In Memory of Francis Joseph Martell





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Francis Joseph Martell

Francis Joseph Martell was the youngest Merchant Navy veteran in Canada. He died at the age of 90 in the DVA wing of Saint Ann Community and Nursing Care Centre where he had been a resident for almost three years. Born in Arichat to Joseph J. Martell and Yvonne Thibeau, Francis was the youngest of their eight children and was pre deceased by Wallace, Mary (Art Beazley), William (Margaret Shea), Yvonne (Stan Bowser), Leo (Evangeline & Doris) and two siblings who died as infants. Francis was born at the height of the Great Depression and that singular event shaped his whole life. Joseph, his father, was his muse. Married late in life, afflicted by the impact of congenital measles causing visual impairment, Joseph’s ability to provide for his family on Isle Madame was limited. Like many Cape Bretoners Joseph worked in Boston where, despite his physical challenges, no training and being medically disqualified, placed 31st in the 1905 running of the Boston Marathon with a time of 3:24.2. Joseph’s influence on Francis was undeniable in that Francis lived Joseph’s “can do” approach to life from an early age. Faced with ongoing and persistent hardships of the depression that had lingered longer on Isle Madame than the rest of Canada, Francis left school in 1944 knowing that one less mouth to feed would benefit those left behind and so began Francis’ seafaring career. As a tall teenager he passed himself off as a 16 year old signing on first as a seaman on coastal shipping vessels then with the Canadian Merchant Navy when WWII was ravaging the North Atlantic. His goal was to send money back home to his parents and to see the world. The navy fed him and also fed his wanderlust carrying him around the world several times by the age of 19. On his last trip, on the way to Formosa to deliver war implements to the Chiang Kai-shek regime, Francis contracted a respiratory illness which was initially diagnosed as tuberculosis. Too ill to continue with the ship, he was left ashore and admitted to a Singapore hospital for treatment. On the eve of his transfer to a TB island off Singapore, where he would most certainly have perished, he was reprieved through the serendipitous intervention of a Catholic missionary who insisted that Francis deserved a second medical opinion. Reassessment by doctors determined he had simple pneumonia and not TB. Despite many efforts at the time, and since, no record of that missionary has ever been found. This was the beginning of Francis’ life-long devotion to Saint Christopher as he fervently believed his prayers had been answered. After treatment, Francis was shipped back to Canada to convalesce. He hoped to return to maritime life to complete his dream of becoming first mate. When he arrived back to his parents’ home, his mother gave him all of the money he had sent to her over the last four years. While convalescing, fate intervened 70 years, Lucy, in her native village of Louisdale, a stone’s throw from Isle Madame, and he never turned back. They met on a Sunday afternoon in the restaurant where Lucy was working, courted for six months and married in June of 1950 (aged 20 &18). They had two children Robert (Felicity Simms) Arichat, and Vivian Siscoe (Martin), Bathurst, by 1954. Francis quickly followed in his uncle Robert Martell’s entrepreneurial footsteps, borrowed money from him to buy his first truck, and with his brother Leo, provided pit props to the mining industry. He also fished lobster with Albert DeCoste to make ends meet. He built his own house at the age of 21 and moved in with his wife and infant son the same year. Francis became a fish monger then segued to beef butchering with door to door sales for the next seventeen years. He developed a business and social network which spanned three counties. In his spare time, he helped develop the Arichat Athletic Association with Lorenzo Boudreau and Connie Madden, coached hockey and minor baseball, was chairman of the local relief fund, owned and operated a mink ranch with his son and had other assorted small businesses, one of which was the brief ownership of what is now the Clarestone Inn in Arichat along with friends. He even sold Bowler Trailers for a few years. In 1970, he sold his meat and fish businesses to take a position at the Canadian General Electric Heavy Water Plant (Point Tupper) where he eventually became lead-hand in the parts department. When the plant closed, Francis returned to school to qualify as journeyman carpenter while he and Lucy owned and operated the Acadian Campsite. He and Danny Latimer built houses and provided home renovation services for several years. His wanderlust persisted for the next 25 years. He twice in a homebuilt RV and often with friends. They cruised to Alaska, Europe, South America, Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean and to the US west coast. When travelling became a challenge, he redirected his considerable energy and creativity into boat building creating his own designs, some of which were less than successful but provided endless entertainment for him and others. Francis was an engaging conversationalist, a trait he inherited from his father Joseph and uncle Robert. He followed municipal, provincial and federal politics and from time to time, supported all political parties. His non-confrontational style and gentleness won him many opportunities to engage his children so they could make the choices he could not. He achieved both. Vascular dementia robbed Francis of many things not the least of which was his need to have those engaging conversations. His dementia did spare his unwavering need to be appreciative for his existence, especially his appreciation of nature. He would be proud of his two grand-daughters (Sophie and Lise Martel) who have grown up to be strong independent women. It is a great tragedy that dementia robbed him from the pleasure of seeing Sophie at the helm of Bluenose II as one of its mates. The family will be forever grateful to the staff of Saint Anne Community and Nursing Care Centre for their commitment to dignified care and for nurturing a truly loving relationship with Francis. They not only provided a safe and caring environment but an opportunity for family to have Francis close to home when he most needed it. Francis is a good example of someone with a preconceived notion of where one wants one’s life to go but when circumstances intervened, he was able to pivot and to take advantage of what life brings your way and truly take advantage of the opportunities presented. On the days that he was able to communicate, Francis expressed his appreciation for what his parents provided him in life, for his family and for his successes through the grace of God in whom he believed so fervently. Funeral arrangements entrusted to C. H. Boudreau Funeral Home in Arichat. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Saint Anne Community To comply with the recommendations around social distancing, the funeral will be postponed and further notice will be provided when appropriate.