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french_migration_glengarry

FRENCH MIGRATION TO GLENGARRY - 1880-1920

This is a summary of a presentation made on December 1, 2022 at the Centre Communautaire de Green Valley Community Center by Yvon R. Ménard, a life-long resident of Green Valley, a retired teacher and vey recently, a director on the board of Société Historique Glengarry Historical Society.

Preamble: The French in North America

Considering that almost all Franco-Glengarrians can trace their ancestry back to Québécois families who in turn are direct descendants of migrants from France who came to settle in Nouvelle-France over 400 years ago, it stands to reason that I begin my presentation with a short trip into their past and rediscover part of the French adventure in North America. It’s an integral part of our history.

In 1534, Jacques Cartier, a ‘’voyageur et découvreur’’ from St-Malo, France took possession of Canada for the King of France, François 1er, by planting a cross in Gaspé. The following year, he explored the Gulf of Saint-Lawrence as well as the river down to Montréal and named Trois-Rivières on the way.

In 1608, Samuel de Champlain, who is known as the Father of New France, founded Québec and in 1634, established a colony at Trois-Rivières. In 1605, he had navigated down the east coast as far south as Cape Cod. There is a stone in Chatham, Massachusetts commemorating his landing there in 1606.

In 1642, Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve co-founded Ville-Marie (Montréal) with Jeanne Mance who also founded the first hospital there. In December of the same year, the St. Lawrence overflowed its banks so much that it threatened to destroy the fledgling colony. De Maisonneuve and others prayed God that if the water receded before that happened, they would erect a cross at the top of Mont-Royal. Well, just before Christmas the water receded and thus saved Ville-Marie. Promise made, promise kept. A wooden cross was erected at the top of the mountain giving thanks to God. To this very day, there has always been a cross there. The present one is illuminated and is quite visible from everywhere in Montréal.

In 1672, Marquette (a Jesuit priest) and Joliette, ‘explorateurs et découvreurs’ were ordered by Gouverneur Frontenac to search for a path to the Pacific Ocean hoping it would lead to China. In 1673, they led an expedition to explore unsettled territories of Nouvelle-France and travelled from the Great Lakes region down the Mississippi River but never reached the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1755, the Deportation of Acadians (10,000) occurred: some were sent back to France, some to the New England colonies but most to Louisiana then a French colony. Acadians wanted to remain neutral in the conflict between England and France and refused to swear allegiance to the British crown. In 1759, the Battle of Québec took place on the Plains of Abraham where both generals, Montcalm and Wolfe lost their lives. The British won and this decisive battle eventually gave the British Empire total control of all North America basically. But not for long, as the American Revolution was looming ending with the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

In 1763, by the treaty of Paris, the King of France, Louis XV, who considered Nouvelle-France as ‘’a few acres of snow’’ abandoned his colony and formally ceded all his North American colonies to England, including the ones on the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi to Nouvelle-Orléans, keeping only St-Pierre et Miquelon for the fishing as well as Martinique et Guadeloupe down in the Caribbean for its sugar. In the same year, King George III, through his Royal Proclamation, appeared to be generous in allowing the French habitants to keep their language, their religion and their civil law system. But at the same time, it included policies meant to assimilate them. A large wave of immigration of English, Scottish and Irish settlers represented a serious threat to the conquered French. However, the French Catholic Church had other plans to ensure their survival.

Thus, I conclude my quick over-view of the French colonies in Nouvelle-France. I hope you have appreciated it. Its an integral part our early Canadian history. Eh!

Brief history of Scottish settlers in Glengarry

As most of you know, Glengarry was founded in 1784 by Sottish Loyalists, mainly from clan Donald and other Highland Scottish emigrants from the Mohawk Valley in New York. The Crown granted them land and helped them with supplies the first winter as compensation for their losses. Some veterans received land instead of payment for their salaries. In addition, the settlement was founded as a destination of Scottish emigrants after the recent Highland Clearances. Great Britain hoped the new emigrants would settle and develop this area, which became known as Upper Canada and later Ontario. Cornwall was also founded in 1784 by the veterans of Sir John Johnston’s regiment as a loyalist settlement, while Stormont and Dundas were founded later, in 1792.

