by Sir James McPherson Lemoine in his book Maple Leaves: History, Biography, Legend, Literature, Memoirs, Etc. VII Series, 1906, published by Frank Carrell, Quebec
“Time will not number the hours
We’ll spend in the woods.
Where no sorrow intrudes,
With the streams, and the birds
And the flowers.”
by Alexander McLachlan
Dominion Day, 1903, opened with bright, ideal weather. A drenching shower had the night previous refreshed the brown earth, laying the dust ; All nature seemed , smiling, bathed in radiant sunshine.
This is Dominion Day. Let us then seek green, woods, rippling brooks, live trout streams, where, from a shady bank, we may drink a health to dear Canada on this auspicious national holiday.
One rural shady resort in particular, is within easy reach, the picturesque , vale, rejoicing in the grand historic name of Jacques Cartier, Valcartier, sylvan Valcartier.
I felt anxious to visit it, were it for no other reason than to get a glimpse of the romantic spot where eighty odd years ago a much respected patriot and admired citizen, John Neilson, editor of the ‘Quebec Gazette” and M.P .P . for the county, occasionally during the “leafy” months, sought solitude and surcease from exciting parliamentary strife and grinding editorial duties. John Neilson was not an ordinary man.
Fortune favored me this clay. An excursion was planned by an expert, woodsman and lover of Canadian wilds, George M. Fairchild, jr., the genial liard of Ravencliffe, Cap Rouge. I was promised a view of the romantic vale, oft’ threaded by him, whose rifle had more than once awakened the echoes of the Laurentides, and whose rod had sealed the fate of myriads of trout and some salmon, in the dark pools and roaring rapids of the Jacques Cartier stream.
Before unrolling the annals of Valcartier, I shall venture to portray its honored founders at least some of them.
The father of the settlement was the Hon. John Neilson, who was born at Dornald., Kircudbright, Scotland, on the 17th truly, 1776. When aged 14 he was sent to Canada to seek his fortune and placed under the care of his elder brother, Samuel Neilson, who had there in 1780, succeeded his uncle, William Brown, in the property and editorship of the” Quebec Gazette, ” which had first been published once a week by him and his partner, Mr. Gilmore, in 1764. The pioneer news-sheet was enlarged and printed twice a week in 1810. In 1832 it came out daily, until absorbed by the “Quebec Chronicle in 1874, after existing 110 years. Mr. Neilson, in 1818, was chosen member for the County of Quebec. In 1834, after discharging his parliamentary duties with eclat and devotedness for fifteen years, he was set aside, as he refused to further the fierce parliamentary agitation, which was shortly to become unconstitutional, and terminated, in 1837, into armed rebellion, though he continued his friendly feelings towards his French-Canadian constituents.
Several important public missions were confided to him during his long parliamentary career.
In 1822, he represented Quebec, whilst the honorable non. Joseph Papineau represented Montreal, as delegates to England to ask for the redress of colonial grievances. Again, in 1828, a similar honor was conferred on him, in conjunction with two leading men in Montreal. Denis B. Viger and the Hon. Austin Cuvillier. We find him at the head of a similar important delegation in 1834. A special mark of Mr. Neilson’s services to tile public took place in 1831, when a silver vase which cost 150 guineas, was presented to him at a public dinner by his fellow-citizens, in testimony of their gratitude for his services in England in 1822 und 1828. This tribute, which we were privileged to view recent}y, at Dornald, Cap Rouge, his former residence, now the picturesque home of his grandson, Colonel Hubert Neilson, bears the following inscription:
” A John Neilson, Ecr., M.P.P., depute, deux fois aupres du Parlement Imperial pour defendre les droits des Canadiens ce leger tribut de reconnaissance lui est offert, en memoire des services qu’il a rendus au pays, et comme un hommage, a ses vertus civiques. ‘ ,
Mr. Neilson expired at Dornald, his country seat at Cap Rouge, 1st February, 1848.
Mr. Neilson had a trusted friend the Ron. Andrew Stuart, S.G., also intimately associated with the foundation of Valcartier, of whom a mention here may not be out of place.
