Introduction

You are about to read the initial version of what I believe to be the most accurate history of Rawdon to date. The facts in this history have been derived from the close scrutiny of concerned documents. As in every case, history is told as seen in the eye of the beholder, therefore conclusions may vary, but the facts remain the same. This text will be updated as new information is confirmed.

 Readers may, in fact are encouraged to, form their own opinion, and we would be delighted to have you share them with us. Despite my name being used freely in connection with this project, I am in no way totally responsible for its being. It is the product of the combined efforts of three people. Without the assistance of Daniel Parkinson as researcher and editor, this would be just another history of Rawdon. Thanks to his unwavering support and generous input, I am able to claim that this is the most accurate history of Rawdon available. The second person to figure significantly in this project is Glenn Cartwright. Glenn supplied information, leads to pertinent documents, and is totally responsible for its being posted on the Internet to be shared by all. Without his generous help this history would likely not have been written. To these two gentlemen I extend my sincerest thanks and appreciation. They not only provided support but also goaded me into continuing when I got lazy.

THIS IS NEW ..stories from Helen Copping ..


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Beverly Prud’homme 

 Rawdon, the Hills of Home
 
A History of the Old Rawdon Township
by
Beverly Prud’homme

The official proclamation describing the limits of Rawdon Township in Lower Canada was issued July 13, 1799. Officially Rawdon is over 200 years old, but its story begins yet a few years 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.

European settlement at Rawdon began with grants to Loyalists in 1792 when a new township was created from the wastelands of the crown. In 1798, it was officially named Rawdon by the Governor General, Sir Robert Prescott to honour Sir Francis Rawdon, Lord Hastings. He had distinguished himself at Bunker Hill and other battles of the American Revolution and escaped confinement in Ticonderoga ending up on St. Helen's Island. He never visited the area that was to bear his name.
Petitions were received for grants of land at Rawdon as early as 1793 and an order to survey the first two ranges into 200 acre lots was made in 1798. It is unclear if the first four individuals who received grants of land in this new township in 1799 ever visited or settled there. They were not residents when the first census took place in 1825.

Ephraim Sandford and James Sawyers, a veteran of Wolf's army, were both Loyalists from the great refugee camp at William Henry (Sorel). Sawyers married Margaret Tucker, widow of John Tucker of the 53rd regiment who also received grants for her late husband's loss of life in defence of the crown. George McBeath, of l’Assomption, a native of Scotland, also was given a grant of land. He served as deputy for Leinster (Lower Canada) from 1792-96 and was a founder of the North West Company. In total, these four received 1900 acres in the First and Second Ranges.

The next two names were definitely in the class of investors or speculators. In 1805, grants totalling 3000 acres on the First and Second Ranges were issued to Ralph Henry Bruyère and George Selby. Bruyère, a British military man, was married to Jessie Dunbars. There must undoubtedly be a connection to Captain William Dunbars, a Loyalist, 1st Battalion, 84th Regiment, who was recipient of 3000 acres north of St-Sulpice Seigneury in 1789 which lay just south of Rawdon.

Local lore has it that there were Irish Catholic settlers who settled in the area without permission from the crown before 1820. In his report, August 24 1824, Surveyor General Joseph Bouchette speaks of this matter. He says: “little or no progress has been made in respect of Settlements except by a few Irish emigrants who have without authority and contrary to the agents instructions set themselves down promiscuously in various parts of the Township and in some instances when the lands already located to the officers and privates of the late Embodied Militia.”  Bouchette says nothing of their religion: who were these the mysterious Irish Catholics? Who were “the officers and privates of the late Embodied Militia”? Were they the forty or so settlers who were given certificates by Order in Council for the Township of Rawdon 1820 – 1823 who were mainly Irish Protestants? (See NAC Microfilm C2515 pages 29100-1.) Any squatters who did not obtain a ticket of location to their clearings would have to abandon them as they outside the law.

The question arises were these Irish really squatters? At Kilkenny Township, just west of Rawdon, a legally placed Irish Protestant settler, Richard Foster and others, had to appeal to the governor when the agent, Captain Guy Colclough, granted their lots to officers of the Canadian Militia. Foster wrote that Bouchette read them a letter written by Colclough “representing the whole of us as Rebellious and Troublesome people”.

The influx of settlers was at times so rapid that bureaucracy could not cope with the volume. Squatting was not unusual and they could be accommodated if they weren't on land already issued to another settler. If this were the case, they would have to move on. In fact, the agents filed lists of those who had gone on to Lots without Permits of Occupation or Location Tickets. (See PAC Microfilm c 2515, page 29106.) This is a list dated 10th October 1825 - all were legitimate new arrivals who became, in time, prominent citizens. The descendants of the names on the list – Holtby, Corcoran, Blair, Rowan and Sinclair – can be found in Rawdon today.

