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Journal Le Haut-Saint-François
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Mercredi, 20 novembre 2013

More than 120 guests attend the launch of Wells Coates' memoirs

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Special collaboration Rachel GARBER and Pierre HÉBERT

Proof that he is appreciated by all, more than 120 people made it their business and their pleasure recently to attend a book launch for the memoirs of a pioneer of the Haut-Saint-François MRC and the Municipality of Westbury, Wells Coates. The guests were family members, friends, former colleagues, elected municipal officials, Megantic deputy Ghyslain Bolduc, and Alain Robert, representative of the federal deputy of Compton-Stanstead, Jean Rousseau.

Having played a key role in the creation, maintenance and development of the Journal régional Le Haut-Saint-François, Coates chose to launch his book, "Recalling Life in Westbury: The Memoirs of Wells Coats," at the offices of the regional newspaper in Cookshire-Eaton. This mark of appreciation is obviously an honour for the journal's entire team and its board of directors.

Despite being ill, Coates insisted on going ahead with his book launch. In his usual gentlemanly manner, he made certain to thank all those who had collaborated, both near and far, in the completion of his book, as well as its launch. His daughter Colleen Younie and his granddaughter Martha Younie helped with the editing and the production of the book. It took 10 years to write his memoirs. Coates said that, while talking with one of his granddaughters, he realized that his grandchildren did not know much about his life and times. He wanted to leave a heritage that would help his descendents to remember him. "As you go down life's highway, don't forget where you came from," he wrote in the books he gave them.

Among the speakers, young Rosalie Carrier read, in both languages, a short speech that she had written. She is a granddaughter of Cécile Breton, the wife of Wells Coates. She said that although the book author was not her natural grandfather, he was all that she had ever dreamed of, as a grandfather. Coates personally gave a book to each of his grandchildren, and made humorous remarks to several of them. Still quick-witted, he made more than one of them laugh. Books were also distributed at no cost to the guests who attended the launch.

Following the launch ceremony, Pat Boychuck, past president of the Eaton Corner Museum, presented a certificate of appreciation to Coates for his many years of work for the museum.

His Memoirs
The book by Coates has 231 pages of stories, photos and descriptions of his life and times. He was born in 1924, and is just three months short of his 90th birthday. To read his book is to sit beside him and hear his voice speaking. He tells stories, and one story leads to another. The book is both intimate and public. It describes places and people that many Haut-Saint-Françiscans will recognize.

The book's cover shows a photo of the boy Wells on horseback. It's not just any horse. This is Betsey, a "dark buckskin Indian cayeuse mare." From age seven, he rode Betsey to and from school, and just about everywhere else, too. At the age of nine or ten, he began racing her at the Cookshire Fair, and set a long-standing record of a half-mile in 59 seconds. No wonder Betsey has her own chapter in M. Coates' memoirs.

But so do the many cars, trucks, tractors and farm machines that he cherished over the years. His boyhood ambition was "to be an agriculturalist, and not just a farmer." He embraced innovations in farming, and in his book he describes them in amazing detail, complete with dates, dimensions and performance. But, he cautions, "Not all change is forward."
Then there are the people. The book describes friends, family members, colleagues and neighbours, whether French-speaking or English-speaking. Coates tells about house parties. He recalls the worst snowstorm ever, on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1940. He says that, before he became famous, the Group of Seven artist A.Y. Jackson worked as a farm helper for his grandfather.

We learn how Ascot Corner was formed. How he rode a swimming horse. How ice was hauled. How tractors replaced horses. How a steam engine seemed to be "a fiery beast." How his farm switched from Jerseys to Holsteins. How the Great Depression marked his generation. And how municipal politics worked.

The book is a witness to Coates' keen powers of observation, his meticulous memory, and his affection for his community. To his descendents and fellow citizens, it is a reminder of where we came from.

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