Heritage illustrates history. Heritage usually refers to a thing, what you or your community inherit – a rambling old house, a garden fence, a church, a memento. History describes the why, the story behind. When the artifacts are gone, the stories survive. They evoke the thing that fell apart, the image, the nostalgia that carried the meaning.
One story that evoked such an image for me – that still exists in my mind so strongly that I can smell the grain being milled, hear the water flowing, see the flat, heavy-grained boards of the mill – is the drowning of Mr. Clark. The water wheel is turning and Mr. Clark, who left his grain for milling, is fishing for salmon below the dam. Like everyone else there, I lost track of him for that critical moment, but then I was not really there. It was a story. Mr. Clark was fishing for salmon – in Lachute!
The mill was on the North River, and I can hear the commotion when the other people at the mill discover Mr. Clark has fallen into the river. I learned about it 180 years later, but it still lives in my mind. Mr. Clark lost his life and his first name – no-one knows it today. Maybe we could search records and find it, find his whole life.
Salmon, though? Are salmon a part of our heritage? Was there once a salmon run up the North River? If the North, then they would have also run up the other Ottawa Valley rivers as well as those many rivers that empty into the St. Lawrence? The salmon are what Mr. Clark’s drowning had illustrated in my mind. For me, his story survived the mill itself, because of the salmon.
Other illustrations of history are the people who lived in their huge pine and maple forests. Their very existence is and was the human manifestation of their ancient stewarding culture that comprised all life, including the rivers, the wind and the spirits. Their forests boasted white pine trees over a dozen stories high, reminiscent of British Columbia’s rain forests. The first white settlers did not see this as a heritage, but as something that could be exploited, turned into money to pay their livelihood. Before those settlers, there were traders who came to exchange for furs with the people here. The Maison Rouge, located west of St. Andrew’s, was a part of the Hudson’s Bay company. Its location could still be identified in the 1930s. The location of Sir John Johnson’s Manor House, 9 rue de la Seigneurie, once contained evidence of wigwams. The Algonquian and Iroquoian people co-existed along these forest paths and shorelines. This broad Indigenous neighbourhood was also where Radisson and des Groseilliers discovered the remnants of the battle made famous in the story of Dollard des Ormeaux in 1650. It was also along the Ottawa where Champlain travelled to meet Tessouat at Isle aux Allumettes, and where he said he released the young Vignau to his unknown fate in 1613.
The seigneurie of Argenteuil was first granted to Charles Joseph d’Ailleboust on June 15, 1682, long before it could realistically be considered as a part of New France. That did not stop Count Frontenac, the governor, from making the grant. The region was solidly in the hands of the Mohawk and Oneida, who also controlled the waterways. They were at war with New France. Successive governors, sent over from France, had no real idea what they were doing. The Haudenosaunee, of whom the Mohawk and Oneida were members, had organised the Covenant Chain to protect Indigenous trade. The French opposed it. Today, 250 years later, the Covenant Chain still exists and is protected by our laws, although lawyers and governments often have to be reminded.
Once Louis-Hector de Callières became the governor, things began to change, and he negotiated seriously with the Haudenosaunee, bringing an end to the interminable war in 1701. At their treaty in Montreal, many things were settled, except that the English, who were already partners in the Covenant Chain, had opposed the meeting and were not present.
More than Frontenac’s grant, it was that treaty that would lead to the French expansion into Deux Montagnes and, eventually, Argenteuil.
The seigneury began active development under a new seigneur, the young Pierre Louis Panet, in 1781, 18 years after the end of the Seven Years’ War, and a century after the original grant had been made. Like the Catholic Church before him, he swore allegiance to King George III of Great Britain. That same year, he granted Carillon Island to Antoine Cerré and sold another parcel to Nicholas Auliers and his son Jean-Baptiste Vachon.
By 1785, English-speaking colonists began to arrive, departing from the newly independent country to the south. The first to arrive were Loyalists, people who could not abide the idea of abandoning Britain, and they acquired some of the excellent farmland in the seigneurie, but the larger group were people who sought stability and opportunity that was not easily available in the young country they had left.
Peter McArthur and his wife Phoebe Lane had settled at that early date on Carillon Hill, and when they received a visit from Phoebe’s brother, Jedediah, he also wanted to acquire a parcel of land. There was nothing satisfactory fronting on the Ottawa River, so he proposed to acquire land on both sides of the North River surrounding the falls, or La Chute.
Lane was a developer. He sold to rugged mountain people from Jericho, Vermont, not farmers. They came for the trees, for potash, quick money. They cut and burned the forest for a dozen years. The Indigenous people must have been crushed by the devastation. It was their ancient heritage, being turned into money. The beaver fur trade no longer filled the colonial appetite.
