Rawdon’s Oldest Building Le plus ancien bâtiment de Rawdon

This photo dated 1916 is the earliest photo of ‘the barracks’ I have. Notice in the 1918 photo (below) the door had been changed and a gallery added. Both photos were taken after the Presbyterians had left.
The Barracks

This building on Church Street between third and fourth Avenue has a very interesting history. It is the oldest building in Rawdon still in existence. It was built in 1829 on lot 16 of the first range by the Reverend James Edmund Burton who had been sent to the Township to to minister to the military and the local settlers.

The Reverend Burton was sent back to Ireland in 1832 and in 1836 and a new church was built on the village plot on the fifth range.

In 1821 the militia in Lower Canada numbered 7,443 members. In the Township there were approximately 421 members of the militia.

Burtons church on the first range was abandoned and acquired by the local militia to be used as a barracks.

The building was moved from the first range up to the fifth range with very little change in its construction.

The foundation was higher than the church had required as the basement would be used as sleeping quarters for the militia on duty.

Another interesting feature about this building is the basement also contained a cell where unruly soldiers or captives could be detained for punishment or correction.

The ground floor was used for training.

Behind the building there is a small graveyard.

At this time engineers were military men thus suggesting this was originally a military graveyard.

The earliest stone is for Robert Melrose, Engineer, April 1819. The last burial was in 1945.

Since the Presbyterian congregation left, the graveyard has been sadly neglected.

Excavation on Queen Street, several years ago, continues to threaten the sand based cemetery with land slides.

Already a part of the graveyard has slid away from the tombstones.

Immediate protection is required to save this site and the oldest building remaining in Rawdon. 

The company billeted here were known as the Argenteuil Rangers.

Local names appearing in the ranks were those of Copping, Sharpe,Tinkler and Rowan; all still familiar names in the community today.

Apparently Mr Sharpe had attained the rank of captain and the story relates it was he who rode on horseback through the village in the small hours of the morning shouting, ” To arms!” in a most voluminous voice. 

At that time the Fenian raids were going on in Upper and Lower Canada, and Mr Sharpe had been ordered by his superiors, to muster together all the manpower available as a band of Fenians was on the march towards them.

The Fenians never arrived so after a short wait the militia was temporarily disbanded.

Still another tale is of a large bonfire built on this site. It was so huge that people from the surrounding countryside thought the homes of the villagers must be burning, hence they came rushing in by horseback or oxen, as their mode of travel might be, only to find news had come through of the signing of the Armistice bringing to a close the Crimean War fought by Russia against Great Britain, France and Turkey.

The war had ended in 1856 and the villagers had gathered to celebrate and announce the victory of Great Britain and her allies.

With the Union of Upper and Lower Canada in 1840, Repeal of the Corn laws 1846, and Responsible Government 1848, peace seemed to have settled in what was now called United Canada.

The need for an active militia was no longer considered necessary so once again the building was empty.

The then famous Irish singer, Jenny McGarry, a native of Rawdon, entertained her friends and relatives in this building with a concert.

There is no disputing her renown as a singer.

She had been commissioned to sing for the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria.

She had come back from the Old Country where she was performing to visit her family in Rawdon and prior to her return overseas.

This was once a predominately Irish settlement and the kinfolk of Miss McGarry were among them.

This is the same family who today make our McGarry sausages.

Reverend Doctor Reverend Dr. R.E. Welsh

 In 1917 the building was bought by Reverend Dr. R E Welsh, a professor at United Theological College, Montreal, and the author of several books.

Ordained in 1880 he married Theodosia Marshall the same year before leaving as for Japan as missionaries. Their stay in Japan was short, they returned to England   in 1881.

In 1905 they came to Canada, Robert being a representative of the British and Foreign Bible Society. He was a Professor at the United Theological College in Montreal.

On retiring in 1917, he purchased the ‘barracks’ as a home and a place of worship for Presbyterians. 

Their daughter, Olive, in her later years played the organ for the English Catholic Mass at St. Patrick’s Church in Rawdon.

Miss McCallum bought the property from the Welsh’s to use as a guest house. 

In 1953 she sold it to a couple from the Shawinigan, Major & Mrs. Bannard. 

They officially named the place Silver Birches and ran a guest house and dining room. The dining room specialized in  Southern Cooking. Mrs. Aileen Bannard, originally from Alabama was the chef. It was said her southern fried chicken even had a southern drawl.

Since the Bannards time, Silver Birches has changed not only hands, but name and vocation, as well.

It became a home for facilitated living.

The suppression of English in Quebec resulted in the name being translated to the French, Bouleaux Argentés.

With new government regulations it was no longer eligible for facilitated living and was then ‘room and board’ only. 

Ce bâtiment est le plus ancien bâtiment restant à Rawdon. Cette longévité est porteuse d’une histoire longue, variée et colorée, avec de nombreux mystères encore sans réponse. Au fil des ans, ce bâtiment qui était à l’origine une église d’Angleterre a également servi de caserne pour la milice locale, d’église presbytérienne, de salle communautaire, de lieu de rencontre pour deux religions dissidentes différentes, d’auberge, CHSLD,et enfin de logement locatif. Tout un record pour une seule structure !