The history of Riverest Regency Cottage

A Story To Celebrate L’Orignal’s Past And Future

Riverest Regency Style Cottage, L’Orignal. Built 1833. To open in May 2021 as Riverest Marina & Restaurant. (photo 2012)

As always when reviewing history, particularly local history, everything is open to further research.
In May 2021, the 1833 heritage site Riverest Regency Cottage on Wharf Street in L’Orignal plans to open as the Riverest Marina and Restaurant. To mark this endeavour, we present this brief history of the first two families to live in this beautiful home.
The Regency style cottage Riverest was first occupied by John Wurtele Marston in 1833. His father Jacob Marston Jr. was one of the earliest settlers in L’Orignal. John W. Marston lived at Riverest from 1833 to his death in 1880.
The next owner was Edward Alexander Hall from 1881 to 1912, and he was head of the Ottawa Forwarding Company.


The L’Orignal Seigneury was formed in 1674 and owned by François Prevost. Next it came into the hands of the Chevalier de Longueuil. With the 1791 passing of the Constitutional Act, the seigneury became part of the new province of Upper Canada. The Chevalier’s son, J-D Emmanuel de Longueuil, put the lands up for sale. In 1796, American Nathaniel Treadwell purchased the defunct seigneury for 1000 guineas. (More detailed history of the community is available in the publication L’Orignal-Longueuil: Au fil du temps / Through the Years published in 2011.)
Some settlement had already taken place. Notably, Jacob Marston Jr. arrived in the 1790s, and there was also Joseph la Rocque-Brun and Joseph Pomeroy Cass. Treadwell got busy and encouraged wider settlement.
By 1825 the village had 12 houses, the McIntyre store, William Waite’s tannery, John O’Brien’s public house, and a schoolhouse. Formal discussion of building a court house is on the official records in 1816. The new court house would open in 1825. Today it is recognized as the oldest court house in Ontario.

County Court House for Prescott and Russell, L’Orignal ON. Opened in 1825, it is designated as the oldest court house in Ontario. To the left is the jail that is now a heritage interpretation centre, l’Ancienne Prison/ Old Jail. The court continues to be active. (Photo: Michelle Landriault)

Plans for a court house firmed in 1823 when Jacob Marston Jr. gave two acres from his holdings in trust to George Hamilton, Alexander Grant and Donald MacDonald. The court appointed John Chesfer (Chesser), Alexander Grant (Duldraeggan Hall) and Donald MacDonald as an oversight committee for the construction of the court house. Once fundraising ‘subscriptions’ began, Charles Waters was added to the committee, and Alexander Grant became the treasurer.
Heritage historians suggest the brownstone court house was completed in 1825 when not only benches were procured for the court room, but there was also the appropriation of thirty shillings to Almstead Gates, Deputy Sheriff, for the construction of a pair of stocks adjacent to the court house.
As to who designed the court house, there are two threads of thought. In the records of the Quarter Sessions of April 24, 1824, the order was given to pay William Moody “ten shillings for drawing plans for the gaol and court house under direction of the court.” Heritage historians question whether Moody actually designed the building, or if he was hired to draft the plans.
The other theory as to designer, is that the plans were drawn-up by either Charles or William Lundrum, engineers who lived in Riceville. Certainly, when extensive additions were made to the court house in 1861, William Lundrum was the architect and a Mr. Matthews was the contractor.

