Some locals may know this sturdy house on Mill Street as Jean & Delbert Barton’s home. Jean Nicholson Barton was a nurse and a great Mom, while Delbert served with the 17th Duke of York Royal Canadian Hussars in WWII, worked on the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway, and then owned & operated the Fina Station in Vankleek Hill. They also had an impressive garden.
Delbert was a devoted gardener known for using the broken hockey sticks from the nearby Vankleek Hill Arena as stakes for his tomatoes and flower beds. During the 1997 centennial/bicentennial celebration of Vankleek Hill, our history exhibit “Keepsakes” featured Delbert’s garden bench and broken hockey sticks.
Their down-to-earth wood frame house was constructed in about 1895. It appears in the first insurance map for the town of Vankleek Hill, issued in 1900- three years after the town was incorporated. Modest in size, it is big on interior millwork. Note the oversized window in the front door with its decorative beading trim. Above is a transom window, useful for summer cooling. Inside, there are high baseboard mouldings with corner spindles. Doorways and windows feature moulded casings with corner bull’s-eye rosettes. The compact staircase features a large newel post – further evidence that though the house is small, it has liveliness in its details.
The kitchen features a rare original tin ceiling that is now chalk painted. Renovations provide a dynamic approach to blending the Victorian with modern living. Early heating methods with coal or wood required small rooms to contain the heat. Newer heating systems have since been introduced.
Somewhere between the 1880s and the 1920s, there was a sawmill with a tarn to the East of the house, in the location of the current playground and ball park area. As you can see on the map detail (below), the Vankleek Hill Manufacturing Company business had its entry on Mill Street.
In the winter, farmers brought their logs into town and dropped them off on the frozen tarn to await milling and drying. For decades, logs were piled in the tarn, then slipped from the water inside for milling. There were huge hills of sawdust and kilns for drying. Where today there is the Vankleek Hill Arena parking lot, was a working yard with many stacks of sawn lumber.
The Vankleek Hill Manufacturing Company created “… all kinds of sash, doors, blinds, mouldings and house-finishings, making a specialty of turning and scroll work…” It is likely that many of the town’s early homes have details and finishings made at this location.
During WWI, this sawmill had a government long-term contract to produce 50,000 ammunition boxes. Unfortunately, a fire in 1918 ended the woodturning manufacturing business. What remained of the buildings continued as a basic sawmill until 1928.
Afterwards, the property became a convenient storage space for other sawmills in town. By the 1930s, the business was gone. Eventually the tarn depleted and was drained and filled in. In the 1950s, the property was transferred to the town for use as a recreational area which it remains today.
The tall smoke stack of the sawmill was left standing for many years. The late Lionel Mercier once shared stories of he and the other kids shooting at the stack with their BB rifles. The hijinx did not stop there. Around the location of Pink Bow Tie — corner of Highway 34 and Main Street, was the general store of E.Z. Labrosse who was also a funeral director. Can you see where this is going?
There were locally made pine coffins at the back of the store. The boys would ‘borrow’ one or more of the smaller coffins, and sail on the pond – heading for the large rock in the centre of the pond. “Oh, we knew how to make trouble,” Mercier said with a grin.
These are the small stories that humanize our local history.