by Petra Wall
Rochelle Cadieux Neal
This talented, recognized artist lives in an idyllic location on Manitoulin’s Lake Mindemoya. The place where she exhibits her life’s work each summer is called Periwinkle Studio, and true to the name, the ample-sized atelier, built by her husband, is surrounded with an acre of periwinkle. This enchanting green carpet adds to the colloquial charm. Rochelle’s art has been proudly displayed in many other galleries and shows, including our own Perivale Gallery, The La Cloche Art Show, the Northern Ontario Art Association (NOAA) exhibition, the St. Thomas Art Gallery, and the Robert Long Watercolour Show in Destin, Florida. In 1999, she was the featured watercolour artist at The St. Thomas Appreciation of the Arts. Rochelle is also the recipient of numerous awards and a former member of the Botanical Artists Association of Canada.
Rochelle was born on July 12, 1937 to Charles and Irene (Palmateer) Cadieux. Her mother had admired an actress named Rochelle Hudson so she named her daughter after this talented performer. Rochelle spent her early years in Stouffville, a small town of 900. Paternal great-grandfather Joseph of Normandy, France had arrived to Stouffville after becoming a French translator first in Quebec and later Ontario. “I remember him as a distinguished gentleman who sent me a ten-dollar bill when I was 10.” Grandfather Cyrelle, son of Joseph, started a horse and cart delivery business. He, and his son after him, carried freight and mail from the Canadian National Railway to local homes and businesses.
When she was three, Rochelle moved to Manitoulin with her parents so her dad could work for Wagg’s Creamery. Her mother Irene was a little homesick at first but she came to love the Island. Irene’s grandfather, Enos Lundy, had been a lighthouse keeper at Michael’s Bay on Manitoulin. Madame Cadieux was further convinced with a litany of positive testimonials about Mindemoya.
It was in 1941 that Rochelle’s Charles left for war. “I was four-and-a-half and my little brother Paul was just three-weeks-old. I saw my mother crying as he was leaving and I said to her, ‘Mommy, don’t cry; he’ll be back.’ Somehow, I knew.” Another early memory was the Rock Garden Terrace. “The owner, an American woman, had an amazing garden that extended down to the lake. We visited every June. I was impressed and decided I would live on that side of the lake one day.”
Irene and her children lived in Mindemoya, on dad’s war pay, in a very small house with no running water, no indoor toilet and no electricity. “We had to chop wood daily and carry drinking water from Nevill’s Garage.” There was a cistern for wash water in the basement. The milk sat on the window sill in the winter; in summer, the ice house cooled spoilable items. “I learned to cook on a wood stove and bathe in a small square tin tub. As the girl, I got the tub first and the males came last. In the winter, we melted snow; in the summer, we swam. Mother would take us in the wagon to the Ketchankookem Trail where we could swim on the private beach. Later, with the help of her friends, Irene added some space and siding to the house, including a porch.”
Charles came home from Europe in 1946 decorated with many medals and a humility about the war experience. “They tried to make heroes out of us but we were scared much of the time and we just did what we had to do to protect our country,” he claimed. “I didn’t know my dad when he came home; he was different. As a sergeant, he liked to bark out orders. We weren’t used to that, but we had to obey. After dad returned we got electricity, a bathroom with running water, lights, a furnace and a fridge. Dad added a garage with a playroom on top. We loved to play store there.”
“In later years, I always wondered how women got through the war years alone. They persisted but were never recognized for their contribution. I did chores for my mother, helped with the garden and went to the store for food each day. Perhaps that’s what other families did too,” Rochelle muses. “We had a big garden. The summer and after dad got home, we started to sell vegetables in Mindemoya. That year I got a bike and figure skates for my birthday. That was very special and skating at the arena became a favourite pastime.”
Sister Sherry was born nine months after the war ended. Michelle and Pierre were added to the family years later when Rochelle was 21 and in nurses’ training. The family addition that year was Michelle and Pierre two years after that. “When I was 14, we opened Cadieux Clothing and moved to a space above the store. We bought our first vehicle, a half-ton truck.”
“I remember my Grade 1 teacher Winnie Cox when she announced one day, ‘We are going to draw a rabbit.’ Apparently, my bunny impressed her because she held it up. That day I realized I had a talent. It was my first inkling that I could draw.” While brother Paul was off with the boys fishing, Rochelle spent her spare time studying plants, leaves, lines and shapes. “At that time, I didn’t realize that process was part of being an artist.”
Rochelle’s first paintings were on Masonite with oil paints she got for Christmas. “I remember getting permission to watch local artist Joe Hodgins, the owner of Treasure Island, paint. He realized I was serious about art.” Another hobby was collecting bugs and butterflies that were positioned on wax with a suitable background that Rochelle painted. She won a prize at the Providence Bay Fair.
