By Jazmine Aldrich

The Eastern Townships Resource Centre (ETRC) Archives include several autograph books; these are typically small, bound books containing signatures, poems, proverbs, doodles, and other unique entries. Other names for these books include autograph albums, memory albums, and friendship albums. On the surface, this type of record may seem to hold very little historical value, but they can tell us a great deal about the individuals who kept them and their social connections.

Autograph books can be traced back to the sixteenth-century European tradition of the album amicorum (“album of friendship”). These albums were commonly kept by university students to recall their classmates, professors and other social contacts. The albums preserved lighthearted or heartfelt messages from social connections. In a world long before the Internet and social media, autograph books provided a means of documenting one’s network. For some, these books may also have served as a symbol of social status – a vast network, neatly kept in their pocket.

Typical entries in these books include the signatures of contacts whom individuals felt were worth remembering. Entries often include a sentiment along the lines of “remember me,” “think of me,” or “forget me not.” These notes are often accompanied by a date and a geographic location which can situate a social relationship in its historical context. They can help us to learn not only who lived in or frequented a particular area in a given time, but also, who they interacted with. These books give us glimpses into the social lives of their bearers.

Autograph books also often contain poems, proverbs, verses, quotes, and brief snippets of writing that attest to the culture of the time in which they were written. Autograph books can answer questions such as, what was teenage humor like in the 1920s? Florence Mead’s autograph book offers the following entries as potential answers.

“Forget you? No! I never could. As long as I can whistle. I might as well forget to yell when I sit on a thistle.” (unsigned)

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Peroxide makes the blond grow blonder. Onion makes the breath grow stronger. Friendship makes life grow longer.” -Annie Parkhill, Boynton, Que.

The book dates from Florence’s studies at Macdonald College School for Teachers, with entries from her classmates, roommates, and friends.

Autograph book entries sometimes include pop culture references, song lyrics, references to jokes and shared memories. They may also include artwork, ranging from simple doodles to intricate drawings which attest to the abilities of the artist. Some authors even include pressed flowers or locks of hair with their entries.

The popularity of the autograph book varied over the centuries, but a notable resurgence took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The practice became so popular, in fact, that publications such as J.S. Ogilvie’s The Album Writer’s Friend (New York, 1881) recommended “choice selections of poetry and prose, suitable for writing in autograph albums.” Though these albums were especially popular amongst girls and young women, the practice was not gendered and some of the ETRC’s examples belonged to men – including that of renowned Eastern Townships artist, Frederick Simpson Coburn.

The tradition of the autograph album lives on in the signing of yearbooks – a practice which remains popular with students today. Do you have an autograph book or yearbook that you would like to donate to the ETRC? Get in touch with us!

By Jazmine Aldrich

History is made up of the stories of individuals: their choices, their experiences, and their relationships. These stories can be abstracted with time – that is – until we reconnect with the traces they left behind. They become more than a name: they are someone who lived – in a different time than us and under different circumstances – but who nevertheless experienced the ups and downs that make up a life.

This brings me to the story of Mead Haskell Baldwin. While I could never tell you every detail of his life, I will introduce you to some of his experiences as a young man, which I learned about through the records left by he and his family.

Mead Haskell Baldwin was born on September 28, 1891 in Baldwin’s Mills. He was the second son of Willis Keith (W.K.) Baldwin of Baldwin’s Mills and Lill Mead Ferrin Baldwin of Holland, Vermont. Mead was also the younger brother of then-five-year-old Harold Ferrin Baldwin. The only two children of W.K. and Lill, one gets the impression that Harold and Mead were brothers by blood but friends by choice.

Harold and Mead travelled the western Canadian provinces and United States together as young adults. The brothers worked as surveyors in western Canada towards the end of 1910, and spent Christmas of that year in Los Angeles, California, returning to Baldwin’s Mills in May of 1911. When at home, the young men occupied themselves with running the various family businesses, including the sawmill, general store, and post office while their father was away.

By 1913, Mead had left home and completed a business course at the Eastman National Business College in Poughkeepsie, New York; he then pursued work as a bookkeeper in Minneapolis, Minnesota – where he remained until July 1917 when he voluntarily enlisted with the American Expeditionary Forces.