The arrival of the Ménard family in Green Valley (8th concession, Lancaster Twp)

(I am convinced that this story is typical of many other French immigrants who first came to settle in Nouvelle-France in the 18th century and then whose Québec descendants came to Eastern Ontario in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.)

In 1756, the first Ménard of our lineage arrived in Nouvelle-France. Jean-Baptiste was born in Franche-Comté, France, in 1732, near the Swiss border. He was a soldier in Montcalm’s army, married in Québec in 1758 and after surviving the Battle of Québec, settled down in Repentigny just east of Montréal and became a farmer. They had 10 children.

One of his sons, Joseph, moved to Les Cèdres, a farming community south of St-Lazarre in Soulanges County near the St-Lawrence River. He was also a farmer. One of Joesph’s sons, François, also became a farmer. He’s my great great grandfather. Although born a ‘’Vive l’amour’’, he is the first to be named a ‘’Caribou’’. Was he a hunter of the animal or was he ‘’a bon vivant’’ who enjoyed an occasional elixir called ‘caribou’ (a mixture of wine and alcohol) still very popular today at the Carnaval de Québec and at family reunions. All members of the Green Valley Ménard are his descendants and proudly wear this surname.

One of Francois’s sons, Joseph (my great grandfather) moved with his family of 12 children from Les Cèdres in Soulanges County to Green Valley in the 8th concession of Lancaster Township in 1897. He purchased a 200-acre farm from Joseph Chénier who had bought it from D.R. McDonald in 1894. He farmed there until his death in 1932, at which time his youngest son, Georges, took over the paternal farm.

Joseph’s oldest son, another Jean-Baptiste, (my grandfather), became a farmer across from his father. He purchased 100 acres from John R. MacDonald in 1905. Jean-Baptiste was the leader of the revolt against the Provincial Government who had enacted a law in 1912, called Regulation 17, which made it illegal to teach French in Ontario schools. After going to court three times, spending some time in jail and paying a heavy fine for defying the law by founding L’École Libre de Green Valley and continuing to teach illegally in French, this group of fearless trailblazers won the third time around. It was an epic victory against discrimination and assimilation. A large celebration was held at his farm on June 24, 1916, on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, which was called Le Grand Rassemblement (The Great Gathering). In 2016, I co-presided with my first cousin Pierrette from Orléans the 100th anniversary of this historic victory. A blingual plaque commemorating this event was erected at the main entrance of the Paroisse Sainte-Marie-de-l’Assomption cemetery and another plaque in French only was installed in this Community Center.

Jean-Baptiste’s second oldest son, Léo (my father) followed the family tradition and became a farmer immediately east of his father in 1934 and raised 5 sons there. This farm, where I was born, was originally owned by no less than 11 Scottish settlers over a period of 107 years (1797 – 1904), the first being James MacDonell who had received it from the Crown exactly 100 years before my great grandfather Joseph came to Ontario in 1897. It has been in French hands since 1904 with 7 different owners in the last 118 years.

Now, I (Yvon), am a 4th generation Glengarrian. Born in 1941, I attended the same elementary school my grandfather had founded back in 1916: École Libre de Green Valley which later became École du Sacré-Coeur S.S. 11. I also attended G.D.H.S. (1954-56) and then, a private French school in Cornwall (1956-62), Collège Classique, and obtained my B.A. degree from l’Université d’Ottawa. After teaching French at CHS and NDDHS for two years, I returned to GDHS in September 1964 as a teacher and remained there for 33 years until my retirement in 1997.

The seigneurial system in Québec

What is the relevance, you might ask? Well, many young farmers had experienced this system before moving here or at least their fathers and grandfathers did.

The seigneurial system in Québec had been in existence in France long before the first colonists came to Canada. It was established in Nouvelle-France in 1627 by King Louis XIII through his representative Cardinal Richelieu and it was retained in 1774 by the Québec Act after the British Conquest. It was not abolished until 1854 by a law that permitted tenants, the ‘habitants’, to claim rights to their lands and buy them, up to a maximum of three lots. Many of the migrants who came to Glengarry after Confederation had lived and worked under this system.

