Category Archives: Lessons from our Past

A history of the Black population in Eastern Ontario as shown through the 1861 census

In February, for Black History Month, I asked Alan Campbell of the Lambton County Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society for his help. I am a member of the Lambton County group, and I read a report by Alan about his Black history research into Ontario census records. He was most helpful, and generously pointed me toward research conducted by Michael Wayne PhD at the University of Toronto, and by Barry Christopher Noonan in Wisconsin. That 1861 Census research brings us the names and locations of identified Black persons in Prescott (2), Russell (9), and Glengarry (39). Here, we take a look at the Prescott findings of: John Dawson of Longueuil Township and A. Robertson of South Plantagenet.

Column #13 1861 Census

In 1995, Michael Wayne was a social history professor at the University of Toronto. He published a paper in Histoire sociale/Social history, a York University publication. It was entitled: The Black Population of Canada West on the Eve of the American Civil War: a Reassessment Based on the Manuscript Census of 1861.
Wayne’s research was aimed at reviewing the rate of repatriation of freed Blacks from Canada West back to the United States after the Civil War. He wrote that the 1861 Census showed that the Black population of Canada West (Ontario) —

… had made their way to all corners of Canada West and had become an integral part of the provincial economy. More than half were from the United States, but contrary to popular opinion they were mainly free Blacks, not runaway slaves. …

Wayne and his research team performed a detailed review of the 1861 Census for Canada West. The 1861 Census had a column, #13, for “Coloured Persons, Mulatto, or Indian.” The research team captured all the Column #13 entries per county, including Prescott, Russell, and Glengarry.
In 1861, enumerators were provided with this instruction:

13th. In this column mark a figure (1) for every coloured person’s name, i.e. negro or negress. This was much neglected last census, and the number of coloured persons was not ascertained. If Mulatto, mark M after his or her name – thus, (1) M; and if Indian, mark “Ind”.

The Prescott County Census Commissioner for the 1861 Census was Charles Waters of Vankleek Hill. He wrote to his superiors questioning if it was even reasonable for enumerators to gather census information from Black or “Indian” residents. His disdain was palpable, as he appeared to believe that to obtain information from “Colored, Mulatto, or Indian” for their name, religion, birth place and age would be problematic.
However, according to Michael Wayne, enumerators did do their job.

The Prescott County representative wrote his superiors asking how much information on Blacks they wanted him to gather: “It would be difficult in most cases to ascertain their Names Religion Birth Place Ages or any thing else…”. Negligence in recording data on religion, age, or even names is not the same as leaving individuals off the rolls entirely, however, there is little evidence to suggest that enumerators failed to take seriously their responsibility to provide the Bureau officials with an accurate count.

While the 1861 Census in Canada was underway, the American Civil War began in April, 1861 to end in April 1865. This was a war about economics, governance, and underpinning it all, slavery.
There was slavery in both Upper Canada and Lower Canada. In Lower Canada, there was slavery first under the French regime, and then under the British regime.
The British Slave Trade Act of 1807 did not abolish slavery. Rather, it brought an end to the slave trade, the slave markets. Those already enslaved remained so. Children born to slaves were still considered slaves. It was only with the 1833 British Slavery Abolition Act that slavery finally officially ended throughout the British Empire.
Eminent Canadian historian, Marcel Trudel (1917-2011) catalogued in detail 4,200 Indigenous and Black slaves in Lower Canada from 1632-1834. Trudel itemized names and owners. He discovered that about two-thirds of slaves were Indigenous, identified by the derogatory slang “Panis” (for Pawnee). (Dictionnaire des esclaves et de leurs propriétaires au Canada français / Canada’s Forgotten Slaves, Two Centuries of Bondage, Marcel Trudel 1960, 2009)
Trudel was encouraged to perform the same detailed study of slavery in Ontario; regretfully, he had to decline.

In 2010, author Frank Mackey published his book: Done With Slavery, the Black Fact in Montreal 1760-1840 (McGill-Queen’s University Press). In his Introduction, Mackey writes:

“We cannot know who we are without knowing who we were, and we in Canada — whatever our origin or skin tone — will never know that without understanding the black experience and what it tells us about Eurocentric culture that has dominated our history. But we cannot begin to restore the missing black element to its rightful place without first establishing who the blacks were who have been left out.”

In 1841, the Province of Canada was formed. It contained Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West (Ontario). Professor Wayne’s 1995 work addressed the presence of the Black population in Canada West (Ontario) in 1861. Although many were born in the province, they did not have freedom from pervasive racism.

