The life and times of the permanent inhabitants of Metis
The St. Lawrence River was the only waterway entry to the seigneury of Metis. Boat was the only way of travel available for the first settlers as no roads existed. Metis was a seigneurial regime and the establishment of the first permanent settlers was in 1818 thanks to John MacNider.
Many who arrived originated from diverse parts of Scotland and were without capital. Mr. MacNider provide them with provisions and rent-free accommodations for the first two years, after which they would have to pay rent for each farm. Many settlers by the second year no longer needed assistance as their lands were producing surpluses which they could sell to pay the rent for their farms.
Some of the pioneers who came were mechanics, weavers, farmers, and fishermen, and most knew little about the art of forestry so clearing the forest to open the fields for cultivation was a difficult task and the Canadian weather would have been very troublesome to them. Over the years, many of the families became entrepreneurs and innovators who created new businesses, bearing most of the risks and enjoying most of the rewards.
Success was often measured by sheer survival in providing for one’s family with the basic necessities of food, shelter, fuel and clothing in the first years. The death of a spouse would have become a source of instability to the family. So, many remarried quickly because it was difficult to raise a family alone.
Men practised a multitude of trades, they hunted and fished for food, cleared land for cultivation, tended the animals, cut timber, learned to be blacksmiths and even became woodworkers. They produced handmade farm implements and equipment such has hoes, yokes, scythes, wagon shafts, tongs etc… Lorn Turriff had a collection of the old handmade tools from Metis. Today his children are the caretakers of them. Other items manufactured by hand for the home were spinning wheels, tables, chair, beds, and cradles for the infants.
Farming was the primary job in 1823, and John MacNider gave an account of his seigneury. He wrote that he had employed labourers who were paid half in money and half in goods to look after the two farms that he himself owned. In the spring, the farmers ploughed and sowed seeds, and in the fall, they harvested the crops and stored the grain in barns, all by hand.
Family farming was done along the riverside of the St. Lawrence River, land which had been cleared. But there were also some farms along Page Brook by Les Jardins de Metis going south, and the Scots called them Glen Burnie, the Scottish meaning is a small narrow valley (an area of low farm land) with a small brook on it.
Farm work was very labour-intensive. Horses were used to pull ploughs, harrows and carts, but sowing, weeding, harvesting and threshing were done by hand. Cattle needed feeding fodder, especially during the long winters. Horses were well cared for: their harnesses needed cleaning and upkeep, their stables mucking out, and the horses themselves needed feeding, watering and grooming. Dikes needed to be dug and kept clear to improve drainage, and farm equipment and machinery needed cleaning and maintaining.
By the mid-1820s, the primitive pioneering farming was now becoming a comfortable tolerably good farm, and the prospect of security and even prosperity for one’s children was no longer a dream, but was becoming a reality.
In 1829, 8,000 bushels of grain and vegetables were sent to market, after provisions had been made for the needs of the inhabitants and livestock of the Metis Seigneury.
Potatoes were a principal contributor to the economy. In the 1920s, Robert and Vernon Turriff donated land on Station Road for Ed Astle to build a potato cellar close to the rail line so that the potatoes could be stored before shipping them to Montreal. Today this building has become a private home on Station Road.
Over the years, the farmlands were divided and divided again, and many sold to the summer residents who come every summer to Metis. But there still today are families of those original settlers living on the original farmlands.
Women cared for their husband and infants, and worked tirelessly on never-ceasing household chores. They baked daily and washed clothes weekly. In the summer, they looked after the vegetable garden, preserved fruits and berries, and gathered roots and herbs for healing purposes. Fruits and vegetables could be preserved in underground root cellars, although their flavor would begin to change by the end of winter. In the winter, the women spun wool for knitting and wove materials for clothing and bedding. Today the women of Metis are known for their baking and crafts taught to them by their mothers, and their mothers before them, so on and so on.
When the men were away working, a lot of the labour fell to the women in the house. As well as home-making skills, the women and children would also help to harvest the hay, grain and root crops. The families worked long, hard days in extremes of weather.
Meals would have been coarsely ground meal cakes, locally-caught fish or meat, fruits and berries. Later on, when the farmers were able to buy domestic animals – pigs, sheep, dairy cows, and domestic fowl – their daily menu became more appetizing.
