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The tiny Lower Laurentian hamlet of Mille Isles was once a thriving town centre for an active pioneer farming community. Settlement began as early as the 1830s by mainly Irish Protestant emigrants. Today the Municipality of Mille Isles, which is only a 40-minute drive from Montreal, is a growing residential area for both commuters and second homes on its many small lakes. However, other than a municipal office and hall, two churches that are only seasonally opened, and the building that concerns us here, generally called Black’s Store, originally Maple Grove School, there is now no town centre, any commercial establishments nor any community institutions.

The Maple Grove School building, also known as Mille Isles School Number 2, Maple Grove School, Mille Isles. (Photo - Sandra Stock)was built around 1860 of squared log construction. The land was donated by Fredrick Rogers. In the early 1900s this building was covered with dressed lumber and even later, expanded by a large addition in a compatible style. Maple Grove was one of three elementary schools in Mille Isles, along with Cambria and Hazel Land schools of which no traces remain.

Children walked or were driven by sleigh in winter. Shirley Captain, of the Mille Isles Historical Society, remembers her father, Melvin Dey, telling her how when he attended the school (around the time of the first World War) his very large dog, Pep, pulled him to school by a small sleigh and then waited until school ended to take him home. The first boy to arrive at school would light the wood fire.

The building functioned as a school for over ninety years until 1948 when improvements in both transportation and education led to the closing of many small schools and the bussing of pupils to larger facilities. For the children of Mille Isles, that meant the newer, bigger school of Morin Heights, which by 1960 offered a complete secondary education as well. Formerly, once pupils finished with the small local elementary schools like Maple Grove, those who went on to high school went to Lachute - much farther away and they had to provide their own transportation and usually they boarded in Lachute.

After this building was no longer a school, it was sold to Cannon Horace Baugh, then Willis Black, who operated it as a local general store and added an addition. In the first years, the store prospered as Mille Isles still had a town core with a garage, a few other small businesses and two thriving church congregations. There was still a sense of community identity and an active social life for residents of all ages. In 1970 the store was sold to Don Vipond who continued to run a store in the building, in latter years only seasonally, until his retirement around 2000. The now dwindling and aging population of the local Mille Isles residents, plus easier access to larger stores in Lachute or Saint-Jérôme, certainly contributed to the decline of the little store.

The Municipality of Mille Isles bought the building in 2003. It was, and is, in excellent condition, having always been well maintained inside and out. The municipality declared it an historic property in 2005 and installed a new well. This summer, the Mille Isles Historical Society is using the building to present an exhibit honouring the 150th Anniversary of the organizing of the Municipality of Mille Isles and pioneer life.

However, now the municipal administration feels that this building should pay its way and as of September, it will be again opened as an attempt to revive a general store and coffee shop by a new tenant.

There is much local concern about the ultimate fate of Maple Grove School and we hope that it can be preserved as an officially declared heritage building and be used for appropriate functions.

Sources: Shirley Dey Captain, Milles Isles Historical Society, Morin Heights Historical Association archives.