“In Grade 11, I had Miss Conisten who taught Ancient History. I was so impressed with Nefertiti, a powerful woman in her time in ancient Egypt. I learned about Hadrian’s Wall, the Wall of China, Pompeii and the Roman Coliseum, all fascinating places that I saw later in life when Wayne took me there. One year, I found a bust of Nefertiti on a sale table in Florida and I just had to have her. She symbolized strength and independence to me. She now sits on my art table.”
Grade 13 in Mindemoya found Rochelle the only girl in a class of nine boys. She finished her year in Little Current where there was one other girl to befriend. She stayed with the Boyters, the postmaster family of Little Current. “As a youngster, I only wanted to be a nurse. Florence Nightingale had impressed me when she cured her sick dog. I had a dog and I wanted to make sure I would be able to make him well too.”
Marilyn McCutcheon, a nurse at Wellesley Hospital in Toronto, impressed the young lass too. “She was from Mindemoya and, at 18, I fell into her footsteps. I took nursing training at Wellesley Hospital, a popular training location in Toronto.” The course lasted two years and was followed by a year of interning at minimum wage.
In 1960, while she took another year of training at Western University, Rochelle met a very handsome man who played varsity football. “We met at the fall fair after a friend had showed me a booklet issued by the university. Wayne, the captain of the football team, was on the cover. I told her that I could never meet such a handsome man.” It was not long before she met that handsome man in the school cafeteria.
She told him all about Manitoulin, her enthusiasm evoking a quest for a date from Wayne for the upcoming football weekend at Western. She agreed to go. Then he offered her a smoke. She took it and began to cough. “You don’t smoke, do you?” he asked. “No, I was trying to impress you,” she said. Wayne responded, “if you are trying to impress me, don’t smoke.” After the long weekend Wayne met his new friend at the train and took her home. That was the start of their romance. Rochelle was soon the envy of many young ladies who had also had their eye on Wayne Neal. “Looking back, I was not really confident with men until I met Wayne,” she shares.
“I remember the first time I brought Wayne to Manitoulin after our engagement in late March. It was Easter and a blinding snowstorm hit. We had borrowed Wayne’s father’s car to make the trip.” Wayne could see nothing but snow for miles and the roads were curving and dangerous. By the time they got to Mindemoya, it was dark and visibility was zero. “Where in the hell are you taking me?” he finally blurted out to his betrothed. Rochelle accepted his frustration with confidence because she knew it was only an introduction to a wonderful place, seen at its worst in the dark of a late-winter snowstorm.
The couple was married on June 10, 1961 in the United Church in Mindemoya. Lorene Smith played the organ. Wayne’s and Rochelle’s sisters were attendants. Michelle was just two-years-old. There was a dinner followed later by sandwiches and coffee. “The flowers, orchids and lily of the valley for me, cost $80 and came out of the $100 we had for the honeymoon. This left $20 for our little get-away to Sault Ste. Marie for two relaxing days of watching the freighters pass by.”
After the honeymoon, the newlyweds came back to Manitoulin, then headed to St. Thomas, Wayne’s home town. Rochelle worked as a community nurse, and Wayne taught history in high school. He also coached sports teams for the physical education program. He became the head of the history department, then moved on to vice-principal, then principal of the school and later Superintendent of Education for St. Thomas.
The couple has two sons, Murray and Andrew. Murray has an MBA and works on Bay Street in Toronto as a chief financial officer of Scotia McLeod Securities. Andrew also has his MBA and he is a pharmaceutical representative for Astra-Seneca Pharmaceutical Company. “We have four grandsons and one granddaughter.” Murray’s son Brendan is in his third year at the University of Toronto where he is taking specialized computer science. Second son Ryan is 13 and goes to a private school in the city. He is a good pianist and a talented hockey player. Son Andrew lives in Calgary and his son Conor, 16, is very athletic too. Daughter Emma loves horse-back riding and son Jack, 10, is a good goalie. “We visited them earlier this spring.”
Although working after marriage was frowned on by the older generation, namely Wayne’s dad, Rochelle’s hubby felt that would be fine. Working part-time, she could spend more time with the kids and still enjoy her career. When Andrew was three, Rochelle started into full-time nursing again. There was a high demand for this profession. “I loved community nursing and helped set up and coordinate a pre-natal program and curricula for other courses. I enjoyed the teaching aspect and much of the work was done in private homes.”
Rochelle transferred to home care nursing under the Community Care Access Centre for the area. She was promoted from case manager to assistant director of patient services (home care) and palliative care for the organization, overseeing a staff of 65. She retired at age 58. Meanwhile, Wayne had become Superintendent of Education for St. Thomas and he also became mayor of the city. His extensive community work included setting up a Big Brothers’ Association. Despite this hectic schedule, Wayne was also a big help with his own family.
