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About Lower Montague

Posted: June 18, 2015 at 5:35 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

History of Lower Montague

The first inhabitants of the Island and the area now called Lower Montague were the First Nations Mi’kmag people who came to the Island seasonally and established summer camps. They called the island Abegweit or “resting on the wave”. They mostly harvested the richness of forest, field and sea. An Indian burial site reportedly exists along the waters edge and the intersection with the Thornton Road.

The first white settlers in the area arrived in 1732. They were the Acadian French associated with the French Creek area and DeRoma settlement in Brudenell. They inhabited Lower Montague area from 1732 until the expulsion of the Acadians in 1758 following the fall of Louisburg.

In 1763 a peace treaty was signed ceding New France to the British. Between 1764 and 1765 Captain Samuel Holland carried out a survey of the Island for the British. Of the 67 lots of 20,000 acres each, three were reserved for the Imperial Government and the other 64 lots were disposed off by ballot in one single day.

One of the first settlements on Prince Edward Island was Wightman’s Point also know as Saint Andrews Point. Here in 1767 two men from the United States, Creed and Higgins, set up a fishing establishment. These two men brought Negro slaves with them. One of the slaves was called Dimbo Suckles. Some of the descendents of these slaves are still living on the Island.
In 1770 Saint John’s Island became a distinct province no longer being part of Nova Scotia.

In the 1770’s a number of Acadian families re-settled in Lot 59 as tenants. The area was then called Three Rivers. Many of them had been exiled to France during the deportation by the British; others had escaped and had made their way to the French island of Miquelon around 1765. These Acadian families were invited to come and settle in an area of Lot 59, now known as Lower Montague, by David Higgins, one of the proprietors of the township. In partnership with James William Montgomery, lord advocate of Scotland, Higgins had established a fishing, lumbering, and mercantile business in the area and was in need of manpower. Between 1772 and 1774, fourteen Acadians and eighteen Scots signed small leases with David Higgins. Many of these Acadians were related to each other. For instance, there was François Cormier and his four married sons. The other names were Aucoin, Boudreau, Chiasson, Deveau, Doiron, Maillet and “LePare”.

In the early 1780s, all the Acadian tenants left Lot 59. Their departure was probably linked to the serious financial problems that beset their employer and landlord, David Higgins, who died penniless in 1783. Most of these Acadian families eventually made their way to Cheticamp in Cape Breton.

Only the families of Paul Chiasson and Alexis Doiron stayed on Prince Edward Island. Paul Chiasson went to Bay Fortune after a brief stay in Cheticamp, and later to Rollo Bay. He is the ancestor of the Chaissons from Eastern Kings. Alexis Doiron left Lower Montague and settled in Rustico around 1782.

In 1775, the first British settlers arrived on a ship from Dumfries, Scotland; one of the first families was the Aitkens. The 1798 census shows seven families living in the Lower Montague area of Lot 59. (William Creed, Dav. Young, Jos. Clark, Dav. Ervin Esquire, Wm. Ervin, Jno. Aitken, and Wm. Keoughan.)
In 1799 the Island assembly changed the name of the island to Prince Edward Island. The population of the island at this time was 5000.

In 1821 when the first settlers were getting over the struggles of pioneer life; Joseph Wightman came with his parents to Lower Montague. There he went into mercantile business. The “Annandale” was built for Mr. Wightman at Murray Harbor. Captain Wightman was one of the leading shipbuilders in Kings County.
Wightman’s Point was named for the family who first began a busy trading post and large sheep and hay market for export.
A historical point in Lower Montague is the Old Wightman Cemetery which is situated on the point of land beyond the Saint Andrews Park.

In this graveyard Joseph Wightman and his wife, and son James are buried. James Wightman died on June 16, 1863 in the Armory Hospital at Washington, D.C. from the effects of typhoid fever. He was, when he died, assistant surgeon in the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War in the States. James Wightman went to the United States before the Civil War and when he died his remains were sent back to Prince Edward Island, his native land.

Roger Dart Westaway of Devonshire, England came to Prince Edward Island in 1820. His son Richard Westaway inherited the farm and became engaged in the shipbuilding and mercantile business. Richard built his first brigantine, the “Richard” on the shore of his farm. He built four more ships at Murray Harbor and two at Georgetown, across the river from Lower Montague. The last ship Richard Westaway built was the “Westaway”. Captain Westaway commanded many of his own ships as well did his sons.

John Poole and son John came to Prince Edward Island in 1807 and settled in Lower Montague in the 1820’s. A small house was constructed with hand hewn beams with mortised joints secured with wooden pegs and square nails. The gaps between the siding boards were covered with birch bark. The original house structure still exists but the house exterior has been completely modified by the subsequent owners. Ten children were reared in this small dwelling. They went on to be involved in milling, mercantile, trading and farming in the area with one of the sons, Cornelius Poole, being appointed as Wharfinger of Aitken’s Wharf by the colonial secretary in 1870.

