Hunt for the Origins of Pitchnut

Greetings from Dunham,Quebec! I woke up at 5 this morning and hit the road by 6:00 after waiting in a painfully slow line at the Noho Dunkin. By 10 I was in Coaticook. First stop was the bank to get Canadian cash. The bank was quite closed as was the one in Derby, VT. I was a little nervous about not having cash on me, but had plenty of green stuff. The librarian at Coaticook library didnèt really speak English and didnèt show any signs of recognizing the pitchnut photo I showed her. Next stop was Canadian tire. Neither the workers nor the customers there new pitchnut, so I decided to head out the St. Edwidge to get to the library there by noon. I crossed the town line and the first house I saw was on a farm and the silo was labeled Ferme de Raymond Scalabrini. Aha! The infamous Scalabrinis who built boards in the 1920s as remembered by Albert Brunelle in Newington, CT. I pulled up in front of his house to take some photos and video. While I was doing so a red truck pulled into the driveway and a 50ish guy got out, gave me a suspicious look and headed to the front door. I put the camera away, grabbed my Scalabrini family tree and walked towards him. Lets just say the conversation was awkward at best. Given that I dont speak a word of French and he doesnt speak a word of English our conversation consisted of a lot of fruitless gestures and polite grinning. He showed no recognition of the photos of the game. When I showed him the Raymond Scalabrini on the genaeology printout he did inform me that that was a woman. Oops. I thanked him for being so gracious. I figured he was a great nephew or something and headed off toward downtown St. Edwidge- which consisted of a church and two stores. Oh, and the Centre Recreatif, which I made my way into after hearing lots of female laughter floating down from a window on the second floor. I brought in the pitchnut board I had brought and found 10 women peeling carrots. Yes, they were all peeling carrots. There were four rows of tables with tablecloths and settings for several hundred people. I figured this was for Canadian Thanksgiving on Monday. The women all nodded in recognition of the pitchnut board. Only one of the 10 women spoke English. She informed me that every home in St. Edwidge has a pitchnut board- with screws and alleys. She had two. Finally, the pitchnut mecca Ive been searching for for the last 10 or 20 years! They invited me to dinner Sunday at 4. None of them knew the history of the game or how it got to St. Edwidge. I told them I would be back and headed to the cemetary next door. I found the gravestones of a few Scalabrinis and the infamous Ferdinand- who came from Italy and lived in Dunham for 10 years before moving to St. Edwidge. His son was the one who Albert Brunelle says was building boards in the 1920s. I even found the gravestone of Guillaume Martineau.

Last night I called Gerry Martineau, my moms second cousin. My great grandfather (Joseph Blain) his grandfather (Xavier Blain) were brothers. Gerry disagreed with my moms uncle (Robert Blain)s conclusion that pitchnut came into the family through my grandmother. He says that he never saw any Blains in Canada playing pitchnut and that the game didnt exist in the family until my grandfather married Aurore Breault, who was born and grew up in Dunham, Quebec- the same place Ferdinand Scalabrini lived for ten years 1865-1875. So this morning he takes out his family tree and sees that his grandfather was one of the founders of St. Edwidge in 1856. This surely is how the game was introduced into the family.

I went back into the Centre Recreatif to see if I left the printout of my great grandmothers family. There was a man in there talking to them and he said that hed played pitchnut all his life. He also sold me a copy of the centennial St. Edwidge history book for $20- American cash. He said I didnt need Canadian cash- due to the plunging dollar value, the exchange rate was 1 for 1 for the first time ever, so apparently Canadians have started collecting American cash. I guess the more cash they collect the lower the dollar will go. Ill have to ask my friend, Dave, the economist how that works. The books was filled with lists of baptisms, a page for each family that lives in the town- about 50 pages- the guy said there are only a few hundred people in the town.

I decided to drive over to Dunham. It was starting to rain. I stopped by a dairy farm where a couple dozen tourists were waiting on a trailer to go on their tractor tour of the farm. None of them knew the game, nor did the farmers. In the little town of Ayers Cliff I stopped at an antique store. The owner had never seen the game. I then came across a woodworkers shop which had adirondack chairs all over the front lawn. A very nice 60ish guy came out of the workshop. I showed him the board and he said he had played that version of the game and had built a couple. We talked quite a bit. I beat him. He obviously had the skills- but was a little rusty. He couldnèt remember the rules exactly, but knew that you couldnt put the shooter in the alley. That would change things a bit. I finally talked him in to letting me take a photo of him and headed to Dunham.

Dunham is a cute little town. Lots of restaurants, wineries, bed and breakfasts. Has one main street and thats about it. Stopped by a couple antique stores. The owners had never seen the game. Hmmm, I thought. I stopped by the library. It was officially closed, but the information center woman said she had never seen it. Oooh, a nursing home. Perfect. That should be the jackpot. 15 old timers and none of them ever saw the game. Asked a few more shopowners- nothing. Found two 9 year old kids skateboarding behind a church. Theyve never seen it. Definitely not a good sign. I ate dinner at a nice little rustic cafe- had a delicious panini and a glass of wine. The waiter was quite amused with my venture, but had nothing to add. I headed to the cemetary to see if I could find my great grandmothers grave before it got dark. It was pouring. No dice. No Breaults or Sophie Boucher. I headed back to the cafe and discovered I could trade in American bucks at the allpurpose store across the street. That made me feel much better. Ate an apple crisp and coffee and went to pay. As I was waiting two men in their 20s asked me what the big book was. Well, it wasnt exactly a short answer. I told them I was researching the histor of pitchnut and they got excited and said that they had played. Finally! Dunhamites who have seen the game. I went out to the car and brought in the board. Oh, thatès not the game we played, they said. Like so many dozens of other people, they had played crokinole, not pitchnut. I beat one of them at a game. Told them about my web site and the ranking system. One of them walked over to a computer in the corner and went to pitchnut.com. And thats how I got here. Its 8:41 and I should probably find a place to stay tonight. Theres a Days Inn in Cowansville down the road. I should probably get a photo of the sign for the yearbook while Im at it.

So, absolutely no singns of pitchnut in Dunham. Ill probably see if I can catch people getting out of church to ask them before heading back to St. Edwidge for dinner. Hoping to get some footage of authentic French Canadian pitchnutters. I guess that would be pichenottres. Oui. Au revoir. Bon soir.