The history of Vankleek Hill’s garages

A Story To Celebrate Vankleek Hill’s Mechanical Past

The recent closure of Martin Tire Shop & Shell Station prompted this re-look at the early history of Vankleek Hill service stations and mechanic services, and the services we have today.
In a 1902 pamphlet listing businesses and trades in Prescott County, we find that Vankleek Hill still has numerous blacksmiths: Philip Biggins, W.H. Blackwell, Hermas Labrosse, D. McCrimmon, A. McInnes, N. Matte, N. Mercier.
By the 1980s, Hermas Seguin was the last of the blacksmiths in Vankleek Hill. In his shop behind what was once the Grand Central Hotel, he did metal repair work and had seating for familiar oldtimers to confab around his stove.
In the early 1900s, blacksmithing gave way to mechanics as vehicles replaced horses, trucks replaced horse-drawn carters, and tractors took over from the horse-drawn plows. The late Lionel Mercier, a longtime town councillor, was a member of the Mercier family that owned the Mercier Carriage Works on High Street from 1876.

Lionel related his experience when, as a teen in the 1930s, he was encouraged by his father Nelson to become a blacksmith. He did learn blacksmithing and he capably worked for the family business on equipment and farm horses; however, he could see the use of horses dwindling and the trade coming to an end. He left blacksmithing for a career in hardware and construction supplies.
Lionel was forward thinking. As can be seen in this listing of garages, the business of vehicle sales and maintenance arrived during WWI, and just kept growing.
In 1917, Walter Crooks was selling the Dodge Grey Dart on Main Street East just east of the post office, and by the 1920s, John Wilson had a Chevrolet dealership at 76 Main Street East, today The Review office.

This list of garages is from the 1978 centennial publication of ‘St-Grégoire – St. Gregory Vankleek Hill 1878-1978

Competition and pricing were fierce: not only Ford and Chevrolet dealers, there was Maxwell, Overland, and Studebaker. And W.F.G. Barton sold the Star model.

Walter H. Crooks ads for Ford cars and trucks, 1921. (The Review)
John Wilson ad for Chevrolet, 1925. (Vankleek Hill Agricultural Fair Prize List)

It is near impossible anywhere today to locate a full-service gas station that offers towing, repairs and vehicle supplies together with a jockey at the pump to serve your fuel needs. While fuel remains the mainstay, more often than not, today the added service is a convenience store attached to the self-serve pumps with no mechanic in sight. Electric-charge pumps are also making their appearance; in Vankleek Hill, there is card-activated electric charger at the rear of the Scotiabank. The last century has seen a lot of change to vehicles and to servicing vehicles.

Martin Tire Shop & Shell Station

Martin Tire Shop and Shell Station, 2020. (Photo: Michelle Landriault)

In 2020, Martin Tire Shop & Shell Station on Highway 34, the last garage in Vankleek Hill to offer a combination of gas pumps, lubricant sales and tire changing service – retired and closed after 62 years of business. The longevity is reflective of loyal customers.
In a 1993 interview with The Review, Denis Martin explained that his father Roland “Rolly” Martin first worked as a mechanic at the auto sales room of Art Wilson in Vankleek Hill.
In the 1950s, Rolly Martin decided to develop his own business. He first rented the Fina Station near the north-east corner of Highway 34 and Higginson Street. Business went well, and Rolly was about to purchase the station when Euclide Turpin decided to sell his tire shop. According to Denis, his father turned to the tire shop as a better investment for him, and in 1958 Rolly Martin purchased Euclide’s business.

Wilmer Desjardins next to Euclide Turpin’s gas pump, Queen Street (today Highway 34), 1938. (Andrea Martel Family Archives)

Denis Martin, who began working at his father’s tire shop in 1969, purchased the business from his father in 1986. His brother Michel Martin focused on the towing service, at one time operating five tow trucks. In 1993, Denis explained, “We used to cover an area that went as far as Rockland. But there are more towing services around now.”

