Joseph Rodger Beach Park

Joseph C. Rodger

Joseph C. Rodger, circa 1880.

Located on Hammond Bay, the park was named for the man who built the first sawmill on the lake, Joseph C. Rodger (1828-1913), around 1895. Originally from Scotland, his parents settled in Brownsburg around 1831 when he was only three years old. Joseph was the eldest child in the family; in 1851, he married Catherine McClure (1827-1913) with whom he had ten children. In 1892, he operated a sawmill in Roxton Falls in the Eastern Townships, which he chose to close with the intention of moving to Lac-des-Seize-Îles. This decision was undoubtedly calculated, based on the knowledge of the imminent deployment of the Montfort Colonization Railway between Saint-Jérôme and Lac-des-Seize-Îles.

The first sawmill

Joseph C. Rodger's sawmill around 1900
Source: Luc Lamond, Peter and Sheilagh Johnson Collection

Rodger had set up his cabin and the foundations of his future sawmill at the head of the lake, where the railroad was planned. As heard at the closing of his old mill, families who worked for him in the Eastern Townships came to find him in the spring of 1894, and in 1897. The former had come by wagon track from Morin-Heights and the latter by train, which had been in operation since 1895. With the Gagné, Dion, Collerette and Brin families, the village began to take shape. Soon, other workers came to settle.

A profitable industry

Joseph C. Rodger surrounded by his employees in front of his log cabin.
Source: Luc Lamond, Hal Myers collection

The timber trade was very lucrative. Vital to the country's economy, it was the most important export and the largest employer. The abundance of untapped resources around the lake led Rodger to prosper. More than a boss, he was committed to the welfare of his employees. Early on, he organized religious services for workers of the Catholic faith, given by Father Sabourin, whom he brought from Montfort. He even donated land for the construction of a chapel.

Manor House

The Manor House
Source: Luc Lamond, Hal Myers collection   

Joseph Rodger built homes for three of his daughters, two of which were located on Hawthorne and Rodger Islands, which can be seen from the pier. After a few years, he built himself a spacious residence above the present beach. This house later became the 'Manor House', a famous hotel until its demolition in 1970. Joseph Rodger came to Lac-des-Seize-Îles at the age of 65. In 1903 after a decade of hard work, he retired, sold his mill and returned to Brownsburg.

The retreat of the forest

View of the village around 1901.
Source: Luc Lamond, Peter and Sheilagh Johnson Collection

Logging changed the landscape dramatically for several decades to come. At that time, the demand for lumber exceeded that of squared logs and the US market took over from the English. The East Coast of the United States had already sacrificed its ancestral forests; white pine, prized for its lightness and strength, was rapidly disappearing, even in Quebec.

The sawmills of Lac-des-Seize-Îles supplied the wood for the construction of houses and cottages in the municipality. It was also sent by train to Montreal as firewood and building materials

Log trains

Duncan brothers sawmill circa 1905
Source: Luc Lamond, Hal Myers collection

Three other sawmills were established around the lake. The Duncan brothers' mill, in operation from 1905 to 1927, employed 25 people at the site of the present municipal parking lot. Adonias Stanislas Millette's steam-powered sawmill, located south on the shore of Laurel Lake, was in production for nearly twenty years from the 1930s. And finally, Jean-Louis Laurin's sawmill, erected between de la Montagne Road and Gagné Street, was in operation from 1945 to 1955.

Gilbert Cook, whose family owned a cottage on their island (Cook), remembers this anecdote about transporting logs:

'... timber rafting was done all the way across the lake to the Duncan Mill. Wallace Beaven had the contract to pull the raft, formed by the logs, with a motor boat of about 3-4 horsepower. The logs were cut in winter near the foot of the lake. They were thrown into the water when the mill started in the spring. After the timber raft was formed, Beaven would begin the long, slow and tedious job of hauling the logs to the mill.

Lake residents are well aware of how quickly the winds can change direction and intensity. Towing a timber raft against a strong wind was nearly impossible. One day, as a strong wind blew from the south, the timber raft got out of control and stuck firmly on the reef in front of Cook Island. From there, it spread all the way to Myers Island to the east, completely blocking the channel between the two. It wasn't until two or three days later that the wind shifted and Beaven was able to free it and continue its journey.' 

Cahiers d'histoire des Pays-d'en-Haut, book no.37, p.40, 1988.

Extract of
Lac-des-Seize-Iles... History and Heritage

Lac-des-Seize-Iles... History and Heritage image circuit

Presented by : Municipalité de Lac-des-Seize-Îles

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