The Neals did a lot of travelling with the kids. Wayne’s high school travelling teams, canoeing in Algonquin, back-packing in the Rockies, excursions to forts and battleships, everywhere in North America. “We saw it all.” The family always had a dog, including two toy poodles. Now sweet 17-year-old Maggie, who is deaf, lives with the couple. “Our pets were always a close part of our family. I still cheer for all the rescued dogs I see on Manitoulin Pet Rescue.”
When family circumstances called her back to Manitoulin, Rochelle knew what she needed to do. Her mother suffered with Alzheimer’s. The Neals bought a farm house in Rockville. She helped take care of her mum as her dad needed help. Finally, mum was admitted to the Lodge in Gore Bay, not long before she died.
“When Michelle became ill, I kept a promise to my mum made long ago, to care for her.” Rochelle stayed with friends Rose and John Diebolt for a year and then lived with Rosemary and Dwayne Thompson. “I got to know my sister quite well. I remember going with her to the surgeon and the first thing he said to her was ‘I am so glad you brought someone with you.’ I knew I needed to be strong because she needed surgery right away.”
“We spent three years together, sharing stories, painting, driving around and moving forward before she died. It’s been seven years now, but some strong family love happened first. Regretfully too, my brother Paul left us three years ago and Sherry’s daughter passed away at age 35. All our family members died of cancer.” In later years, dad Charles married again, to Irene Tann, and they lived in Mindemoya.
“In 1995, we made the decision to live on the Island each summer. We bought this old cottage on the same side of the lake as the Rock Garden Terrace that I have admired since I was a child. This place had the view and it is peaceful and quiet, a perfect summer get-away.”
Favourite seasons are spring with all the trilliums, as well as fall with the splendid colours that abound. “I can’t wait to get here in the spring to enjoy the trilliums and the Periwinkle that blankets the ground and surrounds the studio. Wayne learned carpentry skills from family and friends. He built me the studio so that my watercolours would not cover our kitchen table. I love it in here.” Wayne also cuts the matts to help Rochelle with the framing.
“Art has been a focus for much of my life, starting as a youngster.” The writer is shown a painting of a deer in the woods and is remined of her own first painting of a deer at the same age. Rochelle’s artistic pursuits attained a new level after the kids had grown and she retired. “Each year, we spend two months in Florida where I do group-painting with an artist named Robert Long. Up to that point, I had never done watercolours and he urged me to ‘just start painting’ the first time I joined their group.”
On Manitoulin, Rochelle worked with Christie Pearson Anderson, Linda Williamson and Judy Martin to get the Manitoulin Fine Arts Association up and running. “It started in Gore Bay with an art and quilting group and grew to include other forms of art. I worked on some NOAA shows as well.” Rochelle is also a member of art associations in London and St. Thomas. Up until recently she was also a member of the Botanical Artists of Canada.
“Gardening is another favourite pastime and I still love to walk in the woods,” she said. “I fell two weeks ago and was reminded of my age by my husband. I am 80 but I feel like 39. I do love doing meaningful stuff, seeing my friends and walking each day.”
“Strengths include a strong commitment to home, my marriage and family. I aim to be sincere and direct but gentle. I try to be patient and forgive easily. We never go to bed angry; we need to accept other points of view. I am a nature nut. I try to see the good things and don’t dwell much on negativity. At 80, I am where I want to be. I have completed 400 paintings now, and most have sold. I paint for the love of art, not for the money, but it’s fun to sell a piece too.”
“There is nothing I would change if I could go back in time. A tiny regret is not having a daughter but I have enjoyed spending time with my beautiful nieces,” she adds. “People who have inspired me include Florence Nightingale, Georgia O’Keefe, Monet, whose garden I visited with Michelle and Wayne, and Joan of Arc about whom I read as a youngster. She was a lady in control of her own life and believed in her goals. We saw where she met her end in a French square. Like her, I want to be ‘me’ as long as I can.”
Wayne and Rochelle have been married 56 years now and they are very happy with their summer life on Manitoulin and the winter months in St. Thomas. “Being married to Wayne and having my two sons are the fondest memories in my life,” Rochelle shares. “My life has been exciting. I never knew what would happen next.” Wayne was praised recently by a letter from a student he had instructed 50 years ago. The student was very grateful for lessons learned.
“Manitoulin, Mindemoya, and this spot right here, are my most favourite places in the world. I love everything about this Island. The quiet, peaceful solitude of the woods. Nature here calls to the soul and encourages creativity. It is nice to visit other places like Italy where I painted in Venice, but I love it here the most. Fortunately, Wayne does too, despite spending his early life in St. Thomas. Leaving here, each fall, taking down all the art, is painful. I wait until the last minute. During the long winter, we eagerly await springtime and our annual return to our Manitoulin sanctuary.”
Quote from Rochelle: “Nature’s world is so fleeting and the modern world is so complicated and busy that people don’t take the time to really look at these special things. It is this very close-up view of texture, patterns of shape and form and the contrast of depth and colour that I strive to capture. I want my viewers to share visually and emotionally what I saw and felt when a precious ‘moment in time’ touched me.”