Me: What’s new in East Hawkesbury my friend? Him: Bah…same old, same old… Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention: St. Eugene’s old COOP building was demolished in late November… Is this a scoop you could use for your column? Me: Well, thanks my friend for snooping around on my behalf! Next time I drive through town, I’ll take you for a cold one at Shooter’s resto-bar! Him: Ooops! Did I forget to mention that it had closed its doors last year? Why don’t you drop by my place instead, we’ll relax and reminisce of the good old days…or go for a walk and check out the demolition site…You can take a picture of the vacant spot to go with your article…but it’s all covered in snow now…
***** In this early new year, my original plan was to update you all on events worth of mention that had taken place in East Hawkesbury during 2020, either in one of its three villages: Chute-à-Blondeau, St. Eugene and Ste. Anne-de-Prescott or in its rural areas. Well, I was quite disappointed that neither my ‘live’ resident contacts nor my FB contacts nor the internet local news provider had anything significant to report; I guess that country folks are more immuned to bigger city temptations (shopping, restaurants, Dollaramas,…) than city folks themselves and respect confinement rules more diligently. I congratulate them for doing so: they keep themselves safe and they keep you and I safer too.
Although disappointed, I took the decision to carry on with the topic as to not disappoint you: certainly not by writing fake news and eye-catching titles such as ‘WASHED OUT BY HIS CREDITORS, KICKED OUT BY MELANIA AND EXILED FROM THE USofA, DONALD ENDS UP LIVING IN A MODEST WHITE CAMPING TRAILER AT VOYAGEUR PARK!’ or again ‘AIR FRANCE CONCORDE EMERGENCY LANDING AT ST. EUGENE EX-MILITARY AIRPORT: PILOT FOUND AT LOCAL BREWERY!’ I will leave such scoops to specialized publications. The REGIONAL is a respectable newspaper and I am a responsible columnist. So then, I decided to entertain you with surprising(?). unknown(?), secret(?) facts on the aforementioned three villages; I flipped my special three-faced coin to decide which would be first, then second, then third and here I go. But first, a few facts about the township itself.
THE TOWNSHIP OF EAST HAWKESBURY was incorporated on January 1st 1850; by land and water, heading east, west, north or south, it is a gateway, a natural transit to Ontario and to Canada. Agriculture constitutes its main commercial activity as many centennial stone residences and typical farm buildings can be seen everywhere, on main roads, rural roads and dirt roads. As of 2020 municipal data, population stands at approximately 3,415 with a median age of the population at almost 50.
CHUTE-À-BLONDEAU: A VILLAGE BUILT ON LEGENDS! This village is the farthest eastern community of the province of Ontario; the village itself and rural vicinity’s population is approximately 1100.
One rumor, somewhat historical, is that the name dates back to 1875 where documents mention the presence of a waterfall, which, obviously, has today become an ‘underwater waterfall’ (does that make sense?) since the rising of water level on the Ottawa river as a result of the building of Carillon dam. Legend claims that a farmer named Blondeau who lived a simple life off his land and the river with his wife on a piece of property nearby, set off on the river on his canoe; after a few hours of poor fishing, he decided to get closer to the rapids in hope of better luck, but got caught in strong currents and raging rapids; sensing danger, his wife came to the shore looking for him and witnessed his canoe tipping over and her husband knocked unconscious when he hit a rock; she desperately swam to his rescue, reached him, clutched to his body, but didn’t have the energy to swim back to shore; sadly, they both drowned. Legend also adds that their bodies were found at the exact location where excavation was performed for the building of Carillon dam. The village was supposedly named after the two lovers and their tragedy.