Most shore farms had small boats and put out their own fishing nets. Their diet in the early days was mainly marine life, seals, eel, flounders, cod, halibut, ling, herring, salmon and trout, waterfowl such as ducks and geese, and pigeons caught by nets. Big game was plentiful in the woods so they were able to hunt for moose and deer. More on living off the land.
In the early years, maple syrup was tapped for the household, but by the 1900s, maple syrup was also produced for sale. The Turriff, Astle and McEwing families in March would tap the maple trees, collect the sap in buckets, empty them into barrels on a sleigh pulled by horses, and cook the sap in their sugar shacks. This would supply the needs of their families and the hotels in Metis.
Food storage, before the invention of refrigerators and freezers, took the form of ice houses, used to allow perishable items to keep. They were built out of wood, with an exterior and an interior wall stuffed with sawdust; as well, there was loose sawdust on the floors used for insulation for the ice blocks. These ice houses were used to store food and produce, cured meat, salted fish, milk, eggs, etc… to keep cool. They were built away from the house but close enough to get to in the winter.
During the winter months, the men would cut ice blocks on the ponds and small lakes throughout the Metis area and then take the ice by horse and sleigh to the ice houses. The ice kept the buildings cool until the following winter when the men would cut the ice blocks again. Later on, icebox refrigerators that varied in size were used in the homes and hotels.
Children also had roles to play as soon as they were old enough to help their parents. Boys helped on the farm, and girls helped with the household chores. By 1849, 79 children were going to school in Metis, but only during the winter months as spring to fall they were needed to help out on the farm. It wasn’t until 1943 when school became mandatory and the children went for 10 months of the year. Link Education document.
Home life in the early years, during the evenings, would have been by the fireplaces or wood stoves. The kitchen was not only the cooking area, but also a place where families gathered to discuss the day’s happenings, share time together, tell stories, play some board games, and read the bible. Families went to bed early; we have all heard the saying, ‘early to bed, early to rise, makes a person healthy, wealthy and wise’; it seems that the Metis settlers really believed this. In the following years, when the first cars came to this region, there is a story told that the people from Mont-Joli would drive to Metis in the evening to see if the people in Metis really did go to bed early, and to their amazement they saw no lights on in many of the homes. There are still some who retire early, and get up early, even today.
Friendliness and verbal politeness were expected in everyday life of all Metisians.
Religion was giving thanks for meals, reading bible verses in the evening by the fire, saying bedtime prayers, and genuinely living by the bible’s 10 Commandments. This was very important in the everyday life of the early Metis people. Metis in the early years had no permanent minister, but missionaries did visit from time to time, for example, the Anglican George Mountain, and they would register marriages and baptise the infants or toddlers, usually with the home church of the visiting missionary.
The overall impression that many have is that all people in early Metis were Presbyterians. In fact, although most did come from Scotland, some came from England and Ireland, and others were French Canadians, not all whom were of the Presbyterian faith. John MacNider was a member of the Kirk of Scotland (Presbyterian) in Quebec City, and he threw his influence on the side of the church he followed and in 1847 the first Presbyterian Church was built in Metis and is now part of Killiecrankie at Leggatt’s Point. It was only then that the Metis residents started to go to church every Sunday. The second Presbyterian Church was built in 1884 at Leggatt’s Point.
By 1866 the Methodist Church was built in Little Metis (Metis Beach) today known as the MacNider borough, in Métis-sur-Mer. In 1925, the Methodist became the Metis Beach United Church of Canada.
Today these two churches are open-year round and alternate Sunday worship services.
Did you know… ? Sunday was the day of rest and this rule stayed up until the mid-1960s, with work and sports activities just not done on Sunday in Metis. To this day, the Cascade Golf and Tennis Club still only is open for play after the churches are out on Sunday.
Socializing prior to the construction of the Presbyterian Church at Leggatt’s Point would have been done in the homes of the pioneers with one or two of the neighbours attending, and Mr. MacNider would have invited inhabitants to dine with him from time to time.
By the 1850s, social events involving the citizens were of momentous importance and were held in the church as this was the only place that could fit all the community members. The people came from as far away as the Tartigou to participate in these social activities.
These events were held in the afternoon as travel in the calash (buggy) on the trails in the dark could have disastrous consequences. The church stove was used to boil water in large kettles for tea and the ladies brought hampers of baked goods. Entertainment would have been storytelling, tellers who delighted the audience with improvisation, theatrics, or embellishments, and music played on the bagpipes, violin, and accordion accompanied by singers.