During the First World War, Mead served with Bakery Company No. 343 – a supply unit of the United States Army’s Quartermaster Corps. Mead’s baker training was given at the Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis, beginning August 1, 1917. He served from October 1917 until March 1918 at Fort Riley, Kansas. Following a brief period at Camp Merritt, New Jersey, Mead’s unit landed on French shores on April 15, 1918 and remained overseas for the next fourteen months. Mead was discharged at Des Moines, Iowa on June 19, 1919; he then returned to Minneapolis to reintegrate into civilian society.

In a heart wrenching letter to the United States Veterans’ Bureau in 1926, W.K. recalls that Mead “reached home [Baldwin’s Mills] in August 1919, broken in spirit. […]. The buoyancy of youth had changed to moroseness or melancholy.” Little more is known of his postwar life in Baldwin’s Mills until tragedy struck the family two years later. On February 17, 1921, less than a month after Harold had married Ruth Stevens May, Mead’s life came to a sudden end following several weeks of suffering from what would likely be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder in today’s terms.

The Baldwin family shocked: W.K. Baldwin – by then serving as the Member of Parliament for Stanstead – returned to Baldwin’s Mills from Ottawa. In the month following Mead’s death, he offered to fund one third of the costs associated with building permanent highways from Baldwin’s Mills to Coaticook and Stanstead, as well as funding their maintenance for a decade – all in memory of his late son.

The community mourned the loss of Mead, recalling in the Sherbrooke Daily Record his “sterling manhood and worthy qualities.” Letters of sympathy poured in from near and far. Mead’s former fiancée, Helen Wilma Kielgas of Duluth, Minnesota, recalled him to Lill as “the kindest and most generous of men, one who intentionally hurt no one, one who was a true friend, idolized and loved his mother.”

Mead’s death marked his loved ones and his community; while his is a difficult story to tell, it is a testament to the love that endures long after someone is gone.

By Jazmine Aldrich, in collaboration with Marjorie Mikasen

The word “archives” brings to mind photographs, diaries, letters, and maps, but did you know that the Eastern Townships Resource Centre also preserves works of art? This month, we explore the Doris Snowdon fonds, which showcases beautiful sketches drawn at the artist’s cottage on Sally’s Pond in West Bolton – nestled between Bolton Pass and Knowlton.

Lucy Doris Maffre was born in Montreal on January 7, 1897. She married James Clifford “Cliff” Snowdon in 1921 and together, they raised their sons, Bruce and Robert, and daughter, Helen. Cliff documented their family life in photographs developed in his own dark room and in home movies. It was only around the age of 60, her children grown, that Doris took up painting.

She took her first painting courses in the 1950s at the Women’s Art Society of Montreal. She studied with two well-known Canadian artists, Adam Sherriff Scott and Oscar de Lall. Her works represent landscapes and still-life subjects. She especially liked to paint bouquets of flowers cultivated from her own flower gardens in Montreal and West Bolton.

Much of what we know about the artist comes from her family. In the early 2000s, Doris’ granddaughter, Marjorie Mikasen, gifted the ETRC a sketchbook containing six sketches, as well as a concise biography of Doris’ life and a brief genealogy of the Maffre family. Marjorie also credits her late mother, Helen, for many of the recollections of Doris’ life that are included in the biography.

In her life history of the artist, Marjorie explains that Doris’ artworks “can be characterized by her expressive use of color against color. Her textured canvases play out their themes in a variety of tones. Whether applied with a brush or palette knife,” the artist’s granddaughter writes, “her sure hand gives the paint an animated quality.”

Doris had a studio at her Montreal home, but also created many of her artworks at her cottage on Sally’s Pond – a mountain pond located east of Chemin Bolton Pass (Rte. 243) which drains into the West Field creek toward the Missisquoi River North. On top of being marvels of aesthetics, Doris’ paintings also document distinct hydrographic features of Sally’s Pond, including the interval and the outlet.

Known for being a talented painter, Doris also sketched. The sketches held by the ETRC primarily feature landscapes at Sally’s Pond and views of the family cottages as well as other cottages surrounding the pond. Her family recalls that she would take her art supplies directly into the natural scenery surrounding her cottage to create her landscape works.