During the French Régime (1608-1763), land holding was held in accordance with the seigneurial system: land had been arranged in long strips along both banks of the St-Lawrence River from Québec to Montréal. At least 80 percent of the population lived on seigneurial lands until the mid-19th century. The King who owned all the land granted large blocks to the seigneurs, who in turn rented it in smaller parcels (usually 30 arpents) to the ‘habitants’ who had to pay rent to the seigneur (mainly in the form of grain or animals since they had no money) as well as work 3 or 4 days for him every year with no compensation from him. The seigneur had to build a manoir on his property and live in it of course. He had to provide a flour mill and erect a small church for their use. These seigneurs were mostly rich and/or influential people in French society: retired military, some aristocrats and nouveaux-riches bourgeois.

Segneuries were also granted to the Catholic Church who in turn provided religious services as well as education and hospitals in the bigger centres. The seigneurial system was later expanded into regions other than the St-Lawrence Valley (Québec-Montréal). Seigneuries were established in the Richelieu Valley, the Laurentians, the Saguenay Lac-Jean and east of Québec up to the Gaspé Peninsula.

In 1701, Pierre Jacques de Soulanges and his brother-in-law, Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil were granted seigneuries by the King in a territory west of Montréal between the St-Lawrence and the Ottawa Rivers that would eventually become the two most western counties in Québec. In 1719, habitants started clearing lands and a chapel was built in 1721. 150 years later, descendants moved here.

FRENCH MIGRATION TO GLENGARRY

Although it began in the mid-1800’s but in a very limited way, the movement did not intensify until after Confederation in 1867. In the neighbouring counties of Vaudreuil and Soulanges large families living on farms was prevalent. Families of 12 to 15 and sometimes even more than 20 were quite common. This was largely due to the so-called Revenge of the Cradle preached and enforced by the Catholic Church in Québec. The high fertility rate of French-Canadian women who received a medal from the Pope after their 10th child, was perceived by some English Canadians as a plot to drown out the English element in Québec. If you didn’t have a child a year, you were a sinner and often refused confession and communion. So, not long after the Conquest (1759), large families became the norm. It was a means of survival: a counterbalance to the incoming large number of immigrants from the British Empire, an effective way to combat assimilation and discrimination. This control and absolute authority by the Church on family size lasted almost 200 years, until the 1950’s. Yes, even here in Glengarry, that was the case to some extent. As a result, the population of Québécois francophones, mainly agrarian, grew tremendously in that span (from 70,000 at the time of the Conquest to 7 million today). And keep in mind there was no immigration from France.

This was accomplished despite two historical factors: one, over half a million left to go and work in the New England textile factories and almost as many left to start a new life in the Canadian West or elsewhere in Canada and the United States. This mass exodus to the U.S. had a major negative impact on Québec’s French population growth. It is estimated that, in the absence of this emigration there would be 4 to 5 million more francophones in Canada today. In the 1900-1930 years, almost 50 percent of the population of Massachusetts was francophone. Today, almost all are completely assimilated there. Very few still speak French.

But the so-called revenge ended abruptly in the 60’s with the Quiet Revolution in Québec. For many years now, Québec has the lowest fertility rate of all Canadian provinces after being by far the highest for hundreds of years. However, I hear this is changing lately as Québec’s birthrate is rising slightly.

At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, available farms in West Québec were scarce, if not non-existent. Farms were generally smaller than in Ontario, usually 90 arpents (67.5 acres). Fathers could not leave their farms to more than one son (usually the youngest, who was expected to take care of his parents until their death). Young aspiring farmers were running out of farms to buy in Vaudreuil and Soulanges counties.

So, they came to Glengarry, their immediate neighbours to the West, in Ontario. Because of its proximity, moving to Glengarry allowed them to keep close contact with their relatives and friends who chose to stay in Québec thus ensuring the survival of their language and culture, hopefully. At the time, here in Glengarry, many farms were put up for sale. As you very well know, after the War of 1812, many Scottish soldiers were given land (100 acres to regular soldiers and 200 acres to officers) by the British Crown as a reward for their military service. Others had come from the Mohawk Valley of New York during and after the American Revolutionary War in 1776 and received the same gift. Many of these United Empire Loyalists also settled in the Eastern Townships of Québec, south of Montréal (Huntington, Farnham, Frelightsburg, Coaticook and Stanstead)

After Confederation in 1867, many of the descendants of these Scottish Highlanders in Glengarry decided to move on in search of a better life: either in factories in the cities or out West to continue farming on more fertile land and in less harsh conditions. This became possible after the construction of the national railways. Many sold their 100 or 200-acre farms and moved on, while others only sold half of their 200 acres to Québécois farmers eager to buy them and stayed on.

