FROM HUMBLE ABODES TO fancy MANSIONS

Most of us have heard the expression, “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home”.

Your humble abode is your house, and it doesn’t matter the size, your house is welcoming and warm. Humble can mean something ordinary or not what some would call special, but it doesn’t mean that the dwelling isn’t comfortable and pleasant; abode is a reference to a dwelling.

Métis-sur-Mer

When the first European settlers arrived at their new land, one of the first things they needed to do was build a house where the family could live. They would have had to clear a plot of land where the house would be built. The first homes in the first years of the early settlers would have been a one-room log cabin with a dirt floor. Later, after the saw mill was set up, a new two-story plank home would be built with at least three to four bedrooms, and all with wooden floors.

In “Old Times in Metis”, John H. Ferguson wrote:

“That these sturdy men had difficulties to face goes without saying. The firs and birches grew to the shore of the St. Lawrence, vast trunks of fallen, primeval trees covered the ground and sodden with the snow and rains of years, refused to burn, and the unknown severity of a Canadian winter had to be faced in small shacks with moss calked seams and joints, through which the fierce storms invaded and nearly froze the wretched pioneers.”

Did you know…? There are well-known sayings:  A good house is where the heart is and ‘A man’s home is his castle’. That a man’s house may not be invaded without cause was established by lawyer/politician Sir Edward Coke in The Institutes of the Laws of England, 1628:  For a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man’s home is his safest refuge].”

In 1763, over 100 hundred years later, then British Prime Minister William Pitt (the Elder) helped define ‘castle’:  “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail – its roof may shake – the wind may blow through it – the storm may enter – the rain may enter – but the King of England cannot enter.”

The King’s description of the roughest cottage subject to the vagaries of weather sounds exactly like the humble abodes subject to harsh conditions that Metis’s earliest inhabitants and then settlers experienced.

This little municipality of Metis on the Gaspé Peninsula is full of charming old wood homes and two brick ones.  The earliest homes known still to be in existence date to the 1850s and 1860s and they are on Lighthouse Road.

The architecture of many of the old houses is unique. Some houses were built by the wealthy and others by the local residents. The quality of craftsmanship and designs of the houses is evident in the styles which include the Gothic Revival, the Second Empire, Queen Anne Style, the Shingle Style, and the Victorian Vernacular Style (see sources below).

To find out more on architectural matters, you can come to the Heritage Lower St. Lawrence office and consult a preservation guide.

Many of the old houses have several large rooms and several smaller rooms that were used for specialized functions, the names of which many young people would not recognize today:  a ‘drawing room’ (short for ‘withdrawing room; what we now usually call the living room), ‘sitting room’ (den), ‘pantry’ (where dishes are stored and food is put on plates), ‘larder’ (where food is stored and where, at one time, the icebox or what we know as he fridge could be found, ‘maids’ quarters’ (often with back stairs so ‘the help’ would not disturb the family going about their daily chores) and ‘gallery’ (large covered veranda).

Births and deaths during the early years were at home, and these old houses carry a history within their walls that links the past to the present.  Not only are there memories, stories passed down, photos, names scratched on walls, and children’s heights marked on the side of a door, other treasures can be found.  Renovations of Rowanburn yielded, behind walls of lathe and plaster, an ‘ancient manuscript’.  Alice Sharples Baldwin wrote in Metis – Wee Scotland of the Gaspé that it turned out to be a form of general ledger dating back at least to the 1850s – a fascinating read for people wanting to understand what was bought and sold a century and a half ago (including fur pelts brought in by ‘Indians’ to trade) and how payment was made (often barter, for example, ‘Mr. Ouellet bought a prayer-book and paid two thirds in butter’)

Many of the old houses also had ‘outer buildings’, for example, ice houses where ice blocks cut from lakes in winter were stored in sawdust with chunks hacked off as needed to put into the icebox to keep food cool.

Whether your home is old or new, a house can be more than just an address: it is a shelter that functions as a place of safety for humans and protects us from the elements. Each home represents a set of attachments as complex as any spectrum of human relationships. Each of us draws the boundary of the place we call home differently and it is a personal space we carve out for ourselves.

