In the 1950s, a silent but interminable killer was ravaging the towering elms of the Townships and there seemed to be little that could be done to slow its progress. In half a century, the tenacious Dutch elm disease had wiped out an estimated 50% of the elm trees in eastern Canada but cities were particularly hard hit, having lost over 80% of their elms.  Over the course of four years alone, from 1951-1955, the city of Sherbrooke lost over 500 trees to Dutch elm disease.

The disease, first identified by scientists in Holland, was first found in Saint-Ours, Quebec in 1944 and within 10 years it had spread to nearly all regions of the St. Lawrence Valley and southern Quebec.  It affects white (also known as American), rock, and red elm trees with a fungus spread via bark beetles, which essentially chokes the tree by cutting off its sap supply.

In looking at photographs of landscapes from the early 20th century, among the striking changes evident in them is the presence of elms trees in so many views from around the Townships and are particularly noticeable lining the streets in towns and cities. While elms are found all over rural and urban landscapes, they are particularly desirous in cities for their ability to grow in well-packed, dry soil and for the ample shade provided by their canopy of leaves.  For this reason, elms were planted all over towns and cities, sometimes one of the only tree species seen for blocks.  This is also why towns were hit particularly hard by Dutch elm disease.

Early on, the responses to Dutch elm disease relied on cutting down and burning infected trees, or spraying them with the infamous pesticide, DDT.  Other treatments were tried over the years, including a variety of pesticides, fungicides, and injecting the root system or trunk with chemicals, but nothing proved successful in eradicating the fungus or the bark beetle.  As the disease only gained momentum within two decades of its appearance in eastern Canada, it was feared that elms might be extinct within 60 years.

With so many elms already gone and with the implementation of diligent surveillance of elms by city parks departments, however, the spread of Dutch elm disease dropped off over the last decades of the 20th century. While it still poses a threat to elms, the development of hybrid elm species that are more resistant to Dutch elm disease and the continued vigilance in cities and municipalities for infected trees mean that we can still enjoy the imposing silhouette of the elm tree across our landscapes today.

For those who have lived in Lennoxville for decades, “Brickyard Road” may already be synonymous with Glenday Road in your mind. For the rest of us, however, Brickyard Road and Webster Siding, where the railway tracks cross Glenday, hold no frame of reference.  You wouldn’t know it today but for half a century this railway crossing was once the location of a booming brick manufacturing industry.

The photos pictured here focused on capturing the incredible derailment of a CPR immigrant train on April 16th, 1913, carrying 717 passengers coming from Italy, Russia, and Austria bound for Montreal and beyond, where not a single life was lost and only two were injured.  This, alone, is an interesting piece of history; to consider the thousands of immigrants who trundled through the Townships on the train, coming from the port in Halifax, on their way to what they hoped would be a better life.  In fact, on that single day in April 1913, over 1,200 immigrants were supposed to roll right past Lennoxville if it had not been for the accident.

In addition to the accident, however, the photos unintentionally captured some of the impressive installations that once occupied this now humble stretch of dirt road. As early as 1882, bricks were being manufactured from the clay deposits on this spot that would become known as the “Webster Siding” on “Brickyard Road.”  The construction of the International Railway Company’s line in the 1870s made it a viable industry as it made it easy to transport the bricks out of what was an otherwise inconvenient location.  The Tylee Brothers were the first to exploit the area, and were in business until Robert Tylee’s death in 1891.  By 1902, brick production had picked up again under direction of William R. Webster and the Eastern Townships Brick and Manufacturing Company. In 1908, the company was producing over 1.2 million bricks per year.

For unknown reasons, Webster sold the company in 1917 to William E. Loomis, who had previous experience working with the family firm D.G. Loomis & Sons, which had operated the Ascot Corner brickyard.  During this period, the brickyard had the capacity to produced 5 million bricks per year, which were baked in coal and electric kilns.  Visible in the train crash photos, it consisted of the brick plant, farm, and dwelling houses for employees.

By 1922, however, W.E. Loomis declared bankruptcy and the brickyard appears to have sat unused for a few years. Operations eventually resumed when it was acquired by a group of Sherbrooke businessmen, including W.R. Webster, Norman N. Walley, M.W. Mitchell, and J.E. McCrea, and operated under the name of the Sherbrooke Brick Company. During this period, it was producing 3.5 million bricks per year.  With Walley’s death in 1927, the company faltered once more and was sold to the Eastern Townships Brick and Tile Company, overseen by J.D. Bertrand and Joseph-Augustin Tremblay. It was not long before the Lennoxville brickyard again encountered problems. The early 1930s are dotted with court cases against E.T. Brick for non-payment of bills and information suggests operations ceased around 1931.

By the time of the 1945 series of aerial photos the brickyard’s buildings had been completely removed, making photos such as these even more important in the documentation of our past and give life to the bricks that make up so many of the buildings in the area, particularly in Lennoxville and Sherbrooke.

These photos have been preserved and made available courtesy of the work done by the Eastern Townships Resource Centre and the Lennoxville-Ascot Historical and Museum Society.