Memorable Manitobans: Felix John Billiarde (1872-1950)
Born at Dublin, Ireland on 21 June 1872, son of Felix Billiard and Ellen Neelance, thought to be of Huguenot origin. Felix Sr. was a military mess officer, stationed at the Boyne at the time of his son’s birth. Due to the untimely death of both parents when he was 13, Felix Jr. spent the remainder of his youth in a Dublin orphanage. He later claimed to have been educated in Ireland and Germany and he spoke both French and German. He enlisted in the English cavalry at the time of the Boer War but did not see action. He taught school at Wesley College in Sheffield, England around 1898 and later in France and Germany prior to his departure for Canada in 1903.
Arriving at Winnipeg he was employed as Superintendent of the Children’s Aid Society shelter, where he remained until 1909 when he was hired by the Manitoba government as the Chief Probation Officer under the new Juvenile Delinquents Act. Subsequently he was Inspector of Foster Homes and an appointed Associate Justice of the Peace with T. Mayne Daly. Later, he was appointed Magistrate of the Police Court and Judge of the Family Court, assisting David Marr Walker and Daniel W. McKercher. He gained international fame for his creativity in the field of child welfare and critical acclaim for his book Citizens in the Making. Other publications included Public Playgrounds for City Children, Modern Philanthropy and Our Poor, and The Child, the Home, the Parent and the State and many others in both Canada and the USA. He served as a major in the Canadian Army Reserve.
In 1903, he married Sara Ann Marvell of Stamford, Lincolnshire, England. She died in childbirth in September 1916. They had two sons, Harold (1906-2001) and Cedric (1916-1917), the latter of whom died of diphtheria. He and his mother are buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Winnipeg.
After being dismissed from his job by the Norris government in 1919, he moved with his surviving son to California via western Canada and settled in Santa Rosa, California briefly, then to Eureka, Long Beach, San Pedro, Palo Alto, and finally back to San Pedro where he lived for the rest of his life. During this period he worked variously as an insurance agent and teacher. He instructed at the Palo Alto Military and John Brown Military Academies. During World War Two he served as a volunteer on the Los Angeles Harbor Patrol. In San Pedro he was an active advocate for the creation of children’s play equipment in parks.
He died at San Pedro, California on 1 February 1950.
We thank Professor Len Kaminski for his extensive research on F. J. Billiarde that provided most of the above profile.
Who’s Who in Western Canada: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Men and Women of Western Canada, Volume 1, edited by C. W. Parker, Vancouver: Canadian Press Association, 1911.
F. J. Billiarde, Citizens in the Making, Annual Report of the Superintendent of Neglected Children for the Province of Manitoba, 1912, Attorney General’s Department , Province of Manitoba.
Billiarde letter to Albert Prefontaine, Leader of the Opposition, Sessional Papers of Manitoba, Box 265, File #2.
Kaminski correspondence with Patricia Stenehjem, granddaughter of F. J. Billiarde, which provided copies of birth and burial certificates; FJB personal scrapbook, correspondence and articles for the period 1909 to 1919.
Page revised: 28 August 2009
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