Although I haven’t come across any factual proof to justify what I’m proposing as another factor why so many sold their farms is that farming was abandoned to go and work in the newly opened Cotton Mills in Cornwall starting in the 1870’s through 1880’s. What is factual, by the end of the 19th century, these textiles mills employed over 5000 people of which 1500 were francophones who had moved here from Québec.

It also may be that many went to work for the Munro and MacIntosh Carriage Works in Alexandria that flourished between 1880 and 1920. What I’m suggesting is that this ‘’buggy from Glengarry’’ workforce had to come from somewhere, including the farms.

Land prices were higher in Québec due to scarcity of available farms and population density and lower in Glengarry mainly because of availability.

Growing up in the 1950’s, we had Scottish neighbours (two unmarried brothers living with two sisters, one a spinster and the other a childless widow, while my grandfather and two of his brothers had a total of 33 children. To some extent, the Revenge of the Cradle was relived in Glengarry County in the first half of the 20th century.

Now, these Québécois farmers that came here settled down quickly, worked hard and established themselves doing mixed farming in order to support their families. Glengarry represented a new venture and golden opportunity for them although they spoke very little English. Some of them even learned Gaelic, particularly in Lancaster township, in order to communicate with their new Scottish neighbours. They settled mostly in the eastern part of Glengarry (Lancaster and Lochiel townships) because of its proximity to Vaudreuil-Soulanges. As you go west into Charlottenburg and Kenyon as well as Stormont County (except for the northern part because it’s immediately south of Prescott County)) the less francophones you find even today. Once you’re in Dundas and Leeds-Grenville, you find a lot less or almost none. Remember this migration took place in the horse and buggy era, so longer distances represented an unsurmountable obstacle for the Québécois immigrants.

The so-called invasion of more than 100 years ago is an integral part of the history of Glengarry but definitely a thing of the past. What Glengarry would look like today if the French had not come in such large numbers to buy these farms from the descendants of Scottish settlers is an interesting question, is it not?

When I was growing up in the 40’s and 50’s, there were at least 20 families bearing the name Ménard in the community of Green Valley. But the end is in sight: in the 8th concession where it all began in 1897, I’m the only one left and I’m 80 years young. I will be last of the Caribou tribe, it seems. Presently, there are only 5 other family members in our community of which 3 are senior citizens and 2 have no descendants. C’est la vie!

I will end this presentation by naming some of the French families that settled in the Green Valley area between 1880 and 1920. Obviously, many of their descendants are still here considering that today francophones still make up approximately one third of the total population of Glengarry. It is however declining constantly according to every federal census in the last 25 years. It once stood at a high of 41 percent.

Among the first families to settle in the Green Valley community were: Gauthier, Lefebvre, Ménard, Poirier, Séguin and later, Brunet, Charbonneau, Cuerrier, Décoste, Deschamps, Émond, Lajoie, Léger, Quesnel, Secours, Vaillancourt, Viau.

In summary, I leave you with the following thought: 150 years ago, farms in neighbouring Vaudreuil-Soulanges were smaller (67.5 acres on average), more expensive and not for sale, while those in Glengarry were bigger (100 acres or more), cheaper and readily available. Thus, the large French ‘habitants’ migration became a reality.

Finally, I recognize that there is a strong possibility that many of you were already aware of much of the information I presented this evening. However, I am confident that my presentation did not contain any falsehoods or half-truths and I hope it was informative and interesting enough, while revealing some new details about the French migration to Glengarry County and the reasons why.

I thank you for your attention and I will be glad to answer any questions you may have, if I can.

ADDENDUM

The name of Ménard is pronounced ‘ménar’ in French, the final ‘d’ being silent when preceded by ‘r’
In English, Ménard should be pronounced ‘menard’, the final ‘d’ being pronounced.
The sometimes-heard pronunciation in Glengarry of ‘menor’ is incorrect and archaic.

Thank you. Merci!

french_migration_glengarry.txt · Last modified: by johnw41