Mother and three children die in fire Big Meadow/1945

Compiled by Diana Oliver, Violet Komisar and assisted by Donald Fevang

On May 15, 1945, a fire took the life of Cecile Elizabeth Yandeau at age 30, her three children, Frederick Lawrence, 3, Helen Rita, 1 year (2 from newspaper report) and Diane, 5 months, in the home they lived in on Philippe Maingot’s farm, which they rented about four miles northeast of Enilda. The explosion woke Russell Yandeau and he escaped through a window, sustaining burns to his hand and neck. He tried to re-enter the home, but flames and fumes prevented him from rescuing his family.


A photo of the Yandeau family by Enilda’s Roman Catholic Church, about 1943. Left-right are Cecile Yandeau holding a baby, and Russell Yandeau holding a child.


The home had been doused with kerosene or gas and when lit, went quickly up in flames. Russell rushed to a neighbor and an alarm was sent to the High Prairie Police, and constables B.G Brown and J.A. McCullough rushed to the scene. The fire had consumed the home and only charred bodies remained.

Apparently there were disputes between Maingot and the Yandeaus. Possibly a dispute over land rent, anyway Mangot wanted them to move out, which lead to this tragic fire. Many others speculated on the reason, but only Maingot wanted them gone!

It is known that Maingot took the train from High Prairie to Enilda and walked to the farm and poured gasoline around the perimeter of the home, then set it on fire. He then returned to the Angeline Rooms in High Prairie, where he left a suicide note and committed suicide by taking poison.

A footnote to Angeline Rooms—it was built on 50th street by Pete Wiwchar, now between the Health Centre and Ice Cream Parlor and was named after Pete’s wife, Angeline (Capp) Wiwchar.

Philippe Emile Maingot was born in Algeria in North Africa in April 1879 and immigrated to Canada in 1906 or ’07, according to 1911 and 1921 Census. In 1919, his residence was Kirriemuir, Alberta, then in May 1920 it was Grouard and in Homestead Records it was Enilda.

Land records from the Provincial Archives show Maingot acquired 143 acres from NE-31-74-15 on May 25, 1920 and had gotten a special grant from the Canadian Soldier’s Settlement Board for land and a home and on October 14, 1937, S.S.B got title to it. Earlier, on April 26, 1915, the Diocese of Athabasca had gotten title to 10 acres from NE- 31.

I assumed Maingot had gotten title to it, so wrongly in the history book show him as getting the first title. I also checked Land Titles and History Department for Alberta and they also confirmed me wrong. I Googled the Internet to see if he served in the Canadian army, but got no information on that either, so thought maybe he had served with the French Revolutionary army in Algeria. Just found out from the Archives that he actually did, from June 26, 1916 – June 30, 1918, so he became entitled to the S.S.B. grant having served in a military force of his Majesty’s allies, which included the French. He probably built a shack on this quarter and lived there for a time, but moved to an adjoining quarter to the east, NW-32.

Martin Ouilette had filed on NW-32-74-15-5 on July 8, 1908 and gotten title on Oct. 12, 1911. Then a Desire’ Lawson shows up in 1919, followed by Maingot with no date given, but in the 1921 Census it shows that Maingot and his wife lived on this quarter, and it can be assumed that there was a building site there. After a recent check of that location and some inquiries, it would have been on the west side of Mud Creek and was told they lived near the middle of the quarter. This is also where the Yandeau family lived in 1945.

Maingot also leased SE-31, another adjoining school quarter; and in the 1921 Census he claimed to be a fur rancher.

He became friends with Henry and Helen Lemay, who lived in the Kathleen area. They moved to High Prairie in 1941 and later purchased an acreage of Soren J. Fevang’s land. Henry Lemay built a house there on 47 street, close to the hospital, where he worked. They planted a large garden, had a cow for milk for their growing family and even sold some, then went into raising mink. It was here that Lemay and Maingot began working together raising mink on shares.

Further investigation shows: In the 1911 Census, Maingot was single and by the 1921 Census he was married, so sometime between those dates, he got married. His spouse was listed as Catharine, born in France about 1880. (?) However, death certificate shows his wife, Leonie Celine died in the Providence hospital on January 5, 1942 and was laid to rest in the Grouard cemetery. She was born in Montmarault, Allier, France on January 17, 1874, so was 12 days shy of 68. She had been married to Philippe Maingot for 24 years and had immigrated to Canada in about 1919.

In the 1940’s, Donald Fevang got to know Mr. Maingot as he walked past the Henry Lemay home on his way to and from school to his grandparents, Soren and Soveriene’s home, nearby. He was befriended and given a book of published poems that Maingot had written, but it was in French, so Donald couldn’t get the true meaning in translation, as Donald had only learned some French in school from grades three to 12. He remembers him as a slight stature of a man, a friendly guy with a strong French accent.

In Maingot’s suicide note was also his will regarding his possessions and land. He wished for his land to be purchased by Henry Lemay with conditions attached, that Lemay forward a specified amount of dollars to be forwarded to his two sisters in France. According to church records, Philippe Maingot died on May 16, 1945 at 64 years of age. The 1911 Census shows Maingot was born in April 1879, so that would make him 66 years old. In a regional newspaper article dated, May 18, 1945, it stated he was suffering ill health at the time of his death.

In 1951, the Lemays moved to SE-31-74-15, that they acquired from the estate of Maingot and Henry continued to work at the hospital until 1966, when they built a house in East View. Son, Robert and his wife Janet took over the farm, where they still reside.


The gravesite of the Yandeau family at St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church Cemetery in High Prairie.


In 1939, Russell Yandeau had married Cecil Elizabeth Gauthier, daughter of Omer and Mary (Brunelle) Gauthier at Galahad, Alberta. He was 27 and she was 24. Sadly, she and their three children perished that fateful day in 1945 and were laid to rest in St. Paul’s Roman Catholic cemetery in High Prairie.

Much of the statistical history of the Yandeau family and Maingot was recorded in Trails We Blazed Together, but the murder story was not freely talked about, so recently it was compiled by Diana Oliver and others. Now more information has been obtained and as Paul Harvey would say, “Now you know the rest of the story,” as tragic as it was!

After, Russell Yandeau moved to Manitoba, remarried and had a second family. He also did come back occasionally to this area to visit his brother, Eugene, Camilla and their family, but it was painful. One can only imagine the sorrow Russell Yandeau had to endure the rest of his days and years!

Addendum by Violet Komisar:

The Anton Exner family lived on SE-18-75-15 and rented land belonging to Mrs. Anna Travers’ for about five years 1925-‘30. She had lost her husband, Oliver Travers in 1917 in WW1 and was left with six sons and that is another interesting story of this area and time. Anna Exner, who had a large family was a devout Catholic and drove with horses to church in Grouard regularly, which was about six or more miles each way and the priest would be welcomed many times for dinner at their home.

As a daughter born later to Anna Exner, I, Violet Komisar wonders how many times the Exner family and the Maingot’s path crossed? It is very possible that they knew each other, only living about three miles away and may have even sat together in church…and even prayed together. One can only wonder, “Why, why did so many innocent children and their mother have to die?”


After the tragic fire on May 16, 1945, neighbours rallied to help the Yandeau family put in the year’s crop. It is typical of neighbours today and years ago – they always rally in time of need. Cecile Yandeau and her three children perished in the house fire.

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