When the Methodist Church was built, it also became a place to hold social events. In 1899, a flyer donated by Jesse (McEwing) Marugg shows us that in the church on Thursday October 19, 1899 there was a Thanksgiving Day concert and fruit social put on by the young people of Little Metis
Did you know… ? There was a dance hall on the west end of Station Road around 1910, Mrs. Willie Campbell inherited the building and it became a private home. There also was a dance hall by the Red Covered Bridge (Pont Belanger) in the 1900s, but little is known about it.
This write-up below, from Alexander Reford, shows the interaction between the St. Octave and Metis people.
In 1893, the young girls in Little Metis decided that a place of gathering was needed as, for a long time, all social gatherings were held in the churches The group called themselves the Willing Workers and by 1897 they had arranged to buy, and have moved, the Town Hall from where it was on the Burland’s land across the street to the spot where it is today.
Since then, all community social events have been held at the Town Hall, with everyone enjoying the companionship of others in banquets, baptism and marriage celebrations and funeral receptions, exhibitions, Thanksgiving suppers, meetings, summer Cabarets, square dances, school Christmas concerts, bazars, rummage sales, evening game nights, etc…
Over the years there have been improvements done to the Town Hall. Gaby Turriff had many sales to have a cement foundation installed, and in the early 2000s Bill Pearce headed a committee to add a bigger kitchen and an annex for storage. There have been many volunteers other the years who have given their time and energy to keep the Town Hall functioning, and a special remembrance goes to Evelyn Annett who was president of the Town Hall and volunteered her services for over 50 years, along with Edith Turriff and Kathy Dodson who volunteered for over 30 years.
Leisure activities in the very early years for the Metis people really did not exist they had very little time, though they did try to find an hour or two for pleasure here or there, leisure was more for the privileged. By the 1890s, leisure and physical activities were evolving more and more with the local people, especially during the winter months in Metis and no longer was leisure just the domain for the wealthy.
Snowshoeing at one time was a necessity in Metis as it was easier to travel over the snow to the barns, and to the wood lots. Today snowshoeing is a winter activity many enjoy along with cross-country skiing, which is done on the two golf courses.
Sliding these days happens on the Boule Rock Golf course, and ice skating, once done on the ponds, is now on the skating rink in the Les Boules sector of Métis-sur-Mer.
Hockey became a popular sport especially with the boys and men. In the mid-to-late 1910-1920s, there was a Little Metis Hockey Club whose members were winners of the Lower St. Lawrence Amateur Hockey League two years in a row. Hockey was played by all generations and the hockey team played against, Matane, Baie-des-Sables, Les Boules, and St. Octave. The first rink was just below Station Road on Tuggey’s land, close to the brook; the second rink was on Turriff’s land, just below Grier’s Hill, and the third was at the Metis Beach School. Gaby Turriff remembers the rink below Grier’s Hill in the 1950s when Howard Meikle use to flood the rink – how the spectators at the hockey games cheered and chanted the Metis team on. The cheer was; “Up the river, down the river, swim, swim, swim; Metis Beach, Metis Beach, win, win, win.” Today hockey is still played, but only for fun on the outside rink in Les Boules. https://heritagelsl.ca/the-dream-team/
Did you know… ? By 1930, radio played a major role in play-by-play ice hockey coverage of the Montreal Canadiens, and in the rural areas, Saturday night by the radio was a must in the households for all ages.
The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leaf’s rivalry is the oldest in NHL history. From 1943–79, the two teams met each other in the playoffs 15 times, and faced off in five Stanley Cup Finals. While the on-ice competition is fierce, they have the two largest fanbases in the entire league – In the homes in Metis you are either a Montreal Canadiens or a Toronto Maple Leaf fan, even today when the hockey season is on, and you are at some function many a discussion ends up revolving around the two teams.
Mail to Metis in the first years was transported by boat and was officially delivered once a year, usually it was mail from family members and was picked up at designated place in Grand Metis. In 1825 F. Belanger looked after the mail. By 1838 Donald McLaren carried the mail from Metis to the Restigouche by foot in summer and snowshoe in winter. Dugald Blue as a teen also did the Metis – Restigouche mail route. There was a post office in Grand Metis run by Henry Page in 1851. Archie McGugan carried the mail from Leggatt’s Point post office to the corner house on MacNider Road and Beach in the 1890s.
