Saint-Michel's Church and Development

Saint-Michel Church

Source: Table de concertation des arts et de la culture de Wentworth-Nord (TCAC WN) 
Photo: Gérald Harbour

Saint-Michel is the southernmost hamlet of the municipality of Wentworth-North. It was established as a parish in 1956, shortly before the inauguration of its new church. Like many settlements in Quebec, Saint-Michel was not built around a village. At the beginning of the colonization of the township around 1830, the families scattered over a large territory exploited the forests and cultivated their land. Most were of Irish and Scottish origin and came from the neighbouring towns of Dalesville, Lachute, and Grenville further south. For several decades, the growth of the population was limited by subsistence farming. The harvests, composed of grains, turnips and apples land have always been modest in comparison to those of the St. Lawrence Valley regions.

On the road

Horses attached to a grader, 20 th century. The horse is an important ally for field work and transportation. It also helps to level roads that have become impassable due to bad weather.
Source: TCCA WN, Paradis Collection

In the 19 th century, the opening of new roads spurred settlement expansion, however the rugged terrain of the Saint-Michel region, coupled with sporadic, insufficient government investment, made it slow-going. As such, growth of the settlement was stunted for many years. In 1861, a section of the main road was constructed. Starting from the 1st line on lot 21 in Wentworth Township, it runs up to the eastern tip of the Lac des Seizes-îles fork. 'On this road,' says Mr. Boa, roadworks foreman in 1863, 'the soil is good, but it becomes uneven and very rocky in the third, fourth and fifth lines.' The trails that expand across the territory stem from this central road.

Birth of the Saint-Michel mission

The Carrière family in front of their house on lot 21, Line 2, Wentworth Township.
From left to right: Lucien Carrière; mother, Ursule Legault (seated); Rose; Onésima; father, Marcel (seated), and André
Source: TCAC WN

The 'Saint-Michel mission' took shape in 1884 when Father Armand Bouchet of Notre-Dame de Montfort was called to serve the small Catholic settlement of more than thirty families. For three years, he made the journey from the orphanage to the mission by foot, 15 km through the forest, for the path “open between the two villages was so difficult and circuitous [ ] that time was wasted in following it, even by car.”

Encouraged by Father Bouchet’s monthly visits and his dynamism, the community established an administrative structure with elected trustees. Their tasks included overseeing school operations, hiring the teacher, and collecting school taxes. Thanks to funding obtained by the missionary, they built their first chapel in 1885, fueling the hope of more families coming to settle in Saint-Michel.


The class of 1916, in front of the chapel.
Source: TCAC WN

The first school was built in 1875. It was a rustic building made of squared timber, with a single room furnished with long tables and benches without backs, which also served as a place of worship until the construction of the chapel in 1885. Nearly fifty years later, a new building was erected where, in addition to a large classroom, there was a room, a tambour, a library and accommodations for the teacher on the upper floor. Then, in 1954, a third and more spacious building was built with two classrooms for grades 1 to 7. The old school was rented many times and then transformed into a small hotel by its owner, Georges Le Beau.


The elementary school of Saint-Michel.
Source: TCAC WN

Since the end of the 19th century, the government has hired inspectors to travel throughout the regions to ensure the quality of education. They evaluated teaching methods, hygiene and bookkeeping. Reports on Saint-Michel point out that absences were too frequent and that “it is important that children learn to grow the vegetables a family normally needs.”

It was not until 1943 that a provincial law made school compulsory for children between the ages of six and fourteen. This law stemmed from the need for a more educated workforce and aimed to eliminate child labor in urban and rural areas. The resistance of the Quebec clergy to this legislation was finally overcome, thirteen years after Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) himself decreed this obligation for the schools of the Papal States in 1930. This made historian Michel Allard say that Quebec was more Catholic than the Pope at the time!

An abundant resource

The Farmer family sawmill, late 19th century.
Source: TCAC WN

Saint-Michel is historically very attached to the forestry industry. The potash obtained from the maceration of wood ashes was the first source of income for the settlers as they cleared their land. This material, which was used in the composition of soap and fertilizer, was much sought after until the end of the 19th century. Sixty large maples were needed to produce a barrel of potash which was sold to John Meikle (1794-1877), a Scot from Lachute.

'.. His transactions with his customers consisted mainly of barter, for he accepted payment for his goods in farm produce, but especially in potash, of which large quantities were manufactured at that time. The manufacture of this item gave him an opportunity to make a little more affaires, which doubtless enabled him to increase thenumber of his customers and gain their esteem.' 
History County of Argenteuil, 1896.

The wood passion

The main species found in Saint-Michel are spruce, hemlock, cedar, beech, cherry and maple. At the end of the 19 th century, the owners of local sawmills and forestry companies bought lots that they resold after having cut down the best trees. The practice of log driving on the West River made it easier to transport the logs to the sawmill. Deforestation became significant enough to attract this criticism from Father Alexis de Barbezieu in 1897.

'Wentworth, like Harrington and Howard, is a mountainous township, where settlement, far from prospering, seems to be rather in decay. The woods have long been ruined in these three townships by unbridled exploitation; the lands, rocky and poor, which once produced potatoes in abundance, have been depleted [.]; only one possible agricultural operation remains, the dairy industry, on account of the fresh pastures of which there are many at this altitude.”

Fields that were once cultivated were taken over by the forest. Logging evolved into a management practice that preserved this vital resource to which the people of Saint-Michel remain deeply attached.

Interview with Tex Lecor

Oil on canvas by Tex Lecor

Paul Lecorre (Tex Lecor) (1933-2017), Quebec painter and songwriter, born in Saint-Michel-de-Wentworth. Excerpt from an interview in his studio in 2011.

Source: MultiArt, Parcours Pocket, 2011, Musical excerpts: 'Dans mon shack' and 'The draveur' by Tex Lecor, Quebec Love, la collection, Unidisc.

A new rise

Sylvio Deslauriers' Magasin général, 1954.
Source: TCAC WN

Saint-Michel’s economy changed with the advent of tourists and vacationers at the turn of the 20th century. Low-yield crops were abandoned and cottages and campgrounds appeared near the lakes. A variety of services were developed for this urban clientele, such as a general store, a bar and a dance hall. Without being a village, Saint-Michel became a big family that got together and helped each other. 

The 1950s saw great change, with the arrival of electricity and the opening of roads in winter. Come the 21 st century, cottages were transformed into four-season dwellings, the number of seasonal residents increased and activities were concentrated in the communities situated around the lakes.

Community life

Interior of the church of Saint-Michel.
Source: TCAC WN

The municipality of Wentworth-North acquired the Saint-Michel Church in 2011. Funerals, baptisms and weddings are still celebrated there and its halls host the different community associations, such as the Wisdom Group, which organizes activities for seniors, and the Saint-Michel/Pine Hill Farmers' Circle. Community dinners are also held here, allowing residents to meet in a friendly atmosphere near their homes.

Extract of
Historical Tour of Wentworth North

Historical Tour of Wentworth North image circuit

Presented by : Municipalité de Wentworth-Nord

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