Although entitled to equality before the law, they experienced persistent discrimination. Whites called them “nigger” to their faces, and worse. Still, when the Civil War ended most chose to remain. Canada was not all they had hoped for, perhaps, but, despite what their white neighbours may have believed, it had become home. For the 40 per cent of the black population who had been born in the province, it had never been anything else.

We know from the 2022 article in ‘Vankleek Hill Stories’, History of Racism & Stereotyping in Vankleek Hill’s Past [link here], that the “N-word” was used in The Eastern Ontario Review which began publication in 1893. No readers’ letters of complaint were published about its use which sadly infers that the term was longstanding and deemed acceptable.

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, the term appears in seven issues of the newspaper, then fewer times in 1917 and 1918, until disappearing in 1921.
… 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.

The 1861 Census enumeration forms officially indicated the racist term “Mulatto”. The term was historically used to describe a person who had one Black parent, and one White parent. The derogatory term is derived from the Spanish for mule, which is half horse and half donkey. This racist term was successfully designed to be demeaning and offensive.  
Other races do sadly share in being the subject of racial epithets. However, unlike the Black population, no other racial group is defined by their percentage of White. “Mulatto” immorally implies that to be less than Black is better.

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 racist promotional material was available in the ‘McCuaig, Cheney General Store‘ which today houses the Vankleek Hill Museum. The prejudiced graphic demonstrates that Black children can never be as clean as White children. It forces the racist conclusion that Black children, indeed Black people, are shamefully less than white. (Donor: Ken & Daisy Brock)

Wayne’s research of the 1861 Census for Canada West provided the quantity of those enumerated in Column #13 “Colored Persons, Mulatto or Indian.” The results for our region were: Prescott County: two; Russell County: nine; and Glengarry County: 39.
In 2000, Barry Christopher Noonan, for the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, published Blacks in Canada 1861. He compiled the names of everyone identified in the 1861 Census Column #13 as: “Black, Mulatto or Indian”.
Noonan’s valuable work provided names. He noted that ‘more than half the people listed as Black or Mulatto in the 1861 Census were born here and not ‘freed slaves’.’ That conclusion agreed with Michael Wayne’s research.
With the assistance of these two publications, for Prescott County we are able to locate:

— John Dawson, age 20, in the Township of Longueuil (today part of Champlain Township).
— A. Robertson, age 19, in the Township of South Plantagenet.

We must keep in mind that these two young men were born c.1840; Dawson in “Canada East” and Robertson in “Upper Canada”. That was only a few years after the abolition of slavery in Canada. An ugly fact to consider is that although the two were not ‘freed slaves’, they very likely had parents or grandparents with direct life experience with slavery.

John Dawson, Longueuil Township

In the 1861 Census report for Longueuil Township, Prescott County is John Dawson. In Column #13 for “Colored Persons, Mulatto or Indian” there is the letter “M” for “Mulatto”. Dawson was born in Canada East (formerly Lower Canada). He was Roman Catholic, and he was unable to read or write.
There is no occupation indicated for Dawson; however, he was enumerated with Wilfrid Labelle, age 23, and his wife Mary A. Labelle, 23. Wilfrid Labelle was an “innkeeper” in Longueuil who had a one-storey log building.
Also enumerated with Wilfrid and Mary Labelle was Olive Brazeau, 20, who was a “Servant”. The census indicated that neither Olive Brazeau nor John Dawson were Labelle family members. Neither Brazeau nor Dawson lived with the Labelle Family.

1861 Census, Township of Longueuil: John Dawson, labourer, 20, single, born Canada East, “M” in Column #13. Wilfrid Labelle, Inn Keeper; Mary A. Labelle; Olive Brazeau Servant. Enumerator: J.C. Marston. (Library and Archives Canada)

To get an idea of the business that John Dawson worked for, we look at the 1861 Census Agricultural Schedule for Longueuil Township. Wilfrid Labelle’s log house sits on one acre. He has one horse and one cow valued at $70. And, he has a “carriage for hire” which was valued at $24. As an innkeeper he was in a position to provide transportation for his guests, or service to the community.
The enumerator, J.C. Marston, did not provide any value for the Labelle business, nor the wages paid to either of Olive and John in the columns provided. Marston was one of many disgruntled enumerators. Their instructions sent them to enumerate in January and February, in winter conditions compounded by what Marston referred to as poor road conditions and a “scattered” population. The official pay for enumerators was 10 shillings per 100 names. Marston and others petitioned for 15 shillings per 100 names.
Twenty years after the 1861 Census, Wilfrid Labelle appears on the 1881 Prescott County map for Longueuil Township where he now owns a hotel. We discover that he was born in Québec in 1838, and arrived in Longueuil in 1859 just before starting his innkeeping business.
Did John Dawson relocate from Québec to Longueuil Township with Wilfrid Labelle? The many facets of Dawson’s life may never be fully known.