Andrew Stuart, the father of the late Sir Andrew Stuart, and grandfather of Gustavus G. Stuart, the learned Batonnier of the Bar of this Province, was born at Kingston in 1786. He was the son of the late Rev. John Stuart, D. D., Minister of Kingston, Ont. He was educated partly in Canada and partly in the United States and showed at an early age great proficiency in his studies, and a warm and generous nature. He commenced the study of the law in 1802 at Quebec, and was admitted to the bar on the 15th November, 1807. He rose almost immediately into extensive practice; his success being secured by three of the greatest qualities a lawyer can possess, -extensive knowledge both of the principles, and of the practice of the convincing and overpowering eloquence, the strictest regard to the interest of his clients. In 1810, he defended Mr. Justice Bedard then exposed to a state prosecution. From that time to the period of his death, his assistance was sought for in every difficult und important case that occurred. Andrew Stuart ,was eminent as a scientist, as well as a leading luminary of the Quebec Bar. .
The parliamentary election of 1834 had led to the rejection of almost all the Candidates favorable to the constitution ; the dark era of Lower and Upper Canada was approaching The outbreak of 1837-8 was nearly in sight.
The upholder of the constitution knew the difference between reforms and insurrection and took his course accordingly. A public dinner was given at Quebec in honor of Mr. Stuart and other candidates who had been rejected for their constitutional and loyal conduct. Mr. Stuart then devoted himself to his profession.
To all institutions favoring literary purposes, Mr. Stuart was an ardent friend and promoter, and among others, to the Literary and historical Society of Quebec. He entertained an earnest and a kind of paternal solicitude for its advancement. Besides promoting its interest by his personal influence, he communicated to it, and read before it a great number of interesting papers and exerted himself with great zeal to forward the publication of its Transactions.
In the spring of 1838, Mr. Stuart was sent to England for the purpose of favoring the union of the provinces, and in October of the same year he was nominated Solicitor-General by His Excellency, the Earl of Durham, when he removed his residence to Montreal, but was prevented by ill-health, from taking any conspicuous part in the business before the courts.
He died on the 21st February, 1840.
Mr. H. J. Morgan, to whom I am indebted for much of the information herein set forth touching Hon. John Neilson and Hon. Andrew Stuart, M.P. furnishes the resolutions presented at a public dinner given by the leading citizens of Quebec on the 2nd. April, 1840, to perpetuate the memory of this gifted and esteemed barrister. The meeting which took place at the Quebec exchange was presided over by James Hastings Kerr, with William Petry as secretary. The following gentlemen addressed the meeting: William Price, Revd D. Wilkie, Henry Lemesurier, Wm. Bristow, Joseph Bouchette, Surveryor-General of the Province.
Nine miles north of Jeune Lorette, is the parish of St. Gabriel de Valcartier, east and west, containing a population of over 1200 souls, all, of Scotch, English or Irish extraction. These settlements were formed about 1816 by an association of four of the leading men of Quebec of that period-the Hon. John Neilson, the Hon. Andrew Stuart Louis Moquin, advocate, and Nicholas Vincent, chief of the Huron tribe. By purchase from the Government they secured a large tract of the Jesuit estates, then a wilderness, but by liberal offers to arriving Scotch emigrants they induced a number of families to become settlers. The promoters also brought in settlers from some of the bordering states, men who were familiar with clearing forest lands. A road was constructed from Lorette to the Jacques Cartier River and a saw and grist mill erected by tile proprietors. The lands were now eagerly taken up and by a government census of 1821, a considerable population already existed. From that date the increase has been a steady one.
As we approached what is known as the settlement (the village proper), we passed the site of the Wolff homestead, which is only indicated now by a clump of lilacs. Here in 1824, Adjutant Alexander Joseph Wolff, late of the 60th Regiment, settled with his family. He brought with him a number of the rank and file of the 60th Regiment, who had served with him in Egypt and in the Peninsula and were desirous of ending their days near the man they had served under through many a hard-fought battle or trying campaign. Adjutant Wolff was the proud possessor of the war medal with sixteen clasps, the largest number held at that period by any officer in the British army. He fought at Roleia and Vimera, Oporto, Talavera, Fuentes d ‘Onora, Albuera, Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajos, Salamanca, Vittoria, Neville and Nive, Orthes, Toulouse. He was wounded in five separate battles. He also served with General Abercrombie in Egypt. He passed many years in Valcartier, managing and improving his property, discharging his duties as Lientenant-Colonel of Militia, and as an active and upright magistrate. Col. Wolff possessed an excellent understanding and enjoyed the regard and esteem of the most distinguished men in Canada. A son of Chief Justice Sewell married his daughter Charlotte. A son, James Fitzgerald Wolff, was a leading physician in Quebec in the fifties, removing later to Ottawa, where he died. The only other surviving son Lieutenant-Colonel Chas. Stuart Wolff, who married a grand-daughter of the Hon. John Neilson, and yet resides in Valcartier in a well preserved old age. Charley, as he is known to his intimates, is as genial as at thirty, and universally beloved. His daughter, Alice Margaret, is the wife of G. M. Fairchild, Jr., of Cap Rouge, widely known through his works on Canada. Many of the scenes and characters in his Canadian. romances have been found in Valcartier while he makes ample mention of the river Jacques Cartier in his sporting sketches.