Marston Family

This introduction to early settlers and the construction of the court house informs investigation into Riverest. The presence of engineers Charles and William Lundrum providing services in L’Orignal suggests the possibility that the Riverest regency design arose from their expertise.
With Jacob Marston Jr. providing land for the court house, and his son John Wurtele Marston as the first resident of Riverest, we now look back to when the Marston Family arrived from the United States.
Jacob Marston Sr. was born in New Hampshire in 1750, and he married Hannah Post in 1773. Their son Jacob Marston Jr. was born in Fairlee, New Hampshire in 1774, and he was the first of nine children.
In 1784, Jacob Marston Sr. and Hannah left New Hampshire to live in the Montréal area where he held the position of High Constable – le grand Constable.
There is evidence that Marston Sr. was acquainted with Nathaniel Hazard Treadwell, an American living in Canada who had large holdings in L’Orignal and Longueuil Township. Treadwell and his wife are buried in the Cassburn Cemetery.
In the February 1796 ledger of Québec Notary John Garbrand Beek is the following entry which indicates Jacob Marston Sr. acquired land in the Seigneury Jouet on the Rivière l’Assomption. These lands were purchased by Treadwell just days before.

Excerpt from February 1796 ledger of Québec Notary John Garbrand Beek which indicates Jacob Marston Sr. acquired land in the Seigneury Jouet on the Rivière l’Assomption from Nathanial Hazard Treadwell.

Then in 1802 a land grant in Lower Canada is issued. Jacob Marston Sr. “high Constable” along with his oldest sons Elihu and Jeremiah had applied for 1200 acres. Jacob and his sons are recognized in this grant as arriving in Lower Canada in 1784, and they were granted a “warrant of survey” in Portland Township Lower Canada in 1792. Portland Township at that time was bordered by Wakefield and Buckingham. Note that in 1784, Elihu and Jeremiah were ages 8 and 4 so it is clear Jacob Sr. had their future interests at heart. In this 1802 land grant, all three are described as “deserving Loyalists.”

Page from 1802 land grant in Portland Township, Lower Canada awarded to Jacob Marston Sr. and his two sons Elihu and Jeremiah. Jacob Marston Sr. had extensive communications about land grants. Portland Township was located in the Gatineau Hills between Wakefield and Buckingham QC.

At age 75, according to the 1825 Census of Lower Canada, Jacob Marston Sr. was living in the Paroisse de Montréal. His wife Hannah Post, 70, died that same year, and the funeral service was held at Christ Church Cathedral in Montréal. Marston Sr. died in 1830 at age 80, and his funeral service was also held at the Christ Church Cathedral in Montréal.

Jacob Marston Jr.

Jacob Marston Jr. came to L’Orignal in the 1790s in his 20s, and in 1806 he married Mary Cass, a member of the United Empire Loyalist Cass Family of Cassburn. They had seven children. Mary died in 1835.
Jacob Jr. is credited with being civic minded in donating lands to further the advancement of the village of L’Orignal, including land for the courthouse.
A population shift was about to start. There was no standing army in Lower and Upper Canada until after Confederation in 1867. Military activity relied on volunteer militias. The 1st Regiment of the Prescott Militia was formed as early as 1812, and Longueuil Township residents such as Ensign Charles Waters of L’Orignal served 1812-1814.
Historically, it was service in the War of 1812 that brought many French Canadians to take up their Longueuil Township land grants awarded for their militia services defending Lower Canada at the U.S. border.
In 1842, Jacob Marston Jr. married Sarah Chamberlain of East Hawkesbury in L’Orignal. His son Josiah was a witness for this second marriage. The couple had two children. In the 1851 Census, we find Jacob Jr., age 75 and widowed a second time, visiting his son George Marston at his farm in the Township of Hull, Quebec. Perhaps this Gatineau Hills Quebec location is linked to the 1802 land grant given to Jacob Marston Sr.
In the 1861 Census, Jacob Jr. was 87 and living with son Josiah C. Marston and his family, in a 2-storey wood frame home on Josiah’s farm in Cassburn.

18th Prescott Militia payroll, 3rd Company, L’Orignal. Coming back to the local militia – Richard Henry Marston, son of Josiah and Hanna, and grandson of Jacob Marston Jr., was an active member of the 3rd Company, 18th Prescott Militia, L’Orignal. He is found present and signed-in to be paid $8 for attending drill exercises in 1865, and here again in 1873.

