Settlement

The first tickets of location issued in 1816  were mostly Americans wishing to remain under British rule. They were allotted lots 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.

Settlers from Ireland, England, and Scotland, soon began to trickle in. Arriving in Quebec City. From there the new arrivals followed the “chemin du roi”, (a well maintained road between Quebec and Montreal running along the north shore of the St. Lawrence), or they sailed up the St. Lawrence to Berthierville (As of 1811 steamships plied the river between Quebec and Montreal) and made their way overland from there. Others continued on to Montreal and made their way to Rawdon through l’Assomption and St-Jacques de Montcalm.

A Statistical Survey by Surveyor Joseph Bouchette in 1824 shows a population at Rawdon of under 200 souls with 556 acres in cultivation.

Much of the area was not ideal for farming because the soil was sandy in many areas and it was hilly and rocky in others. Although most settlers farmed, the economy was based on potash and forest products rather than agriculture. There were potash plants to refine the ashes as well as several mills in the area, for sawing wood and grinding grain for flour and feed. Several potash works were scattered throughout the Township. Mills were also numerous, as well.owned by Robinson and Archambault. Two of the earliest mills were those of Philemon Dugas and Manchester’s owned by Roderick McKenzie with David Manchester as manager. Other mills, Robinson, Archambault and Boyce Mills were present

The early settlers had to find a market for their potash, slats, lumber and forest products. A letter, dated June 10, 1826, from the schoolmaster, James Walker to a friend, tells us that Mr. Philemon Dugas, a leading citizen of Rawdon was in Quebec City. “He is about the harbour somewhere with a few thousand plank and if you could thus assist him to dispose of them, it will be assisting a worthy person who in innumerable instances has assisted the distressed settlers in this township”.

The usual market, however, was Montreal, a four day return journey via l’Assomption to reach the St. Lawrence River at the east end of the island. In winter, they crossed the river on the ice to reach Old Montreal and in open weather they hired a ferry to take their wagon or cart over the river and then made their way across the island, some 14 or 15 miles (22 -24k) to the harbour area. 

The “road” was, in reality, a footpath. Even after twenty years, the road, once you reached the Rawdon Township, still left much to be desired. This was partly due to the nature of the landscape. The elevation started in Rawdon, steep hills, rocky terrain and clay soil caused much grief to those wishing to establish passable roads in the Township. Father Cholette, a visiting Catholic priest, complained, “Among other things, I find Rawdon very hilly and difficult of access”.

Originally, the commercial development of Rawdon was centred on the first ranges at what was later known as Montcalm Corners.

In the 1820’s British immigrants settled on the higher ranges that had now been surveyed. In 1830 the plateau on the 5th range was considered to be a more central option for a commercial centre. The area was surveyed and became known as the Village of Rawdon. Montcalm Corners continued to be a service centre for another 100 years.

Clearing the Land

In 1816 there was little to indicate that a settlement existed. The few lots in early stages of clearing and cultivation were obscured by dense forest. Certainly a shock to new arrivals compared to their homes with neighbours close by and in walking distance to a village. Surrounded by nothing but thick, thick, almost impenetrable forest, visions of a land of milk and honey quickly faded. Nevertheless, they were here and here they must stay!

The list of the tools and supplies needed to clear an area and build a house and barn was usually filled in St. Jacques de Montcalm. The list included axes, adzes, a brush (bill) hook, spade, hammer, chisel, hand saw, for clearing and construction.

A few more items to complete the house added to the list. A draw knife, hinges, 9 panes of glass the panes were kept to a smaller size to help keep them safe during the rough trek. Putty for the windows, hinges and door latches were sometimes on the list. Glass was not always available and hinges, door latches, etc. could be had at a blacksmith in the settlement or made from pieces of leather. Notice, no nails were used.

These items were hauled through a bush road, ideally by a team of oxen, or at least one ox, which was also required to haul the logs to the building site.

A rustic shelter of boughs covered with bark offered unexpected comfort until an area was cleared and a cabin was built.

For the next few months this was their only protection from the elements.

A shelter to store their goods was erected nearby. Any livestock was left to graze freely in the bush. A lick of salt kept them returning to the site.

A Logging Bee

With an adequate space cleared, a cellar dug and lined with stones, the logs, measured and cut to size, squared and dovetailed.

Bees were very common, sometimes two or three were held in the same week. The bee started early in the day and went until early evening. This was a more practical approach to work that was near impossible for one man to accomplish. Together a group of men could build and raise raise the walls of a cabin in one day. The roof was shingled another day either by the settler or with a bee.