It was through a chance encounter in 1927 that the Snowdon family of Montreal discovered Sally’s Pond. Doris was in the hospital in Montreal for the birth of her daughter, Helen, when she met Alice Judge, who was giving birth to her own daughter, Myra. Their daughters were born two days apart, and the two women became fast friends. Alice and her husband, George Judge, had a cottage on Sally’s Pond and the Snowdon family started visiting in 1939 and rented the cottage from the Judges for two weeks in the summer. “In the process,” Marjorie recounts – based on her mother’s memories, “Doris fell in love with the place.”

The Snowdon family purchased their cottage on the northwestern portion of Inglis Island – the large island in the center of Sally’s Pond – from Mr. and Mrs. Earnest C. Inglis sometime in the 1940s after several years of renting from the couple. Cliff paid only $1000 for the fully-furnished cottage following years of encouragement from Earnest Inglis. The Inglis’ built several cottages on Sally’s Pond, the first being the one that Doris and Cliff purchased and the second being the adjacent cottage that their son, Bruce purchased in the 1950s. The island in the center of the pond, as well as the road leading to the island are both named “Inglis” after the couple.

In the years preceding Cliff’s retirement, Doris would spend the summer at the cottage and Cliff would stay on weekends. Bruce and his family spent their own share of summers at their cottage on Sally’s Pond.

Precious family moments at the cottage are captured in Cliff’s home movies, recently donated to the ETRC by Marjorie. Among them are scenes of Cliff and Doris’ grandchildren, Jody, Marjorie, Jan, and Jill, playing on the lawn in the late 1950s; Doris rowing a small boat on the water; and their son, Bruce, fishing off the dock.

As the Snowdon family grew, its branches extended geographically through the 1950s and 1960s. Helen married Robert “Bob” Mikasen in 1952 and moved to Chicago to be with him. Bruce and his family relocated to Ontario and sold their cottage. Robert and his family were the last to relocate to the United States.

Helen and Bob brought their children, Jody and Marjorie, to the cottage roughly every other year in the 1960s. Marjorie remembers with fondness her week-long summer visits spent swimming at the beach near the old sawmill; going for long walks to the end of the island, the nearby Rogerson Farm, or Saint Andrew’s Church; and seeking out the perfect sticks for roasting marshmallows. She describes their visits as “a microcosm of the cottage experience my mom and her brothers enjoyed as children.”

Helen’s letters to Bob before their marriage describe life at the cottage before the grandchildren came along. In particular, Marjorie notes that her mother’s letters describe large parties with fellow Inglis islanders. She explains that “there was a great deal of camaraderie with the neighbors who had been friends for many years.”

The cottage also drew in Cliff and Doris’ friends from Montreal. Doris invited at least one fellow artist from the Women’s Art Society of Montreal (WASM) to paint at Sally’s Pond. Marjorie suspects that there may have been others who visited, too, based on her own research into the exhibition records of the WASM which include painting submissions with “Sally’s Pond” in the titles by two other artists. As a member of the Mount Royal Lodge of the Scottish Rite, Cliff participated in their annual trek up to Owl’s Head. Doris would host the wives of the masons at the cottage for lunch on the day of the trek and entertain them until their husbands picked them up on their way back to Montreal.

By the early 1970s, Cliff and Doris made the difficult decision to sell their cottage as the upkeep was too demanding for a couple in their golden years. “This was a very sad thing for all of us,” Marjorie recalls, “since ‘the cottage’ was one of the beautiful places in the minds and hearts of the family.”

Although art was a great passion for Doris, her intention was never to profit from her gift. She ceased painting at age 93 due to her failing eyesight and passed away in Montreal on February 9, 1996. Her works are now scattered across the United States, where fond memories of a cottage on a pond in the Eastern Townships adorn the homes of Doris’ descendants – a reminder of the Snowdon family’s tranquil refuge from city life.

By Jazmine Aldrich

In a brief history written in the late-1960s, Freeman Clowery reflects on his time spent working for The National Thread Limited in Sherbrooke: “How well I recall these days of toil, sweat, and tears; of trials and tribulations, of success and defeat, of disappointments and accomplishments.” Clowery’s time with the company spanned its Golden Age in the 1950s and 1960s, until its collapse in 1971. He observed the company’s rise and fall from the perspective of its Officer Manager and Secretary-Treasurer.

The National Thread Ltd. succeeded the Ideal Thread Limited, which began its operations in Montreal in 1939. Its directors, J. Edgar Genest of Sherbrooke and J.-A. Archambault of Montreal, spearheaded efforts to relocate the thread manufacturing company to Sherbrooke in 1941.

