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Town of Brome Lake History

Research and text: Antoine Guillemette, historian, University of Sherbrooke

We wish to thank The Brome County Historical Society for having given us access to their archives and their expertise in matters of regional history, and for having kindly allowed us to use the photographs shown in this section.

Town of Brome Lake, before the merger of the seven towns and hamlets

Town of Lac-Brome is a relatively recent entity which celebrates its 35th anniversary in 2006. The town was formed by the merger of the towns or hamlets of Bondville, East Hill, Foster, Fulford, Iron Hill, Knowlton and West Brome in 1971. Lac Brome is a “rural” community with a well maintained heritage. When you discover it today, the past is never far away.

The arrival of the railway in the 19th century, along with the construction of the highway system in the 20th century, coupled with the building of the autoroutes in 1965, contributed to making

Town of Brome Lake Development for Holiday Tourism

This concept involves the establishment of housing developments intended for the population of major urban centres who wish to purchase a secondary residence, a type of « pied-à-terre ». In the 1980’s, a number of projects were launched: the Barnesfield development, the Inverness condos (1985), and the condos at 400 Lakeside (1986). Situated on the shores of the lake, the two latter projects, in particular, offered the seasonal visitor a location of choice in a country setting. These projects explain how the permanent population increased by 8% from 1986 to 1991, as can be seen on the following chart:

 Evolution of the population of Town of Brome Lake

Years Total Population
1981 4 319
1986 4 466
1991 4 824
1996 5 073
2001 5 444
2006 5 629
Source: Census of Canada, 1981-2006

Real Estate Boom in the 90s

With a rebound in the real estate market in the 1990’s, residential development continued with the second phase of the Inverness condos (Les Villas Inverness (2003), as well as that of the condos at 400 Lakeside (2003). In addition, new projects were added such as the Sugar Hill project (end of the 1990’s), the development on Frances-McKeen Street (end of the 1990’s), the Jardins Coldbrook (2004) and the l’Hermitage Knowlton (2005).

This boom in residential construction contributed significantly to the increase in the Town’s population that went from 5,073 in 1996 to 5,597 in 2005, an increase of 10%.

The economy of Brome Lake is centred principally on retail commerce and small to medium industries such as les Emballages Knowlton and the duck farm ; two industries that are well known in the area and that constitute the main employers in the Town. As well, the restaurants and hotels employ a significant number of people.

The creation of Eastern Townships and its topography

The Town of Brome Lake is situated in the beautiful Eastern Townships. A toponymic study indicates that the use of the name dates back to the beginning of the 19th century when the local population, mostly English-speaking, referred to the area as “the Eastern Townships”. The subdivision of the region into “townships” – square units of 10 miles to the side (259 square kilometres) – is attributable to the British governors of the region who decided, as of 1792, to subdivide the territory. The boundaries of the region vary over the years, but, today the Eastern Townships cover 15,812 square kilometres, approximately 0.8% of the total area of Quebec.

The topography of the Townships differs significantly from that of the St. Lawrence plain because of the Appalachian relief. Its numerous mountains and plateaus offer vistas that are breathtaking and have contributed to the reputation for beauty of the area. A further element that has given the region its particular character is the American and British presence that has marked its development so significantly.

Native presence on the territory until 15th century

Despite our meagre knowledge of the period, it is thought that the presence of the North American Indian in the region may date back to the 15th century. First the Iroquois and then the Abenakis would have visited the region for its excellent hunting and trapping. Their presence in the region would decline rapidly at the beginning of the 18th century – a period that coincided with the start of colonization.

The first settlers arrive in the 18th century

Brome Township has been inhabited for over two centuries. The arrival of the first settlers dates back to early 1792. One of the first to settle in the county and whose arrival can be established with some certainty is Jonathan Hart, who settled in the southern sector in 1794. One year later, Henry Collins arrived and settled in the south western section of the county, close to the boundary with Dunham County. In 1796, Collins’ brother, Ebenezer, followed Henry’s example and settled in the same area, which is now where we find the Village of West-Brome. The official creation of Brome County dates back to August 18, 1797 when General Robert Prescott granted an area of some 46, 200 acres to Asa Porter and his 32 associates for the formal establishment of Brome County. As dictated by the custom of the day, a portion of the territory, some 18,060 acres, was reserved for the Crown and the Clergy – 9030 acres each.

