An Overview of Rawdon History Aperçu de l’histoire de Rawdon
The proclamation describing the limits of the Rawdon Township in Lower Canada was issued July 13, 1799, thus the Township is over 200 years old. The history of man in the area began much earlier. Natives of the Algonquin tribe visited the area regularly establishing hunting and fishing camps from time untold. They camped along the rivers and hunted in the forests where game abounded. The name Laquoureau given to one of the rivers in Rawdon is said to be the Algonquin word for ‘far and deep.’ Surveyors, understanding they were to find Laquarreau were very much surprised to find themselves beside a river. In reality, the Algonquin reference was to the origin of the river several miles further upstream, in what is now St. Donat.
In 1797 British government surveyors were sent to mark the area into 12 ranges of 28 200 acre lots in preparation for settlement.
The township was diminished in size over the years with parts of the first three ranges being broken away to create the parishes of Saint Ambrose de Kildare, Saint Julienne, and in 1853 Saint Ligouri. The 12th range was ceded to Chertsey.
Land grants were issued in 1816. Among the earliest settlers were many Americans not wishing to live under their new regime. They were mostly allotted land on the first two ranges which had been surveyed. As more and more of the Township was surveyed, grants were issued farther up in the Township.
British settlers trickled in from England, Ireland, and Scotland. The majority of settlers arrived at Quebec City, the largest port in the New World. Some chose to sail to New York and travel overland to the Canadas. (Due to the long trip up the St. Lawrence River this shortened the boat trip and reduced the cost considerably.)
From Quebec the new arrivals sailed up the St. Lawrence to Berthierville and made their way overland to Rawdon Township from there. Others continued on to Montreal before making their way to Rawdon through l’Assomption and St-Jacques
A statistical survey made in 1824 by Joseph Bouchette indicates a population of less than 200 with 556 acres of land under various stages of cultivation. (Surveyors were charged with reporting on the progress of all settlers in the areas they surveyed.)
Due to the mountainous character much of the land in the township was not ideal for farming. The soil was sandy in many areas as well as hilly and rocky. The best area for farming was on the first three ranges before the climb up the mountain began. Unfortunately for Rawdon, this, the best farmland in the township was ceded to the
newly formed parish of St. Ligouri.
Although most settlers farmed, the economy was based on potash and forest products rather than agriculture. The farms provided a roof over their heads, food for their bodies and clothes for their backs but did not provide any noticeable amount of money to improve the farm and nor a reasonable lifestyle.
The sale of timber and potash from the clearing of the lots added to the meagre offerings from farms.
The usual market for the Township was Montreal, a two day journey via l’Assomption to reach the St. Lawrence River at the east end of the island. Once on the island there was a 14 mile travers to reach the warehouses at the Port of Montreal. (Gibby’s Restaurant was a warehouse in the port.)
In winter, they crossed the river on the ice, in open weather local farmers offered a ferry service to take their wagon or cart cross the river and then made their way across the island some fourteen or more miles to the harbour area. It was not until late in the 19th century that a bridge (the Victoria) was built linking the north shore with the island of Montreal.
The nearest commercial centre to the Township was in St. Jacques de Montcalm in the Seigneury of St. Sulpice. A trip to St-Jacques, approximately 12 miles, took a whole day on foot, the most common mode of travel at the time. (3 to 4 hours each way carrying their goods on their backs.) There was little other means of transport as the “road” was in reality a footpath and would not allow a wagon to pass. A sled, two long poles joined by cross pieces and, ideally, hauled by oxen was the only method of carrying larger items into the Township. Due to the nature of the terrain even after twenty years, the road, once you reached the Township, left much to be desired. The elevation into the Township presented steep hills, rocky terrain and clay soil challenged the establishment of passable roads.
The earliest settlers, Americans leaving their homes in the newly established United States of America, arrived in the very early days of settlement. As only the lower ranges of the township were surveyed they were granted lots on the first ranges.
By 1820, although the majority of settlers were on the fist two ranges, there were a few as far as the fifth and sixth ranges. On the second range were names such as Wallace, Robinson, Byrne, Rea, McGie. The next range Finlay, McLean, Montgomery, King,McCurdy, McCauly, Connolly, Eveleigh.
A commercial centre including 2 general stores, a blacksmith, and later the first train service for Rawdon were developed on the eastern corner of first range. This became known as Montcalm Corners.
Surveyors continued their work and gradually settlers were placed further into the Township. An influx of British settlers were settled on the fourth, fifth, and sixth ranges.
As higher ranges were surveyed more and more land grants were issued on the higher ranges in the Township. In the early days of the 1830’s the interior became more populous and the plateau on the fifth range was now considered a more central location for a commercial site.