A methodical farmer, he combed auction yards for machinery deals, until one day he grew impatient
Gerald Monvoisin was born in Gravelbourg, Sask., a largely francophone community west of Regina, on Dec. 5, 1947. His father, Jean, was a Frenchman who arrived in the Prairies in 1918. He and his wife, Laurette, soon had four children—Violet, Cécile, Raymond and Yvonne—whom they raised on a remote cattle ranch without electricity or indoor plumbing, located in the rolling badlands southwest of Regina. Gerald, their last child, was two decades younger than the eldest, and came as something of a surprise to his parents, who called him “Little Gerry.”
A cowboy pastoral of cattle brandings and castrations, Gerry’s boyhood had the added nuance of a French-speaking family life.
“He was,” recalls his sister, Violet,
“a quiet child.” In winter the children followed their mother to nearby Mankota, attending a tworoom school. By 1957 the Monvoisins had bought farmlands near Gravelbourg to harvest grain as well as raise cattle. After graduating from high school in 1966, Gerry left for Regina, working at a grocer’s. Yet he returned each summer to Gravelbourg to help on the farm. One winter, he fell in love with Paula, a secretary also from Gravelbourg, whom he married in 1969. When, soon after, his parents left the farm for town life, the newlyweds took over their land.
The couple’s first child, JeanPaul, arrived in 1969. Gisèle, a daughter, came two years later.
They had barely started walking before Gerry had them weeding or caring for cattle. At harvest, Paula manned the combine, loading her two children by her side on the machine. “Us kids would be sitting in the grain truck at three in the morning because they sometimes went all night,” says Gisèle. By age 10, both were driving across the farm themselves. Gerry, Gisèle says, “was a hard-working man and just had us involved as early as he could.” Paula, meanwhile, doted on him, cooking simple meat-and-potatoes fare and, as a treat, popcorn to go with his evening whisky and coke.
Paula was the disciplinarian. Gerry spoke little—and commanded attention when he did. “He had a most even-tempered, non-hurried, almost monotone voice,” says his sister-in-law, Cécile Allard. “He very rarely showed excitement or stress.” He plodded his lands with a slow, methodical pace. “You could have put a stick of dynamite under him and he wouldn’t have walked any faster,” Allard says. So
quiet was he that a single word would send his children into a spasm of obedience. Yet he loved his children. Jean-Paul was 16 when, struggling with school, he threatened to quit. Gerry found a boarding school where Jean-Paul, an avid hunter, would be allowed a dog and guns. “I remember dropping him off,” says Gisèle. “My dad sobbed all the way home.”
By the mid-1980s, Gerry was cutting farming costs by buying
used machinery at auction and refurbishing it himself. Before long, fellow farmers were seeking him out for advice. Gerry realized he’d uncovered a lucrative sideline and began travelling to auctions across the continent. His reputation as a savvy buyer preceded him, making him wary of deal-poachers. “He’d make sure he was well hid when he bid,” says Jean-Paul. He began selling machinery across Canada—and as far away as Australia. His work ethic and the parts he purchased around the country made it hard for relatives to boast of upcoming road trips for fear he’d ask them to haul back machinery. Paula, meanwhile, often accompanied him on such expeditions, worrying that Gerry, a talented sleeper— he adored tucking in his five grandchildren but frequently fell asleep before they did—would nod off at the wheel.
Despite his machinery business, he still farmed. This year, harvest— the one thing that could unnerve him—came early. Gerry got his peas, durham and lentils off the fields by Aug. 31. One day in particular was rough. An auger was bent, a tire blown, slowing progress. “He had lost it,” says Gisèle. That night, Gisèle confronted him. “You gotta slow down, dad, you’re going to drop dead of a heart attack,” she said. The next week, Gerry told Paula they’d celebrate the harvest by driving, just the two of them, to Regina for Chinese food. They would also drop by an auction east of Regina to pick up a purchase. On Saturday, Sept. 2, he was sitting in his truck as a forklift operator attempted to load a combine header onto his 36-foot flatbed trailer. Things weren’t going well. The header was off-balance. Gerry had rushed to help guide it into place when something snapped. The falling header threw him down, then pinned him to the ground. Paula jumped from the truck and ran to him. “I guess I just got in a hurry this time,” he told her. He died seven hours later in hospital, at 58. BY NICHOLAS KÖHLER
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