In 1831-32, Joseph Bouchette, surveyor general of Lower Canada, drew a fascinating picture of the county. In his book, British Dominions in North America, Bouchette leads us to believe that certain parts of the region are inappropriate for cultivation due to the mountainous and rocky nature of the terrain. He also makes mention of vast quantities of good peat bogs and of the presence of iron. During his visits to the area, the surveyor noted the presence of a number of mills built on the shores of the lake. The population living along the shores reached 600 while the total population of the county was estimated to be 1314. He also found one church, five schools, a town made up of about 15 homes, two flour mills, seven sawmills, a distillery, a magistrate, a doctor, three shoemakers and three taverns. At this time, agricultural production was concentrated on wheat, barley oats, peas, corn, apples and maple syrup.

History of population development and Loyalists arrival

Before 1792, the region that subsequently became the Eastern Townships was essentially wild. The history of its population development is closely linked to the arrival of the loyalists who, faced with the declaration of American independence, decided to seek refuge on this side of the border. If they are called Loyalists it is because of their allegiance to the British Crown and their wish to continue to live under the protection of the laws of that Empire. These Loyalists would have fought the secessionist movement, but ultimately their defeat forced them to take exile. To recognize their loyalty, the British Crown granted them land on Canadian soil.

These loyalists were not the only settlers to emigrate to Lower Canada. A number of Americans, with no particular loyalty to the Crown, left their homes, attracted by the prospect of free land. The new arrivals come in large part from the New England states, as well as from New York. It is, therefore, inaccurate to say that the Townships were settled exclusively by Loyalists.

Colonization, after an initial success, dropped off dramatically between 1812 and 1819. The breakout of hostilities between the Americans and the British forced a number of settlers, who refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Crown, to return to the United States. Bad weather also had a deleterious effect on the crops during the same period and that too drove off a number of settlers.

The Americans would start to emigrate to the region again in 1820, so much so that by 1840, they made up approximately two thirds of the population. 1815 signaled the start of a more significant immigration, from the British Isles, with the arrival of the English, the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh. The Eastern Townships would welcome their share of these new arrivals well into the 1840’s.

At this time (1840), the Francophone presence was virtually negligible. The 1860-1861 census indicated that of a population of 3,136, only 212 were Francophones, with 663 coming from the British Isles or the United States and the balance being old stock British.

The small number of Francophones was not a phenomenon that was unique to Brome County. The same could be said of the region as a whole: of a total population of 12,732, only 1644 claimed French as their mother tongue. In the 1880-1881 census, the francophone presence increased by 17% going from the 7% that it was to 24%. Anglophones nevertheless remained the overwhelming majority.

Bondville

Strictly speaking, Bondville is really a part of Knowlton because it was never considered a duly constituted municipality.

Located on the shores of Brome Lake, the hamlet of Bondville was named in honour of the Archbishop of Montreal, William Bennett Bond. For many decades, Bond was a tireless missionary who visited the regions of Quebec. He helped set up a number of schools throughout the province. He was appointed Bishop of Montreal in 1901 and died in 1906.

The development of Bondville was due to the subdivision of the region into lots for the construction of summer homes, around the middle of the 20th century. Subsequently, more significant residential projects attracted permanent residents to the area. Around the 1960’s a number of smaller cottages were renovated to make them year-round homes.

Foster

The former municipality of Foster covered an area 9.6 kms. long by 4 kms. wide, a good portion of which was situated along the shores of Brome Lake.

The village of Foster got its name from Judge Samuel Willard Foster, a truly great man and one of the founders of the town. Judge Foster is noted for having contributed to the construction of Bishop Carmichael Memorial Anglican Church and for having encouraged the development of the railway.

The development of Foster was in large part due to the presence of two railway lines that crossed the town: that of the Canadian Pacific Railway built in 1888 which linked Montreal to Saint John, New Brunswick and that of the South Eastern Railway built in 1875-1876, and subsequently abandoned in 1997 and then sold to the Town of Brome Lake. It is now a walking path.

Photographs of the period show the junction of the two lines with a small station in the middle (today it is situated on Lakeside Road and is used as a tourism office).

Population Evolution in Foster, 1921-1961

Year Total Population Men Women
1921 355 188 167
1931 333 170 163
1941 354
1951 435 227 208
1961 453 219 234
Source: Census of Canada, 1921-1961.

Fulford

Fulford was once a hamlet that was part of the Municipality of Brome County until its merger with Foster and Knowlton in 1971 to make up part of the Town of Brome Lake.