John Wurtele Marston, Riverest

John Wurtele Marston, son of Jacob Marston Jr. and Mary Cass, was born in L’Orignal in 1806 and christened at Christ Church Cathedral in Montréal where his sponsors were Wurtele family members who had immigrated from the U.S. and had early business dealings with his grandfather, Jacob Marston Sr.

Bio of John Wurtele Marston from the Canadian Biographical Dictionary and Portrait Gallery, Ontario Volume, 1880.

According to the Biography, John Wurtele Marston started his mercantile business in 1828. He then married Mary Ann Davis in 1836. In a 1973 Ottawa Journal feature article about Riverest, the author reports that Riverest Cottage was constructed by John Wurtele Marston in 1833. As can be seen by both his business interest and the impending marriage, this construction date makes sense.

In 1838, John Wurtele Marston was a member of the 1st Regiment, Prescott Militia. In his 1895 publication History of the Counties Argenteuil, Quebec / Prescott, Ontario, author Cyrus Thomas reports that in 1838 the Prescott Militia was “well officered”, as this was following the 1837 Rebellion. The payroll table indicates John Wurtele Marston is an Ensign who received his first appointment in 1832.

The 1st Regiment of the Prescott Militia became the 18th Battalion of the Prescott Militia at the time of the 1860s Fenian Raids. The 18th Battalion volunteers met at least twice a year to practice drilling and to have marksmen competitions. To sharpen their skills, there were competitions with their Quebec counterpart, the Argenteuil Rangers. In planning these events, they chose the farm of a member where they came together with their militia accoutrements and horses. The Vankleek Hill Museum has several 18th Battalion red military jackets.
In the 1851 Census, John W. Marston is a merchant in L’Orignal. He is 46, already a widower, and living with him are his children: Sarah, 15; Mary Ann, 13; John J., 11, Caroline, 8. The household includes their cousin Ann McLeod, 19; plus, two servants: Ann Jane Fulton, 18 born in Ireland, and Peter –? 18, a French Canadian – likely day workers who returned home at night. John W. Marston does not remarry.
The 1851 Census reports that the family lives in a stone house that is 1.5 storeys, Riverest, and there is a separate stone building which is a store.
In 1856, William Lundrum who had designed the courthouse, designed the L’Orignal quay located on the Ottawa River just north of Riverest. Wharves were largely responsible for bringing early prosperity to L’Orignal, a principal stopover for loading and unloading merchandise long before Hawkesbury took over that role.

Detail from 1862 Walling Map of the five counties, SDG & Prescott and Russell, indicating the quay or wharf located north of Riverest. Also, in the lower centre of the map is the location of the farm of J. C. Marston (Josiah), John Wurtele Marston’s brother. At the time of the mapping, their widowed father Jacob Marston Jr. lived with Josiah’s family in Cassburn.

In the 1861 Census, John Wurtele Marson is now identified as the County Treasurer. He continues to live in the stone house on two acres of land.
His one horse and one cow have a livestock value of $55. His carriage is valued at $110. Daughter Mary Ann, 22, continues to live at home. John J. Marston, 20, is a medical student. Daughter Caroline is 17. There is one servant, Alexis Boneau, age 15.
In 1863, John’s father Jacob Marston Jr. died at age 89. He had arrived in L’Orignal and Longueuil Township at the outset of settlement. He was a key contributor to the construction of the courthouse and gaol, and to lasting improvements to the village. His children were successful.
Author Cyrus Thomas provided a bio of John Wurtele Marston, undated and written while John was still living by someone who knew him. It has the tonality of a tribute for a life event, perhaps when he turned 70. It focused on his career with no mention of his militia service.