Newly arrived settlers could gain much experience working with seasoned hewers. Obviously the first settlers found there were few neighbours, with only minimal experience in clearing or building. In very few years as more new arrivals settled in this problem was regulated.

The ladies served meals for the workers, usually dinner and supper. Tea and possibly beer or whiskey was served to the men at the meals. Although the ladies did not usually accompany their men to a bee, they frequently sent contributions for the meals. In the evening the ladies and children joined the party for dance and song, and kept an eye on their men that they did not drink too much alcohol. The reputation of bees ending in a drunken brawl is not justified. Many homes did not serve alcohol. Sometimes a little too much spirits resulted in tragedy such as the killing of Robert Brown.

In time ladies held bees, as well. Pickling, preserving, spinning, weaving, quilting, all these and many more activities were not only hastened but made much more  pleasant with the help of friends and family. There were also bees for their outdoor activities, such as at flax picking time, gardening, butchering when tallow was collected for soap or candle making, blood for black pudding, intestines for sausage making, etc.

A bee was called and the men made good work raising the walls and a start on the roof.

A bee made good work of getting the walls of a house up and possibly even a start on the roof in one day. 

Once the walls were in place, holes were cut for a door and a window. Both were of minimal size to retain as much heat as possible. The panes of glass for a window was an added expense and often not readably available Breakage in transport was a common occurrence adding to the cost. When glass was not used tanned deer skin served the purpose, sometimes remaining in the windows for a few years.

Shingles

Stones, which were plentiful in most areas of the Township, were collected from around the clearing and hauled to the house for the chimney. Again the neighbours might be asked to a bee and make short work of the chimney.

Not all cabins had a chimney, sometimes the stove pipes protruded through the roof or gable end of the cabin. Many disastrous fires were the direct result of this practice.

At the end of summer, while the construction might not be completely finished, as long as there was a roof over their heads the family could move in.

Finishing the interior, putting stairs if the attic was to be used, lathing and plastering walls was done over the winter.

This man is escorting his family, carrying all their personal belongings, to a home he has built for them.

Initially not much in household furnishings was carried to the building site. Furniture was made on site.

A couple kettles and a pan for cooking, a minimum of tableware, as well as one blanket per adult and one for 2 or more children.

The trek through the bush littered with rocks, stumps, fallen logs, and carrying their worldly possessions was not easy. The cabin in the background indicates they still have a way to go.

Before the winter cold set in the outside of the house was banked to a minimum of a foot (approx. 0.3 m) high with earth. This protected the cellar from frost and reduced a source of cold drafts. 

When the first snow arrived it, also was shovelled against the sides of the cabin to retain the heat inside the home from escaping.

Despite their efforts, during the coldest winter days, the temperature in the cabin fell well below freezing temperatures. Overnight, sometimes even during the day, during cold spells water froze in the house.

100 Year Old Original Cabin

While the actual construction of the cabin was completed outside there was still plenty work to be done before winter. A stable was needed should there be oxen, a cow, the pig, a couple sheep, chickens or geese. For the first year what little fodder could be garnered from the woods for winter feed was stored in a lean-to.

Supplies for the family had to be purchased this first season as there was no garden to supply vegetables, often no animals or fowl for meat. All was purchased in what was considered sufficient quantities to last the winter. Meat was salted and stored in barrels. Once the temperatures went below freezing, fresh frozen meat replaced the salted fare.     

Clearing for Spring Cultivation

With the homestead prepared for winter, stores  it was back to clearing an area for cultivation in spring. In order to get maximum benefit from the clearing project it was essential for the settler to familiarize himself with the various types of soils, and the value of the different logs. Areas with primarily pine trees the soil was generally not suitable for cultivation and the of soft wood stumps were almost impossible to remove and extremely slow to rot.

Pines, hemlock, fir, took 30 or 40 years to rot. However, pine was valued as a timber to be sawed into boards, or for making charcoal for blacksmiths. Both uses were of great value in a new settlement with so much construction being carried on. Beech, maple, and hickory were put aside for firewood. It took many cords to heat a house during a long, cold, winter.

An area with an assortment of hardwood trees flourished in prime growing soil preferable for fields. This area was chosen to begin clearing. The hard wood stumps also had the advantage of rotting in 7 or 8 years and were easily removed. Hardwood not required for other uses was set aside for making potash. Initially potash was a main source of revenue in a new settlement.

 Once an area was cleared it needed to be fenced to prevent destruction by livestock, theirs or the neighbours. Oaks could be split to make durable fences; pine, cedar, and white ash used for rails. All this was duly noted and these logs were not burnt but piled for later use.