Another noteworthy construction is the house constructed of island sandstone. The house was constructed by the Aitken family in the early 1800’s. The one and a half storey 38 x 24 foot home has 36 inch thick walls.
At first, the river was the only means of travel. But the 1880’s Meecham’s Atlas shows this community as the Old Ferry Road community referring to the narrow roadway which linked the area to Montague Bridge. Earlier the whole of Lot 59 was served by a ferry boat which gave them access to Georgetown the county capital and centre for commerce, doctors, drugstores, dentists and entertainment. In winter the ice was “bushed” creating an ice road for safe passage to Georgetown and Montague. On Sunday afternoons one could mingle with citizens of both towns who found pleasure in skating on the river. On warm summer evenings the ferryboat was used for the popular Moonlight Strawberry Sail.

The ferry connection to Georgetown from Lower Montague was located about 1 km east of the present day wharf. The ferry carried about 12 horses and wagon carts, and in later years, vehicles. Many doctors and other important figures of society came to Lower Montague from Georgetown. The doctors had to be shared between communities because there was a scarcity of them. The ferry began operation in 1838 after the recommendations made by Mr. Thomson and Roger Westaway to the town of Georgetown. Fifteen pounds was granted for the building of the wharf. It was operated by a company from the United States. The ferry ceased operation in 1953 with the promise that the road from Lower Montague to Georgetown would be paved.
Another ferry operated by James MacFarlane in Ellybank (now known as French Creek) provided a link between Lower Montague and Brudenell.

The mid to late 1800’s shows an active community with two churches, community cemetery, two-room school and community hall for dramas and concerts, large general store, wharf, factory, forges, two lime kilns and a sawmill. Farming and fishing were the main industries with produce being transported to various ports in the Maritimes and into Quebec. Overseas commerce was also carried on and Martin’s “View from the Bridge” spoke of the Lower Montague harbour as a “Forest of Sail” because of the many ships and vessels at anchor at any given time. Safe passage was aided by a lighthouse and range light to avoid reefs and shallow waters.

Times were changing and Prince Edward Island joined Canada in 1873.In 1875 the Land Purchase Act was approved compelling landlords holding more than 500 acres to sell the land to the local government at a fixed sum to be set by three commissioners. The original Lower Montague community curled around the coastline with farms running in narrow sections back from the river generally in 100 acre allotments.

One of Lower Montague’s two stores was the Poole’s store built in 1888. This store was relied on heavily by the citizens of the community. It was a general store which sold just about everything that was necessary for people to live. Many ships would come into the wharf near the store to transport the store’s merchandise. The original building was torn down and a new structure was built. The Poole’s ceased operating as a general store in 1964. However; the newer building is still standing.

A saw and grinding mill called Herb’s Mill was located on the French Creek Road. The mill was built in the early 1900’s by the McFarlane family, and was in use until 1944. It was believed that the last miller was Billy Thompson. Today the original mill is no longer standing.

In the early 1900’s James Hewitt ran a canning factory that processed lobster, clams and hake that were brought in by the local fishermen. There was also a shipbuilding operation run by the Cameron family, but not much is known of the details.
Many farm properties have lost the original buildings and barns. Most of the homesteads were very large and often sheltered large families. One farmhouse owned by Albert and Fanny Horton was used as a type of bed & breakfast for people travelling on the ferry. They would store the passenger’s horses in the buildings on the property.
The homestead was adjacent to the ferry dock and was used for this purpose. This house is still standing.
The first church in Lower Montague was the Methodist Church. In 1922 a Presbyterian church was built in Lower Montague across from the present day cemetery. It was used often by the early citizens of Lower Montague and was in the center of the community. The church building is now a private residence. After church union in 1925 the Methodist church was sold and moved out of the community.

In later years the Post Office, a regular meeting place, was replaced by the mailman Murdock MacKenzie who delivered by horse and sleigh or a wagon referred to as the “Little Red Caboose”. His route took him around the original roadway down to Wightman’s Point and through the Thornton Road, the original road giving access to Albion and Sturgeon to the south.
The Lower Montague community has remained much the same into the 21st century. Two World Wars and a Depression saw the community pull together to do their share. By the 1960’s inevitable change saw the school close, the highway paved and church closures. People began moving off the farms and mills and factories were shut down. Meanwhile, the community expanded to the west and south. The Lower Montague community now runs from the Valleyfield Dam to the west and south to Albion.

New families have moved into the community and our population has increased. The Lower Montague Community Improvement Committee (CIC) was established in 1974. In 1978 the CIC established its first official plan respecting land use and development. With the passage of the Municipalities Act in 1985 Lower Montague became the Community of Lower Montague under the direction of an elected Community Council and under the umbrella of the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs.

To retain the historical significance of the area of Wightman’s point, a section of land lying next to the Wightman cemetery was leased from the provincial government and made into a day park called Saint Andrews Park. It is a popular place to observe the St. Mary’s Bay watershed, Boughton Island, Georgetown, seals, seabirds and the rich eco system of the area.

Lower Montague has retained its peaceful rural agricultural and fishing heritage. However all modern services and amenities can be found either within the community or nearby.
The Community welcomes everyone who wishes to visit or live in our community. Also we encourage everyone to take an active part in our evolving history.