Early Days – An Overlook

Cornelius Kreighoff – Summer Camp”

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 & deep.’ (Surveyors were much surprised to find the Algonquin term “Laquoureau” referred to a river than a lake.) The river became known as the Oureau. The lake formed by damming this river was known as Lake Oureau later changed to honour a much later arrival for his contribution to the area.

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 Families that seem to have disappeared from Rawdon can sometimes be found by looking in these parishes. For a while, a part of the Township was recognized as Mount Loyal having its own church, school, and post office address.

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 arriving at Quebec City, the largest port in the New World. Others 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.) 

On the road to Rawdon travellers crossed a covered bridge spanning the Bayonne River

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 de Montcalm.

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. 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.

General stores such as Dugas, Brown, and Halliday’s, were built on Metcalfe Street in proximity to the Anglican Church facing onto Church Street and a school on Metcalfe Street. 

It was soon realized that Metcalfe Street was too limited to accommodate the quickly expanding commercial interests. Queen Street seemed to offer almost limitless opportunity for expansion. New interests were soon seen on Queen Street and others moved from Metcalfe Street to Queen.

In 1919 Dugas’ General Store was removed to Queen Street. Paradis’ General Store replaced Dugas’. Halliday’s General Store and vendor of  Sherwin William Paints, situated on the corner of Metcalfe at 3rd Avenue. (Today, 2021, White’s Funeral Home) remained on Metcalfe as did Brown’s grocery store on Metcalfe opposite Halliday’s. Later this latter store became known as Scroggie’s (Brown’s daughter married Scroggie and took the store over from his father-in-law) and after several more changes of owners is now (2022) a Metro store. Saunder’s General Store, near the corner of 2nd Avenue, also remained on Metcalfe Street.

The majority of the earlier settlers at Rawdon were English speaking, but Francophones were a part of the mix from the outset. The early surveyors found three families illegally placed on the first range of the Rawdon Township. Discussions as to what measures should be taken to right the problem resulted in the decision that the settlers were well established and appeared to potentially good citizens their claim  should be honoured. To date these are the only families of French origin I have found to have cleared virgin land in the Township for farming. French families coming to  Township later were representatives of the bourgeois class being doctors, notaries, and various  businessman. 

As early as 1845, second and third generations of English speaking families began moving in large numbers to Montreal, the Eastern townships, Ontario, and as far west as British Columbia and to all parts of the United States. This trend continued through subsequent generations.

The French population steadily increased in number and with the English emigration in the 20th century French became the dominant language in the Township.