John Wurtele Marston, Treasurer of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell for the last quarter of a century was born in L’Orignal on the first day of May 1806 and has always been a resident of the place. His father, Jacob Marston, a native of New Hampshire followed his grandfather [John Wurtele’s grandfather Jacob Marston Sr.] into Canada a little before the close of the last century and visited the spot where L’Orignal now stands, in 1796, coming here with Nathaniel Treadwell, the proprietor of the township and being, it is claimed, the first Anglo-Saxon to fell a tree in this township; and two or three years later, made a permanent settlement here. The mother of our subject before her marriage was Mary Cass, whose father was a United Empire Loyalist.
Mr. Marston received an ordinary English education; clerked for some years for Silas P. Huntington and in 1828 commenced the mercantile business for himself continuing until 1851 with fair success. During a part of this period, he held office in the Ottawa District. He became clerk of the District Court and Registrar of the Surrogate Court in 1846; Deputy Clerk of the Crown in 1853; and, since 1855, has been Treasurer of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell. He has proved a very faithful county officer, is a model accountant, and a man of the highest integrity, and has unlimited confidence and greatest respect of the people. Mr. Marston has had much concern for the educational and other interests of his native village, and served for some time as Trustee of the High School. He is an adherent of the Presbyterian Church; has been a trustee of the Canada Presbyterian Church since it was organized in 1832, and is the only one of the five charter trustees now living. He is most emphatically the oldest landmark of L’Orignal. Born and reared here, the fourth season of his life already seemingly far spent, he has seen the Ottawa Valley in this vicinity converted from a wilderness into a well improved country with all the marks of thrift as well as civilization. He is a remarkably well-preserved man, and a stranger would hardly place his age as high as seventy. His life has been remarkably exemplary, worthy of being copied by young men. In 1836, Mr. Marston married Miss Mary Ann Davis of Milton Vermont, and she died in 1844 leaving four children – one son and three daughters. The son, John J. Marston, M.D. has been assistant surgeon in the American Army since 1864; Sarah, the eldest daughter, married Eden P. Johnson of L’Orignal, and died in 1867; Mary Adelia is the wife of John Millar, merchant, L’Orignal; and Caroline I. is the wife of Sturgis M. Johnson of Almonte, Ontario.

(History of the Counties Argenteuil, Quebec / Prescott, Ontario by Cyrus Thomas, John Lovell & Son, Montreal, 1896 – pp. 521-522)

John Wurtele Marston died on October 17th, 1880 at age 74. The death register entry states he is County Treasurer. No reason is provided for his death. Dr. James McIntosh of Vankleek Hill signs the entry.
With his death, the Marston Family connection with Riverest ended.

Edward Alexander Hall, Ottawa Forwarding Company

In the 1881 Census for L’Orignal, Edward Hall, 27 and Irish, is identified as a ‘Commercant’ – a merchant. He is married to Julie Soulière, 30. Their children are: Alice, 6; Frank, 4, and William 2. We know they purchased Riverest because their youngest daughter Eva was born at the house in 1881.
In 1891, their family home is identified as “Pierre 1½” with 9 rooms. Edward’s trade is listed as “merchant grain.” Knowing that Edward Alexander Hall owns the Ottawa Forwarding Company, it is interesting to see in the same census that his two brothers, James Hall and William Hall of L’Orignal, are each identified as a “Capitaine de navire”. The census stops short of identifying if they work for the Ottawa Forwarding Company; however, it does seem likely. Each had a family to support.

Ad from Ontario Gazeteer & Directory 1898-1899

In the 1901 Census, Edward, 47, is again “commercant de grain”. He and Julie, 54, lived at Riverest with their children: Maude, 24; Frank, 23 – a “Capitaine de bateau”; Walter, 22 – a “clerk”; and Eva is now 17. Edward’s earning for 12 months is $1,200. Frank earns $600 over eight months of the year. Walter earns $500 over 12 months.

In the 1903 issue of The Canadian Engineer, we find that the Ottawa Forwarding Company has commissioned the construction of a new boat by J. & R. Weir of Montreal: 107 feet in length with a capacity of 150 tons. $25,000. in cost – about $500,000 today.