Did you know… ? The first post office in Little Metis was at the Corner House (also known as the Octagonal House.)
Rod Turriff wrote that by the mid-1900s, the mail was delivered to the households in the concessions – sometimes known. The mail came from St. Octave along the third concession to Station Road. It was delivered by Pierre Otis on his horse and buggy in the summer and in the winter by horse and sleigh. Then his son in law Howard Meikle (Polly) took over the route. Dorothy Turriff in the 1960s and 70s delivered mail in the Metis Beach area by car to those who had mail boxes. But for most that lived in town, you normally went to the post office to pick up your mail, as it was a great place to socialize.
Newspaper distribution to Metis was finally accessible by 1910 and it became just as important as the bible in daily reading. The newspaper arrived by train and you picked it up along with your mail at the post office. Even though it was day-old news, it did not stop the whole family from being entertained by and informed on all topics in society and culture. Even today, the newspaper is still received a day later.
Timber was the staple of Canadian trade for much of the 19th century, fueled by European demand. The first sawmill built before 1824 was Sieur Hippolyte-Michel Larivée in Grand Metis before the Price Lumber Company acquired extensive timber rights on the Mitis River. Many Metis men worked in the winter for the Price Lumber Company, which was fully operational on the Mitis River by 1831. William Price was an exporter of square timber and manufacturer of planks in Quebec City. The timber, cedar, poplar, elm, ash, black and yellow birch, maple and spruce were cut during the winter by lumberjacks who trimmed and transported the trees. It was easier to transport the trees in winter by sliding them over the snow. In the spring when the Mitis River thawed, the logs were then floated down the river where they were conveyed to the booms at the mouth of the river, where 10 to 12 men received them. They were paid 3 to 4 shillings a month along with board and lodging, and they then sawed the ends and piled them up ready to load. This made them easier to load onto boats moored on the St. Lawrence River to be transported to Quebec City. At Quebec City, some timbers went to the Price mill where they would be turned into planks, but the bulk of the timber ended up on ships headed for Great Britain.
Timber was plentiful in the Metis area and, domestically, was used for fuel for the fireplace or the cast iron ranges, which were a dwelling’s only heat. The feeding of the stove, especially in the winter, was a never-ending chore. In the winter, men felled trees, trimmed and cut the wood into lengths and then brought it home. This would have been done by hand with the bucksaw and axes, as no power tools existed at this time. Normally 20-30 cords (one cord is 4′ x 4′ x 8′) would be used in a year. Today there are still some homes in Metis that heat by wood.
A Fishery was established by John MacNider in 1828 close to the Leggatt’s Point cemetery, near an area known as Anse des Morts (Dead Man’ Bay), a “grave” as enterprises of this type were called. A Mr. Hay was in charge of the fishery and in one season, it yielded to its proprietor 1,500 livres (seven thousand dollars). Men were employed to fish and others were employed to cure and pack the fish into barrels. 1,500 barrels could be packed in one season and shipped to Quebec City for overseas sales to the West India market.
There were three weir fisheries in Metis in the 1930s-1960s: Fred Turriff’s and brothers by Turriff’s beach, Rob and Jack Campbell had a weir by the Meikles’ place, in the area of Campbell’s Bay, and a third was at Lighthouse Bay set by George Sim and Wallace Campbell.
Tourism became popular by 1876 and summertime for the guests was a time for relaxing, participating in sporting activities, and enjoying time with friends and family. For the locals, however, this was the busiest time of year, and when money could be made to help provide for their families.
By the 1900s, there were 11 hotels; the Boule Rock Hotel was the last to close its doors in the mid-1970s. Many Metis men and women were employed in seasonal work by the hotel owners. For the owners of the hotels, it was a six-month job, two months preparing to open, two months with the guests, and two months closing up and fixing what needed to be fixed.
Other locals were employed by the summer guests as caretakers, cooks and kitchen help, maids, nannies, housekeepers, coachmen, even to gardeners who cut grass by hand; there were no power lawn mowers in those days.
Colburn Crawford, from the mid-1960s to the 1980s when he retired, had green houses where he grew flowers and vegetables. He supplied the summer residents with flowers and he had a team of local Metis gardeners to work in the gardens.
Young girls of Metis were employed in childcare and young boys were employed at the two golf courses as caddies to carry the golf bags.