If any of your ancestors were in the vicinity of Chute-à-Blondeau in the spring of 1660, they may have witnessed from across the river the famous battle of Long-Sault (today Carillon, QC) where a French-Canadian hero named Dollard des Ormeaux and his fellowmen died at the hands of Iroquois. Or was it really across the river? It seems that the Carillon location was just picked at random because it fit some confirmed facts: the Ottawa river, the presence of rapids and of a bay; but no evidence was ever found to confirm unequivocally the exact location. However, legend says that this battle actually took place on the south side of the river on a piece of land that was the Ross farm in Chute-à-Blondeau; it is said that historical and archeological evidence places Dollard’s fort in this location…
The village’s Catholic church, St. Joachim, dates from 1892 and is the repository of a very unique statue of St. Michael the Archangel, a rare specimen still intact, sculpted out of wood by famed sculptor Louis Jobin. Three historical buildings are also worth mentioning: the old church rectory (circa 1898), the Wyman house (circa 1804) and most of all, the MacDonell-Williamson House (circa 1817). Contrary to a common misconception, the MacDonell-Williamson House is not located in Pointe-Fortune, QC: its civic address is Chute-à-Blondeau, ON; the actual boundary marker defining Upper Canada and Lower Canada is one the property itself; it was built by a fur trader named John MacDonell for his Métis wife and their twelve children; it also served as a general store and as a stopover for steamboats traveling on the Ottawa River from Lachine, QC to Ottawa, ON; it was acquired in 1978 by the Ontario Heritage Foundation and is still going through extensive architectural and archeological investigations.
STE. ANNE-DE-PRESCOTT AND ITS DEVOTION TO STE. ANNE. Ste. Anne is the smallest of the three villages; it owes its existence to the French Catholic Church and its settlers; population stands at about 500. Its heritage stone church, standing tall on a hillside in the centre of the village, is a true gem with its original artwork by Quebec artist T. X. Renaud and is a landmark and local pride; its Casavant organ has been used every Sunday since 1897 and is one of the few in working order in Eastern Ontario; it has been recognized by the Historical Society of USA as opus #85 on only 362. A professional-quality illustrated book on the church was published in 2004: ‘Une église, un monument, une merveille’ and is available for 20$; funds generated are applied to the restoration account.
A very special annual event takes place every July on the Sunday preceding the 26: an annual pilgrimage and procession dedicated to Ste. Anne, Jesus’ grandmother; this event is co-celebrated by the Jelsi Italian community from Montreal, whose patron saint is also Ste. Anne; this intimate celebration, which has taken place locally for the last eighteen years, is not as publicized as the main celebration at Ste. Anne-de-Beaupré’s basilica near Quebec city; it is a tradition that dates from 1805, when the village of Jelsi in Italy was miraculously saved from a major earthquake that levelled all other villages in the vicinity; it all happened on a 26 of July. This happens to be a true-verified fact and not a legend.
ST.EUGENE: A WORLD WAR II CONTRIBUTOR
The village is located a few kilometres north of Ste. Anne and holds a population of about 1100; the village/parish was established in 1855. The existing church was completed in 1867. It too possesses an authentic Casavant organ (opus 38) dating back to 1893; its renowned Way of the Cross made of fourteen haut-relief sculptures dates back to 1907.
During World War II, from 1940 to 1945, the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) built and operated a Flying Training School for Fleet Finch and Fairchild Cornell aircrafts: the airfield was located roughly one kilometre south of the village on the south road to Ste. Anne; the airfield was later used for motorsports in the 1950s but has since been abandoned and only faint outlines of overgrown runways are visible.
The village is the starting point of the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail, where hikers, cyclists, ATV riders and snowmobilers can hit the 72 kilometre trail west to reach Larose forest. East of the village is the Stokidakis goat farm; in 1975, Peter Stokidakis purchased the farm in pursuit of his dream to create and distribute his own version of Greek feta cheese; his original herd only comprised twenty goats, but his endeavour was promised to greater days: he introduced his cheese and yogurts to restaurants in the Montreal markets and the demand skyrocketed; his herd now holds 3000+ goats on 1500 acres of land with a 100,000 square feet production facility. The Canadian dream came true for the Stokidakis family in St. Eugene, Ontario!
I hope our virtual tour of this often undiscovered and intriguing township was enjoyable and that it may generate your interest and discovery in your post-Covid explorations. Enjoy touring!