Author’s note: This 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 is Glenn Cartwright, who supplied information, leads to pertinent documents, and who was responsible for this article being posted on the Internet. To these two gentlemen I extend my thanks and appreciation.
The official proclamation describing the limits of Rawdon Township in Lower Canada was issued July 13, 1799. Rawdon is officially over 200 years old, but its story begins a few years earlier. The natives Algonquins 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 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 Governor General Sir Robert Prescott, in honour of Sir Francis Rawdon, Lord Hastings who had distinguished himself at Bunker Hill and other battles of the American Revolution, and who had escaped confinement at Ticonderoga. Rawdon 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 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 Wolfe’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. Margaret also received grants for her late husband's death in defense of the crown. George McBeath, a native of Scotland, was also 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 people received 1900 acres in the 1st and 2nd Ranges.
The next two names were definitely investors or speculators. In 1805, grants totaling 3000 acres on the 1st and 2nd Ranges were issued to Ralph Henry Bruyère and George Selby. Bruyère, a British military man, was married to Jessie Dunbars. There must have been a connection to Captain William Dunbars, a Loyalist, 1st Battalion, 84th Regiment, who in 1789, was recipient of 3000 acres north of St-Sulpice Seigneury, just south of Rawdon.
Local lore has it that there were Irish Catholic pioneers who settled in the area before 1820 without permission from the crown. In his report of August 24 1824, Surveyor General Joseph Bouchette wrote: “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 said 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, and who were mainly Irish Protestants?(1) Any squatters who did not obtain a ticket of location to their clearings would have to abandon them since they were 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 were not 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.(2) On a list dated 10th October 1825, all the names were legitimate new arrivals who became, in time, prominent citizens, and whose descendants -- Holtby, Corcoran, Blair, Rowan and Sinclair – can still be found in Rawdon today.
There is a list of early tickets of location granted from 1820-21.(3) These are the earliest known families to receive tickets to settle and are almost exclusively Irish Protestants. Some of these men received Letters Patent in very short order, so it is possible they 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 American 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.
An 1824 Survey by Joseph Bouchette shows a population at Rawdon of under 200 souls with 556 acres in cultivation.(4) The 1825 Census names 103 heads of family with a total population of 484. One may also consult the censuses of 1831 and 1851 and every ten years thereafter up to 1901 for information about Rawdon’s pioneer families.(5)
Much of the area was not ideal for farming because the soil was either sandy in some areas or 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 mills in the area for sawing wood and grinding grain for flour and feed. The Copping Diary has several references to potash works which involved the labour of a 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 June 10, 1826 letter, from 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”.
GETTING TO MARKET
The usual market, however, was Montreal, a four day journey via l’Assomption to the St. Lawrence at the east end of the island. In winter, travelers crossed the river on the ice to reach 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, since 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 around Rawdon, with its 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 in Rawdon were English-speaking, but Francophones were a part of the mix from the outset and steadily increased in number to become the dominant group. Often, these were sons of farmers from the seigneuries of the French Regime who were looking for land of their own or wishing to start a business not too far from their family homes. As early as 1845, the second generation of English-speaking families began moving in large numbers to Montreal, Ontario and parts of the United States. This trend continued through subsequent generations with many going to the Canadian West. Some stayed on to farm; 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 1820s, there was an influx of British settlers and“the plateau on the 5th range” was considered to be a better option. This area developed as the commercial centre and became known as the Village of Rawdon.
The Copping Diary refers to many individuals and their businesses, including 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.
In 1862, William Walsh was a shoemaker and served as bailiff, as well. Henry Smith, who died in 1857, was bailiff before this. David Truesdell had a sawmill in 1868. In 1882, Dr. James Kelly was the resident doctor, and in 1891, Dr Joseph Riberdy established a practice in Rawdon. The doctor in the 1851 census was John McAdam, who, curiously, was described as a cabinetmaker when his daughter was baptized back in 1844.
In 1845, Rawdon was set up with an elected council under the government act establishing municipalities.William Holtby was the secretary-treasurer. In 1855, Louis-André Brien dit Durocher was elected the first mayor under a 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 built.
A projected plan of Rawdon, dated 1845, shows six parallel streets running east and west, the first one called Mill Street, and the others numbered consecutively 2nd 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Streets, and the last street being St. Patrick Street. This map was certainly partly conjecture, since 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, named in honour of Queen Victoria, and Albert Street named for Prince Albert. 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 street between Queen and Metcalfe, and running south from 4th Avenue, was named for two churches that at one time lined the street.
Rawdon Township has diminished in size over the years with parts of the first three ranges being detached to create the parishes of St-Ambroise, Ste-Julienne and St-Liguori. The north part of Rawdon was raided still later with the formation of Chertsey and St-Alphonse-de-Rodrigues. For a while, a part of Rawdon existed as the distinct area of Wexford or Mount Loyal.
A company of volunteer militia was present in Rawdon at the time of the Papineau Rebellion in 1837. George Copping refers to his sons attending militia on June 29, 1836. At the height of the hostilities, Copping 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. Nurse Lucy Daly, in interviews about Rawdon’s early history, says that the barracks 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 determine if what is one of Rawdon’s oldest buildings was first a church or a barracks. The latter is most likely the case. The Presbyterian congregation and Plymouth Brethren both worshipped here at different times between 1837 and 1916, but neither congregation exists today. The building has since been converted to use as an extended care facility. A few neglected tombstones remain in what was the churchyard.