In Vankleek Hill, the service stations offered students after-school and summer employment. Seen here is Martin Tire Shop gas jockey & then VCI student Mark Landriault with Kip. In the background St. John Anglican Church and Higginson Tower, 2009.
(Photo: Michelle Landriault)

In 1993, Martin’s Tire Shop had sales of about 2.2 million litres of gasoline and diesel in a year. At the time, according to Denis Martin, “There is a lot of traffic on Highway 34 because people are using the 417. And after Rigaud, apart from Herb’s on the 417, there are no other gas stations for quite a distance. So, a lot of people from the cities are stopping in Vankleek Hill to buy gas.”

Fina Station, Vankleek Hill

The Fina Station was built about 1951 with its signature Fina rotund office and a two-bay garage. After Rolly Martin purchased Euclide Turpin’s tire shop in 1958, the Fina location remained idle for about six months.

Fina calendar image of woman behind the wheel, 1950’s. (Delbert Barton Family Archives)

Delbert Barton was working on the St. Lawrence Seaway construction and could see that the work was nearing an end. The Seaway opened to navigation in 1959. Delbert needed a new way to bring in income to support his family. He heard about the vacant Fina station.
Servicing vehicles was not new to Delbert. His father, W.F.G. Barton – William George Fleming Barton – owned a service station as early as 1924 in the same locale as Nicko’s Restaurant. Delbert’s father relocated his service station to where Anne’s Chip Stand is next to the TransCanada Trail. At the time of the Barton garage, the railway station across the road was busy everyday with passengers and products coming into town – vehicles of every kind coming and going, and in need of fuel and service.

W.F.G. Barton Garage ad 1925: “oils, greases, tires, gasoline, accessories, etc.” in addition to mechanic services and car dealer. (Vankleek Hill Agricultural Fair Prize List)

W.F.G. Barton’s son, Gary Barton, explains that his father sold Durant Star cars, an independent competitor of the Ford and Chevrolet brands, that ended production in Canada in 1932. W.F.G. Barton also had the International Harvester dealership. Gary said, “Ian Higginson (Higginson Farm Equipment) has a tractor with steel wheels sitting in his yard which my Dad sold to Gordon McNie in 1939.”
In 1958, Gary’s oldest brother Delbert met with the Fina representative and made the investment to purchase. Delbert then successfully operated his Fina business for 20 years.

Jean Barton, Delbert’s wife, recalled that it wasn’t all about business all of the time. There was a card table, and regular games of euchre in the office. The two gas stations, so near to each other, had a cooperative approach for many years – in rotation, they each closed every second Sunday.
Denis Martin explained, “When we were closed on Sunday, Delbert would be open. It was a good arrangement. That way, people could always buy gas, and each of us would have a second Sunday off.”
In about 1977, after 20 years in the petroleum retail business, Delbert decided it was time to sell.

Rod St. Denis Fina

Fina Station aerial view, 1970s. (Rod St. Denis Archives)

Rod St. Denis was at a local restaurant having breakfast when he was approached by a fellow looking to find the funds to buy Delbert’s business. The fact that it was up for sale was news to Rod.
He knew Delbert wanted to find the right person to bring his customers the same high quality of dependable service. Rod quietly went to Delbert to express his own interest in purchasing the business. They met at Delbert’s home after supper and Delbert explained that there was no stock as he had returned everything to Fina. There was no equipment except for a small tire changer. Delbert had a new air gun which he kept in the office under a bench.

Fina Station showing the distinct rotund office, 1970s. (Rod St. Denis Archives)

To move ahead, Rod contacted Fina, then met with the Fina representative at the restaurant. He was asked if he had $20,000. Surprised, Rod asked, “In cash?” Yes, replied the Fina rep. Rod said he would have to check with his banker, and if he did not have it, he would raise it. Determined, Rod wondered to himself how it was all going to work out.
Rod had a good relationship with the bank manager, and he openly explained the situation. The bank manager proposed that the bank would loan Rod $20,000 to be used to stock the garage.
Rod St. Denis agreed. Fina approved. Rod had the garage business.

Petro Canada Rod St. Denis and Jack Denis. Full service available at the pumps and a cubicle so customers could pay-at-the-pump. The Fina design is still visible. 1980s. (Rod St. Denis Archives)

Jack Denis joined him and the garage became the RodJack Fina. In 1981, Petro-Canada purchased PetroFina, and the station changed brand. Although now covered with PetroCan logos and colours, the distinct Fina look was still there.

