Metis Connections

A bit more about the mix of people in Metis!

Unlike the hum of a city, the atmosphere of a small town is slower, quieter, and more personal. The focus of life is often about relationships. Residents value conversation and friendship. The close-knit atmosphere also means that when others come into town, residents know it.

Folks mean people in general. Some people use ‘folks’ when addressing a group of people in an informal way. This use is more common in American, than in British English.

Kinfolk means people who are related by blood and share a common ancestor. You can use the word in a much wider way, though, to include people related by marriage and adoption, as well as friends who are very close to your family. Kinfolk combines Old English roots, kin –”family”, and folk – “people.”

John MacNider brought the first European pioneers to the Metis region in 1818, many of whom were from Scotland; others from England or Ireland, and some were French-Canadians. By 1823, 40 families had been settled.

These pioneers married and left successors, a good number of whom remain in the area to the present day. Many of the residents are related from a collateral line, meaning when you go back on the branches of the family tree, whether it be two or more generations back, somewhere along the ancestral line families merge to share a same common ancestor.This was a new start for the first pioneers, who must have been a hardy (and hearty) lot. They were willing to toil and to face hardships – clearing their new land, feeding their families, and surviving the harsh winter weather climate for the sake of opportunity. Whatever their surroundings, life was hard for everyone and the settlers had to depend on themselves, on their neighbours, and on the lands.  Even today their descendants still retain an awareness of their distinctive heritage, and are extremely proud of their long and colourful history.

Visitor and guest are terms for a person who comes to spend time in a place, and usually for rest and relaxation. James A. Mathewson is credited with being the first summer visitor. He brought with him his sisters, Mrs. James Patton, and Mrs. James Baylis, and their families. Then they were followed by Mr. Murdock Laing, William Yuile, and the Saunderson-Lafleur families who built homes in the vicinity of Lighthouse Point.

Tourists are people who come, perhaps once only or on their way to other places.  By the 1870s, a new industry had emerged:  with more transportation options available, tourism made its appearance in the region and Metis became a summer resort for vacationers to enjoy the fresh salt air, the landscape, sea bathing, and sports: fishing, golf, tennis, hunting, and more (such as croquet!). This movement resulted in the construction of many hotels and summer homes.

Summer residents (as they may call themselves) are people who came as visitors, guests, or tourists, and now come again year after year, generation after generation.  Many were or are descended from wealthy English families from Montreal and Toronto who came to get away from the overwhelming heat (and illnesses) of the cities. The first important invasion of cottagers (the cottages were quite large by many people’s standards, but families were bigger in those days!) was the McGill contingent.  They settled to the east of Lighthouse Point between MacNider Road and what is now secteur Les Boules – a strip of this road was at times referred to as ‘Professors Row’ or ‘McGill College Avenue’. It was Sir John William Dawson, then Principal of McGill College (now University), who led the members of his staff to Metis.

Today the hotels no longer exist, but the summer homes still remain and many of the summer residents’ families are descendants of those first visitors, guests and tourists.  They have come to Metis for many generations and also many also have McGill ties.

  • Joan Hastings Harrington, a McGill graduate and wife of Conrad Harrington, former McGill Chancellor and grandson of Sir Dawson, said that in the spring she had “… a pulling in her heart for Metis because [for her] it was mystical, reviving, and brought out only good things in all people.”
  • The McGill graduate great-great granddaughter of Jane Drummond Redpath, a McGill patron who built two homes in Metis in the early 1880s, and great granddaughter of McGill professor Henry T. Bovey (McGill’s first Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science), describes her McGill graduate mother Audrey’s three seasons of the year: being in Metis (the best season); regretting having to leave Metis (the worst season as summer homes are not winterized); and planning, preparing, and packing to come to Metis – a time spent looking forward to renewing old acquaintances, playing golf, and breathing in the so-called Metis AIR.

Today many families are spread out all over the world and Metis is the one place where they can come together, at least for a few weeks every summer to connect with each other.

In her book Metis – Wee Scotland of the Gaspé, long-term summer resident Alice Sharples Baldwin wrote words that seem patronizing today, but with the best of intentions:

  • “There are, of course, two varieties of Metisian – the Natives who settled the place [year-round residents] and the summer residents who are perhaps largely responsible for its survival. Divergent as their ways of life may be, they are obviously bound together by a common denominator – they are all real Metisians or, in other words, they all like Metis.”

Her book also describes the ill-fated person marrying into a summer-resident family who, woe betide him or her, does not immediately also fall in love with the place despite its sometimes cold, wet, foggy weather, and the accumulated traditions of generations.  These include playing golf in the rain and bathing in the Saint Lawrence: official sources say that the water temperature in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence does not rise above 20°C “… and therefore is not suitable for comfortable swimming.”

Did you know… ?  While people get a friendly greeting in Metis, it takes a generation at least to be considered local; it is said that one gentleman continued to be known as the local-born woman’s ‘husband’ rather than by his own name many years after he moved to the area.

Did you know… ?  After seeing the Netflix series Outlander (Le chardon [thistle] et le tartan), someone laughingly suggested calling those who come from away Sassenagh.  Sassenagh or Sassenach comes from the Scottish Gaelic word sasunnach, meaning ‘Saxon’, and was originally used by Gaelic speakers to refer to non-Gaelic-speaking Scottish Lowlanders.  The word later came to be considered quite a slur, but the fame of Outlander has made it quite popular again, this time as a gentle jibe from a sister to an irritating younger brother.  Indeed, Jamie and Claire made an appearance at Metis’s 200th anniversary in 2018, and they haven’t left yet!


By Pamela Andersson

(source McGill website – coat of arms)

(source B. Amsden – Jamie and Claire)