Canadian Neighbourhood, History of our region
courtesy of Joe Graham

- In The Beginning
- The Weskarinis
- The Iroquois and the Sulpicians
- Who was Augustin Norbert Morin?
- A Brief History of the Ste-Agathe Region

In the beginning

The Laurentians are situated in the Grenville geological province, a slowly moving landmass that collided with the Canadian Shield a billion years ago. It is Precambrian. That means that is it was formed before there were any signs of animal life. The Cambrian period began with the first signs of animal life only 650,000,000 years ago.

About half way through its history, our whole area was at the bottom of a warm, shallow sea and at different times, the most recent being only fourteen thousand years ago, it was scraped and gouged by glaciers. The path of this most recent glacier, the Laurentide sheet, can be seen vividly from the air. The lakes Cornu, Manitou and des Sables all sit in two roughly parallel long valleys that run from the northwest to the southeast.

Despite its age, it is hard to find old fossils, since our area was scraped clean and presumably the millions of years of accumulated soils and detritus were pushed off to the southeast. If you find an outcropping of the underlying metamorphic rock, though, you may find evidence of fossils hardened into the stone. Large parts of the Grenville province may have been covered by igneous rock that spilled over its surface from volcanoes, and this rock will have no fossils.

As the ice receded, large and rocky mounds and exposed rock were left to bear witness to the tremendous forces that had been at work. Our forests slowly replaced the receding ice sheet and a lot of our recent history can be read right off the hills, especially in the fall when the leaves change. The soil on our forest floor contains the seeds of many kinds of trees, each waiting patiently for its signal to germinate. The relatively undisturbed forests that the fur traders found consisted of large straight white pines. These trees are 'tolerant', ones that can grow well in the shade. They can begin their lives in a shady birch forest but will grow eventually to rob the birches of their sunlight. The maple is another tolerant tree, and together these giants dominated the forests. The intolerant species must wait for some kind of disaster to clear the ground. Then they spring to life and grow quickly. One variety, the jackpine, must wait in the ground for its seed to be cracked open by fire. Only then can it begin to grow. Over the thousands of years since the ice left, there must have been fires and storms that devastated the forests and left the jackpines, birches, spruce and fir the task of repairing the damage. A hundred years after a disaster, the pines would be slowly dominating the canopy again. We can still see the occasional pine standing above the forest on the top of a hill. These trees can grow way beyond the size of most of the trees we have become used to. Under this canopy, eventually the ceiling of the forest could become very high, and the spaces between the trees, very large. What an inviting forest it must have been for the first humans. There must have been a sense of order and wellbeing that we can only speculate about. Despite the high ceiling of the forest and the tall trees, the waterfront would have been walled off by cedars or other water-loving species, and their branches, exposed to the sun, would have grown from stump to crown. Possibly the bottom branches would have been eaten or broken by the deer or moose that grazed there in winter. This would have allowed light to penetrate the forest all along the water's edge. This effect is visible around Lac Tremblant where the deer have left a well-trimmed line of branches that are just out of their reach, and it forms the illusion of a second shoreline, just above the waterline and parallel to it.

The lakes themselves, teeming with fish in the clear water, must have been the most beautiful scene of all.

The first humans, the Algonquin or Anisinapek entered this territory more than a thousand years before Europeans first arrived. Probably they shared it at different times with other people such as the Montagnais and Nippising. Their legends and myths have left their mark on our area in many ways. The name Manitou meant 'mysterious being', or 'mystery' and they believed that the Manitou lived on Mont Tremblant and would shake the mountain in anger if humans disrupted the natural order. They used birch bark canoes to travel over the lakes and lived in the area mostly as nomads, ranging from the Ottawa River valley. They, too, seemed to have used the Laurentians for recreational purposes. With the arrival of the first Europeans, the Algonquin used our area principally to satisfy the large European demand for furs.

It is hard to find any area that still reflects the majesty of those early Laurentian forests and lakes, and as we shall see, the arrival of the Europeans wrought many other changes.

The Weskarinis

According to Serge Laurin, the author of Histoire des Laurentides, the Algonquin Amerindians who lived in this region were the Weskarinis, a small branch of the Lower Algonquin tribe. The Upper Algonquins lived in the Abitibi region.