Negotiations with the City of Sherbrooke spanning the first quarter of the year resulted in the renovation of a municipally-owned factory on Laurier Avenue previously occupied by the Modernistik Company and the Dufferin Jack Company. The Ideal Thread Ltd. agreed to lease the building from the City if the City would pay for repairs to the factory. The renovations included the addition of a second story, a boiler room, and a new elevator, but the company’s promise for growth was enough to justify the expenses. A $14,500 municipal building permit was issued in May 1941.

In April 1941, La Tribune reported that while renovations would soon be underway on the Laurier Avenue factory, The Ideal Thread Ltd. was to be absorbed by another, unnamed company but would keep its directors. The National Thread Limited was incorporated on May 1, 1941. The Ideal Thread Ltd. surrendered its charter and dissolved on February 25, 1942.

Business grew for The National Thread Ltd. over the 1940s with its production of domestic and industrial thread and shoelaces. By 1952, the company had distribution branches across Canada. While American competitors reduced National Thread’s international sales, the Canadian market was still a strong one for the company. 1952 also saw a moment of transition: founder and President J. Edgar Genest was ceding control of the company to the capable hands of his only son and National Thread’s General Manager, Claude Genest.

In his memoir, Clowery recalls the company’s Charter President, J. Edgar Genest, in the following way: “He was a man of unlimited forethought and confidence, but, in the years that I worked with him, his most prominent characteristic was an unshakeable faith in his son.” J. Edgar retained the company’s presidency until his death in 1959, at which point Claude Genest assumed the presidency.

Claude joined in his father’s business in 1944 after receiving his discharge from the Canadian Army. Clowery also compliments the younger Genest, writing that he: “[…] has many inherited characteristics. His influence on the operations was felt from the very start, but the building of the new, modern mill was his trademark, a study of youth with a vision, as against age with security.”

The new mill at 370, 10th Avenue in Sherbrooke was a $250,000, 30,000-square-foot, single-story factory. Construction took eight months and was completed in February 1952. Several local businesses outfitted the new factory with everything from plumbing to office supplies. It was expected to employ 125 men and women, and to double the company’s production output. Clowery recalls this new facility as “an up-to-date establishment, with planned layout for optimum efficiency, with room for growth, to meet the challenge of the future,” but also recalls the financing, manufacturing controls, and administrative changes that accompanied this expansion.

Despite its early success, The National Thread Ltd. closed the doors of its Sherbrooke factory on March 4th, 1971, leaving 80 employees to find work. Claude Genest blamed foreign competition and increased production costs, especially wages. The signing of a collective agreement with the Union des Ouvriers du Textile D’Amérique in 1961 brought a salary increase for the company’s workers, paid holidays, and overtime pay, lending credence to Genest’s explanation. In its final year, National Thread’s workforce was reduced by nearly half. Genest maintained that the company’s Sherbrooke operations needed considerable mechanization to increase profit, which shareholders were not interested in funding given the economic climate of the time. The factory closed, along with another chapter of Sherbrooke’s industrial history.

This fall marks 16 years that I have been archivist for the ETRC and through those years, I have been asked all manner of questions about the people and places in our beautiful Eastern Townships.  One place that always seemed to be bit more of a mystery than others is Sawyerville, which is surprising given that it has long been a decently-sized village.  Whereas most towns and villages have large volumes dedicated to their history, giving overviews of the buildings, people, and businesses that contributed to their growth, there has never been a dedicated publication for Sawyerville (as far as I have ever been able to find, at least).

So when a group of postcards arrived in the archives featuring Sawyerville street views, I was giddy at the chance to do a bit more research that would showcase some of its history.  My efforts, however, have mostly raised more questions than they’ve answered. Notwithstanding the postcard that was mislabeled as Sawyerville but really depicts Hartland, Maine, the postcards show identifiable streets in Sawyerville but often these streetscapes have changed drastically from the early 20th century.

One postcard shows the intersection of North Main and Cookshire Streets from around 1912.  On the right we can see part of J.R. Cunningham’s general store and a water trough on the extreme left, but unknown is the building on the left side of Main Street.  Do you know what the building was?