Business in 1823 was conducted in the Grand-Metis end of the seigneury. At that time, there was a sawmill, shipyard, and cornmill where the men would bring their grain to be ground, and one grocery store where wares and the essentials, like flour and sugar, could be obtained… but once the items were depleted – usually in late fall – the people would have to wait until navigation permitted the schooner to come from Quebec City in the spring.
- By 1850, Grand Metis was a village, with a notary, a country inspector, several merchants, craftsmen of many sorts, navigators engaged in loading and shipping wood, a hotel, a post office, and a telegraph office.
- By 1881, Grand Metis, Leggatt’s Point and Little Metis had two protestant churches, five grocery stores, which still received their goods by boat, one butter and cheese factory; one saw-, one carding- (brushing wool fibers to evenly align them preparing wool for spinning) and three grist (grinding grain into flour and feed) mills, a public library, and a post and telegraph office.
- By 1908, Leggatt’s Point and Little Metis had four protestant churches, and a catholic chapel in Les Boules, two telegraph offices, 12 stores, 11 hotels, two grist mills, and two sawmills. Today the only grocery store open, and only during the summer, is in the Les Boules sector owned and run by the Ratté family for five generations now. The year 2022 is the Ratté store’s centenary.
The Municipal office in 1855 was in Grand Metis. Prior to that, all paperwork was done at the Seigneur’s Manor. By 1897, Little Metis had a municipal office on the same land as what we know as the Town Hall.
The fire station in 1938 for Metis Beach was on the same land as the Town Hall, beside the municipal office. There also was a hose tower that dried the fire hoses after use; all of the local men were volunteer firemen.
After a severe storm on January 1, 1980, the hose tower fell. After the storm it was decided to move the municipal office and fire station to Station Road. In 2002, the Metis Beach municipality was merged with Les Boules and became Métis-sur-Mer, and the municipal office was moved to Sector Les Boules. The fire hall is still on Station Road.
Roads in Metis from 1857 to the late 1930s were maintained by the landowners. Rod Turriff wrote that during the winter a horse track was made in early morning, and if necessary, there was plowing with a horse and scraper. Summer roads were dirt in the early years and were scraped by a horse pulling a wooden grader of six-by-six beams bolted to a frame. They were angled and the first pull of the gravel was out to the middle, the second pull spread it back to an opposite angle and the third pull leveled it straight.
In the winter, an ice bridge was used for travel over the bays of the St. Lawrence River. An ice bridge is a natural body of ice that forms over a water surface that is strong enough to bear traffic. In the area’s early years, ice bridges were used for transport by horse and sleigh in Metis. This was not without its dangers towards the season of the Spring break-up.
Water systems prior to 1924, before installation of the town water line and filter in Metis, was either wells or a spring that fed water into holding tanks. There were approximately eight such holding tank systems in Metis. A pipe was run from the holding tank to the homes and hotels, and this was how the early homes and hotels had running water. Once in a home or hotel, water was heated in a tank by the wood stove or boiler.
Lighting in the early days, before coal oil had come into use, was seal oil, porpoise oil, or tallow dips. In the 1890s, Turriff Hall and the hotel Seaside House had a form of electricity: they ran 30 volt batteries charged by a Lyster diesel generator. Hydroelectric lines began operating in 1923, however, not all homes were hooked up to for electricity until the 1930s.
Time zones in Canada are regulated by Canadian provincial and territorial governments. Clocks in Canada are turned forward by one hour on the second Sunday in March and turned back on the first Sunday of November.
In Québec prior to the 1960s, both the general public and the government placed much less importance on standardized laws concerning time, particularly with respect to the period during which daylight-saving time applied.
The Official Time Act was adopted in 1966 (Statutes of Québec, 1966, c. 3). During the debate on the passage in principle, the Honourable Jean Lesage, Premier of Québec, speaking on behalf of the government, stated that the purpose of the Act was to simplify Québec’s legislation on official time to ensure that the matter was no longer governed by a federal law (Debates of the Legislative Assembly of Québec, 1966-02-17, (pp. 786 to 789). At the time, the Senate was in fact studying a bill that would have set the official time in the various provinces of Canada.
Did you know… ? Before 1966, the people of the Lower Saint Lawrence, including Metis, lived on Atlantic Time zones, and it was in 1966 that it changed to Eastern Time zone. Today we see less daylight in Metis.
By P. Andersson