The Ottawa Forwarding Company navigated goods back and forth between Montreal – Ottawa – Kingston using tugboats, barges and steamboats, and they also provided some passenger service.
Although Edward Alexander Hall maintained ownership of Riverest until his death in 1912, it appears he also had an Ottawa residence which makes sense given the nature of his business.
Edward Alexander Hall died at age 58 on April 17, 1912 in Ottawa from heart disease. His address is given as 65 Delaware Avenue, Ottawa. He is identified as a “Forwarder”. His son Frank Edward Hall came from Montreal to look after the estate. Edward is buried in Beechwood Cemetery.
Riverest was sold and has had a number of owners over the century since. According to current owners Alexandra Quester and André Chabot some of the past owners are Frank J. Pattee, Ernest Johnson, Hilda M. Elliott, Donald and Ann Mclean. Paule Doucet was the most recent owner and she was active in promoting local heritage.
According to a 1973 Ottawa Journal article, Riverest was purchased in 1959 by Douglas D. Stewart, who was still the owner in 1973 when the house was featured.

Looking across the Ottawa River to the Lower Laurentians from the Riverest Marina, April 2021. In the summer the hills are variations of verdant greens, and in the fall the famous colours of the Laurentians are thrilling.
(Photo: Michelle Landriault)

Riverest, architectural details

In their 1963 book published by Clarke Irwin: The Ancestral Roof : Domestic Architecture of Upper Canada, Marion MacRae and Anthony Adamson state that Riverest is “the finest example of Regency in Ontario”.
A 1973 Ottawa Journal feature by Audrey Blair provides us with a valuable informal inventory of Riverest. The interest Ms. Blair had in writing the feature was sparked by her familial ties with Eva Hall Blair born at Riverest in 1881. The owner, Douglas D. Stewart, who Blair states purchased Riverest in 1959, provided Blair with the interview.
Here is information provided in the feature article:

Site: The storey-and-a-half stone cottage is built on the length. The site location is “congruent to the site” as Regency architecture demanded, and is both aesthetically perfect and extremely practical. Surrounded by magnificent trees and gardens and contemplating the lovely Laurentians across the Ottawa River.


Porches: Originally there were two matching porches – on the north and south sides – the north porch was already removed by 1973. The porches are latticed with delicate supporting columns.

Front door: The front door originally opened to the river view. It is more elaborate with elliptical fanlight and moulded trim arched over the fan that sweeps out to frame the sidelights.

Central hall: This hall runs from front to back with entrance doors that have eight panels each. The hall has views of the river. The hall may have been reduced in size prior to 1973. From the hall there is a staircase with a nested newel, slim stair rails and wide steps. Originally, the staircase may have had matching newels.

Dining room: This room is now enclosed (1973). The dining room retains a Regency fireplace with two china cupboards on either side of a wall niche. There is a sideboard of rosewood or mahogany original to John Wurtele Marston.

Kitchen: Kitchen wing is at far east end. It once had a fireplace (blocked-in); huge bake oven still exists (1973) lined in brick, and large enough for an adult to stand upright inside. Over the kitchen is a small room with dormer windows; an extremely narrow staircase leads up to this room from the north end of the kitchen. Originally, this staircase rose from a library-den that became an office. By 1959, alterations had changed the kitchen wing (1973).

Drawing Room: This is on the west side. It has an elegant Regency fireplace flanked by an open china cupboard with corner-boxed corners. This matches the woodwork downstairs which is bullnose with centre trim, corner-boxed doorways, and doorways all have double-cross panels. There are two large French windows at either end of this lovely room. There is a ‘heat-hole’ between it and the hall that has removeable cover panel – open in the winter and closed in the summer.

Bedrooms: The downstairs west wing has a bedroom that opens off the drawing room and has three French windows. There are three bedrooms upstairs with a central bathroom. There are ample clothes cupboards.

Other features: French windows; decorative chimneys with dentelled trim at the top; fanlights and sidelights on entrance doors and all windows — by 1959 the fanlights had been covered (1973).