Rod-Jack Service Station tow truck with Petro Canada logo parked inside the garage. 1980s. (Rod St. Denis Archives)

Full service pumps, mechanics, lubricant sales, towing were the combined mainstay of the service station business. The local news of the day was available for free.

Petro-Canada pumps and new canopy with convenience store. Note the 1990s price of gas 51.9 cents.
(Rod St. Denis Archives)

Rod later sold the business to Mike Lamoureux. Under Petro-Canada, the garage and office were converted to meet the new trend of offering a convenience store. Soon, the Vankleek Hill business caught the eye of the independent MacEwen Petroleum family business based in Maxville, Ontario. Once Fina, then PetroCan, the location is a successful MacEwen outlet today.

Loyal Customers Support Trusted Independent Mechanics

Original Armand Paquette Garage on Wall Street with ‘A. Paquette Garage General Repairs’ sign, 1950s. (Lucien Paquette Family Archives)
The garage grew and a refreshed sign continues to honour founder Armand Paquette, 2000. (Lucien Paquette Family Archives)

Mechanics no longer need a service station to survive. Cars of the 21st century have less fuel consumption and are lower maintenance mechanically. Where once a gas station was supplemented by vehicle repairs, today the gas pumps pull customers into the attached convenience store.
There is no doubt that independent mechanics face fierce competition from corporate entities such as Canadian Tire, dealerships, and franchises. Loyal customers are at the heart of the success of an independent mechanic.
In 1957, Armand Paquette saw an opportunity and opened his mechanic garage on Wall Street. According to a 1996 interview by The Review reporter Ronald Zajac, Armand’s son Lucien began helping in the garage at age 15. When the time was right, Lucien assumed ownership in 1971.

Lucien Paquette took over from his father Armand in 1971. Lucien is seen here at work, 1996. (Photo R. Zajac, The Review)

The pattern of father to son was repeated in 2000, when Lucien confidently handed the business reins to Jean-Luc who worked alongside his father. Today, Jean-Luc continues to provide mechanic services together with employee and mechanic Marc Duval.

In 2000, Lucien Paquette confidently turned the business over to his son Jean-Luc Paquette, seen here in 2020 with employee and mechanic Marc Duval. (Photo: Michelle Landriault)

Three generations of Paquette Family mechanics have seen cars change and so has the work to go into them. For Lucien, the key ingredient in successful car management was the regular tune-up, winterizing and oil changes. Don’t forget the spark plugs. In Lucien’s experience, too many owners skipped oil changes only to later find themselves in need of more expensive repairs.
Jean-Luc agrees with his Dad’s advice. He adds that cars today are far less mechanical and much more computerized. Due to so many computer operating systems within a car, owners have less knowledge about what makes their car work.
“It is so important for car owners to get services from a mechanic they trust,” he said. “Someone who will tell them what work is immediately necessary, and what work can wait or be scheduled later. The cars are much more expensive partly because of the computer systems, so both repairs and maintenance are more expensive. It is all about budgets today. I agree with that, and we work with that.”
Marc Duval mentions the introduction of hybrid cars to their service roster. Jean-Luc adds, “This a business where we learn and adapt all the time.”

Tradition of vehicle repairs continues

Willis Garage, St. John Street (High Street): Bill Willis with Rae Willis, and Bill Mooney. Note the Imperial sign, precursor of Esso, 1939. This was the former location of the W.F.G. Barton Garage. (Eleanor Willis Archives)

In 1938, the Willis Garage was a full service garage owned by Bill Willis. It was located next to the Creative Centre in the locale of Nicko’s restaurant and in the same location as where W.F.G. Barton had started out in the 1920s.
In the 1970s, it became L&M Automotive operated by Don MacCallum. Garage services at this location are gone; however, the specialty work of Don MacCallum continues at the eastern edge of Main Street East.
MacCallum Performance offers a wide variety Automotive services. With a background in professional drag racing we know how to do it right the first time. We offer: Street and Race engine building; Modification and customization on transmissions, differentials, chassis, frame kits, and exhaust systems; Cylinder head porting; Custom fabrication of valve covers, intake manifolds and oil pans; General Mechanics on your everyday vehicle; We also work on diesels too!”