Another is a photo postcard view of what is identified as the Sawyerville Hotel after it was destroyed by fire in 1919.  The architecture of the remaining structure and the date suggests that it wasn’t the Sawyerville House, later the Sawyerville Hotel.  There was an early hotel that was destroyed by fire in December 1907, but other photos of it leave questions as well, and would make the date on the postcard inaccurate.  A postal law banning picture postcards until 1904 in Canada means that it has to be later than that, but the postage stamp box from the AZO photo postcard company suggests it may have been from the 1920s. A search through the newspapers did not yield any results, unfortunately.  Perhaps the date is wrong, or perhaps the identification of the building is inaccurate.  Dear readers, do you have more information that can help us iron out this mystery?  If so, please reach out to us!

Tis the season for holiday parties and after a two-year hiatus on these seasonal celebrations, most are back in full swing this year.  The festive season prompted a dive in the archives for examples of the company Christmas parties of the past.  The images of the office parties of the mid-20th century presented to us by pop culture paint a picture of copious amounts of alcohol mixed with incredibly poor decision-making, but how much of this representation is accurate? 

A 1955 article from the Canadian Press noted that office parties were popular in cities across Canada, despite often being illegal since the consumption alcohol was not permitted in workplaces without a permit in most jurisdictions. This was the case in all provinces except for Quebec, however, where office parties fell under the same rules as parties in private dwellings.

By 1964, a New York columnist with the Associated Press was already starting to ask if the office party was facing extinction.  In his assessment, the quintessential office party of the past – consisting of spiked watercoolers, telling off bosses, fisticuffs, and romantic escapades – was dying out because “the younger generation just doesn’t have the stamina to endure them, and the older generation doesn’t have the strength left to enjoy them properly.”  An interesting perspective, albeit a seemingly biased one.

While wild office parties were likely part of some companies across the Townships, this was not the version that was recorded for posterity. Instead, most of the photos and write-ups in the Sherbrooke Daily Record present company parties that were frequently family affairs.  Among them were Dominion Lime’s Christmas party where all children of employees received a gift, candy, and oranges. Similarly, Ingersoll-Rand, National Thread, and Canadian Celanese – to name but a few – hosted parties for the entire family.

In a selfless act in 1957, the employees of Philip Carey in Sherbrooke voted to forgo their annual Christmas party and, instead, donated the money to a relief fund for one of their fellow employees, Lionel Denault, after the Denaults lost their home and eight of their nine children in a horrific fire.

Although the family format of Christmas parties was most popular in the Townships, there were still employee-only office parties, which usually consisted of a banquet meal, dancing, and a visit from Santa (there was no age limit on Santa, apparently), but could include other activities such as carol singing, skits, darts, or cards.

If you look at the Quebec census returns from 1851, the first census when each person was enumerated, to 1921, the most recent census available, you will not see a huge variation in the number of people with the Copping surname. It typically falls between 75 and 95 and does not necessarily increase from one year to the next. Even taking into account the likely misspellings or inaccurate transcriptions of the census data, it still seems safe to conclude that most Coppings in Quebec, if not all, would be able to trace their origins to George Copping and his wife, Elizabeth Saggers, and their eleven children. Originally from Hatfield, Essex County in England, the couple immigrated with their first four children in 1811, arriving in Quebec City and spending a few years there as well as in Montreal before receiving a land grant in the newly surveyed township of Rawdon, north of Montreal, in 1823.

From that point on, George and Elizabeth carved out a life for themselves in Rawdon and were heavily involved in building up the community there, including supporting the establishment of Christ Church Anglican Church and the school. However, as their children and grandchildren grew up, many began to drift away from Rawdon in search of better opportunities in the cities or for better farmland in the south of the province. To many readers out there, this will sound like a very familiar tale, except in the case of some of the Coppings, “greener pastures” ended up being the Eastern Townships, rather than the reverse of many of our ancestors who settled here first and then left the Townships for other places.

At least three of George Copping’s grandsons and a great-grandson found their way to the Townships. It seems that John Alexander Copping and his wife, Sarah Alice Mason, along with his father and mother, John Copping and Nancy Marlin, were the first to arrive in the Compton area around 1899. John and Nancy settled in Johnville while John A. and Alice first settled in Compton. John was only in Johnville a bit over a year before passing away at the age of 70. John A. farmed in Compton until 1906, when he purchased a farm in Sand Hill.