The earliest church in Rawdon was the Anglican Mission, led by the Rev. James Edmund Burton who had been sent out by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in London to minister to the area. Burton had land grants totaling 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 in 1857-1861, and which has been designated a historic site.
The Methodist church was established in 1838 and eventually a fine brick church was constructed in 1895. In 1927, Methodists, Presbyterians 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 of Catholic services in the area. In the 1820s, Mass was celebrated by visiting priests in the homes of Catholic settlers. Catholics were served by priests from St-Jacques de Montcalm, St-Paul de Joliette, l’Assomption, and Montreal. In 1832, the Catholic Bishop of Montreal agreed that Rawdon should have a church of its own. Lot 17 on the 5th range was chosen and a cross erected to indicate the spot. The Church was built, and on September 21, 1834 the pastor of St-Jacques celebrated the first mass in the new church. A rectory was later built, although there was no 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, now in a new location, was replaced by the present rectory in 1886 when a new stone church was built. This latter church was replaced in 1951, but the rectory remains in use today.
With the exception of the Presbyterian Church, the registers of baptisms, marriages and burials for these churches can be consulted at the Archives nationales du Québec in Montreal, or through the Anglican and United Church Archives, also in Montreal. Contrary to the mislabeled LDS microfilms at the ANQ and to what is written in some sources, there was no Baptist church in Rawdon in 1820 or at any subsequent time. 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 in the 2nd 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. One was built in the village, 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-storey white clapboard school was built on 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 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, 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, Catholic children attended the Protestant Schools.
St-Louis School was opened in 1863, with instruction in French for 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 built. January 1955 found the boys re-united in a 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 school, Ste-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 instruction. In 1973, an agreement between the Protestant and Catholic Boards saw the English Catholic children attending the Protestant School, while Ste-Anne’s housed the French children in the secondary grades, and St-Louis was used as an elementary school for both sexes. In 1977, the Polyvalante des Chutes made Ste-Anne’s high school obsolete so 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 in December 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 that 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 built. In 1902, a third storey and an annex were added to house the ten nuns and their 125 students. In 1921, a final addition was made to the convent and the exterior was covered in red brick, replacing the original clapboard siding.
Ste. 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 and Catholic families all attended “the convent”.
With the new education system and changing times, enrolment at the convent gradually decreased. In 1982, there were 185 students; by 1985-86, there were only 33. A decision was taken to close at the end of that year, and the convent became a residence for seniors, many of whom had attended class there years before.
On 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. The cornerstone was finally laid on July 21, 1910 and the school was ready for the 1911-12 school year. There were 75 boys registered that first year. Christened 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 one of the best available at the time. Boys from as far away as Massachusetts came to study at St. Anselme’s.Despite the excellent reputation and continued enrolment, in 1948, a decision to teach in French was taken, since by then the local French population greatly outnumbered the English, and since there were no local facilities to offer 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, and has since undergone renovations and additions, in addition to becoming co-ed.
The Circuit Court of Montcalm was established in 1857, with headquarters in Ste-Julienne. 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 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 letters. The first 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.A map drawn up by William Holtby, secretary-treasurer in the 1840s, indicates a post office located at Lot 5 of the 1st 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 have held the position as early as 1846. The post office, as in all small rural communities, was a gathering place for exchanging greetings and news. The first official post office (as opposed to a post office in a private home) 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.
The first train arrived in Rawdon in 1910. Previously, Rawdon was served by the train that came to Montcalm Station, a few miles from the town.
Rawdon has two lakes, both artificial: Lake Pontbriand, which resulted from the construction in 1912 of a dam on the Ouareau River by the Laurentian Electric Company to provide electricity to the village; and Rawdon Lake, created in 1914 by the damming of the Red River at 3rd Avenue, just above the Mason Mill and Mason Falls.
The first streetlights in Rawdon were installed in 1921; in 1925, the first fire pump purchased. A privately-owned water system was installed in the early 1940s to supply water to village residents; it was purchased by the village in 1950. The following year, the first sewer system was constructed.
TOWNSHIP AND VILLAGEIn 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 since there were 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 its 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 room to expand than the village, whose growth was limited because the township surrounded it. In 1998, the two municipalities were merged by government decree. In the late 1930s, a few German immigrants settled in Rawdon, which at that time still had an English majority. After World War II, large numbers of Czechoslovakian, Polish, Hungarian and Russian immigrants arrived in the area. Today, the population is almost 10,000, with a French-speaking majority, an Anglophone minority, and a large multi-ethnic population. There are presently seven churches and two school systems in the community.
Today, many residents commute daily to jobs in Montreal; others are retired and choose to live in Rawdon because of its facilities and proximity to the metropolitan area.
References:1) PAC Microfilm C2515 pages 29100-1.2) PAC Microfilm c 2515, page 29106.3) PAC Microfilm C2515, p. 29100 –0.4) PAC Microfilm C2502, page 13058.5) PAC Microfilm C718.
**Editor’s Note: This is an edited version of an article that appeared on the website of the Rawdon Historical Society.