MOOSE CREEK — Claude Provost’s career as general shopkeeper to the community he loved spanned 1936 through 2019 — a nearly 85-year period interrupted only by his service during World War II, plus the indulgence of four weeks total vacation in the decades after his return in 1945.
The residents of Moose Creek filled Our Lady of The Angels Catholic Church yesterday in tribute to Provost, who died Jan. 6 a couple of month’s shy of his 99th birthday — still a fixture until recently behind the counter at his old-fashioned store that bore his family surname and was an authentic time capsule of a bygone era.
“Many sons and daughters, or grandsons and granddaughters, or great-grandsons and great-granddaughterss, of the natives of Moose Creek’s past would visit the store, knowing Claude would still be there,” said friend Paul Mayer in his eulogy to the “ambassador” and “legend” of Moose Creek.
Provost’s casket was piped into the church by a company from the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa, the unit with which he served overseas.
Flags at public buildings in North Stormont Township were set at half mast in honour of the deceased, “unanimously described as kind, pleasant, polite, positive and profoundly nice,” said Mayer. “A war veteran whose endearing qualities of appreciation and gratitude, smiled with an awareness, did not take things for granted. A man who lived a life of dignity and respect punctuated by hard work and service.”
The life-long resident of the village was “always willing to share a story or ask a question about you or your family … or where you were from” and “always had time to wish you a sincere and genuine good day,” he said, recalling how the elderly retailer could recall a time long past in Moose Creek — of horse-drawn buggy rides to school, before electricity, refrigeration or indoor plumbing, and of men travelling through the village by rail during the hard times of the Great Depression.
“He said life was a lot harder back then, and I believe him.”
Enlisting in October 1942, he landed on Juneau beach, France, five days after the D-Day invasion. Provost spoke sparingly of the war, but was always willing to share stories,” added Mayer.
As Second World War veterans grew increasingly scarce this century, he received a number of honours for his service, including special treatment during his first-ever attendance at Ottawa’s Remembrance Day ceremonies, in 2015, and induction into the French Legion of Honour a year earlier.
Mayer remembered a “spry man” with a sweet tooth, an appreciation for “simple things,” and still “playing hide and seek games” when they first met in 2002.
The eulogist also commended Provost’s 35-year employee Heather Rolfe and her partner, Robert, for being part of his support team through the decades, along with his niece, Ginette, and other neighbours and friends. It was a network that kept Provost “always surrounded by love,” he said.
A life-long bachelor, Provost had explained to Mayer that he never married out of a belief the “store wouldn’t be around long enough to support a family.” In retrospect, observed Mayer, Provost “supported a larger family that consisted of all of us in Moose Creek, over many generations….”
Melba Pound of Brighton, Ontario, recalled how Provost and her late husband, Wilfred, were reacquainted 47 years after serving together with the Camerons. They traded war stories when the Pounds surprised him by dropping by in the 1990s — intending to see his art gallery but rekindling a friendship that lasted another 28 years. Her husband first came to know the youngster from Moose Creek as a 19-year-old private in the trenches of the war and called him “Junior,” she said.
Pound also highlighted Provost’s thrill at receiving photographs from around the world of folks wearing “Moose Creek” shirts purchased at his store.
Provost’s Store and Gallery closed its doors Jan. 16, following a sale in the days after the owner’s death. Production has already begun on new “Provost’s Store” commemorative shirts, and plans are also in the works for a memorial bench to honour the man who made the place his life’s mission; Moose Creek’s Max Forgues and Julien Adam are spearheading those initiatives.