The Weskarinis lived along four river systems, the Lièvre, the Petite Nation, the Rouge and the Nord. Their principal summer encampment was at the mouth of the Petite Nation River at Montebello, which was probably a permanent camp. It was the French who gave them the name Petite Nation. It is surprising to learn that for centuries before 1600, they summered in large numbers on the Ottawa River, and then in autumn returned upriver on the tributaries to spend the winter in small family groups along their lakes and valleys. Imagine the excitement of travelling downriver each spring, the group of cousins growing larger and larger, sharing the news of births and deaths, of difficult winters and all manner of adventures, until the whole Petite Nation was reunited for a short summer season. Imagine the return upriver, the changes that summer may have wrought: a daughter married and gone with another family, or a new daughter-in-law returning; an elderly member deciding that the rigours of the journey would be to much and staying... The challenges of winter must have been great. Serge Laurin suggests that these groups would have been as small as 15 people when they arrived at their winter encampments, and that this would have improved their chances of survival. They must have had to hunt through the fall to prepare their winter supplies.

Their beliefs, as mentioned last time, obligated them to respect the natural order. The Manitou, or mysterious being, lurked in all things in some form. There was no natural concept of good and evil, nor any objective perspective on the world. They had vague awareness of their territory and had formed alliances with the Huron and Montagnais in order to protect themselves from the Five Nations of the Iroquois, an aggressive, more organised group of tribes which touched their southern border at Lake of Two Mountains.

The Lake of Two Mountains area will figure heavily in the future of the Native Peoples, but it has a mysterious past. Artifacts found there seem to jump in time from the 8th to the 14th centuries, suggesting that for 600 years the region was avoided. It could have simply been strategically untenable and therefore, for a long period, was viewed as a no-man's land between two different tribes.

At the time of the arrival of Champlain, the Weskarinis formed part of the alliance that was maintaining its territory against the Iroquois. Champlain began to trade with the Algonquins, and thereby alienated the Iroquois. Therein lay the beginning of a long story of tension that endures even today. Champlain actively took the side of the Algonquins, chasing the Iroquois south in 1610-11. His presence seems to have surprised and routed the Iroquois who only returned later in greater numbers. So began the French-Indian Wars of the 17th century. The Weskarinis as well as other Algonquins benefited from the fur trade with the French until 1629 when the Kirke brothers captured New France for the British. During the three years that the British held the colony, the Iroquois monopolized the fur trade, but when the colony was returned to the French in 1632, trade with the Algonquins and the Hurons resumed. This infuriated the Iroquois who set out to systematically eliminate the competition. They were better equipped to do so, since the British merchants continued to supply them, and between 1640 and 1648, the Huron Nation fell completely. By 1653, the Weskarinis, or Petite Nation, were cornered on the shores of the Petit Nominingue in the Laurentians, where they were massacred without mercy.

The remaining Lower Algonquins, the Kichespirinis, took refuge with their cousins in Abitibi, and with the Cree even farther north.

Despite their dominance, the Iroquois could not control the fur trade, and the huge Outaouais tribe from Georgian Bay moved in to replace the Algonquins as the trading partners of the French. The Iroquois resorted to guerrilla tactics and harassed and ambushed the French voyageurs, and terrorised the French colony for the next 50 years.
In 1701, after a French victory, an uneasy peace was negotiated with the Iroquois, and slowly the Algonquins began to return to the Ottawa River. The lands of the Petite Nation remained vacant, the indigenous people of the Laurentians having been eliminated.

The Iroquois and the Sulpicians

The signing of La Grande Paix by the Iroquois and the French in Montreal in 1701 brought to an end the wild days of the French-Indian Wars. These wars reflected the European conflicts: the French fought the Iroquois who were allied with the British, while the Huron, Nipissing and Algonquin were either neutral or took the side of the French. As we saw last time, the Weskarinis, who were the indigenous people of our Laurentian area, were casualties of these wars, having been massacred by the Iroquois on the shores of Petit Lac Nominingue in 1751.