Argenteuil Heritage and History
Jedediah Lane began selling lots in Lane’s Purchase, present day Lachute, soon after he acquired the land in 1797. His buyers, rugged mountain people from Jericho, Vermont, saw only the potential of the trees and turned the ancient forest into potash, but were soon stumped with what to do after the trees were gone. Thankfully colonization would soon take a much different direction.
James Murray, who some sources claim rescued the seigneurie from creditors, was influential in its subsequent development and the seigneurie developed rapidly. Focusing on St. Andrews East, he took more positive steps to develop it, perhaps having learned a lesson from his sale to Jedediah Lane. The seigneur brought Thomas Mears, a hydraulics engineer, to design and built a grist mill for the seigneurie in 1803.
Stories of Mears’s work brought other creative young Americans to St. Andrews. Walter Ware, whose father operated a mill in Massachusetts, reserved some land across the river from the grist mill and reached out to James Brown in Montreal, a bookbinder. Next, they brought Thomas Mears into their scheme of building a paper mill. He contacted his friend Benjamin Wales, a paper maker. They had to build a sawmill first, to prepare the timbers for the much larger paper mill, but by 1805 they had built Canada’s first paper mill.
During the first ten years of the 1800s, there was an influx of Americans into the Ottawa Valley and many other parts of the British colonies. What we call the American War of Independence they called the American Revolution, and their term might be both more accurate and less flattering. Howard Zinn, in his People’s History of the United States, argues that the revolution was a power grab by a greedy gang of businessmen and landowners. They promoted ideals of democracy in order to control a severely stressed and exploited rabble. Great Britain, having exhausted itself in a war with the French, fell into possession of France’s American empire and was obliged to keep promises they had made to allies such as the various Indian nations. Thus, the Proclamation of 1763, ending the war with the French, included the tracing of a jagged line running south across New York all the way to Florida. Its purpose was to delineate the eastern limit of Indian lands and the western limit of the colonists.
Many of the wealthier elite in the Thirteen Colonies had achieved their positions while ignoring an increasingly large population of landless people. These poor, landless whites were starting to rise up, arm-in-arm with enslaved ‘Negros’ (African Americans) and to cause bloody havoc to their ordered society. The idea of independence from Britain focussed these angry mobs on a common enemy. The wealthy elite, by according the poor whites certain rights that were not extended to the enslaved, encouraged hatred between the enslaved and whites, reducing the risk that they might rise together. This new dynamic converted a dangerous subclass into a human resource that could be directed against the British while keeping the enslaved and freemen in their unenviable place.
As the plan progressed, most of the Indian nations, seeing the problems developing in the rebelling states, sided with the British. That meant that during the fighting that ensued, rebels spilled across the line of the Proclamation of 1763 and saw first-hand the well-kept farmland of the Seneca, the Shawnee, the Cherokee and others.
The American Revolution solved few problems for the new United States and created a huge one for the Indigenous Nations. The British forgot to invite their Indigenous allies to the negotiating table, but the Americans, seeing that, pushed further. The British prime minister, Lord Shelburne, faced with a viable new country, saw the trade advantages and concluded that his former allies were expendable. At the treaty talks in Paris, the Spanish and French were recommending the creation of a buffer state of Indigenous Nations to contain the new country. The Americans encouraged the British to reject that, effectively abandoning their Indigenous allies. This action shocked local British governors in the Canadian colonies, who knew that the Americans would simply crush all resistance and march west. They did what they could, but Shelburne infamously declared “[T]he Indian Nations were not abandoned to their enemies; they were remitted to the care of neighbours… who were certainly the best qualified for softening and humanizing their hearts.” His statement reflected racism that assumed “the Indians” to be a part of the local wildlife with no society or order, sort of wild human animals of no consequence, not military allies, nor even a British colonial people. The new masters of the American rabble, having made no peace with the Indians, simply offered Indian land to their still-angry underclass. Since they vastly outnumbered the war-weary Indians, they moved west and began a huge holocaust, leaving the American elite’s hands free of blood.
Many disillusioned Americans with no prospects at home and no will to fight the “Indians” came back to British territory looking for opportunity. These formed a part of a post-war immigration that arrived after the Loyalists. They were disenfranchised Americans who came, a generation after their ‘revolution,’ looking for work and land in the booming British colonies. The Brits were at war again, this time with the new French empire led by Napoleon, and war brings opportunity. People like Thomas Mears stayed, as did many others. Did they stay only for opportunity?
In Lane’s Purchase, the oncoming war acted as a filter separating those who felt no loyalty to the British and those who could see the potential of the rich loam in which the trees had grown. They would be among the generation that really built Lachute. A Scot named Thomas Barron saw the potential as well, and found settlers trained in Scotland through Lord Kames’s insistence that farmers be encouraged to modernize. They knew what to do, and the remaining Americans learned from them.