Detail from the Prescott County map, showing a section of Longueuil Township. The property of W. Labelle is indicated on Cassburn Road. Information collected by the map-maker stated: Wilfrid Labelle had a hotel, that he was born in Quebec in 1838, and arrived in Longueuil Township in 1859. (Canadian County Atlas Digital Project, McGill University)

The 1881 Prescott County map for Longueuil Township map indicated Wilfrid Labelle’s hotel in the northeast section of Cassburn Road, at the bend.
With no more than an approximate year of birth, 1841, and the general location of Canada East, I have not been able to find out more about the life of John Dawson. In later census reports, there are a number of John Dawsons in southern Ontario.

A. Robertson, South Plantagenet

The second person to be identified as “M” for “mulatto” in the 1861 Census for Prescott County lived in South Plantagenet.
In the 1861 Census for South Plantagenet was A. Robertson, 19. In Column #13 was “M” for “mulatto”. He was born in Upper Canada, was Roman Catholic, and was unable to read or write. His occupation was listed as “labourer”.
Robertson was enumerated with Lumber Merchant James Burton, 30, and his wife Hannah Burton, 26. The couple had two children: L.J. Burton, 4 and Simon, 2.
The Burton Family had one “Servant”, Jane McCullough, 18, originally from Ireland, who the enumerator listed as single, and he indicated she was a member of the family.
Then followed a list of five male labourers, all single. Two were family members: Robert Burton, 20, R. Burton, 22. Three were non-family labourers: A. Robertson, 19; A. McPhee, 27; and, William Mackie, 25. (Mackie appears on the next page of the Census.)

1861 Census South Plantagenet, detail showing the Burton Family and their employees. Indicated is A. Robertson, labourer, age 19, single, born in Upper Canada, “M” in Column #13.

In the corresponding 1861 Agricultural Schedule for South Plantagenet we find out more about the Burton Lumber business.
It was located on the “Rear of the 8th Concession”. James Burton had livestock, two horses and two cows, valued at $110.
For the business, Burton had 100 acres valued at $400. According to the enumerator, Burton “saws logs,” and his saw mill operated on “water power”. The “Capital Invested in Business, in Real & Personal Estate” was valued at $2200. The sawmill, valued at $2000, annually produced “200 thousand feet” of “boards” with a value of $1600. This was a substantial family business that required employees.

This depiction of a private sawmill business in the late 1800s demonstrates that the workers required skills to perform their duties – whether harvesting trees, harnessing horses, sledding logs, using the sawmill. (Brault, Lucien. Histoire de Prescott et Russell, Ottawa 1965.)

James Burton reported to the enumerator that he had “four male” employees and “one female”. The individual wages listed under “Average Cost per Month for Male Labour” was $10. For the “Average Cost per Month of Female Labour”, the answer was $2.
Although we can tally five named male labourers, apparently one of them is not officially collecting wages. Were one of the two family-related labourers not collecting wages? Did the enumerator make an error in his reporting? We will never know the explanation.
On the 1862 Walling map of Prescott & Russell, we find J. Burton on Lot 23 Concession 10, South Plantagenet. A creek off the South Nation River runs through his lot.

Detail from 1862 Walling Map. The blue marks the property of J. Burton, just south of Pendleton.

Neither the Burton Family nor the Burton sawmill appear on the 1881 Prescott County map for South Plantagenet.

What do we learn?

As in the case of John Dawson, there is little information available to help enrich our knowledge of the life of A. Robertson. Perhaps there will be someone to take up that research.
The research of Professor Wayne does inform us that in 1861, Prescott County had at least two Black men in the population. Russell County had nine persons and Glengarry had 39 persons of Black race (see listings at bottom).
With the work of both Wayne and Noonan, we have added to our knowledge of the people who made-up our region in its early formative years.
As we pull ourselves away from perpetuating the narrow white European origin stories of those colonial days, we now accurately acknowledge that we are in fact on non-treaty Algonquin Lands.

Thanks to available research, we can rework our preconceived notions about early arrivals here, and recognize that there were Black neighbours — people who had to endure the deliberate racist society around them.
Critical knowledge of our community reveals new diversity, and tells us that ‘we are richer than we think’.

