article that tells more of the same soap opera, written just a month earlier. And it too had equally as harsh words about John Albert!

Ottawa Journal, July 28, 1898

Further digging found that John had been having a rough few years. Three years earlier, his late wife had been hit by a train, and lost an arm. 

Ottawa Journal, July 8, 1895 

From my digging on Ancestry, it turns out his wife, the former Philomen Delina LeCuyer died less than a year after her train accident and amputation. She passed away on May 14th, 1896, from an ovarian tumour, which she had suffered from for two years. On her death certificate she is listed as 63 years old, and the wife of John Albert (who was unable to sign the register, for obvious reasons, so an "X" was made as his mark).

However perhaps a little more intriguingly, on the next page of the same death register, just a month later, on June 14th, is listed a death of Emma Albert, 29 years old of Hintonburg, the wife of John Albert (again with an "X" made as his mark)!! Could it be that the blind beggar of Pinhey Street was a true womanizer of the 1890s? But how did his new wife die so soon? How had he even remarried so quickly? The new Mrs. Albert died of "acute phthisis", which apparently is a "galloping consumption" described as "although applicable to several forms of wasting disease, is commonly used to designate a malady having for its chief manifestations progressive emaciation of the body and loss of strength, occurring in connexion with morbid changes in the lungs and in other organs." So it's possible that its not the same John Albert, but a quick check of the other Hintonburg John Albert's showed that they did not appear to be widowed. So its very odd for sure.

Then two years later, John Albert ran off with the married and much younger Victoria Lessard from two doors down, and what is interesting about her, aside from her propensity to run off with blind and broke 62 year old men (and bands of gypsies), is that fact that she and her husband had EIGHTEEN children! Yes, from 1882 until 1910, the couple had eighteen children, almost one per year, though only half at best survived infancy. While she did run off with John Albert in July-August of 1898, then ran off with the gypsies, records indicate she eventually came back to her husband and family, where she lived the rest of her life; after this adventure, her next child, daughter Mary, came in March of 1899 (and five more after that).

120 years ago, the home of the Lessards (75 Pinhey at left)
and the Alberts (81 Pinhey at right). Salacious times!

So, just a little 19th-century Hintonburg gossip, scandal and comedy for a Friday night!


  1. Fascinating.
    What is the 2018 equivalent of "Ran off with gypsies"?

    1. G*psies are an ethnic group of travellers referred to more acceptably as Roma or Romani. They come from Europe and before that, India. This word has also been used to refer to other ethnic traveller groups such as the Dom, Lom, Kale, and Yenish and Irish Travellers.

      Here is a story Heritage Toronto did which talks about their history here:

  2. My Albert ancestors were an unruly lot, starting with the original German soldier to Quebec who eloped with the adopted girl his wife brought to their home. I wish I could find his grave. ... died 1822.

  3. I believe the Emma Duval referred to in this article was, rather, married to the son of Jean-Baptiste the blind beggar.