There is a list of early tickets of location which were granted from 1820-21. (PAC Microfilm C2515, p. 29100 –0.) They are the earliest known families to receive tickets to settle and are almost exclusively Irish Protestants. Some of these men received their Letters Patent in very short order, so it is possible the may have been at Rawdon earlier. Acadians and (French) Canadians were moving up from St-Jacques. There were a few settlers of Loyalist and or American origin as well, although this was a good thirty years after the Revolution.

Settlers began to trickle in from Ireland, England, and Scotland, arriving first in Quebec City. From there the new arrivals sailed up the St. Lawrence to Berthierville and made their way overland from there. Others continued on to Montreal before making 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. (PAC Microfilm C2502, page 13058). The Census of 1825 (PAC Microfilm C718) names 103 heads of family with a total population of 484. One may also consult (on microfilm) the censuses for 1831 and 1851 and every ten years thereafter up to 1901 for information about Rawdon’s pioneer families.

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. The Copping Diary has several references to their potash works which involved the labour of the whole family. It mentions mills 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.

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 journey via l’Assomption to reach the St. Lawrence 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 fourteen or more miles to the harbour area. It was not until late in the 19th century that a bridge was built to link the north shore with the island of Montreal. The Copping family sent a barrel of potash to Montreal this way once a month, year round!
In the earliest times, a short trip to St-Jacques took a whole day on foot. There was no other means of transport as the “road” was in reality a footpath. Even after twenty years, the road, once you reached the Rawdon Township, 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. One Sunday, George records that although he and his sons went to church “the roads are so bad the girls could not go”. There are also references to the help required to get the cart of potash destined for Montreal out of the township. Father Cholette, a visiting Catholic priest complained, “Among other things, I find Rawdon very hilly and difficult of access”.

The majority of the early settlers at Rawdon were English speaking, but Francophones were a part of the mix from the outset and steadily increased in number to become the dominant language group. Often, these were sons of farmers from the seigneuries of the French Regime who were looking for land of their own or to start a business not too far from their family home. As early as 1845, the second generation of English speaking families began moving in large numbers to Montreal, Ontario and all parts of the United States. This trend continued through subsequent generations with many going to the Canadian west. Some continued as farmers, others took employment in trade and industry.
Originally, the commercial development of Rawdon was centred on the first ranges at what was later known as Montcalm Corners. In the 1820’s there was an influx of British settlers and  ‘the plateau on the 5th range” was considered to be a better option. This area was developed as the commercial centre and became known as the Village of Rawdon.

The Copping Diary refers to many individuals and their businesses some of these were blacksmith shops operated by William Norrish in 1836-7, Richard Lee in 1839 and Isaac Grigg in 1844. Robinson’s was a general store, Archambault and Dugas had mills, and Hire Batman, a tannery.

The 1851 census identifies carpenters, cabinetmakers, millwrights, teachers, shoemakers, merchants, traders and stonemasons. William Lord was a millwright but also called himself an architect in 1851. John Horan served the area as a public notary at this time.

In 1862 William Walsh was a shoemaker and served as bailiff, as well. A Henry Smith, who died in 1857, was Bailiff before this and had lived at Rawdon from the 1820s. David Truesdell had a sawmill in 1868. 1882 Dr. James Kelly was the resident doctor and in 1891 Dr Joseph Riberdy established a practice in Rawdon. The doctor at Rawdon on the 1851 census was John McAdam. Curiously, he was named as a cabinetmaker when his daughter was baptized in 1844.

In 1845, Rawdon was set up with an elected council under a government act establishing municipalities.  William Holtby was the secretary-treasurer. In 1855, Louis-André Brien dit Durocher was elected the first mayor under another new municipal act. Among the newly elected councillors were John W Corcoran, Bryan McCurdy, John Robinson, Peter Skelly, and John Smiley. It was another forty years before a town hall was finally built.