On ‘International Women’s Day’ we interpret women’s rights in 1970 through ‘TEEN Magazine

A Story Of How Far We’ve Come

In the pandemic summer of 2020, Elizabeth MacDougall and Natalia LaRosa worked as the summer students at the Musée Vankleek Hill Museum. They were delighted to find a ‘Teen’ magazine from August 1970 on display. After an eager look through the magazine, they were taken aback by what they saw in text and in advertising.
In 1975, during International Women’s Year, the United Nations declared March 8th as International Women’s Day. From then on, the date March 8 became the tradition.
To mark March 8, 2021 – a pandemic and vaccine year – we present the students’ interpretation of what they saw in Teen magazine – stretching across a 50-year divide.

Teen magazines had many more ads for do-it-yourself sewing than we see today in youth publications either in-print or online. The fashion is attractive even today.

It was fascinating to see that many of the clothing styles popular at the time have come back, and we both agreed that many of the outfits featured could be worn today.
On the other hand, some of the messaging in the articles and advertisements would definitely not be considered acceptable today. We thought we would take advantage of this chance to study the changes in messaging to teens over the years by highlighting some of the things that surprised us, having grown up in the early 2000s.
If you have any old magazines lying around, we would love for you to send your thoughts about any pieces that jump out at you.

Body Shaming Article

Among the many advertisements concerning weight loss, one article stood out in particular. Fat-shaming and body-shaming in general are still a major concern today, especially on social media apps such as Instagram and Facebook. However, this article surprised me in how blatant it’s messaging was.
The article’s title immediately communicates that being fat means being unlovable, and the description on the first image states that “being fat can really make you matronly-looking.”

(l) It’s not about health. It’s about being “dateless.”

The side-by-side comparison of a picture of the girl in high school compared to when she is writing the article could be said to foreshadow the before-and-after pictures so common on social media today.
Today at least, we are beginning to see some resistance. In 2019, Instagram announced a policy that would see content geared to advertising diet or weight loss products blocked or removed for users under 18-years-old. This came after pressure from campaigns such as I-Weigh, a community promoting body-positivity, made it difficult to ignore the issue.
Fifty-years ago, challenging this type of message would have been more difficult. The article goes on to explain how the young woman lost weight and even lists the woman’s measurements before and after her weight loss.
The article ends with the woman describing all the attention she got from boys after losing weight, and her perfect relationship with her new husband, “a sergeant who’s now in Vietnam,” which seems to imply that this was all made possible through her diet.
It is uncomfortable to imagine the self-esteem issues this kind of article would have promoted in young readers.

Editor’s Hurrah

The “Editor’s Hurrah,” titled ‘Restoration of Cool’ – sound familiar? – did not immediately grab my attention. However, upon taking the time read it, I was surprised to see how readily the magazine positioned itself against “the liberal outlook that has dominated the U.S. scene for too long.”
Two years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, this article claims that “shouters and marchers have reached the point where they are the repressors (sic) and not the repressed.” It even goes as far as to say that “many, if not most, are professional dropouts, floating and churning beyond the realities of our society.”
Most young people today grew-up learning about the civil rights movement and second wave feminism in school. We celebrate figures such as Martin Luther King JR, Rosa Parks, and Gloria Steinem who protested against such things as racial segregation and discrimination, sexual harassment, and domestic violence.
It is interesting to see the type of criticism that social rights movements faced in the 1970s in light of the Black Lives Matter movement today. The BLM marches that began in June 2020, in response to ongoing police brutality against Black people received much media coverage for the vandalism and violence generated as an adjunct to the protests.
Similarly, the ‘Editors Hurrah’ explains that the “vandalism, vicious speech, assault, bullying, incitement to riot- all have caused much more than material damage.” The article ultimately champions the “return to reason and order” and praises young readers, “who choose to wait and watch- rather than leap and lament.”
This last quote positioned the editor directly against the message of standing-up for what you believe in, as I would say most people are encouraged to do today.

