||September 19, 2008
Another Lost Mattawa Area
I wrote recently about the small lost
community at Snake Creek north of Mattawa and the sister community across the
Ottawa River in Quebec. Today I want to look at a French enclave that began in
1890 when Joseph Lapensee settled about 2 kilometres opposite Mattawa on a flat
in the Quebec Laurentians opposite the Valois Restaurant and Motel. Several
families eventually settled there when lumberman J.R. Booth moved on and left
some roads, cleared lands and buildings. These settlers eventually developed a
600 acre farm area where everyone pitched in and lived off the land. Some of
the men worked away on logging and related activities in season.
||One of the log buildings in
the community with some unidentified young people at the French settlement
on the right and Noella Tremblays parents Deline Lapensee and Aldege
Gravelle on left . Frank Bastien photo.
Nugget reporter Gord McCulloch wrote
about the farm in a Nugget article in 1992. He met with many of the families
from there that now live in Mattawa. They actually had a dinner meeting with
him at the Mattawa Museum that was video tape recorded and which I have viewed.
He told about their crops of grain, hay,
corn, vegetables and fruit from trees they planted. They brought livestock
across the Ottawa by barge and had cows, pigs, sheep and chickens. There were
always large crops of berries in the bush nearby. They supplemented their meat
supply by some hunting.
They had no formal municipal type rules
but had an understood French Catholic morality that served them well. There was
no church but a priest came regularly and they made regular trips to Mattawa for
church. Adult funerals were held in Mattawa. They had their own cemetery,
primarily for children who succumbed to disease and were a potential threat in
There were several weddings there with
as many as 100 guests over the years. The ceremony was held in the church in
Mattawa. They then tied a couple of big lumber pointer boats together to get
the crowd across. Some also walked across the railway bridge. Many in the
settlement played music and there was always music until dawn at these events.
Some of the family names still exist in
Mattawa. (Joly, Lapensee, Groulx, Gendron, Gravelle, Bastien, Lamirante,
Duhaime). I recently spoke to Noella Tremblay who is a Gravelle and lived there
for years. Frank Bastien also sat in on the conversation and brought his photo
album. Some of the pictures are shown here.
||Map showing the French
settlement in the Laurentians in Quebec opposite Mattawa – note also the 3
By the late 1940s the community had
begun to dwindle as families looked for work, education, etc. in Mattawa and
elsewhere The last family moved from the farm to the Ottawa River’s edge for
a few years in the late forties until they also moved. The Groulx and Lapensee
families planted some gardens on the original site for years after the demise
of the community and had wonderful results.
Hunters in the area today can still see
old pieces of abandoned farm equipment. Like many other lost communities there
are powerful memories of that unique lifestyle and camaraderie and old photos
are often studied to bring back the memories from those vibrant times.
The Three Crosses
Many people have admired the 3 crosses
on the hill about a kilometre north of the community mentioned above. There are
many stories about the source of the original crosses. They were not a part
of the community above The crosses have been replaced several times and
recently had solar powered lights added to draw your attention at night.
Painter Clermont Duval was recently on Sudbury CBC radio explaining the
authentic archival history of the crosses. Three local priests erected the
crosses in 1917. It was WWI and they wanted to do something to show their
support . They were helped by three local boys. The crosses were restored later
when they deteriorated and were replaced again in the mid 1980s. The current
activity assures they will be there for years to come and may now also be seen
in the dark every night and continue as an important part of Mattawa history.
Clermont’s son Costel has painted a
painting of the crosses with their lights. It can be seen in the Duval Gallery
window on Main Street. Clermont also painted the crosses in 2000 for the cover
to Gerry Therrien’s fine book Mattawa Our Timeless Town. The crosses keep an
eye on Mattawa but must occasionally miss the excitement of children, farming,
and celebration nearby for some 60 years in the first half of the last century.
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