Names of Houses

You may have noticed that quite a number of houses in the Métis-sur-Mer area, rather than just a street number, have names, and even more had names in the past, at a time when there were no street numbers.

While often a house or building was simply known by the name of the renter, owner or one-time owner, the desire to name may have come from over the ‘pond’ (Atlantic Ocean) with the Scottish and British settlers in Canada.

Naming one’s home is reportedly an old British custom that began with the titled naming their castles and manors.  As often happens, this trend was later picked up by the next group in the social chain who aspired upwards – merchants and tradesmen –and then to others (street numbering in England only officially started in 1765, when an act of Parliament required all new properties also to have a house number and street name to better identify properties and boundaries).

Names started being tied to a location, and then to past uses of the property.  Now, people may name houses after places they have lived; appearance; local plants, trees (The Firs) or animals; locations where they have spent other happy holidays; fairy tales (Reka-Dom); and pretty much anything and everything in between – sometimes with a play on words (Phareview) or ironical twist (On the Rocks).

In Metis and on Lighthouse Point, we know of many home names: Alabama, Birchcliffe, Birkenshaw, Bowsprit, Brigadoon, Buttercup Cottage, Cliffside, Farm Cottage, Glenafer, Idlewilde, Idlewood, La Béginière,  Maybole, On the Rocks, Outremer, Phantasy, Phareview, Reka-Dom, Rotherwood Cottage,   Rowanburn, Rowanwood, Sassaguiminel (indigenous name for bunchberries), Sleepy Hollow, Staquan Lodge (indigenous name for balsam fir), Strabane Cottage, The Beach House, The Blott’s Plage, The Corner House, The Firs, The Red House, The Round House, Riverside, Rose Cottage, Seaside House, Wejo Cottage, Winaco, Winona, and Westwind.

At Leggatt’s Point, you can find: Broadgreen, By the Way, High Tide, Sunny Side, Tall Trees, and The Captain’s House.

Did you know… ?  While some houses no longer have their names, and others have names but are not signed, you can still spot many as you walk or bike along, although many signs may appear only during the summer months.

Below is a story written by Heather Niderost, who lives on Lighthouse Road.

OUTREMER: 1910 – 2010 “Beyond the Sea” – “Outremer”

Our cottage was built in 1910 … by Dr. Walter Patton, a Methodist minister, Professor of Theology, and scholar at McGill University, and later at the University of Wisconsin. The Pattons were introduced to Metis through Dr. Walter Patton’s mother, Margaret Mathewson, of the famed Mathewson clan! The senior Mathewson summer home was across from the schoolhouse in the Village of Metis, the present Johnson house. The senior Patton house was the former house at the foot of Tuggy’s Hill, now replaced by Hart Price’s new house. Two of their sons Hugh and Walter, and daughter Jessie Gertrude, became passionate Metisians: Dr. Hugh Patton (Brenda’s father) had a cottage at Mount Misery, which sadly burned and was replaced by the little Woods’ bungalow; Dr. Hugh Patton’s other daughter, Jocelyn, had the blue house across the bay which was pulled down and replaced by Beth Nowers’ house just a year ago; Dr. Walter Patton built “0utremer” right here; and their sister Jessie acquired the classic old farmer’s house at the head of Lighthouse Bay. All this happened at the turn of the 20th century.

So, let’s return to “0utremer”. Outremer was the old Crusader term for the Holy Land and adjacent territories held on and off by the Frankish kings throughout the Middle Ages. Dr. Walter Patton built his house facing due east, facing the Holy Land. (The original structure was a simple saltbox with the front porch and a lean-to at the back. Later he added the upper bedroom dormer and lovely living room bay and dormer, as well as the curved staircase and brick fireplace. The kitchen then moved to the lean-to.) He was a devoutly religious man. The Sabbath was sacrosanct, no work whatsoever. As a result, they dined at sister Jessie’s home every Sunday instead! And it was there that Dr. Patton officiated at his niece Ada’s wedding in 1920. Ada married my grandmother’s brother, John Forbes. So, now enter the Forbes clan, a little admixture of Scots to-the Irish!

