Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 09.22.09
Stanstead, Quebec


A history of Quebec's Eastern Townships

Last Saturday marked one of the highlights of the year -- Townshippers' Day, a day when anglophones from across the region gather together to participate in traditional English activities such as complaining about the weather and discussing their latest surgeries.

With that in mind, I thought this would be a good opportunity to share a little bit of the history of the Eastern Townships of Quebec

The Eastern Townships were opened to settlement in 1791. There's a common misconception that the first settlers were United Empire Loyalists but most, in fact, were people looking for cheap land in the countryside and willing to drive out the locals to get it. Today, we would call these people Montrealers.

Most of these original settlers were American. Their influence can continue to be seen today in our local architecture and our love for WalMarts.

These first settlers were followed by waves of British, Irish, Scottish, and eventually French. There was also a brief wave of Siberian settlers but they found the region too cold.

With its many rivers, the Townships was ideal for building mills. None of these mills actually produced anything but the mill-building industry flourished for decades until the arrival of steam power and the Great Paddle Wheel Shortage of 1847. The mills are now long gone but they live on through the names of several Eastern Townships communities such as Kinnear's Mills, Baldwin's Mills, and Donna Mills.

The Townships hit their peak with the railway boom of the mid- to late eighteenth century. While the railway thrived as a means of shipping goods and resources in and out of the Townships, the general public was at first reluctant to use the railway for personal transportation. Attitudes changed, however, in 1874 with the invention of the bar car.

Among the major industries in the Townships was mining, the biggest mine being located in the Town of Asbestos. Today, with the perceived health risks of the mineral asbestos, many people consider the name of the town to have been an unfortunate choice, but not nearly as unfortunate as the neighbouring community, Gum Disease.

The Eastern Townships is renowned for its geographical beauty, including glorious mountains and lakes. The largest lake is Lake Memphremagog, which is an Abenaki word meaning beautiful waters. Or possibly Barbara Walters, linguists aren't sure.

The major city in the Eastern Townships is Sherbrooke, the Queen City. It is so called because the legendary rock group Queen spent its formative years playing and developing their craft in Sherbrooke. In fact, their famous hit "We Are the Champions" was originally a bilingual song in tribute to the region's renowned linguistic tolerance, entitled, &quiot;We are the Champignons." Today, Bishop's University is home to the Freddie Mercury School of Music and Glitter.

The Townships has seen its share of hardships. The people have survived two world wars, the Depression, the Quiet Revolution and the Noisy Referendums.

Perhaps the greatest hardship for Townshippers have been laws restricting English in public. To protect English rights and culture, Townshippers' Association was formed to fight back with the only weapons they had: politeness and waiting it out.

Thirty years later, this tactic appears to have paid off, with anglophones and francophones continuing to live in harmony. Sure we have our differences, but we're united by something stronger, the things we have in common, namely the three Bs: bingo, beer, and bellyaching.

This year's Townshippers' Day will be held in Ayer's Cliff, named after Clifford Ayer (Cliff for short), who won the village in a poker game but later lost it to the Ladies Auxiliary of the Royal Order of Spittoon Vendors when he failed to pay his bill for 1200 tea cozies.

This, of course, is just a bit our noble history. Feel free to share some of this with your neighbours at Townshippers' Day 2010to really leave an impression.