By Peter Andersen
This article, courtesy of Peter Andersen, originally appeared in the Lanark Era, Dec 19, 1985, and was reprinted in the LCGS newsletter, February, 1996.
There is today and has been since the mid 1830s a French settlement in Darling Township. It is still known as the French Line. Indeed, the French from Lower Canada were among the first in the area as they made up part of the crew of the survey teams for the original surveys. The greater part, however, arrived here as a direct result of the political strife of 1837-38. The village of St. Benoit, Cte. Deux Montages, was burned to the ground in reprisal for the affair of St. Eustace. The families Majore, Cardinal and Lalonde all came from St. Benoit and even as I was growing up the story of “La Grande Brulee” was still being told. Others (the Rangers) came from Coteau du Lac. The economy was as chaotic then as now and they came because of the work commencing in the timber industry in Lanark. Some arrived by way of the Upper Ottawa and the rest came via Brockville and Perth.
My great great grandfather Joachim Majore worked for some time at Fitzroy Harbour where he had a contract for the supply of square timber for the construction of the first timber slide at the “Chats Falls” (Obit. Lanark Era, 9 Feb 1898). My other great great grandfather Louis Ranger worked for several years for “Sandy” Caldwell and homesteaded a lot in Darling that he received from the same man. This farm is still in the Ranger name, being farmed by the great grandson of the original homesteader. All these people were the backbone of the timber trade of Lanark. They were the teamsters, sawyers, cutters and hewers all winter in the shanties. In the spring, they drove the logs down the rivers (Clyde, Mississippi and Miramichi (Madawaska)) and many continued the long trip with the rafts all the way to Quebec City. During the late spring they also made potash, although this later became highly unprofitable; I know of one individual whose season’s work netted him $18.00 at Carleton Place during the 1880s. The work of the small farms was carried on by the women and children and when the men became too old for the bush they turned their skills to former trades such a coopers (Adorateur Millotte, top of Hilliar St., Lanark), furniture and coffin maker (Louis Ranger), weavers, etc.
During all this time they were generally separated from the rest of society of Lanark because of language and religion. There was a public school built but attendance was very poor in the beginning — simply because of the language problem. To quote from the census taker of 1851, James Guthrie: “On this sheet will be found the names of a number of French-Canadians. They are most all settled together on the West border of the Township. Their land is rather unproductive and rocky but although they are a peaceful and social people they do not have the energy of their Anglo-Saxon neighbours. A few years ago there was a schoolhouse built with a view to induce them to send their children, but they have not sent any. Their offspring are left to grow up in gross ignorance.” Of course such was not the case. Those people from Lower Canada were quite well educated by the standards of the time but in their own language. My great great grandmother Marcelle Watier, wife of Louis Ranger, was the granddaughter of a “Notaire du Roi”, a lawyer of the Civil Code. Her son, William Ranger, could read and write both French and English and indeed acted as a teacher for the settlement for a time. The fact was they had a distinct fear of the motives of the government of the day. Time, however, heals all wounds or at least creates a covering scar tissue. The French of Lanark have lost their tongue. William Ranger and his son Antoine (my grandfather) were the last to converse regularly in French. They eventually intermarried with their neighbours, Irish and Scots, and except for those who later moved to northern Ontario or Manitoba, all have been assimilated.
This past year, 1984, marked the three hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the Ranger family in Canada (April 1684, Hubert Ranger, a Sergeant of the De Lorimier Co., landed at Quebec). Their history in Quebec is very interesting with much action during the Iroquois Wars, etc. Their travels extended from Hudson’s Bay to Louisiana and to Newfoundland. It seems shameful to me that they should be entirely forgotten when it comes to their contribution to the industry and growth of Lanark County. The newcomers (Scots and Irish) were greenhorns in the bush. They had to learn their skills from someone. The British Military were notoriously poorly equipped in tools for this work and there were not many U.E. Loyalists willing to do that sort of work, they were of the entrepreneurial bent, as note Merrick, Stephens, Wright, et al. The French were more easily satisfied or possibly rooked as note the clash between Caldwell and MacLaren over wages paid to bush workers. But their skills were undeniable both in the bush and on the rivers. Many are the Quebecois who are buried along the rivers of Lanark and Renfrew Counties. Just from my own family I can name five who drowned on the Clyde and the Mississippi. Two were but 18 yrs. and all were under 25 yrs. It was a hard life but those who survived lived long. (see obit. Lanark Era, Wed., March 24, 1948, Grand Old Man of Darling).