1861 Census report of Column #13, Prescott County, Longueuil & South Plantagenet townships. (Blacks in Canada 1861, Barry Christopher Noonan, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 2000)
1861 Census report of Column #13, Russell County, Clarence Township. (Blacks in Canada 1861, Barry Christopher Noonan, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 2000)
1861 Census report of Column #13, Glengarry County, Lochiel Township. The enumerator followed the protocol instruction of identifying the children of Evender and Margaret Dewar as Black, the same as their father. However, their daughter Mary Dewar, 7, is classed as ‘W’ which indicates the enumerator was grading the degree of skin colour. (Blacks in Canada 1861, Barry Christopher Noonan, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 2000).
1861 Census report of Column #13, Glengarry County, Charlottenburg Township. (Blacks in Canada 1861, Barry Christopher Noonan, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 2000)
1861 Census report of Column #13, Glengarry County, Lancaster Township. (Blacks in Canada 1861, Barry Christopher Noonan, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 2000). The enumerators were instructed to identify the race of children in keeping with their father’s race. Louis and Elizabeth Richelieu’s children are identified as ‘W’.

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 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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Addressing Racism in Vankleek Hill’s History

Museums have a responsibility to research and interpret the culture of their community. That includes the presence of racism and other destructive ‘isms’ that have or do impact members of our community. At the Vankleek Hill Museum, we tell the story of the laundryman Wing Lee who worked in Vankleek Hill, and in May on this FB page we told a broader researched story of his life that included the racist treatment of Chinese immigrants. The Museum also has in its collection examples of overtly racist advertising that was used to sell soap at a time when the building was a general store. These artefacts are scheduled to be used in the refresh of the permanent exhibit planned for this summer as appears in our summer job advertising. These artefacts and stories have the power to encourage important but difficult conversations.

In light of recent events in the U.S. and here in Canada that have exposed racism living large amongst us, Russell Township has discussed the origins of its name. Council intends to denounce their namesake who was an active owner and promoter of slaves by choosing a more positive reference for the name Russell. With this in mind, we at the museum acknowledge that Vankleek Hill’s own Simon Vankleek was a slave owner as well. A search for Simon Vankleek and slaves brings us to the ‘Our Ontario’ website that provides an image of a page from an Ontario Loyalist history book. The page states clearly that while living in Poughkeepsie, New York, Simon Vankleek “owned slaves, as was the custom.” Unfortunately, the story ends there when the author casually moves on to Simon’s horse breeding. A request was sent to the Belleville Public Library for the name of the book, which they hold.

The earliest available census for Poughkeepsie, Duchess County, New York, is the 1790 Federal Census. In this census, several members of the Vankleek Family provide the number of slaves they have. Simon and Cecilia Vankleek do not appear in the 1790 New York Census because they were forced to flee the area when their farm lands and belongings were expropriated by the Patriots toward the end of the American Revolution in 1783. They would have then joined the remaining British forces to evacuate to Nova Scotia. We do not know if Simon and Cecilia brought slaves to Nova Scotia, their first stop in Canada, and we have no record of slaves in Vankleek Hill with the family in 1798. However, Black Loyalist organizations in Nova Scotia explain that about 3000 Black Loyalists arrived with the British. They explain further that the typical Loyalists brought with them anywhere from 1200 to 2000 enslaved Black People. Surviving ship records show the slaves listed as “servants,” or “indentured.”

We would like to acknowledge racism in Vankleek Hill’s history by committing to share some of the darker stories from our past. We also plan on encouraging education and discussion surrounding racism through our new permanent exhibit that will include Indigenous perspectives for the first time. We welcome challenging stories and as a community, we have them.

In June, Vankleek Hill hosted a “We Are One” protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The event came about after four students from the area wanted to show their support for their movement without having to travel into the city. Photo by Reid Masson, taken from The Review:

In June, Vankleek Hill held its own protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, sparked by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis policeman. This was a great step in the right direction. However, being removed from the height of the protests by a couple months now, it is important that we all reflect on how we can continue to support the fight against White Supremacy. This can be done by donating to organizations such as Black Lives Matter, supporting Black owned businesses, self-educating, and raising awareness in your community, among other things.

Further Reading:

If you would like to learn more about the history of Black slaves in the Maritimes, we would recommend reading North to Bondage by Harvey Amani Whitfield. It is more of an academic read but illuminates the important and often overlooked contribution that Black people made in the development of the Maritimes. It also dispels the pervasive myth that Black people fleeing the United States found a safe haven here in Canada.

Another enlightening read in Black Loyalist history is The Book of Negroes by celebrated Canadian author Lawrence Hill. It is a gripping historical fiction about a young girl who is captured and forced into slavery. It has also been made into a tv series, now available for free on CBC Gem.