Montfort sawmill and development

The Hamlet of Montfort

Village of Notre-Dame de Montfort around 1890.

Settlers were reluctant to move to Wentworth Township: not only was it difficult to get to, its steep terrain was densely forested. The best lands in the Dunany area, south of the township, were the first to be occupied, mainly by Irish and Scottish settlers.

It took the concerted efforts of the clergy, the government, and especially the construction of a railroad line in the northern part of the township to convince a few families that it was possible to live on this land.

Birth of the hamlet

The sawmill near the Notre-Dame de Montfort orphanage, around 1940.
Source: BAnQ, La Presse collection

The history of the village of Montfort begins with the purchase of about sixty lots 

around 1880 by Montreal entrepreneurs in the northeast of Wentworth Township. These lots were to be the site of a new parish which they named 'Notre-Dame des lacs' and an agricultural orphanage for young abandoned boys from Montreal. A first clearing operation was undertaken in 1881 in order t o install a sawmill near the outlet of Lake Saint-François-Xavier, commissioned from J. H. Matte of Saint-Jérôme.

In 1882, many people attended the blessing of the mill, including Father Victor Rousselot of Montreal, Father Labelle of Saint-Jérôme, some benefactors of the future orphanage, settlers and journalists. Most of these guests travelled from Montreal to Saint-Jérôme by train, then an additional 21 miles (34 kilometres) on a winding country road through the townships of Mille-Isles and Morin.

'As we pass, we admire Lake Saint-François-Xavier, which extends for a distance of five miles, and near which the church will be built. Here we are at last! Here is the orphanage mill and the building sites which served the workmen, the whole at the bottom of a pretty waterfall 33 feet high, in the midst of a desert of thirty acres, and dominated by proud mountains crowned with luxuriant verdure, which seems to marry gracefully with the gray hues of the heavy clouds which hover over our heads.' Journal le Nord, August 3, 1882.

A year later, the parish was officially named Our Lady of Montfort in honour of the patron saint of the Montfort Fathers who had taken charge of the agricultural orphanage and had just completed their first home.

The excursionists

Laurentide House, a boarding house for visitors to Montfort. Late 19th century.
Source: BAnQ

Over the years, the orphanage became a large-scale enterprise with a stable, a chicken coop, a carpentry shop, a mill, etc. It employed several parishioners from the nearby village of Montfort. Hotels and boarding houses welcomed holidaymakers and 'excursionists' who come to visit the orphanage and enjoy the fresh air of the region. The Montfortian Fathers organized such trips so as to raise awareness about their mission and to collect donations. Groups of several dozen people visited during the summer months; this number increased with the advent of the railway.

The post office

The post office.
Source: Table de concertation des arts et de la culture de Wentworth-Nord (TCACWN), Marcel Laporte collection

The village post office dates back as early as 1884. Its first postmaster was Mathurin Boulaire, who provided the service until 1912. Steps away was the Montfort train station, which was also a general store, run by Mr. Walter Reid, a Scotsman, from 1917 to 1953. A well-known figure for several generations, he acquired land by purchasing fragments of lots sold at auction for non-payment of taxes in the 1930s. There is a story about Mr. Reid, as told by community elders: 

'One day a hunter entered the store and accidentally shot Mr. Reid in the leg. The C.N.R. [Canadian National Railway] sent for a special train to take him to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal. There, his leg was treated so well that it healed perfectly. However, gangrene appeared in a wound on the other leg, which unfortunately had to be amputated...' Montfort 1883-1983, Montfort Centenary booklet.

Reine Aimée Paradis, Clémence Tassé and Marjorie Lazanis took turns as postmasters until the store and its post office closed in the late 1970s.

A little Sunday by the water

Vacationers at the Montfort Club, circa 1930.
Source: BAnQ

The 20 th century ushered in the era of tourism, bringing a boon to the village. Tourism would become its main source of income. Advertisements in the daily newspapers touted the amenities for all types of sports and recreation that are found in Montfort. The old Laurentian Lumber Company sawmill was transformed into the Montfort Club, with tennis, canoeing and swimming. Its owner, Mr. Wheeler, opened a dance hall in the 1930s; music provided by small orchestras resounded for the enjoyment of locals and vacationers despite the difficult economic times of that decade.

The village school

The second school of the village of
Montfort, around 1940.
Source: TCACWN, Marcel Laporte collection

The village’s first school was built by the Montfortians, with instruction provided by the Sisters of Wisdom. It was replaced in 1935 by a second, more spacious school. Trustees included Clovis Chartier, William Lorion, Armand Richard, Télesphore Paradis, Étienne Lamont, and Oscar Deslauriers, all descendants of pioneer families from Montfort. A third school was built in 1950 and welcomed children until 1975.

The calm of nature

Our Lady of the Nations Church, circa 1960.
Source: TCACWN

The orphanage closed in 1955 and was demolished in 1960. This created a significant void in Montfort Village in particular, which lost the majority of its permanent residents. Consequently, the population of Wentworth Township declined from 727 people in 1951 to 432 in 1956.

In 1958, the township was split into two municipalities: Wentworth and Wentworth-North, which kept the three hamlets of Montfort, Saint-Michel and Laurel, all connected by the main road. Once rail service ended in 1962, Montfort plunged into a strange silence. The construction in 1962 of the Notre-Dame des Nations church brought a relief to this parish, which was left without a place of worship. Its altar and its stained-glass windows come from the former chapel of the orphanage and bear witness to a past when Montfort was known, even beyond Quebec.

The return of vitality

Roger Ponce, pastellist and founder of the Montfort Art Gallery during his exhibition in 2021.

The Notre-Dame des Nations church was, over the decades, quietly abandoned by a majority of its parishioners. To ensure its longevity, the MRC des Pays-d'en-Haut acquired it in 2004, and gave it a new purpose by transforming it into a reception pavilion for visitors and outdoor enthusiasts. Today, the Montfort Pavilion is still used for Catholic worship while also serving as a community centre and tourist office. 

Furthermore, the second-floor art gallery has become an important showcase for the work of Wentworth-North artists.

Extract of
Historical Tour of Wentworth North

Historical Tour of Wentworth North image circuit

Presented by : Municipalité de Wentworth-Nord
Get There

Download the BaladoDiscovery app (for Android and iOS) and access the largest network of self-guided tour experiences in Canada.