The Spell of the Eastern Townships

Helen E. Williams July 1 1910

The Spell of the Eastern Townships

Helen E. Williams July 1 1910

The Spell of the Eastern Townships


Helen E. Williams

So and no otherwise — so and no otherwise hilimen desire their Hills. ’ ’ — Kipling.

A LAND of upland farms and nestling villages; of mountain lakes and tranquil rivers; a new

land and a prosperous; a wonder of green in summer, a glory of scarlet and tawny-gold in autumn—such are the Eastern Townships, or, as they are not inaptly called, “The Switzerland of Canada.”

When and how the former appellation—by which that portion of the Province of Quebec lying southeast of the St. Lawrence, and including within its confines the Counties of Shefford, Brome, Missisquoi, Stanstead, Richmond, Drummond, Sherbrooke, Compton, Megantic and Wolfe —originated is variously ascribed ; the

most authentic version, perhaps, being that at the same time that several thousand United Empire Loyalists received grants of land from the Government in western Canada, or Ontario, at the close of the Revolutionary War in 1782, a few hundred families came to the townships of Eastern Canada, or Quebec, and their friends who remained in the States acquired the habit of distinguishing the different settlements by calling the latter the Eastern Townships.

There are places that one wonders at, admires, enthuses over, and ends by—forgetting. But one does not forget the Eastern Townships. Time was when nine Canadians out of ten had

never heard of them. Time was when the phrase, “He is a Townships man,” evoked but the image of a shrewd, robust, humorous type, whose propensity for “getting there” was rather astonishing to those whom necessity had never taught “Success is but the science of obedience.” Time was when it was enough to know that Sherbrooke and Granby had proven selfsufficient reasons for existing, that Stanstead county was “the banner agricultural section of the province,” and Brome, Missisquoi and Shefford, dairy and manufacturing centres. But ‘The old order changeth, yielding place to new.” North Hatley, Lake Memphremagog, Knowlton are names to conjure with. Long before the flat country about Caughnawaga has climbed into the hills that ring with emerald that “Sapphire dropped from fairy casket”—Brome Lake; before those loftier cones, Owl’s Head and “darkling Orford,” have challenged the prospective mountain-climber; before even Eccles’ Hill, of Fenian Raid fame, has fired the patriotism of lovers of ancient lore—the spell has been cast. The scenic views are unsurpass-

ed in charm by any in Canada—but it is not the views alone. The climate is good, and it is true that we like places for their weather much as we do people for their dispositions—but it is something more subtle than climate. Something, it is, which makes these Eastern Townships as much of a cult as was ever Ravello or Bagni di Lucca, on the Other Side.

It is now a number of years since North Hatley, on beautiful Lake Massawippi, has become a fashionable water-place, frequented not only by Canadians, but by Americans as well, who have wearied of the stereotyped pleasures of Newport and the Maine beaches. Big hotels, with modern improvements, recreations of every shape and nature, and cottages which have sprung up over night, as if by order of some slave of the lamp, all contribute their quota in making the tout ensemble one attractive to the most exacting of the tourist genus.

To spend a vacation at Bondville (named for Bishop Bond) on the western arm of Brome Lake, is to pass into quite another world. Here Isaac Walton has many disciples, and the

gentle art of angling is all the vogue. Camp fires of outing parties, on the points often send their penciled-gleams and fragrant message out over the velvet darkness shrouding this side of the lake. At the southern extremity is Knowlton, the picturesque. Those who are satiated with what Arthur Symons calls “The beauty of consciously beautiful things,” find here a simplicity, a harmony, which is almost musical in its appeal. All who are able come when the hillsides are blushing with their first spring beauties, and outstay the spectacular pageantry with which the maples banner their approaching eclipse. That smartness, that indefinable air of favorite resortship, which seems to come to some places simultaneously with their “discovery,” fatally detracting from their charm, has not as yet set its blight upon Knowlton. Perhaps this is in some measure accounted for by the fact that although good hotels accommodate transients and all such as have only a few weeks at their disposal, the place is essentially noted for the select coterie—the Hon. S. A. Fisher, Minister of Agriculture, and Sir Melbourne

Tait, Dr. Symonds, and Mr. G. G. Foster, of Montreal, to mention but a few names—whose summer residences on the east side of the lake need no introduction. Boating, bathing, canoeing, dancing are facilitated by an efficient club house committee. A bowling green and public and private tennis courts abound. The Conference Grove, which in the last few years has attained the reputation of a “Canadian Northfield,” draws the serious-minded, who are thus enabled during the August sessions to listen to discourses by prominent Canadian and American speakers. While the Paul Holland Knowlton Memorial, the repository for curiosities and heirlooms (from the sinister tomahawk and Indian war club ploughed up in this vicinity to queer, awkward, wooden agricultural contrivances, in no wise resembling the machinery which has supplanted them, mysterious chests with secret compartments, affairs for making pills, and a strip of wallpaper, framed, upon the back of which the Confederates printed their last newspaper) donated from all over the Townships, is a capi-

tal place in which to browse of a rainy morning.

There are few drives more typical, perhaps, than that which leaves Knowlton to wind through Bolton Pass, over the same route traveled in the olden times by the heavy Concord coach. A trout brook plays hide-andseek with the road much of the way. Quaint houses of the-day-before-yesterday peer incuriously from their “patch of clearing.” A little square district school, recalling days when one was told to “speak up there, and don’t read like a mouse in a cheese, and mind your stops” sits primly beside its wood-pile. Somewhere away in this waste of rock, and spruce and wind-fall of timber is a smuggler’s cave. Many are the tales told of the lawless spirits who stowed their booty there. It was here, too, that a “stranger from the States” was frozen to death one winter, while attempting the then “foolhardy” and “perilous” journey to Stanstead on horseback.

