by Jean Belisle
It is a beautiful Saturday and we are leaving our dock at Carillon. We anticipate a nice transit. We are heading for La Petite-Nation, the kingdom of Louis-Joseph Papineau one of the leaders of the rebellion of 1837. La Petine-Nation refers to the seigneury of the Papineau family. Today all the area is known as Montebello. During the French regime, the seigneurial system was the way of dividing the land. The king Louis XIV was giving the seigneuries to subject who served the crown well. La Petite-Nation was given to the Jesuit order during the 17th century. The Papineau family acquired it from the Jesuits late in the 18th century. The Napoleonic war in Europe forced the British to look to their colonies for raw materials, specifically shipbuilding wood . And La Petite-Nation had lot of usable wood. The Papineau family made their fortune with the big pines.
The Ottawa river is impressive, running very deep in places. After a very nice transit we docked at the municipal quay, a very strong concrete structure. Immediately the locals are coming to see us. We are a very unusual sight in these waters. After the usual duties of setting up our gangway and information panels, I am exploring the village with a bunch of our pamphlets in my pocket. I started my distribution at the Tourist information center in the old log railway station, then at the Manoir Papineau National Historic Site to finish at the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello.
Since I am starting my shift late on the boat Sunday, I visited the Manoir of the Papineau in the morning. This is an impressive house built in 1854 by Papineau after his return from exile (Papineau was obliged during the rebellion to seek refuge in the USA). It is a mixture of Georgian and Victorian architecture. Parks Canada did an excellent restoration, but just for the main floor because the second had been heavily modified by the Seigneury Club. The Papineau were so proud of their family that they built a private family museum on the property. The museum was transformed into a chapel by the Club. The Club acquired the property from the Papineau family in 1929.
After the Manoir, I went to the Hotel. It was built by the Seigneury Club at the beginning of the 1930s. It was at that time the largest log construction in the world. It is still a very impressive structure. All the logs are treated with a black coating for conservation. It is dark building very medieval in atmosphere. On the walls there is lot of photographs of famous visitors including several American presidents (Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush). Many international summits were held here. The hotel is literally covered with paintings by the artist Sheriff-Scott.They represent naturally the life of Papineau and the rebellion of ’37 but also the nature and the wildlife of the area. After all that “visiting“ back to the boat to receive visitors. As usual they are very curious about the boat but also about how as a crew we live together today. Were are we sleeping? Were is the kitchen? What are we eating? So the past is becoming the present! We as interpreters are becoming part of the history. At the end of the afternoon the mayor of Montebello came to visit the boat. For this small community we are a big attraction.
Before leaving this very nice town, Art and myself went to the ice cream store to test and compare the quality of the famous Montebello banana split. It lived up to its reputation… And Monday morning we took in our gangway and panels, and headed up the river. Ottawa is waiting for us.
Special Thanks to:
A recently retired professor from the Art History Department at Concordia University, Jean has been involved with LCMM for many decades. He joins us for his second year as crew aboard the Lois McClure.