Do Something Nice for your Father

We thought this Dr. Pepper advertisement would be interesting to include because it seems to perfectly encapsulate the ideal family dynamic of the 1970s. This ad got the attention of readers by stating that you could win a scholarship for college so that “your father could stop worrying about his wallet for a change.”
Today, the idea that the father is the only one that works and worries about money seems very outdated.

(l) This 1970 Dr. Pepper ad clearly does not recognize women – in this case mothers – as financial contributors to their families. The ad is in direct contrast to the women’s rights movement taking place at the same time.

It was around this time period that second wave feminism would have seen more and more women entering the workforce.
The ad finishes by stating, “your father’s been good to you. Now you can be good to him.”
The whole ad encourages and relies on girls wanting to be ‘good’. This message seems funny today because of how blunt it is. However, the notion is not foreign to girls today. I think girls definitely still feel this pressure today to be good in order to please.

Here is another image from the August 1970 issue of Teen:

Polaroids have made a come-back 50 years later!

A history of racism and stereotyping in Vankleek Hill’s past

A Story To Mark Black History Month

Black History Month brings us an opportunity to explore both our personal experiences and our community experiences with racism. We know racism and prejudice continue to exist. We must continuously make the effort to recognize and reject it, and to forge new pathways that benefit us all.
The Vankleek Hill Museum contains local artefacts that are racist in their content. The Museum identified them as racist on their arrival, and knowing this accepted them into the collection.
Why? Because these items represent opportunities for discussion and learning. They are a chance to explore and consider prejudices that influenced our community in its earlier years. Talking openly about racism, or prejudice becomes a tool to identify the different forms of it that we live today.
The Museum holds in its collection, for example, a Dingman’s Electric Soap advertising pamphlet that was made available to customers in the ‘McCuaig, Cheney General Store’ which today houses the Vankleek Hill Museum. In addition, the collection includes white tea towels embroidered with exaggerated images of Black musicians and dancers in absurd stances meant to be amusing.

Dingman’s Electric Soap advertising pamphlet, c.1890. Developed by Archibald Dingman at his Toronto soap factory. It is a laundry detergent in bar form. This promotional material was used in the McCuaig, Cheney General Store which today houses the Vankleek Hill Museum. Dingman’s used images of Black children in their advertising and trading cards, to absurdly demonstrate the effectiveness of their soap’s cleaning properties. The racist implication is that once the dirty Black colour is washed off, the child becomes civilized.
(Collection Daisy and Ken Brock)

The Dingman’s Electric Soap pamphlet directly implies that Black children can never be washed as clean as White children. Therefore, Black children, indeed Black people, are unworthy and no one should expect very much from them.
Advertisers often used children in these racist types of promotional materials. It is a socializing strategy: how could images of such sweet children mean any harm. But of course, they do harm.
Take note of this: Dingman’s Electric Soap was used as laundry detergent. It was not meant for washing skin. Yet, in the ad it is demonstrated just how effective this laundry soap is when faced with the toughest ‘black’ dirt possible.
In Vankleek Hill, the racist Dingman’s Electric Soap advertising was used at the McCuaig, Cheney store during a time when the local paper, The Eastern Ontario Review, carried racist content that used the “N” word from 1894 to 1921, with no complaint evident in letters to the editor, nor comments by the editor. The use of the word had been normalized.
During those years, small newspapers purchased folios of 2- to 4-pages of weekly content, ready for print, to provide readers with entertaining fiction and international news. The “N” word is embedded in this purchased content. The fiction depicts Black people in derogatory terms as comical, illiterate, impaired and as entertainment for White readers who could easily see themselves as far more sophisticated. Much the same as the purpose of the tea towel graphics – Black people as ridiculed stereotypes, barely a step-up from slavery.