Here a Mr. Austin, returning with a load of salt from Montreal, had his encounter with the panther, and put him to rout. But farther away, in Brome Woods, that an oat-field was destroyed by bears in a single night, and the standing shocks on an acre corn lot demolished by the same ruthless marauders.

It is but a step now, in the manner of speaking, to the famous Potton sulphur springs (discovered in 1844) for the medicinal properties of whose waters people congregate “out of everywhere into here” each season. When the fastidious have elevated the feature of scorn, and the competitive have quaffed many tumblers, and tossed many bean-bags in the Spring House below, and arranged for a dance upon their return—it is time to be off for the race down-hill to the Landing, where “The Lady of the Lake” is in waiting to take passengers down Lake Memphremagog.

Every year sees more of the farms

along the water-front “bought up” and built upon by cottagers, whose return to the so-called simple life is here enhanced by all the health-giving and wholly delightful sports attendant upon combined water and mountain capabilities. Not to have climbed “Owl’s Head,” or “Orford,” or “Sugar Loaf,” or “Round Top,” or “The •Pinnacle,” is not to have seen the Eastern Townships. And how one sees it who does! From “Orford” (an eminence of 4,500 feet) the country stretches away in ever widening perspective, the patchwork of green and chocolate-colored farms veined here and there by rivers and toy-like trees, and gemmed by the flash of a score of lakes, till all climb once more into the magnificent range of interlapping peaks, through which, on a clear day, can be distinguished Mount Royal, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and the Green Mountains of Vermont. “Owl’s Head,” rising abruptly 2,700 feet from the margin of

the lake, is a shorter, steeper climb. From the height you look down upon the veritable woods through which those who know their Parkman will remember that Rogers’ Rangers swept in 1759 on their way to “exterminate the brood of tigers'” that had so long harried the homes of New England.

“To understand the national life of Canada,” Mr. Creighton once wrote, “you must go among the habitants.” It means going rather farther afield in these days when it is difficult to light upon a spot where someone is not “staying” or “sojourning.” But should the collector of first impressions scale that part of the Bolton range always alluded to as “The” Mountain, and find himself in the vicinity of St. Etienne, he will be rewarded by the sight of habitants working in the fields in costumes as picturesque as he pleases, from the ornamental point of view. Should he engage in conversation with one of these, Drummond’s name, sooner or later, is always sure

to be mentioned. For they still like to tell of his visits among them, and how he "put questions into them, begosh!” when practising at Knowlton, early in his medical career.

These habitants prove efficient guides when strangers from other parts of Canada or the United States come to these woods to spend hunting or fishing vacations, or upon prospecting expeditions. For there is hardly a farm among these hills that has not its unworked copper, silver, or asbestos mine. Though sometimes the possessor is deceived, and led into embarrassing situations, as was a man who presented himself one day at Dr. —’s door, in Montreal. He was of the type ubiquitously known as "hayseed,” but upon the assistant’s politely insinuating that the scientist’s time was not at his disposal, he affirmed that he carried that which would make him see him. A certain excitement, held in check, conveyed itself to the assistant, and after a brief parley with his chief, the stranger was shown into the sanctum. He looked about him stealthily, as if to be assured that they were quite alone, and produced from one of his capacious pockets a knobby parcel, from which he proceeded to unpeel many thicknesses of paper. At last a flaming red handkerchief came to sight, and he spread the contents on the desk, and stood back with a gesture of triumph. What might the professor call that? He, the man, had a whole farm full of it. The professor stooped and examined specimen after specimen, then straightened and looked at the stranger, whose excitement was by this time almost uncontrollable. "Iron pyrites,” he announced, succinctly, and as the other’s jaw dropped and he stared at him speechless, he repeated, vaguely conscious of some substratum of tragedy in the air, "Yes. Iron pyrites—only iron pyrites.” "Not gold,” choked the man. Then, stonily, “an’ I jest married a widder with eight children, what own-

ed the farm. I—I though); fur sure it wuz gold!”

"What delightful things inns and waiters and bagmen are!” Robert Louis Stevenson has exclaimed somewhere. And delightful the "inns,” or boarding houses, of the Eastern Townships certainly are. Theyare not necessarily always to be found in the vortex of fashion’s seething activities, though when they are some of the “nicest” people are among their “comeand-come-againers.” They are at their best, perhaps, when you must drive a mile or so out into the country between fields a-tangle with blowing daisies, clover, buttercups and Flora’s paint brush—this last the special bete noir of farmers—before you draw up at your destination, and are told by a beaming hostess that she is real glad to see you again, an’ to come right in, you must be all tuckered out, an’ my sakes alive but how you have growed ! It is all very pleasant—even the last, fiction though it is, since your "growing” days are palpably over.

When you have “Taken your ease at your inn,” you sally forth. ' And here are fields where you can go a-berrying, woods where there is still a sporting chance to bring back bags a-bulge with game, brooks from which speckled trout can be lured to furnish fisherman's luck at picnic spreads on springy moss beneath lattice-work of dark-green foliage. Here, from some coign of vantage, looking off through the lilac haze of sunset at a darkening grandeur of scene, with a bell somewhere in the distance faintly ringing, you feel with Goethe that you “May say, paint, describe as you will, but here is more than all.” For here, up among the hills, far away from city, and "cuff-and-collar cult,” and the strenuous life, you come to know the spell which is the Eastern Townships.