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September 19, 2008

Another Lost Mattawa Area Village


I wrote recently about the small lost community at Snake Creek north of Mattawa and the sister community across the Ottawa River in Quebec.  Today I want to look at a French enclave that began in 1890 when Joseph Lapensee settled about 2 kilometres opposite Mattawa  on a flat in the Quebec Laurentians opposite the Valois Restaurant and Motel.  Several families eventually  settled there when lumberman J.R. Booth moved on and left some roads, cleared lands and buildings.  These settlers  eventually developed a 600 acre farm area where everyone pitched in and lived off the land.  Some of the men worked away on logging and related activities in season. 

One of the log buildings in the community with some unidentified  young  people at the French settlement on the right and Noella Tremblays parents Deline Lapensee and Aldege Gravelle on left .  Frank Bastien photo.

Nugget reporter Gord McCulloch wrote about the farm in a Nugget article in 1992.  He met with many of the families from there that now live in Mattawa.  They actually had a dinner meeting with him at the Mattawa Museum that was video tape recorded and which I have viewed. 

He told about their crops of grain, hay, corn, vegetables and fruit from trees they planted.  They brought livestock across the Ottawa by barge and had cows, pigs, sheep and chickens.  There were always large crops of  berries in the bush nearby.  They supplemented their meat supply by some hunting.   

They had no formal municipal type rules but had an understood French Catholic morality that  served them well. There was no church but a priest came regularly and they made regular trips to Mattawa for church.  Adult funerals were held in Mattawa.  They had their own cemetery, primarily for children who succumbed to disease and were a potential threat in Mattawa. 

There were several weddings there  with as many as 100 guests over the years.  The ceremony was held in the church in Mattawa.  They then tied a couple of big lumber pointer boats together to get the crowd across.  Some also walked across the railway bridge.  Many in the settlement played music and there was always music until dawn at these events. 

Some of the family names still exist in Mattawa.  (Joly, Lapensee, Groulx, Gendron, Gravelle, Bastien, Lamirante, Duhaime).  I recently spoke to Noella Tremblay who is a Gravelle and lived there for years.  Frank Bastien also sat in on the conversation and  brought his photo album.  Some of the  pictures are shown here. 

Map showing the French settlement in the Laurentians in Quebec opposite Mattawa – note also the 3 crosses nearby.

By the late 1940s the community had begun to dwindle as families looked for work, education, etc. in Mattawa and elsewhere   The last family moved from the farm to the Ottawa River’s edge for  a few years in the late forties until they also moved.  The Groulx and Lapensee families planted some gardens on the original site  for years after the demise of the community and had wonderful results. 

Hunters in the area today can still see old pieces of abandoned farm equipment.  Like many other lost communities there are powerful memories of that unique lifestyle  and camaraderie and old photos are often studied to bring back the memories from those vibrant times. 

The Three Crosses 

Many people have admired the 3 crosses on the hill about a kilometre north of the community mentioned above.  There are many stories about the source of the original crosses.   They were not a part of  the community above  The crosses have been replaced several times and recently had solar powered lights added to draw your attention at night.  Painter Clermont Duval was recently on  Sudbury CBC radio explaining the authentic archival history of the crosses.  Three local priests erected the crosses  in 1917.  It was WWI and they wanted to do something to show their support . They were helped by three local boys.  The crosses were restored later when they deteriorated and were replaced again in the mid 1980s.  The current activity assures they will be there for years to come and may now also be seen in the dark every night and continue as an important part of Mattawa history. 

Clermont’s son Costel has painted a painting of the crosses with their lights.  It can be seen in the Duval Gallery window on Main Street.  Clermont also painted the crosses in 2000 for the cover to Gerry Therrien’s fine book Mattawa Our Timeless Town.  The crosses keep an eye on Mattawa but must occasionally miss the excitement of children, farming, and celebration nearby for some 60 years in the first half of the last century. 

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