Oswald's wife Georgina May, nee Agnew, in 1899
Oswald Bisson (1878-1970) was the third son of Daniel (1845-1934) and Amelie Bisson, nee Baudains (1842-1928); grandson of another Daniel (1816-1889) and Nancy Lesbirel (1818-1896).
This Bisson family had been established in St John for several generations, although it can be traced back to neighbouring Trinity in the 17th century. In 1861 Daniel snr was farming 24 acres in St John, a substantial area for a farm in Jersey at the time. By 1871 he was a 'retired landowner' living at Rue du Grand Mourier, St John, and appears to have married for a second time because his wife is shown in the census as Mary. However, we have found no further reference to a second marriage.
His son Daniel was farming eight acres at Les Fougeres, St John in 1871, expanding to ten acres a decade later. The family stayed together at Les Fougeres because the 1911 census shows Daniel still farming, assisted by son Raoul Daniel (1869-1955), still single at 41, and his unmarried sisters Rosa Margaret (1874-1968), Lucy Amelie (1876-1958), Eunice Sophie (1880-1974) and Phoebe Eleanor (1887-1980).
Second son Stanley John had left home and married and Oswald, the only other surviving son, presumably not attracted to farm work with his father and siblings, had emigrated to Canada, via New York, in 1895 at the age of 16. He found work as a jeweler's clerk in Rossland, British Columbia. He joined the Rocky Mountain Rangers, serving for a number of years in the 102nd regiment.
He met Georgina May Agnew in about 1898, and they were married in Rossland in 1903. They had three children: Marion Marguerite (1904-1966), Russell Daniel (1907-1982) and Amelie Dorothy (1908-1971).
Georgina was the daughter of George Agnew (1847-1918) who started out as a farm worker but in his teens he cut his leg badly with a scythe while reaping and decided to give up farming and become a merchant. He was apprenticed to a merchant in Smith Falls, and established his own business in up-and-coming community Dominion City, Manitoba, in April 1879.
He moved his business to Rossland and, at the age of 68, passed it to his son-in-law Oswald in 1913.
That year he had his photograph taken in the store by an itinerant professional and sent it to his parents in Jersey.
He returned to the island with his wife and children and they appear in a family photograph taken there in 1925 (see gallery below).
Billy Thompson, who worked for Oswald as a clerk, spoke about life in the store in 1981, shortly before his death. This is an edited and abridged version of what he said:
- "The store handled mostly groceries. We handled a lot of feed for animals: oats, wheat. Mr Bisson supplied a lot of the farmers around. He used to get his feed by the carload from the railway just across the street. There used to be flour, oats, wheat, sugar.
- "At the back of the store, upstairs, was where he kept all his flour. He lived next to the store, and had a big basement there. The canned goods would keep better in the basement.
- "He did a good business there. He was busy all the time. His major competition was Hunter Brothers, and then there were little stores on the next street. The biggest store was Hunter Brothers, next in size was Bisson’s — we used to call it Agnew’s then.
- "All the deliveries were made with horse and wagon. Twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays I believe it was, I used to leave the store right after it opened, and I used to walk to the lower end of town where he had about eight or ten customers that I visited. I would take their orders, write it down, and then come back to the store, fill out those orders, and then I would deliver them in the afternoon. We did this for just these customers down at the lower end of town; everyone else was expected to come in. He had customers all over town.
- "The store was open from 8.30 to 5.30. I used to sweep the floors and keep the shelves; I would fill all the shelves up, and wait on customers that came in the store. It wasn’t like today; you used to have your counter slip and you would write down everything they wanted. They would stand there and you would have to run around the store and pick everything up for them. Everything was behind counters.
- "Mr Bisson always told us that, once you were working for him, anything in the store you want, just help yourself; he was smart. The policy did not include stocking enough food to feed your family — just things to snack, so you weren’t sneaking, he told you to help yourself. Like cookies, if you wanted cookies to eat, you could go and take a cookie (of course they were always in bins, they weren’t in boxes like they are now), bananas, and then any fruit in season (when it came in he used to put it in the windows). It’s surprising, when you’ve got it there and you can eat it any time you want it, it is not very long before you don’t even look at the stuff.
- "I worked for $30 a month, and that was for six days a week. The stores were closed Wednesday afternoons and Sundays. As a boss, he was real good. If you were sick, there were never any problems; you got time off. Just the two of us ran the store.
- "As a boss, he was real good.I can’t remember any sales. Once and a while coffee would come in and it would be a few cents cheaper than the rest of it so we used to always have it sitting out in the front. The prices were essentially the same as other shops. There was not that much to choose between going to one store or another, but he had all his customers. He handled a good line of stuff—not cheap stuff. "
The Bisson family home, Les Fougeres, St John in about 1900. In the picture are Oswald's mother Amelie, nee Baudains, her sister Sophie Baudains, and Oswald's older sister Rosa