The men worked all winter felling trees despite the rain, sleet, snow and cold. Very few days were lost due to inclement weather. By spring they looked forward to having a relatively good size area to plant.

Life in the Home

Furnishings of a Cabin

Settlers cabins were sparsely furnished with most items being home made. The interior was divided in two parts, a larger end for a living area and the lesser one for sleeping quarters. The sleeping quarters were again divided into a room for the children and one for the parents.

A stove to provide heat as well for cooking was the focal point of the living area. A table with benches, and a few chairs  were the main pieces of furniture. A wash stand with a tub and scrubbing board, a butter churn, and a small stand by the door with a pail of water to wash hands and face upon entering completed the main furnishings. (Notice the home crafted birch broom standing in the corner behind the stove.)

Oaken Ware

All the above containers were an essential part of a settler’s home. Oaken items were supplied by a local cooper, likely as a winter source of funds . Notice the staves are held in place with rope rather than metal straps.

Iron Kettles and Pots
Notice the absence of frying pans. They came along later.

The kettle shows an arm attached to hook it over the fireplace. There were very few fireplaces, if any, in the earliest days of the Township. Influenced by American publications the impression of fireplaces being the only heating available. Les Forges St. Maurice, and other smaller foundries, marketed stoves in the 18th century.

Kettles and pots, being made of  iron were very heavy, particularly when full.

The weight helped stabilize them yet, particularly with young children, scalding and burning were frequent occurrences.

Mason Ware

Mason ware was readily available in the Seigneury of St. Sulpice. Various shapes and sizes were used for food storage. Large crocks held salted meat or pickles. etc. Jugs kept milk, wine, or syrup. 

Wooden Ware

Wooden ware for the kitchen, bowels, spoons, pestle and mortars, salt boxes, etc., were usually made in the home.

The box to hang on a wall was used to store the ever precious salt.

Furniture was also made by the individual settler.

These beds were designed to save space. A child’s bed pulls out from under double bed. The bench in the bottom corner was usually in the kitchen and served as sleeping quarters for overnight guests or passing strangers seeking shelter for the night.

The earliest beds were strung with rope running through the side boards and anchored tightly. The ropes had to be tightened from time to time. Ropes were replaced with slats lying crossways on inner pieces fastened to the side board. The beds above are of this type.

Mattresses and bolsters were made of linen stuffed with dry grass, straw, hair, or feathers. Children’s beds were usually stuffed with straw as they required frequent changing due to soiling.

Sheets were also made of linen, which newly loomed, was very rough and scratchy. After several washings, the texture softened some and the sheets were made into clothing and newly woven linen went onto the beds.

Wooden Cradle

This hand made cradle is particularly interesting in that it has knobs to thread rope to keep the baby from crawling out. Babies were not left to crawl on the floor. They were taken out only when there was someone to hold them in their lap or to support their efforts to stand and walk.

Early Lighting Accessories

At the time of settlement in the Canadas were being settled, candles had pretty much replaced a wick on whale oil for lighting. Candles were made in the home rather than bought.

At butchering time in the late fall tallow from beef or sheep was saved for soap and candle making.

Wicks for the candles were woven from cotton thread. The thickness and texture of the wick was very important, too thick or too thin, too loose or too tight affected the amount of light the candle gave.Tallow for the candles was available in the fall at butchering time.

Wicks were measured for length, dipped into melted tallow and hung to dry. This procedure was continued several times until they were the desired thickness. Molds for candles were available but dipping was the usual method used in a settler’s home.

Candle holders were bought at the tinsmith or the general store. Most families used a very simple holder for a single candle but there were various other types which held two or more candles. There was a choice of table models and wall sconces. The table models were more easy to knock over and cause a fire, but it was also possible to carry them from room to room.

With the early fall of darkness in winter, sometimes light was needed outside, as well. For a visit to the stables or hung on the side of a sleigh a holder to protect the candle from the wind was essential. A simple housing of punctured tin, although the least effective, was the usual model.  A more sophisticated type designed with glass enclosed metal frame was much more effective, but was also more costly and easier to break. 

Candles were still the only source of light during the first half of the 19th century. Coal oil or kerosene lamps only came into general use in the 1860’s.

With their log cabin well chinked and moderately furnished, the family was as comfortable as expected in this era. 

Although the furnishings of the cabin might seem very primitive, conveniences minimal, the preparation of meals time consuming, it must be noted that none of this was no different back home in Europe. The furnishings and equipment were virtually the same as those found in the colonies.