The Beginning of Settlement
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, but the history of the area story actually began much earlier. The 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 Lac Ouareau given to one of the rivers in Rawdon is said to be the Algonquin word for ‘far & deep.’ (Surveyors were much surprised that Lac Ouareau referred to a river than a lake.
The river became known as the Ouareau. The lake formed by damming this river was known as Lake Ouareau later changed to honour a much later arrival for his contribution to the area.
The first grants were issued in 1816 among these earliest settlers were many Americans not wishing to live under the new regime.
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.
British settlers began to trickle in from England, Ireland, and Scotland. The majority of settlers arrived in Quebec City, the largest port in the New World, although a few landed in New York and travelled overland to the Canadas. Due to the long trip up the St. Lawrence River this shortened the crossing.
From Quebec City settlers destined for the Township of Rawdon 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, also a difficult two day trek.
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.
The census of 1825 names 300 heads of family with a total population of 484.
By 1820, although the majority of settlers were on the first two ranges, there were a few as far as the fifth range.
The Dugas, and on the second range were names such as Wallace, Robinson, Byrne, Rea, McGie. The next range up Finlay, McLean, Montgomery, King, McCurdy, McCauly, Connolly, Eveleigh.
Originally, the commercial development of Rawdon was centred on the eastern corner of the first range which became known as Montcalm Corners. In fact, the first train to service Rawdon was there.
In the 1820’s there was an influx of British settlers and the plateau on the 5th range was considered a better option. This area was developed as the commercial centre and became known as the Village of Rawdon.
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 a climb up the mountain began. Although most settlers farmed, the economy was based on potash and forest products rather than agriculture which provided a roof over their heads, food for their bodies, and clothes for their backs.
Timber and potash from the clearing of their lots added to the meagre offerings from the farms. Potash plants to refine ashes as well as several mills for sawing wood and grinding grain for flour and feed added much needed income to the settlers.
Two of the earliest mills were those of Philemon Dugas and Roderick McKenzie-Manchester’s owned by Roderick McKenzie. Roderick McKenzie hired David Manchester to operate his mill which became known as the Manchester Mill.