Monfort History

Skiers of Montfort


Agricultural orphanage in Montfort

In 1880, three-quarters of orphans in Montreal had nowhere to live simply because there wasn’t any place to welcome them and, as a result, were left to fend for themselves. For the lucky orphans who had a place in an orphanage, their education, room and board only lasted until they were twelve or thirteen years of age. A Montreal French-language newspaper, Le Monde, wrote about their situation on April 20, 1883: “Where do all the children go once they leave our orphanages? God knows, and all too often, the police, too.”
           
Curé Rousselot of the Notre-Dame de Montréal parish wanted to ensure the future of these children and decided to replicate a successful French model: orphanage farms.

Far from the town

This project entailed removing orphans from the city and creating an environment in which they could learn to become “skilled and knowledgeable farmers”. It was also a patriotic way to colonize the area, worthy of the area’s founders, Augustin-Norbert Morin and Curé Labelle, as once the orphans completed their education, they would find an abundance of land on which they could settle.

The beginning of operations

Rousselot purchased 2 000 acres (8 km2) of wooded land north of Wentworth county. He then called upon missionaries from the Compagnie de Marie in France, otherwise known as the Pères montfortains in honour of their founder, Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716), to manage the farms. They began overseeing operations in 1883.

Notre-Dame-de-Montfort Agricultural orphanage 1947

The Montfortain missionaries built the first wing of the orphanage, a flour mill and a sawmill, complete with a dam. To everyone’s surprise, they successfully grew oats, buckwheat, hay and winter wheat. However, the soil was so rocky that they decided to establish a second orphanage twenty-one miles to the north, in Huberdeau. Thanks to the more fertile soil, orphans learned agriculture and horticulture in this second location. Those from Montfort concentrated largely on artisan trades: baking, painting, shoemaking carpentry, sewing, ironmaking, brickwork, bookbinding, and printing.  Later, they would learn bookkeeping, stenography, typing and drawing.

Panorama

With the presence of the orphanage and the advent of the train in 1894, Notre-Dame-de-Montfort became a true village, complete with a general store and school. The community grew from 30 to 60 families. According to the clergy, these families were “still poor, but not like before.” While limited, tourism in Montfort took advantage of the area’s breathtaking panoramas and the train that crossed its territory which featured elevations, bends, rivers and forests.

Closing the Orphanage

The Great Depression left its mark on Montfort: the orphanage closed its doors in 1935, to be replaced by a trade school. Neglected, the massive building was demolished in 1959. Just as the arrival of the orphanage and the train at the turn of the century sparked the beginning of the village, the demolition of the building and the removal of the railway (1962) precipitated its end.

Orphans and Montfort Staff

Life in Montfort, however, continues, in harmony with the environment and with a particular focus on outdoor pursuits. 

General view on the agricultural orphanage

 

Credits

Historical and iconographic research, text:
Marc-André Lapointe et Samuel Mathieu

Sources:
Notice sur l'origine et les progrès de l'œuvre et de l'établissement des orphelinats agricoles dans le canton de Wentworth, Éditions Eusèbe Sénécal, 1883, 30 p.
Micheline Dumont, Des religieuses, des murs et des enfants, L’Action nationale, vol 84, no 4, avril 1994, pp. 483-508.
Alexis de Barbezieux, Histoire de la province ecclésiastique d'Ottawa et de la colonisation dans la vallée de l'Ottawa, vol. 2, 1898, 568 p.
Marc-Gabriel Vallières, Le patrimoine ferroviaire des Laurentides, http://mgvallieres.com/.
Coopérative de solidarité des quatre pôles
Les Villas, http://www.lesvillas.ca

Pictures:
Société d’histoire et de généalogie des Pays-d’en-Haut, Collection Marcel Laporte



Excerpt of
The Pays-d’en-Haut: a Jewel of Leisure and Recreation

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