That same year, after a number of years in Montreal, John A.’s cousin, Reuben Copping and his family joined him in Sand Hill.  Although Sand Hill was primarily a small “post village”, consisting of a post office to serve the surrounding farming community and St. Luke’s Anglican Church, the Coppings became a fixture in the community.  Throughout their lives, they were involved in local community organizations, church groups, and John A. in particular served as a municipal councillor for Eaton Township for decades.

They were not spared their share of sad events, however. In 1929, at the age of 61, Reuben was tragically killed when he slipped from the roller he was using in the field and his skull crushed. John A. and Alice, having no children of their own, had taken in a British Home Child, Henry Reginald Young. The 18-year-old, well-loved by the Coppings, was poised to pursue further studies when he died suddenly, after falling off of a windmill in 1933 while trying to capture a scenic photograph.

Following Reuben’s death, his son, Lawrence, took over the family farm in Sand Hill and with his wife, Leah Church, continued to contribute to their community through their involvement in church groups and other organizations, such as the Women’s Institute and the Farm Radio Forum. From Rawdon to Sand Hill, the Coppings created a family legacy of volunteerism that spanned generations.

During his long life, Arthur Speid was a fixture around Lennoxville and Bishop’s University, first as a day student at Bishop’s College School and, later, as part the theatre life of the University, as well as being a man of many varied interests.  Looking back over a century, what was it like to be part of the University community?  What did the “Town and Gown” relationship look like at that time?  In 1966, Bishop’s University professors Dr. J.D. Jefferis, Arthur Motyer, and University Librarian Arnold Banfill, sat down with Arthur Speid to record his recollections of Bishop’s.

The resulting conversation, which is primarily between Arthur Speid and Dr. J.D. Jefferis, is a fascinating overview of their experiences surrounding what they call The College, in which they ‘spill the tea’ on people and events, and what it was like to be part of Bishop’s in the early 1900s.

As a rare day student at Bishop’s College School in the 1890s, Arthur Speid was exempt from the daily chapel obligations, which required that students attend chapel seven times/week, having the option to attend in the morning and/or afternoon each day.  His day-student status also meant that he was not subjected to the questionable food provisions for boarding students, as he recalled that students would stage protests over food, parading into town to “serenade” the faculty members’ houses over their plight.  To bridge the gap, one local resident – Mark Bennett – took advantage of his home’s convenient location right by the bridge on College Street by setting up a tuck shop and selling candy and ice cream to students.

The students used their right to protest on other occasions as well, including when Principal Rev. Canon H.H. Bedford-Jones resigned following faculty pressure but much to the disappointment of the students.  To register their frustration, they staged a walk-out, marching into Lennoxville and causing a raucous outside of the houses of dissenting faculty members. In Arthur Speid’s retelling of the events, they even broke a few windows in their protest.

Discussions of the other principals and faculty members include descriptions such as “most peculiar” and “an odd stick”, which makes for very interesting listening!  Despite the occasional disagreements between students and faculty, Speid and Jefferis were enthusiastic in their agreement that being part of the campus was like being part of a family where even the principal was a regular figure among the students.  To round out the stories, Arthur Speid recalls some of the practical jokes students pulled, noting that students from his day really knew how to make a nuisance of themselves.  If you’re interested in stepping back into Bishop’s University’s past with Arthur Speid, his interview is available to listen to online:

By Melina Carrier for the ETRC

An unofficial characteristic that makes up the history of the Eastern Townships is the scenery of the landscape. The Eastern Townships is known to be one of the most beautiful regions in Quebec, diverse in both natural and historical features. One of the mascots that make up our landscape are the covered bridges that adorn the hillsides and are propped above winding rivers. For many years, these monuments of our heritage were used on a daily basis by the population and became the pillars of society resting in the memories of many proud locals. Over time, however, these bridges have become harder and harder to find as for many reasons they were torn down or demolished. Unfortunately, this became reality for many of the covered bridges in the daily lives of Townshippers. This fact holds true to the covered bridge that once stood in the village of Capelton.

Built in 1862 over the Massawippi River, the Capelton covered bridge was one of the pillars that characterized Capelton. The bridge held memories and traditions for many of the locals who added personal touches to the wood and nails, such as writing their names, or initials, on the inside of the bridge. The mines of Capelton weren’t the only pull for tourists to visit the town, many visited to see a bridge that fairly represented the history and culture of the Eastern Townships that the locals were proud of.