Today, at the former Erwin Bond Texaco station (1920-1970s), Michel Peladeau provides mechanic services at the south end of High Street, 2021. (Photo: Michelle Landriault)

At the south end of town on High Street was the Texaco station operated by Erwin Bond. His business had staying power, open from the late 1920s into the early 1970s. Erwin and Isabel lived in the house on the west side of the Post Office on Main Street East.
Erwin was responsible for testing drivers who wanted their driver’s license. In the early 1950s, Jeannine Duval Seguin recalls going to the Bond garage to take the driving test. On her arrival, she was told by Erwin that he had already seen her driving about town, and he said, she seemed like a good driver. He gave her the driver’s test approval to bring to Andrew Boyer at The Review office, where she paid for her first driver’s license. It’s not so simple today!
Lucien Paquette recalled driving his father’s late 1920s Model A Ford to get his licence from Erwin Bond at the Texaco station. It was the mid-1950s and Lucien was only 12. Lucien laughs when he says he was able to get his license at age 16.

Pascal and Sophie Cadieux operate the Xtra Mile garage on Highway 34. The site was originally Coons Farm Equipment and later Howes Farm Equipment. 2021. (Photo: Michelle Landriault)

Pascal Cadieux opened Xtra Mile garage in 2019. He began his career as a co-op student at Vankleek Hill Collegiate Institute. As part of his school programme, he worked for the late Shorty Milcovik.
Shorty’s repair shop was just north of Xtra Mile, on Highway 34, where it was well-known that anything could be fixed.

(Feature photo of Martin Tire Shop & Shell Station at night by Gabriel Landriault)

The history of Postmasters in Vankleek Hill

The Story Of Vankleek Hill’s Postal Service

Vankleek Hill Post Office staff 2020. On the right is current Postmaster Hélène Cadieux with staff member Suzie who previously worked at the L’Orignal Post Office. In the background is independent delivery man Chris. During Christmas, the VKH Post Office welcomed visiting staff: Denise from L’Orignal and Hélène from Wendover. (Photo: Michelle Landriault)

Pandemic times puts to the test our Canadian tradition of quietly waiting-in-line in an orderly fashion. At the Vankleek Hill Post Office, clients today are to be congratulated for their consideration and patience as they wait outside.
Our post office staff compare the unprecedented number of boxes arriving to be sorted and managed to working in a mini-Amazon warehouse – without the benefits of space and robotic technology. Everyone, inside and outside, has done their best in a challenging situation.
Christmas arrives in short days. As I waited in line at the post office, I thought it may be a good time to take a closer look at the history of postal services in Vankleek Hill.
Never take postal services for granted. Before post offices were formalized by the British in Canada, anyone writing a letter had to depend on the goodwill of family, friends, travellers to take and pass their letters along – traveller to traveller – to hopefully reach the final destination.
Rural post offices have a long history of being located within the home or business of the postmaster. Vankleek Hill has only ever had post box service, and like most rural villages, no door-to-door delivery.

Neil Stewart

In Vankleek Hill, formal postal services arrived in 1827 when Neil Stewart was appointed as the first Postmaster. The date 1827 is given in an 1896 history of Prescott County. However, the Ontario Archives holds the Certificate of Appointment of Neil Stewart as Deputy Postmaster in Vankleek Hill dated July 6, 1831. No matter the year, he was the first Vankleek Hill Postmaster.
Stewart arrived in Canada with his mother from the Isle of Skye, Scotland in 1816. He then came to Vankleek Hill in 1825 at age 32, where he took over the general store of John Glass McIntosh in the general location of the northwest corner of Main East and Home Avenue. He was active in the community – he joined the Prescott Militia, was our Member of the Legislative Assembly for Prescott 1844-1848, was a Justice of the Peace, and the County Treasurer.
Neil Stewart was also the Crown Land Agent for Prescott and Russell. Stewart was a prolific letter writer, exchanging prickly political opinions with his brother William Stewart who was MPP for Russell County. The Ontario Archives holds his remaining records.
During these early years of government services, Stewart’s community activities and politics made him an easy choice for appointment as Postmaster. At the outset of this public service, there was no one with experience. The notion of having an application process is more than a century away.