Dr. Walter Patton never had children. He and his wife Ettie always referred to each other as Mr. and Mrs.!!!! Mrs. Patton held Sunday school upstairs in the front room (my bedroom all my growing years), so the Forbes siblings, John, Ruth, Christine, Jessie, and Sheila all dutifully trouped over every Sunday morning for their weekly dose of enlightenment!! Apparently, morning prayers were also held during the week here. Dr Walter wrote copious tracts and treatises, one a “Commentary on the Book of Genesis”, which my cousin Jessie unearthed in the stacks at the Religious Studies library when she was doing her Bachelor of Divinity at McGill. Dr. Patton was also a keen amateur geologist. He was fascinated by the shale rock formations of the bay floor, and fossil finds were not unknown.

As a result of the Forbes connection from about 1920 onwards, my mother’s family started coming to Metis. Isabel (Forbes) Ewing, (“Nanny”, Mum’s mother), not only had her brother John married into the local gentry, she also had many Montreal cronies who braved the journey to enjoy the famous Metis AIR. And they certainly played Bridge in those days!!! The Forbes were Presbyterian, not Methodist – if that made a difference!!!! These friends, as well as some of Nanny’s other relatives, stayed at Leggatt’s Point. So, we started out there as well. Mum said that she was pregnant with me my first summer!!!

From 1940, the year of my birth onwards, we stayed several summers at “Gertrude Campbell’s Guest House”, now the Dieners’ “Point House”, and then migrated to “Glenafer” right behind, then to the “Doll’s House” –  now the Pentinga’s “Bowsprit”, and finally to “The Bungalow” – the Motley’s “Westwind”. None of Gertrude’s rented cottages had kitchens, and precious few had real toilets either! We all trouped down to the Guest House for all our meals. In the summer of 1946, Gertrude got her unpasteurized milk from Donald Campbell Senior’s farm at Grand Metis. His son Donny did the milking. Well, Donny developed bealing [early 17th century word meaning having ‘an abscess or boil’, from the Scottish beal ‘suppurate’ or ooze] fingers and infected the milk, making my brother Ewing and me deathly sick with the trots. Ewing really frightened my mother. She phoned Dr. Alan Ross in Montreal for help, and pulled him [Ewing] through with sulphur and applesauce. Dad could not talk sense into Gertrude about pasteurizing the milk, “new-fangled nonsense!!!!”, so that’s when he looked around for a cottage with its own kitchen, and lighted on the Patton cottage next to Aunt Ada and Uncle John on Lighthouse Point. Dr. Patton’s aging widow had it up for sale and he snapped it up, complete with inventory down to the last teaspoon!

Enter Walter and Isabel Attridge and family! “Outremer” was not exactly paradise for my mother that first summer!!!! No sirreeee!!!! She must have asked herself a hundred times how frail Mrs. Patton had ever survived to old age …. It was 1947 and “Outremer”  had no plumbing other than a hand pump, no electricity, and a latrine whose pail was taken out regularly at high tide in the dinghy by our caretaker, Mr. Bosse Senior, and ignominiously dumped!!!! The house smelled of kerosene lamps and the dry, old cedar-shingled roof leaked!!!! It was only the following summer that Dad and his trusty henchmen put in a septic system, wired the house, and finally replaced the pump and latrine with running water and toilet.

The roof was replaced, and we took the pots off the floors and off our chests!!! None too soon because, in the meantime, Mum’s shoulder had seized up and her temper had totally frayed!!!! You see, our well was several hundred feet away across the road, and connected by a 1-inch pipe to the pump. If she drew a breath she lost the prime, and had to start pumping afresh!!! And, it was a shallow well, prone to harbouring frogs, toads, and the odd drowned bee, and probably worse, which erupted from the pump spout in front of her nose!!!! So, Dad dug a well, on the property! Deep! Then, the wood stove! Of course! Mum was tethered to the stove, shovelling in the logs, and trying to fathom the idiosyncrasies and temperament of this belching beast. We actually kept that stove many years. Mum did not weep as it disappeared down the road….. Oh, yes, and all the wooden furniture, some hand-carved by Dr. Patton, was ALL stained BLACK!!!! Mum flew at it all with yellow, green and red paint!!! I remember all this well!!!