The Ste Agathe area did not figure much in events that followed. While the occasional Algonquin party probably trapped furs here, the events that would allow our area to be settled were unfolding further south. The Sulpicians set up a mission at Lake of Two Mountains in the early 1700's and maintained the peace between the Iroquois and the French in exchange for fur-trading rights to the territory. The Sulpicians sold off these rights to French entrepreneurs and did their best to convert the Iroquois and Algonquin to Catholicism. In the war with the English that led to the loss of the colony, many of these Iroquois actually fought for the French.

In 1763 when the colony was transferred, the English king refused to recognise Jesuit and Récollet titles over large tracts of land. Encouraged by this, an Iroquois at Deux Montagnes decided to sell his house to an English businessman. He hoped to demonstrate in this manner that the Iroquois owned their property, and gambled that the Sulpicians would fear confiscation of their lands if they challenged the rights of this Englishman to buy. The Sulpicians were more afraid of the Iroquois strategy than of the English. They petitioned Governer Burton to recognise their clear title. Burton accepted to respect the Sulpician property rights if the latter would swear homage to George III, King of England, which of course they did. Thus the Iroquois\Englishman sale fell through and Sulpician titles were recognised.

From 1763 to 1936 the Iroquois and Sulpicians continued to fight this legal battle over their lands. The Iroquois were very creative in their fights. They invited a Methodist pastor to run their mission in 1852, thereby threatening to convert to Protestantism rather than Catholicism. This scheme backfired when the pastor fled in the face of the utter religious apathy of the Iroquois, Algonquin and Nipissing. After subsequent attempts, they built a Methodist temple, but the Sulpicians got a judgement and had it dismantled. Over this period many Iroquois became Methodists and their attempts to break the Sulpician hold over their land can be credited for the creation in 1877 of Montreal's Civil Rights Association to promote religious freedom.

The Sulpicians set up villages for the Iroquois and for the Algonquin and succeeded in encouraging them to live in a spirit of cooperation. The sparse populations of these two peoples became centred around Lake of Two Mountains, and the rest of the area began to fall to settlers. Over time, there was nothing the Iroquois could do to get the same rights to the land as the settlers were getting. Neither the French nor the English crown seemed to be willing to recognise them as anything more than wards, non-citizens who had to be encouraged to move away. There was clearly no interest in their culture, history or political structure, yet, from the Iroquois perspective, it is their great-unwritten constitution, the Great Law of Peace that was the inspiration for Western democracy. Their symbol, the Eagle, and their democratic laws were copied by the 13 American colonies in the creation of the United States. Their goal was always to try to find a middle position between the French and English colonists. They were a people of six nations, the Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Tuskororas. The sixth was actually adopted by the other five, according to their oral history, around the time the Europeans were first arriving in America. I had occasion to have a long discussion with Tom Morris of Kanawake, and was fascinated to learn the Iroquois perspective. It lends credence to George Woodcock's statement that our salvation will be found in the philosophies of the indigenous peoples.

Most of the Ste Agathe area was being logged during the mid part of the 19th century. The British Empire's appetite for wood devoured forests over a period of 500 years, and most of our area fell under the axe even while the first three homesteaders were arriving in 1849. While they were traveling overland from St. Jerome, the logging was following the river systems that drain into the Ottawa, following the same routes as the Weskarinis had followed for so many centuries. Logging reached its peak in our area in the 1860's, long before the influence of Curé Labelle was felt.

In 1853 Queen Victoria ordained that 250,000 acres should be set-aside for the 'Indians', and so the Doncaster Reserve, a square of land six miles on a side, was created. At that time the townships of Beresford, Wolfe and Doncaster were just starting to be surveyed and the Indian land was pretty far away from the Iroquois and Algonquin who were at Lake of Two Mountains. Another, larger reserve, Maniwaki, having an area of 58,975 hectares (over 150,000 acres) was also established, and over the next 25 years the Algonquin moved to it, having tired of the endless legal battle that the Iroquois were having with the Sulpicians.

In the meantime, a social revolution was taking place in the Canadas that would create our democracy. The Chateau Clique here and the Family Compact in Upper Canada were struggling to protect their historical privileges.