A projected plan of the Rawdon dated 1845 shows six parallel streets running east and west, the first one being called Mill Street, the others numbered consecutively 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Streets, and the last street being called St. Patrick Street. This map was certainly partly conjecture as 2nd Street was still a footpath as late as 1945. Mill Street has disappeared. The others all continue to use the same designations today. The cross streets running north and south, between the Oureau and Red Rivers still use the original names, with the exception of Oureau Street which has also disappeared.
The north and south streets are Queen Street, the main thoroughfare, in honour of Queen Victoria and to the west, is Albert Street named for her Consort. Metcalfe Street, to the east was named for Charles Theophilus Metcalfe, Governor of Canada from 1843-61. These three streets are linked by 4th Avenue. Church Street, a very short one, between Queen and Metcalfe, running south from 4th Avenue was so named for the two churches that were on it at one time.

The township has diminished in size over the years with parts of the first three ranges being broken away to create the parishes of St-Ambroise, Ste-Julienne and in 1853 St-Liguori. The north part of Rawdon was raided still later with the formation of Chertsey and St-Alphonse de Rodrigues. Families that seem to disappear from Rawdon can sometimes be found by looking in these parishes. For a while, there was a part of Rawdon that existed as the distinct area of Wexford or Mount Loyal.

The militia was present in Rawdon at the time of the Papineau Rebellion (1837) in the form of a company of volunteers trained in readiness to defend the government. George Copping first makes a reference to his sons attending militia on June 29, 1836. At the height of the hostilities George, himself, was a volunteer. He mentions signing up and drawing his monthly pay. Several men had the title “Captain of Militia” including Dean Burns, Firmin (Philemon) Dugas and Samuel Smiley.

The barracks was on what is now Church Street, between 3rd and 4th Avenues. Nurse Lucy Daly, in interviews about Rawdon’s early history, says that it was a Presbyterian Church before being used by the militia. George Copping in his Diary mentions attending a Presbyterian service on November 12, 1837 at a time when the volunteers were using the barracks In the absence of documentation, it is difficult to decide if what is one of Rawdon’s oldest buildings was first a church or a barracks. The latter is the most likely. The Presbyterian congregation and Plymouth Brethren both worshipped here at different times between 1837 and 1916 but neither congregation exists today. The building has been converted to use as an extended care facility and a few neglected tombstones remain in what was the churchyard.

The earliest church in Rawdon was the Anglican Mission, led by the Reverend James Edmund Burton who had been sent out by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in London to minister to the area. Mr Burton had land grants totalling some 800 acres on lots 13, 14, 15 and 16 of the 1st range, now a part of Ste-Julienne. The first Anglican Church was built on lot 22 of the 2nd range in what is now St-Ligouri. Later, a frame church was built in the village on Church Street. This was replaced by the present stone church which has been in constant use since its construction 1857 – 1861. The building has been designated a historical site and is undergoing restoration at the moment.

The Methodist church was established in 1838 and eventually a fine brick church was constructed in 1895. In 1927, Methodists, Presbyterian and others formed the United Church of Canada. This congregation still functions as the present day Mid-Laurentian United Church.
With increasing numbers of Irish and French Canadian Catholic settlers, there was need for Catholic services in the area. In the 1820s, Mass was celebrated by visiting priests, from the Parish of St-Jacques, in the homes of the Roman Catholic settlers, in particular, those of John Carroll and Thomas Green. They were served by priests from St-Jacques de Montcalm, St-Paul de Joliette, l’Assomption and even a visiting priest, Father Moore of Montreal. In 1832 the Roman Catholic Bishop of Montreal agreed that Rawdon should have a church of its own. Lot 17 on the 5th range was the site chosen and a cross was erected and blessed to indicate the spot. Finally the Church was built and on September 21, 1834 the pastor of St-Jacques celebrated the first mass in the new church.
A little later a rectory was built to house the priests, although there was not a resident priest until 1846. This first residence was replaced in 1845 when a government survey relocated the church land to Queen Street. A new building was constructed on Queen at 5th Avenue. This building is still in existence in a new location although it was replaced by the present rectory in 1886 when a new stone church was erected as well. This latter church was replaced in 1951, but the rectory remains in use today.

With the exception of the Presbyterian Church, the registers of baptism, marriage and burial for these churches can be consulted at the National Archives of Quebec, Viger Street, Montreal or through the Anglican and United Church Archives in Montreal. Contrary to the mislabelled LDS microfilms in the Archive National and what is written in some sources, there was no Baptist church in Rawdon in 1820 or at any time subsequent to that. Likewise, the Episcopal Church is not a separate institution but is the Anglican Church or as it was called in 1822, the Church of England and Ireland. A transcript of the Roman Catholic Church records can be found at the Société de Généalogie de Lanaudière in Joliette.
The first known school opened, in the summer of 1825, in temporary quarters, under the governance of the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning. A schoolhouse was built soon after at the Forks on the Second Range and was used for Anglican Church services as well. English, French, Protestant and Catholic all attended the school but the language of instruction was English. Gradually schools were built in various locations throughout the township including the village proper probably on Queen Street. It was replaced by a model school built in 1884 across from the Anglican Church on 3rd Avenue. In 1909 a two-story white clapboard school was built on the 4th Avenue at the corner of Metcalfe. This was replaced in 1950 by a larger red brick school which was required when the closure of the last rural schools forced pupils to come to the village school. It was soon enlarged to accommodate a continuously growing student body. The population continued to grow and temporary additions were made but could not keep up with the demand. Finally, in 2000, a new school was built on Queen and 19th Avenue to house the students and with this the school has come full circle, back to Queen Street.

