Gillian KornackiBotsford scholar Gillian Kornacki will deliver a lecture on French colonial families in the Detroit River Region at Ducks on the Roof in Amherstburg this Thursday night.

History scholar to discuss Detroit River region's French colonial families

Whenever Gillian Kornacki drives down Goyeau Avenue, she must wonder what life was like for her distant relatives.

“My grandma was a Goyeau, so I grew up with the stories about how that street used to be our farm,” says the fourth-year history major.

Those stories were enough to make her do a little more digging. Several years ago, while visiting her grandfather’s house, she found a genealogy book, compiled by one of her relatives during the 1970s, tracing her family’s history back 12 generations.

“That really got me interested in history,” she said.

Now the University’s Botsford Scholar for 2014, Kornacki will present a talk on her research on women and families in French colonial Detroit for an Essex County Historical Society dinner this Thursday night at Ducks on the Roof in Amherstburg.

Kornacki said the history of the Windsor area from the mid-eighteenth century to the War of 1812 characterizes the Detroit River region as a trading post inhabited by French fur traders, native women and their Métis children.

However many historians have conducted research showing the region was, in fact, an agricultural-based settlement, made up of French families, including white women and children, Kornacki said. Farms stretched back in tracts of land from the Detroit River and many of Windsor’s downtown streets – like Ouellette, Pierre, Pelissier, Louis, Parent, Marentette, Mercer and Goyeau – bear the names of those original French farmers, she said.

While doing her research, Kornacki came across a contract from the mid-1700s between Jean Baptise Goyau and Father Pierre Potier, outlining an agreement between the men, but also stipulating that Goyau’s wife would be paid an annual salary to work the laundry at the Assumption mission. Father Potier’s records also list transactions with other women, which got Kornacki wondering about just how much autonomy French women had during this era.

“It’s 1750, and she’s working out of the house,” Kornacki said of Madame Goyau. “Many of these women were doing more than just housework. Some of them went to market and sold agricultural products. But even though they were working out of the house, they were still doing work traditionally associated with gender.”

Established in 1979 in memory of David Botsford to recognize his lifelong service to area history, the scholarship named after him is awarded to a third- or fourth-year honours history student with a superior academic record and a demonstrated interest in local history. As part of the award, the recipient must prepare an original research paper and present it publicly for the historical society. The scholarship carries a $900 prize, and recipients get their names inscribed on a plaque at Fort Malden.

The dinner is on May 8 at 6:30 p.m. and is open to members and non-members alike. Tickets are $25 and can be obtained by sending an email to