However, throughout the later part of the 20th century, many of the covered bridges that communities knew and loved were no exception to the perils of time as they began to degrade from the many years of usage. Many of the covered bridges became unsafe for modern traffic and needed substantial financial support in order to ensure continuous secure operation of the bridges, which some communities and private owners of the bridges could not afford. So, sadly, many fell onto a demolition list.

In the 1970s, the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs of Quebec decided to save nine covered bridges in the Eastern Townships. By doing so, the chosen bridges would be considered ‘historical monuments’ and would become the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport to maintain.  Among those saved was the Capelton covered bridge. The bridge and the surrounding land was declared a historical monument, and was therefore saved from demolition with the hopes of developing the area for tourism. The demolition of this particular bridge was considered because its owners could no longer produce the necessary financial support that would’ve been needed to ensure safe public circulation on the bridge after it had been declared unsafe for usage.

The long lifespan of the Capelton bridge would unfortunately not last forever, as the bridge was burned by arson in the wee hours of September 18, 2002, leaving behind a ghost of where this historical monument once stood and leaving the local citizens of the town to mourn the loss of the wood and nails that had built many fond memories. After the fire, what was left of the bridge structure was removed. Although there were multiple fundraisers, such as dance benefits and Oktoberfest, to get the funds necessary to fund the Capelton Bridge Reconstruction project, another covered bridge was never built.

This September will mark 20 years since the Capelton covered bridge last spanned the Massawippi and although the physical structure has been lost, it is far from forgotten. Today, when visiting the spot, indications that there once stood a monumental bridge along the river are the remaining abutments and an interpretative panel. Put in place prior to the bridge’s destruction, this panel now not only serves to educate visitors who come to see the spot, but also stands as commemoration to a covered bridge that served its community as more than a passageway across a river.

Today, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) station – the present Marché de la Gare – stands out among the surrounding modern buildings as a gem of Sherbrooke’s past and its historic architecture has been well-preserved.  However, this was actually the second CPR station to be built in Sherbrooke.  When I first came across images of an unfamiliar railway station from Sherbrooke, I was surprised and curious; where could this unexpected station have been located?

As some long-time residents of Sherbrooke might remember, the first station was situated at the corner of Belvedere North and Frontenac Streets, where the tracks came to dead end. Given the cityscape around that intersection today, it’s hard to imagine what it might have looked like over a century ago with a station but, fortunately, we have images from the archives to help!

Shortly after CPR acquired the Waterloo & Magog Railway in June 1888, which already had a line from Magog to Sherbrooke, the CPR commenced clearing buildings from the east side of Belvedere and laying tracks to where the new station, along with freight sheds, would be located.  Starting from the track already in place along the Magog River and the mill pond (today Lac-des-Nations), a number of rail spurs curved along the pond and crossed King Street, with one leading to the Paton Mills, while others continued across Belvedere and Marquette Streets to arrive at the station and long platform that ran nearly the whole length between Marquette and Frontenac Streets. The handsome new station was completed in 1890 but in less twenty years, CPR would be back at the figurative drawing board, planning for the construction of a new station at its railway yards near Lac-des-Nations, which is arguably where it should have been located from the outset.  By 1907, rumours were already circulating that the CPR would be making large investments in Sherbrooke to build a new station and workshops.

Construction of the second station began in 1909 and was completed in 1910, effectively putting an end to the Belvedere North station’s time as the Sherbrooke image of the CPR.  The spur, station building, and freight sheds would, however, remain part of the Sherbrooke cityscape for decades to come. In 1953, a frustrated Sherbrooke resident reported in a letter to the editor that the initial agreement between the City of Sherbrooke and CPR was that they vacate the site along Belvedere North by 1924.  This did not happen, however, and the CPR continued to use the tracks and storages sheds to unload and store freight to be transferred to trucks for transportation.  With the increased traffic congestion as Sherbrooke grew, having trains cross two main thoroughfares during rush hour, engineers ignoring traffic lights, and sometimes holding up emergency vehicles was becoming more and more untenable for the residents of the city.

By the late 1950s, there was a concrete intent to relocate the freight sheds and tracks from the section along Belvedere Street between King and Frontenac Streets but it would still be years before the plans were fully realized. The first CPR station building was finally torn down in 1963, but the last remaining sections of track crossing King weren’t resurfaced until 1979.