In 1915, the world was hoodwinked into paying top dollar to see the landmark 3-hour film “Birth of a Nation” about the Civil War by director D.W Griffith with movie star Lillian Gish. People who experienced the Civil War were still living. Under cover of glorifying President Lincoln, the film overtly degraded Black citizens with racist content and presented the Klu Klux Klan as a heroic force to preserve white supremacy.
Three years later, at a single showing in Vankleek Hill, the technically innovative film played to a packed audience on March 13, 1918. There was also a matinee open to children who took in hours of experiencing the “N” word and viewing racist violence. Did the film shape local attitudes?
A word search in The Eastern Ontario Review for the “N” word finds it intermittently used in the purchased pages of fiction and international news from 1894 to 1915. In 1916, it appears in seven issues of the newspaper, then fewer times in 1917 and 1918, until disappearing in 1921.

Coming attraction notice for “Birth Of A Nation” in the March 8, 1918 edition of the Eastern Ontario Review (left).

The movie review of “Birth Of A Nation” in the March 15, 1918 edition of The Eastern Ontario Review (left).

In the September 9, 1921 issue of The Eastern Ontario Review, we find the first and only use of the “N” word by a local reporter, and it is on the front page. The “N” word appears in a report of the success of the 1921 Vankleek Hill Fall Fair, including a popular target game:

“The directors and officers [of the Vankleek Hill Fair] realizing that some “pep” was needed to put forth every effort to live up to advance notices, and outside of a few disappointments, everything advertised was there. The merry-go-round, the ocean wave, hit the “N…..” and the midway made things merry and added a much needed spree to the show of the agricultural products.”

Today, it takes our breath away that there was ever such a game. There was, and it was rampant in the U.S. and Canada.
Did the page one report of this unconscionable and racist ‘game’ at the Fair spark some revulsion in our community? Was there some recognition that it was wrong? There is no evidence of complaint in subsequent issues. Knowing our community, we want to believe it did raise ire and criticism.
What can be said is that the September 9, 1921 issue of the Eastern Ontario Review appears to be the last issue that carried the “N” word.
The intent of racism is to objectify and dehumanize a race. To make “those people” appear both lesser and less deserving; and, in turn “we” become both more deserving and entitled to hold the power.
We celebrate Black History Month to recognize and appreciate the many contributions made, and being made, to the honourable advancement of Canada by our Black citizens.

The history of Jeannine Duval Seguin

The Story Of Vankleek Hill’s Retired Country Music Singing, Hops-Picking Postmaster

Jeannine Duval Seguin at her home, after retirement from the Vankleek Hill Post Office. (Photo: Michelle Landriault)

A glimpse into the life of Jeannine Duval Seguin of Vankleek Hill takes us through the 1950s and 1960s, a time of change and modernization in rural Ontario. Her life touches on experiences all but forgotten in our local history – the small subsistence farms that supported large families; early education; local hop growing business; postal services; and even local country music.

Moise & Cecile Duval farm, Ridge Road

Jeannine Duval Seguin is the daughter of Moise Duval (1889-1961) and Cecile Baron (1892-1994). She is the youngest of seven children born and raised on the family farm on County Road 10, the Ridge, west of Vankleek Hill at the edge of the Caledonia Flats with the Alfred Bog in sight.
Farm chores included milking 25 cows, growing crops of oats, corn and buckwheat, raising chickens for eggs and meat, salting down the pork, making butter, working the garden for preserves, prepare root vegetables for storage, pick cranberries and blueberries in the Bog, constant laundry, baking and sewing.
Milk and cream that required refrigeration were placed into a bucket then lowered down the well to sit partially in the ice cold fresh water. In the winter, Moise suspended butchered beef from the rafters in the coldest section of the barn. Keep in mind that electricity only arrived in this rural area in the 1940s and 1950s. Regulations about refrigeration hampered the efforts of many small farmers to grow.
There were winter months when Moise left the farm to work in logging, as did so many other small family farmers, to supplement their earnings. During these times, Cecile and the children maintained the livestock.
There was also Moise’s private still, discreetly tucked out of sight. Jeannine smiles and remembers when she and her youngest brother Henri were allowed to sip the sharp homemade whiskey.

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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.

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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.

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