Eastern Townships of Quebec: Our Hidden History

Eastern Townships of Quebec: Our Hidden History

By Colin Standish

If you look closely you can see where the seigneurial system gave way to the Eastern Townships. Near the banks of the mighty Richelieu River a ‘Canadien’ style sloped roof and gabled windows from a former farmhouse and a stone seigneurial style house are wedged between the highway overpasses.

Though seigneurial duties were abolished in 1854, shockingly, final payments on seigneurial financial obligations were only extinguished in 1970 by the provincial government.

The narrow ribbon farms, to maximize waterfront access give way to eclectic mix of Cape Cod style clapboard, Greek Revival architecture, Second Empire maynard roofs to larger and squarer land patterns.

This dividing line between the seigneurial and township systems was not only in land settlement patterns and property divisions, but at one time of language, culture, political representation and religion.

Of the Eastern Townships, the Haskell Free Library and Opera House in Stanstead and Derby Line is known for being built literally on the US-Canada border, Donald Morrison the Outlaw of Megantic and target of the largest manhunt in history is still remembered, indeed revered, what other oddities are more obscure?

My thoughts are drawn to the periphery, the shores of Missisquoi Bay where the first settlers landed from the United States and to East Hereford, where Loyalists decamped from New England after floating down the Connecticut River.


In St. Armand, a Loyalist settler named Captain Philip Luke in the 1780s brought a number of slaves with him after the American Revolution sent her northward to Missisquoi Bay on the shores of Lake Champlain.

There exists what local lore and legend recalls is a slave burial ground, known by the name of “N….r Rock,” below a stone outcropping between St. Armand and Philipsburg.

Nearby, a ruined building once served as the local Black chapel.

Slavery was only officially outlawed in 1833, and an estimated 30 former slaves are thought to be buried there.

No signage, markers, or gravestones mark this spot, foiled by the local farmer who was hostile to remembrances. He is now reportedly welcoming to visitors, which is thought to be the only known slave graveyard in Canada.


St. Armand and the surrounding areas were the last stop in a section of the Underground Railroad, the system of safe houses, hiding places and abolitionists who sheltered and shepherded slaves to Canada from the Southern and mid-Atlantic United States.

The former Methodist Church, now United, in Philipsburg offered food and shelter to these newcomers.


In 1851, there were 283 Black residents in St. Armand.

The local Black community of several hundred did not simply cease to exist. Many migrated to the United States and to Montreal and elsewhere, but others never left.

While there is no visible Black community in the Frelighsburg, Philipsburg or Saint-Armand area, intermarriage into the local population is likely, and some locals share the same family names as these original settlers.


The Eastern Townships has a battle site from 1759 and the Seven Year’s War, known to the Americans as the French and Indian Wars or in Quebec colloquially as The Conquest.

In 19th century Barford Township, near present day Coaticook, skeletons were unearthed by locals clearing the land with a plough, “.. human bones, musket barrels, powder horns, clasp knives, a razor, silver buckles, camp kettles and musket balls and even a musket left leaning against a tree so that the wood grew around it.”

It appears these were the remains of several soldiers ambushed as they retreated from the Indian town of St. Francis from the Rogers’ Rangers, an American militia that employed guerrilla tactics and carried out raids against French-allied Indians.

Rogers’ Rangers were later a Loyalist militia in the Revolutionary War, and the modern day descendants of this force are said to be the US Army Rangers and the Queen’s York Rangers in Toronto, which are known as the “1st American Regiment.”

Another known battle site is the aforementioned Philipsburg United Church, where local militias gathered to quell the ‘Patriote’ uprisings in 1838, and not far from the Slave Graveyard a minor skirmish known as the ‘Moore’s Corner Battle’ took place.


In the 1830s, there was another country along the Eastern border of Quebec, New Hampshire and our own East Hereford.

It was known as the “Republic of Indian Stream.”

It was formed at the headwaters of the Connecticut River, where this waterway that forms the natural border between New Hampshire and Vermont, branches in Hall, Perry and Indian Streams. The Treaty of Paris, which concluded the American Revolutionary War in 1783, left am ambiguity to where British possessions ended and the new United States began.

The 300 residents of the panhandle of Northern New Hampshire eventually became fed up with being taxed by both authorities, and founded their own country in 1832.

An international incident over trivial debts led the New Hampshire militia to garrison the area and proclaim their sovereignty over the area.

The Webster-Ashburton Treaty eventually ended an ambiguity of the border.

Formerly square townships along our currently jigsawed New Hampshire and Maine borders are a reminder of land lost in this exchange.


One architectural style that is unique to very localized areas of New England and the Eastern Townships is the Loggia or Connecticut River Style home.

This style of architecture is defined by a second story recessed porch, and can been seen throughout the Eastern Townships, though many have been covered up over time. Numerous examples exist in Eaton Corner and Stanstead.


In 1823, gold deposits were discovered along the Chaudière River and Lake Megantic. Chartierville, further south, was the site of a larger gold rush later in the nineteenth century.


The British American Land Company (BALC) brought Scottish Gaelic–speaking settlers to Compton County in the 1830s, settling the area of Gould, Nantes (Spring Hill) Lingwick, Scotstown, Milan (Marsden) and Stornoway.

The company built them a model village known as Victoria, that was hastily abandoned, somewhere along the Salmon River between current Scotstown and Gould.

These settlers soon abandoned this colony and returned, reportedly, to raid houses for bricks and burned homes to the ground for iron nails. The United Church in Gould is constructed from bricks from this first Scottish settlement in the Townships.

Pioplois, a tiny village on the shores of Lake Megantic, was founded by returning Papal Zouaves, a mercenary force of French-Canadian Catholics known for their ‘funny hats’ and sent to protect the Papal States and Rome in the 1860s from forces dedicated to uniting Italy.

Canada, in fact, predates both the modern Italian state. While much of Italy was united under one Crown, the Vatican City remains apart, and a third country still exists on the Italian peninsula, tiny San Marino.


The Eastern Townships has known many names in its history, and only the unfortunate bureaucratic, historically irrelevant, francisized moniker ‘Estrie’ which applies to the former centre of the Townships has any official administrative status.

The Eastern Townships first name was ‘Buckinghamshire’, and was originally organized as an electoral county in the 1790s.

When I travel the Eastern Townships, I reflect on the haunting beauty of the rolling hills, the friendliness of my neighbours and the complex and rich sources of our identity.

The Eastern Townships has seen its original counties, townships and municipalities slowly administered out of existence and replaced by faceless regional administrations.

The historic English-speaking community is often linked by communities of interest (kinship networks, agricultural associations, educations institutions) along the lines of former municipalities, townships and counties that no longer exist.

The Eastern Townships was officially abolished by the Quebec government in 1981.

As the late local historian Bernard Epps wrote, “the idea seems to be to erase everything which made the Eastern Townships unique and integrate it into the rest of Quebec. They are succeeding to the extent that the Townships may soon exist only in history.”

Let us make it not so.


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Categories: Arts & Culture, News, Opinion

About Author

Colin Standish

Colin Standish has a law degree from Université Laval in Quebec City and a history and politics degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Colin was born and raised in the Eastern Townships of Quebec and is currently a candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada nomination in Compton-Stanstead. He has learnt French in order to be able to study his chosen degree subject in the language.

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