Thomas Higginson

Jade Flowers and house – location of two Main Street buildings owned by Thomas Higginson during the period he was Vankleek Hill Postmaster, c.1860. In his 1884 Will, Thomas left the building on the right to his unmarried daughter Ann. (Photo: Michelle Landriault)

Thomas Higginson was the second appointment as Vankleek Hill Postmaster. We do not have any official record of just when Thomas Higginson became the postmaster. Researcher Dorothy Jane Smith discovered, “There are no entries for Vankleek Hill in the Library and Archives Canada Postmaster card entries, indicating that the die card has been lost or Vankleek Hill was missed when the cards were created in the 1950s.” This lack of information is confirmed today on the government web page providing names of postmasters for post offices across Canada – there is no entry for Vankleek Hill, not even the village name.
We are left to rely on mentions in available local histories, diaries, family history, maps, directories, census. And juggling dates.
According to the 1851 Lovell Directory, Neil Stewart is still the Vankleek Hill Postmaster. However, it is in the 1850s that the general store building used by Neil Stewart was sold, and torn down to make way for the first town hall at what is now the corner of Main East and Home. Though it no longer exists, it was a 28’ x 40’ brick building – the bricks came from Hiram Johnson’s brickyard on Highway 34 and cost under a penny each.
This suggests that Thomas Higginson may have became postmaster in the mid to late 1850s when he was in his 60’s. Postal services remained under the British until 1851. The service became a federal department with Confederation in 1867.

Duncan McDonell

Detail of 1862 Walling Map listing Duncan McDonell as “P.M. Dealer in Drug and Patent Medicine.” However, the location of his store with the post office is not indicated. On the north side: the existing Grammar School, Town Hall and building owned by Thomas Higginson are indicated.

Although local histories state Duncan McDonell became postmaster in 1874, the 1862 Walling map states Duncan McDonell is “P.M., Dealer in Drugs and Patent Medicines.” In the 1869 Gazeteer and again in the 1871 Lovell Directory, Duncan McDonnell remains the Vankleek Hill Postmaster.
The question is, where was Duncan McDonnell’s Drug & Patent Medicine store? For almost 200 years, Main Street East has been the mainstay for the post office. Angus McDonell is a carriage maker on the south side of Main Street East. Were their stores side-by-side? This deserves more research.

Peter R. McLaurin

At 117 Main Street East, current home of Le Vert Fourchette, Postmaster Peter R. McLaurin provided postal services (1876-1902) in the front extension. In 1902 this location became the jewellery store of Paul Jousse; the W. Vogan Barbershop 1936-1976, and then Peter Bowers framing shop. (Photo: Michelle Landriault)

In the history Argenteuil, Quebec; Prescott, Ontario, author Cyrus Thomas reports that Peter R. McLaurin was appointed Vankleek Hill Postmaster in 1876. As he was in touch with McLaurin, Thomas reports: McLaurin “still holds the position.” McLaurin operated the post office at 117 Main Street East, today Vert Fourchette, for a couple of decades until 1902.

William McAdam

The woman at the right is about to go into the Vankleek Hill Post Office on Main Street East operated by William McAdam. Postcard c.1905 (Dane Simon Collection, Vankleek Hill Museum)

William McAdam, a bookkeeper, was employed to keep the books at the McCuaig, Cheney General Store (location of the Vankleek Hill Museum). He was civic minded, and provided his skills as treasurer at: Knox Presbyterian Church, Vankleek Hill Agricultural Society. McAdam was treasurer for West Hawkesbury Township, and had his hand in several business ventures.
William McAdam became the fourth Vankleek Hill Postmaster in 1903. Clients could gather on the porch of his building overlooking Main Street to chat and exchange vital community news. That same year, the rumour of a new government building for the post office gets well underway – it is reported in the newspaper!

“The Post Office is in connection with the residence of the Post Master, Mr. Wm. McAdam. It is a neat office with private lock boxes of the very latest pattern. There is some talk of the Government erecting a new office building in the Town, but for the present, Postmaster McAdam has made everything convenient and comfortable for the public.”