It was not until 1863 that the first Catholic School Commission was formed. Several earlier attempts to install a Catholic School in the area had failed. Until that time, and in some cases afterwards, the Catholic children attended the Protestant Schools.

St-Louis School was opened in 1863 with instruction in French and had 55 students. In 1867 a second school, for girls was opened on Albert Street and the Brothers of St. Viateur took charge of St-Louis as a boys’ school. The next year it was closed and remained so for the next 18 years re-opening in 1896.

In 1927, the old school was sold and the boys attended classes in various houses throughout the village. A new red brick school was built and in 1934 the boys moved into a modern two-storey building with six classrooms. This school was destroyed by fire in 1954 and once again temporary classrooms were found for the boys while a new school was readied. January 1955 found the boys re-united in a new, larger more modern school. In 1959 the Brothers of St. Viateur withdrew their services and lay teachers were hired to staff the school.

On Lake Morgan Road, behind the convent, another new school, St. Anne’s, was built to educate English Catholic children in grades 1 to 7. Prior to this, they either went to the Protestant school or to a private school if they wished to have English language instruction. In 1973 an agreement between the Protestant and Catholic Boards saw the English Catholic children attending the Protestant School and Ste Anne’s housed the French children in the secondary grades while St-Louis was used as an elementary school for both sexes. In 1977, the Polyvalante des Chutes made St. Anne’s high school obsolete so the elementary classes were moved there from St-Louis.

A convent was established by two of the Sisters of Ste. Anne on October 25, 1865 in a house purchased from John Corcoran. This was short-lived as the building burned to the ground on December 22 of the same year. Alexander Daly had an unused log house nearby on 6th Avenue and offered it to the nuns for their use until a new residence could be found or built. Unfortunately, this building was in very poor condition and when the Bishop visited he was so upset by the living conditions he sent the Sisters and their fifteen female students to the convent in St-Jacques to await the construction of a new convent. This was soon built and on February 4, 1867 the Sisters and their girls returned to Rawdon. In 1878 a new wing was added and twelve years later another storey was built. In 1902, a third storey as well as an annex were added to house the ten nuns and their 125 students. In 1921 another and final addition was made to the convent and the exterior was covered in red brick replacing the original clapboard siding.

St. Anne Convent had an excellent reputation for graduating bilingual students with the highest quality of education. In 1938, the Sisters offered a commercial course, as well. Girls were drawn from all parts of the world, and included the daughters of ambassadors of South American countries and of well-known European families. Daughters of former Rawdonites now living abroad as well as local girls of Protestant as well as Catholic families all attended “the convent”.

With the new education system and changing times student enrolment at the convent gradually decreased. In 1982 there were 185 students and in 1985-86 school year there were only 33 enrolled. A decision was taken to close at the end of the same year and the convent became a residence for seniors, many of whom had attended class there years earlier.

January 1, 1904 James Corcoran donated the first $1000 towards the building of an English Catholic college in Rawdon. For the next six years the Irish population with the support of the resident priest and Judge Firmin Dugas waged a campaign to have the dream of a college in their town realized. Finally, the cornerstone was laid on July 21, 1910 and the school was ready for the 1911-12 school year. There were 75 boys registered that first year. Named, St. Anselme Academy, it was staffed by the Brothers of St-Viateur who provided an excellent opportunity for young boys to excel in their studies. The commercial course was recognized as among the best available at the time. Boys from as far away as Massachusetts came to study at St. Anselme’s College in Rawdon.
Despite the excellent reputation and continued enrolment, a decision to teach in French was taken in 1948 as the local French population greatly outnumbered the English and there were no local facilities to offer the boys who wished to study in French. In 1958 the courses became classical under the jurisdiction of the Faculty of Arts of l’Université de Montréal but taught by the Brothers of St-Viateur. The College was renamed College Champagneur at about this same time and has since then undergone renovations and additions and become co-ed.