The village of Fulford was so named to honour Bishop Francis Fulford, the first bishop of the new diocese of Montreal, named to that position by Queen Victoria in 1850. The name of the town became official in 1864 when the post office was opened. Archbishop Fulford remained in office for 18 years until his death in 1868. He gained a reputation as a great builder of his era and contributed significantly to the improvement of the educational system in Quebec.

While Knowlton’s development began at the turn of the 19th century, in 1856, Fulford was simply a dense forest. That year, businessmen were attracted to the area because of the potential, especially for mills, that they saw there. The forest potential was part of this vision. In 1858, Francis England arrived and built a tannery. In 1861, L. Orcutt set up a furniture manufacture. Mr. Orcutt was also awarded the post office in 1864, which is still in operation today. The village continued to prosper until 1875 when the closing of a number of manufacturing establishments caused the gradual decline of the town. Fulford is on the rail line that links Montreal to Saint John, N.B.

Iron Hill

Iron Hill was part of the Municipality of Brome County until its merger with Foster and Knowlton in 1971 to create the Town of Brome Lake. The origin of the name, Iron Hill, remains unclear. An old tale has it that when the surveyors were working the area, they came upon magnetic fields that troubled their compasses. They believed that this was due to the presence of iron in the ground and therefore felt that it would be appropriate to change the name of the settlement from Brome Woods to Iron Hill.

The first settler, John Shufelt, arrived in 1822. At that time forest covered the entire area. In 1840, Isaac Cutting, taking advantage of the geographic attributes of the site, built his first mill, and then another four years later. Mr. Whitehead built a cartage operation which lasted for a number of years.

In 1864, Reverend Thomas W. Fyles became the first pastor of the newly built Holy Trinity Anglican Church. Originally from Enfield Chase in England, Fyles was ordained a deacon in 1862, and elevated to the prieshood in 1864 by the Bishop of Montreal. He first served as a missionary to Laprairie and Longueuil, and took charge of the missions of Iron Hill and West Brome in September 1863.

Knowlton (including East Hill District)

The reputation of Knowlton is well known. As proof of this fact, one need only look at the Canadian Handbook Tourist Guide of 1867, the year of the creation of Canada, to read an invitation to come and experience the charm of the area. That charm has never ceased. Indeed in May 1997, the magazine Actualité listed Knowlton in the top 20 most beautiful towns in Quebec.

The first settler to arrive in the early 1800’s was Matthew Morehouse. Originally from Massachusetts, Morehouse only stayed for a short period of time. John Capel, of Vermont, also chose the area to build a home and arrived shortly after Morehouse.

In 1834, Paul Holland Knowlton settled in the area permanently. Knowlton knew the region well because he and his wife, Laura Moss, had a home on the shores of Brome Lake for over 20 years. The Biographical Dictionary of Canada describes him as a first rate businessman. The article referring to his arrival states: « he acquired water rights first, and then built a sawmill to produce building material. He then built a large home with outbuildings, a blacksmith shop, a potash factory and a flour mill. This became the hub of the village of Knowlton which, prior to the establishment of the Post Office, was called Coldbrook. » Until 1851, the village and the river running through it were known by the same name. Coldbrook became Knowlton to honour its most illustrious resident.

The management of the Post Office, opened in 1851, was given to Albert Kimball, the owner of Blinn’s Inn, which had opened two years prior and which is now the Auberge Knowlton. In 1855, the date of the establishment of the municipal system in Quebec, and the date of the creation of the Municipality of Brome County, Knowlton, the centre of commerce and communications with its Registry office and Circuit Court, became the county seat.

In July 1888, Knowlton become a municipality distinct from the Municipality of Brome County.

Population Evolution in Knowlton (1901-1961)

Year Total Population Men Women
1901 760 347 413
1911 865 387 478
1921 841 420 421
1931 990 488 502
1941 972
1951 1 094 544 550
1961 1 396 679 717
Source : Census of Canada, 1901-1961.

West-Brome

West-Brome was once part of the Municipality of Brome County until the merger with Foster and Knowlton in 1971 to become part of the Town of Brome Lake.

West-Brome got its name from its geographic location in the county. Ebenezer Collins was the first settler to arrive in 1796. In 1824, John Pettes and Joel Davis purchased land in the area to set up a sawmill. The Post Office opened in 1831 and Jacob Cook became the first postmaster. Edwards General Store –still in operation today, and a mandatory stop for any visitor- was opened in 1852. Both the outdoor and indoor appearance of the building takes visitors on a trip in time. Mr. Stephen L. Hungerford was one of the most important men of the town; he owned the sawmill, the flour mill and a wool mill. Close by, one can see the famous round barn that is worth the detour.