Imagine yourself back to 1947. Look around you and remove ALL the trees on the Point. Yes!!!! This Point was part of the original Petit Metis Seigneury. The first seigniorial manor was just down the road in the field on the north beach. It was built by the MacNiders around 1830. There were several houses built out here around then, including the “Saunderson” or Lafleur house, Aunt Ada’s, and others up the road …. The lighthouse and its sonorous foghorn came along as commerce expanded and the square-riggers wrecked themselves on the reefs. The seigneury changed hands from MacNider to Ferguson, and the original manor burned down on New Year’s Eve around 1860, a fearful blaze that took the house and visitors’ horses in its wrath. The Fergusons took refuge in the farmer’s house, Aunt Ada’s future home.

The Point was still a working farm when I was young and by then it all belonged to the Honourable Arthur Mathewson. Its meadows were full of sweet grass and wildflowers. Cattle and horses were still grazing here; the cows were still being milked by Denzyl Turriff in an alcove on the roadway. He’d squirt us if we got close enough. The Turriffs lived at Marietta’s “Farm Cottage”. Ewing and I loved to swing on a rope and jump into the hay in the barn, or help Jimmy Sim hay in the fields, or ride bareback on his old nag… The cattle were kept out by fences; the horses were known to snuffle in Nanny’s bedroom window if we forgot the gate!!! There was a fishing weir at the head of the bay for a short time, a VERY short time!!! The stench left by the sinking tides drove that idea away. I well remember going out to sea in the Honourable Arthur’s whaler to fish for cod …. He used to deliver surplus cod to unsuspecting doors!!!!! And we used to climb the lighthouse tower to watch fascinated as Mr. Gendron lit the wick inside the great prism, and then watched as it started to turn and wink…. Ewing and I would be lulled to sleep on foggy nights by the forlorn sound of the foghorn ….

We grew up coming to “0utremer” every summer. Our teen years were packed with tennis and golf and Metis fun. Then came 1961, and my marriage to Adrian Niderost. With THAT momentous event our own clan sprang into exuberant existence, filling 0utremer’s” walls as never before!!! Our 5 – Wendy, Heidi, Peter, Eric, and Robin – filled the old house with an explosion of new life to say the least!!! They made “Outremer” their own, loving the beaches, the tides, sailing and swimming, playing golf and tennis at the Club, making life-long friends … When Eric died, we came here to heal … Heidi and Pierre were married from “Outremer” at the Old Kirk at Leggatt’s Point and now bring their Liam and Eric here … Wendy and Paul’s Penny grew up cavorting in the bay and she brings her moppets here… Peter married his Cristina from the Okanagan Valley of B.C., and dragged her all the way down here, even christened her in the bay to make sure she was properly initiated!!! And here are their Chloe and Max – and Roxie!!! Our newly- married Robin now owns Ewing’s “Boathouse” next door and we await further developments …. Yes, our children have grown up within these walls. Our far-flung family all feel “0utremer” is their sheet-anchor, the constant thread sewn through their growing years spent in so many places. And now they bring their children to experience the AIR, the freedom and natural wonders of the place. It is a spot where cousins play, where the generations blend and gel, a place where love dwells …

So, here our family stands today, in 2010, as guardians of a very precious heritage. “Outremer” is in our bones, our very souls. Adrian and I have labored hard to restore this lovely old house. Adrian has pounded nails till he is blue in the face!!! We have brought “Outremer” up to a new level of family living and comfort, but she is still the same gracious lady. It is Mum and Dad’s legacy to our family, and we now hand it on to future generations. So, here’s to you, our beloved “0utremer”, set on these rocks, with your face to the east, and here’s to the beginning of your second century!”

 Heather Isabel (Attridge) Niderost