The Circuit Court of Montcalm was established in 1857, with headquarters in Ste-Julienne and a County and Superior Court was set up at Industry Village or St-Paul de l’Industrie (as Joliette was originally known}. After 1870, the Circuit Court, too, was relocated to Industry. Before these courts were established, justice was seen to by local agreement or cases were taken to the Courts in Montreal. George Copping makes a reference in his Diary to a courthouse in Rawdon. He refers several times to ‘settling Accounts’ or ‘consultations’ in the years 1836 – 1838 but some of these legal matters were attended to in Montreal.

Postal service in Lower Canada was instituted very early in the English regime. In 1807, George Heriot had been Deputy Postmaster General of British North America for 20 years. In the correspondence of the Royal Institution from 1825 – 1830 there was no post office at Rawdon and people walked to L’Assumption to post and pick up letters. The first official evidence of a post office in Rawdon was the resignation of Robert Green as postmaster and his replacement by Thomas Griffith, agent for the crown, on April 5, 1832. No records remain from either man.  A map drawn up by William Holtby, secretary-treasurer, in the 1840s indicates a post office located at Lot 5 of the First Range in what is now Ste-Julienne. The next known postmaster was Luke Daly. Although records show him first appointed in 1853, he was known to hold the position as early as 1846. The post office, as in all small rural communities was a gathering place to exchange greetings and news. The first official post office versus being in a private house is said to have been on Queen Street just below 4th Avenue. This was replaced when a new town hall was built early in the last century and the post office was housed in the same building as the City Hall still located on Queen Street, but about midway between 4th and 5th Avenues.

The first train to came to Rawdon in 1910. Previous to this, Rawdon was served by the train that came to Montcalm Station some few miles from the town. The story of the railroads that served Rawdon for a very short period of time can be found on the Railways of Rawdon website.

Rawdon has two lakes, both man made. Lake Pontbriand resulted from the construction of a dam on the Ouareau River by the Laurentian Electric Company in 1912 to provide electricity to the village. Rawdon Lake was created in 1914 by damming the Red River at Third Avenue, just above the Mason Mill and Mason Falls.

The first streetlights were installed in 1921. In 1925 the first fire pump was purchased by the village. A privately owned water system water system was installed in the early forties to supply water to the village residents and bought over by the Village in 1950. In 1951, the first sewer system was constructed.

In 1919, a group of villagers pressed to have the municipality divided into separate corporations of village and township. The villagers felt they were being unfairly taxed as there was more roads to maintain in the country and less tax monies to be collected. In 1920, the area was divided into the Village of Rawdon and The Township of Rawdon. In 1970, the Village realized their error. The township had evolved from a farm community and had become first a summer haven and later a place of permanent residence.

It now had a greater population, more industry, more place to expand than the village whose growth was limited because the township surrounded it. Finally, in 1998, the two municipalities were fused by government decree.

 In the late nineteen thirties a few German immigrants settled in Rawdon which still had an English majority. After World War II, Czechoslovakian, Polish, Hungarian and Russian immigrants flocked to Rawdon. Today, with a population of almost 10,000, there is a French majority, some Anglos and a large multi-ethnic population. There are presently seven churches and two school systems in the community.

Today many residents commute daily to their jobs in Montreal; others are retired and choose to live in Rawdon because of its facilities and proximity to the metropolitan area.

Are you a curious person? Are there things you might like to know about Rawdon's past?  

Did you know that Dorwin had built a railway to Rawdon long before the CNR arrived?

Did you know that a mayor of Rawdon drowned on his way to Montreal?

Do you know what year the Red River was dammed to make a lake?

Do you have ancestors buried in Rawdon?

Is this photograph of the village at the McCord Museum really Rawdon QC?

Have you ever seen the first bridge built at 6th Avenue, Rawdon?

Does anyone know the location of this "mystery" train station? Please tell us.

Do you know where the Rawdon Ski Bowl was?

Do you know where this 1939 winter street dance took place?

We will try to answer all these questions and many more in the months to come. Keep watching!

Help: does anyone have a picture or early photo of the United (or Methodist, as it was at the time) Church that you would like to share (lend)?

Do you have photos or historical items you would like us to scan and post here on our web site? Contact us!

Beverly Prud’homme


publicity poster from 1952
Rawdon in 1952

| George Coppings Journal | Jedediah Hubbell Dorwin | A Brief History of Rawdon | Railways of Rawdon | Historical Society |


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June 16, 2001 Revised July 26, 2001