(Holiday Issue, The Eastern Ontario Review, 1903)
The McAdam post office location today. (Photo: Michelle Landriault)

The post office remained within the McAdam Family for almost 45 years: William McAdam was Postmaster until 1911, his wife Hattie McAdam from 1911 to 1923, and their oldest son Frederick McAdam from 1923 to 1945.
It is Frederick McAdam who moved the postal services into the brand new government post office which opened in 1938. It is the same building that services Vankleek Hill today.
Postmaster Fred McAdam, who never married, died in May, 1945 at age 68. Staff member Mariette Sauvé became interim Postmaster.

The Vankleek Hill Post Office opened as a government building in 1938, and continues in service. (Photo: Michelle Landriault)

John “Jack” Hurley, WWII Flying Ace

In 1946 Jack Hurley was appointed Postmaster of Vankleek Hill. In 1957, he offered his services to the Vankleek Hill Agricultural Society as Secretary-Treasurer of the Fair. He held this position until 1962. He is seen here at the Fairgrounds office making a phone call through the local Bell operator. (Family Archives, Jeannine Seguin)

John “Jack” Hurley of Vankleek Hill enlisted into the RCAF in 1940; trained at No.10 SFTS in Dauphin, Manitoba between 4th May 1941 and 15th July 1941. He went overseas in August 1941. By October 1941, he had a total 150 hours flying time to his name with 19 hours on the Hurricane. He was amongst several Canadians assigned to the RAF, and served in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and Burma. He is celebrated as one of seven Canadian Flying Aces whose courage thwarted a deadly surprise attack by the Japanese air force on their Ceylon airbase.
Under the Civil Service Act, veterans who had seen Overseas Active Service (OAS) in the First or Second World War, or their widows, were given hiring preference for government jobs. In 1946, WWII veteran Jack Hurley was appointed Vankleek Hill Postmaster.

When Jack retired in 1987, Jeannine Duval Seguin was appointed postmaster. We will write more about Jeannine in another Vankleek Hill Stories instalment.

The history of 4132 Highway 34, Vankleek Hill

The Story of How One Property Helped Influence The Red Brick Look of Vankleek Hill

4132 Highway 34 Photo: Jan Amell

History gives us a good excuse to look into early lives and older buildings. Here is a history of 4132 Highway 34, Vankleek Hill which was on the 2018 Christmas Home Tour organized by The Review. The Vankleek Hill & District Historical Society provides the property research for this event. Photographer Jan Amell provides the images. Enjoy a bit of local history and Christmas during our Covid-19 physical isolation.

4132 Highway 34 Vankleek Hill

Our property history for this location begins in the late 1840s when a small brick factory started-up and kept going through different owners into the 1930s. Many of the brick homes in Vankleek Hill were built using red bricks fired in these yards between the 1850s to the 1920s. Other busy brickyards included the Reasbeck Family, Guindon (Yado) Family, and the Curran Family. For the owners, farming was their primary occupation with the brickmaking a second income.

Hiram Johnson Brick Yard

Hiram Johnson purchased the property at 4132 Hwy. 34 in 1849. Our local soil is clay-based with a sandy loam topping, and in wet areas this is a perfect combination for brick-making. In 1856, as often happened in early villages where wood and coal were mainstays for heating and cooking, a fire swept through Vankleek Hill destroying, or damaging many wood frame buildings.

Vankleek Hill’s ‘The Creating Centre’, the former Dominion Hotel Photo: Michelle Landriault

The hotel operated by Hiram Johnson in Vankleek Hill was severely damaged in that fire. Using bricks fired at his Highway 34 location, he rebuilt the Dominion House on the same site – the corner of Highway 34 and Main Street East, where the Creating Centre is currently located (above). The building we see today is an example of construction using the red brick from the Johnson brickyard.
The 1856 fire sparked serious fire prevention interest from many building owners. They got busy covering their wood frame buildings with brick, and turned to using brick for new construction. What a boon to the local brick business! The Vankleek Hill Museum building at 95 Main Street East (below), built in1834, is a wood frame building, and was reportedly the first to be covered in red brick after the 1856 fire.