Who was Augustin Norbert Morin?

While the Iroquois and the Algonquin negotiated with the Sulpicians in the Lake of Two Mountains area, events were unfolding elsewhere. With the loss of the 13 colonies, Montreal took on major strategic importance to the British. Trading companies were setting up and Loyalists were arriving in the former French colony. Abandoned by France, all its structures and special interest groups were scrambling to survive and adapt to life under British colonial control. By the beginning of the 1800's it became evident that westward development was not French. The seigniorial system began to grow in upon itself, collapsing under its own weight. Peasants could not simply continue to divide their fields among their sons, and this resulted in a large, landless labour pool. The government was made up of an elected Assembly as well as the British-appointed Governor, who named a Council. Inevitably the Assembly became dominated by the seigneurs, and the Council, by colonial business and development interests, and, as inevitably, one was predominantly French and the other predominantly English. 

By the 1820's Montreal was receiving rural emigrants along with increasing numbers of immigrants from war-torn Europe. Napoleon had been defeated and all the European structures were being challenged by the new industrial era. There were no proper accommodations for these people and in the early 1830's an epidemic of cholera broke out. During the course of the epidemic 6,000 people died. Radicals blamed the British for the epidemic and xenophobia took hold among the French.

To complicate matters, a power struggle between the Assembly and the Council pitted the seigneurs against business interests. The Assembly was working to rule, led by Louis Joseph Papineau, Seigneur of Petite Nation. Serge Laurin, in his book Histoire des Laurentides, points out that Papineau and his allies were very effective at directing the people's anger against the English and the business class and deflecting attention from the abuses of the seigniors. By 1837 they could not avoid criticism of the seigniorial system, and made every promise imaginable to keep their constituency on side. "J'ai assisté à presque toutes les assemblées où l'on nous disait que nous combattions pour notre religion, pour notre patrie, et bien des fois nos chefs nous disaient pour nous encourager que si nous remportions la victoire les dimes et les rentes seigneuriales seraient abolies ainsi que toutes les taxes et que nous partagerions le bien des riches et les terres des loyaux." (p193, HdL, excerpted from La rébellion de 1837 à St-Eustache, by C.A. Globensky). They had drafted the '92 resolutions' and by the autumn of that year public frustration resulted in several uprisings. The troops were called in, and by the time the dust had settled, over 350 people had lost their lives. Papineau fled to the United States, accompanied, according to some accounts, by a large, boistrous lumberman, who became the Paul Bunyon of American mythology. 

A lawyer named Augustin Norbert Morin, the author of the 92 resolutions, was the real, though unsung, hero of this epoch. He arrived with Papineau at St. Charles in the middle of the battle to try to talk the peasants out of taking up arms. He was arrested in the confusion and sent to prison for a short time. He was not a seignior, and, in later years, he succeeded in abolishing the seigniorial system. He was one of the founders of Laval University, its first Dean of Law, a minister in the united Canadian government of Lafontaine-Baldwin from 1851 to 1854 and he was the founder of the newspaper La Minerve. He became a judge of the superior court in 1855.

During this same period, probably in an attempt to develop new agricultural regions for the displaced habitant farmers, he set up experimental potato farms in Ste. Adele. The parish itself, founded by him in 1852, commemorates his wife, Adele Raymond, as does, perhaps, Lac Raymond. His name lives on in the township of Morin, Val Morin, Morin Heights, the St. Norbert Parish in Val Morin as well as Lac Morin, or Manitou, as it is known today. It is sad that this remarkable Canadian and Laurentian pioneer has slipped between the charismatic figures of Louis Joseph Papineau and Curé Antoine Labelle. 

A Brief History of the Ste-Agathe Region

As part of our ongoing commitment to enrich our community, we have been researching the history of the Ste. Agathe Region. We have published much of this research in our newsletter, "The Doncaster Ballyhoo".
Our web site allows us to publish, for your enjoyment, a compilation of the articles we have written. We hope you enjoy this material as much as we enjoyed writing it. Be sure to check back here from time to time as we will be adding articles on a regular basis.

Joe Graham