The settlement can yet hardly be called a village. It straggles along a mile of wide road. We were much pleased with the appearance of the little Episcopal Church, which is built of stone, and old Gothic in architecture. On a commanding hillock is the Presbyterian church, a substantial structure in cut stone, surmounted by a belfry. In the churchyard under a tall granite shaft, repose the remains of the late Hon. John Neilson, amidst the scenes he loved so well. To him must be accredited the organization of the first sporting club in Canada, known as the “Club des Bois.” It numbered a half dozen or more prominent citizens of Quebec, and its camp fires and Noctes Ambrosianae were on the shores of the beautiful little Fairie Lake Tradition has it that the club was divided into two rival camps that faced each other with the camp fire between them. When political discussions waxed high, it was the duty of one member to pile more wood on the fire and visit each member in turn with the pipe of peace and a jorum of prime rum punch. This pipe of peace silver mounted and with suitable inscription, is a treasured relic in the Neilson family. The capacious punch bowl has, alas disappeared from sight or knowledge.
Some little distance further on we came to the Roman Catholic Church a fine stone structure erected in 1852, we believe largely by liberal subscriptions from the Neilson family and others. It has a large congregation and its Pastor is the Revd. Hugh McGrathy, who lives in an ornate presbytery nearby.
We stopped at the residence of Col. Chas. Wolff for a short chat with its owner over some points we desired to clear up relative to the Argonaut days in California and Australia. The Colonel was one of that notable round up of Quebec’s well known young men who set sail in the Rory O’More in 1849 for California to dig for gold. The Colonel is one of the few survivors of that expedition, as he is of a later one for Australia, where he also spent several years, Bidding good-bye to the Colonel a sweep of the road brought us within sight of the Jacques Cartier River, far famed for beautiful scenes, large trout, and goodly salmon near its mouth. Such eminent anglers and writers as Tolfrey, Dr. Henry, Lanman Hallock, John Burroughs, Langevin, Kerr Nettle, Chambers, Fairchlild and others have enlarged upon the river’s manifold charms. Certainly the scene we stopped to gaze upon was strikingly beautiful. Below wound the Jacques Cartier through many channels among dozens of green islands covered with great elms, and the background, mountains and more mountains for miles and miles. On a cleared point nestled the old time great house of the late William Neilson, a son of the Hon. John Neilson, and also, for a period, the publisher of the Quebec Gazette.
A fine steel bridge spans the river here, and on a commanding wooded terrace above river we come to the lovely summer home Mr. G.M. Fairchild, senior. It is in our humble opinion, one of the most picturesque homesteads about Quebec. It is appropriately named Riverside, for the river almost encircles it, and along the latter’s wooded shores are well trimmed paths, rustic seats, log camps and summer houses large enough to be lived in, a boat house and camping grounds and picnic spots for the owner is never so happy as when others are enjoying the fruits of his well planed property. Each year he has all the boys of the YMCA camping here for several weeks, and no church or private picnic is allowed to go elsewhere. On his broad verandah in the heat of the day, and in his well stored library of an evening, I passed delightful hours in reminiscing of Quebec fifty years ago. John Lesperance the Canadian novelist in his “ the Bastonnais,” brings his heroine to Valcartier. He was guilty of an anachronism but otherwise his descriptions are fairly true, G. M. Fairchild, jr., in his collection of short stories “A Ridiculous Courting “includes a hero that savors of the parish, while in his “Rod and Canoe,” he devotes several chapters to the Jacques Cartier.
Thus pleasantly passed for me, Dominion Day, 1903 exploring the charmed vale.
Alas the lengthening shadows round this green Tsononthuan mountain in rear of Riverside, bid me prepare to leave, and I had reluctantly to say good-bye to its kind and hospitable inmates.
J. M. LeMoine.
Sillery, July, 1903.