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The history of the Vankleek Hill convent

A Story to Commemorate the Convent of the Sisters of Sainte-Marie de Namur

On November 11, 2020, at the request of the Sisters of Sainte-Marie de Namur, a plaque was installed at the corner of Vankleek Hill’s Higginson Street and Stanley Street, to commemorate the century-long location of the Convent of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur in Vankleek Hill. Representatives from the Order were present. The date was selected to celebrate the establishment of their first convent in Canada, in Vankleek Hill, and to mark the founding of the Order in Namur, Belgium.
Sister Fernand Levac (seen above, far right) and Sister Nicole Kingsley, Regional Superior of the Sisters of St. Mary in Canada (centre back row with name tag) explained that the occasion was made possible with the cooperation of the Champlain Township, property owner Dana Johnston, and the contribution by André Martel of Martel Monuments. The plaque, they said, was to ensure the presence of the convent “is not erased from the collective memory.”
Due to the ongoing pandemic, no public announcement was made of the event. Those invited to attend included: Father Pierre Domerson of St. Gregoire parish, Mayor Normand Riopel, Councillor Peter Barton, Martel Monuments owner André Martel, Dana Johnston, The Review publisher Louise Sproule, Thérèse Boyer on behalf of parishioners, Denis Seguin Architect President Vankleek Hill & District HIstorical Society, and Michelle Landriault Vankleek Hill Museum.
What follows here is a brief history of a dynamic convent that served our town and district for over a hundred years.

The Convent of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, from the corner now displaying the plaque. Photo: Gabriel Landriault, 2007.

The corner stone for the Convent of Saint Mary of Namur in Vankleek Hill was laid and blessed in May, 1886. The project was the inspiration of the two daughters of Eliza and Richard McGreevy, Irish-born Catholics, of Vankleek Hill.
In the 1861 Census, Richard is a farmer on Concession 5, Lot 18 in East Hawkesbury. He has 100 acres, 21 under cultivation; 13 under crops; 8 pasture; one acre of orchard and several wooded acres. By 1881, he is a hotel keeper in Vankleek Hill.
On a family visit to Elmira, New York their two daughters became enamoured with the Belgian teaching order Sisters of St. Mary, and later entered the novitiate in Lockport, N.Y. The two daughters, Sister Mary Berchinaus and Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart, were devoted to setting-up a Catholic education centre for Vankleek Hill’s Catholic children.
Through a combination of land donation from their father Richard McGreevy, and a land purchased by the Ottawa Diocese from William Higginson assisted by a $275 mortgage held by Eliza McGreevy, the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur Convent – with a playground – was constructed at the corner of Higginson Street and Stanley Street, and opened January 27, 1887. The Duke of Norfolk, Lord Strathcona and Belgian nobles were among early benefactors. (The Ottawa Journal, June 25, 1937)

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A few Vankleek Hill stories for Remembrance Day

The Story of Corp. Strathcona McDonald, Killed in Action October 24th 1918

Corp. Strathcona McDonald (l) pestered his parents, Dr. Alexander and Ella McDonald, for 6 months before they finally gave him permission to enlist at age 17.
In October, 1916 he travelled to Petawawa and joined the artillery – 72nd Queen’s Battery of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His military records show that he signed-up for the duration of WWI plus 6 months. It was said, “there was not a prouder boy in uniform.”
Known to family and friends as “Teddy,” he was known for his smile and for being “brim full of mischief.” He delighted in playing jokes on those he loved most.

Strathcona went overseas in March, 1917. He was in England for two months when he volunteered for special trench mortar service in France. He had displayed this eagerness when convincing his parents to let him go. Altruistically, for him, it was a chance for every young man “with a true spirit” to show that he was prepared to suffer and even die if necessary, to defend their rights.
He embarked on this patriotic endeavour as a student, and he discovered that even the active military provide time for learning. He took brief training sessions in England, returning to the field each time.

Home of Dr. Alexander and Ella MacDonald, 160 Main Street East, Vankleek Hill

In September, 1918 he was on leave for course work in England for two weeks. On September 18, 1918 he was promoted to Corporal. And he rejoined his unit in the field in France on October 4th.
On October 24th, 1918 Strathcona suffered a gun shot wound to the head and a fractured skull. He is buried at Queant Road Cemetery located between the towns of Buissy and Queant, in the Calais region of France. Armistice was just short weeks ahead.
As all soldiers are required to do on enlisting, Strathcona signed a will and named his mother Ella MacDonald as his beneficiary. In 1919, she received the balance of his bank account: $14.60 ($217 today).
Ella MacDonald received the Memorial Cross as a bereaved mother.
The MacDonald Family had two sons who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces during WW I. Sutherland, the elder son, was also a student when he joined the CEF in 1916 at the age of 20. He became a member of the 50th Queen’s Battery, 13th Brigade, and served in France until the war ended. When he returned, he resumed his college studies.
In the November 1st, 1918 issue of the Eastern Ontario Review (EOR), the reporter remarks that Teddy’s parents, his sister Elsie and his big brother Sutherland all mourned his loss.
Given the youthfulness of other Vankleek Hill sons who died in WWI, it is likely most knew each other.
Here are images of a few of them taken from the November 1st, 1918 issue of the Eastern Ontario Review. They appeared in an ad for Victory Bonds. Also mentioned in the ad is Sgt William Brown who was killed in an air raid in England.

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Postcards from Vankleek Hill’s past

A Selection from the Museum Collection of Historical Postcards

Corner of Higginson Street & Home Avenue c.1902

postcard/carte postale Dane Simon Collection, Musée Vankleek Hill Museum

The construction of the ‘mill’ houses, seen on the right, took place between 1901 and 1903.
At the turn of the 20th century, Vankleek Hill offered a variety of employment to men and women: carriage works, sawmills, flour mill, foundries, monuments, general stores, restaurants, a shoe factory, housekeeping, teachers, telegraph & telephone operators, bookkeepers, secretaries, carters, the railways.
The jobs generated a need for rental housing. General store owners Eustache Labrosse & John Northcott each built a number of brick homes with decorative front porches. The homes were identical to keep them affordable. Slanted flat roofs supplied rain water for the basement cisterns. A backyard laneway allowed easy delivery of coal & wood.
These homes remain sought-after today, 120 years later.

Coin de la rue Higginson et de l’avenue Home, vers 1902

La construction des maisons sur la droite a eu lieu entre 1901 et 1903.
Au tournant du 20e siècle, Vankleek Hill offrait une variété d’emplois aux hommes et aux femmes, notamment, dans le secteur du transport, les scieries, les moulins à farine, les fonderies, les monuments, les magasins généraux, les restaurants, les usines de chaussures, l’entretien ménager, l’enseignement, la télégraphie et la téléphonie, la comptabilité, le secrétariat, la mécanique et les chemins de fer.
Ces nombreux emplois ont engendré un besoin pressant de logements locatifs. Ainsi, les propriétaires des magasins généraux, Eustache Labrosse et John Northcott, ont chacun participé à la construction d’un grand nombre de maisons en briques, ornées de porches sur leur devanture. Construite à l’identique, chaque maison, assurait à l’ensemble une belle harmonie. Les toits plats inclinés fournissaient de l’eau de pluie pour les citernes du sous-sol. De même, les ruelles arrière permettaient facilement la livraison du charbon et du bois.
Ces maisons demeurent, encore aujourd’hui, très attrayantes, 120 ans après leur construction.

Main Street East, looking east c.1890

postcard/carte postale Dane Simon Collection, Musée Vankleek Hill Museum

Everyone in their Sunday-best is captured in this photo on Main Street.
There is a horse-drawn taxi available heading in the same direction.
The McCuaig, Cheney General Store, at the left, is today the Museum. Next door is the 3-storey warehouse for the general store, today apartments & gift shop.
The little girl in the white hat at the bottom of the image looked up and spotted the photographer in the window of the Windsor Hotel.
What event brought everyone together?

Rue Principale est, regardant vers l’est, vers 1890

Cette photographie montre une panoplie de gens vêtus de leurs plus beaux atours sur la rue Principale est.
On y aperçoit un taxi tiré par des chevaux.
Le magasin général McCuaig et Cheney, à gauche sur la photographie, est aujourd’hui le Musée de Vankleek Hill. Juste à côté, se trouve l’entrepôt à trois étages du magasin général, aujourd’hui transformé en logements locatifs et boutique de cadeaux.
Petite remarque amusante : la petite fille dans la partie inférieure de la photo, levant les yeux au loin, indique qu’elle a repéré le photographe.
Quel événement a réuni tout ce beau monde?

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