Mille Roches, Ontario

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Mille Roches is an underwater ghost town in the Canadian province of Ontario. It is one of Ontario's Lost Villages, which were permanently flooded by the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1958.

Families and businesses in Mille Roches were moved to the new town of Long Sault before the seaway construction commenced.

Mille Roches was the birthplace of Levi Addison Ault, who moved to Cincinnati, Ohio as an adult and became a successful businessman and the city's commissioner of parks in the early 1900s. Ault also donated a large parcel of family-owned land on Sheek's Island, which became Ault Park.

Ethnic History of Mille Roches and the Region[edit]

Eastern Ontario was always a highway or corridor through which people moved, a corridor used by migration and conquest. Prior to European colonization, the Mohawks and Six Nations Iroquois settled and raided through the St. Lawrence valley. The French and British fought over the waterway, and after the American revolution, in 1812-14 it became a battleground between Americans and Canadians. It remained a home for refugees and migrants looking to escape authorities or find safe haven from overseas conflicts.

Early settlement is largely undocumented, though oral histories and early accounts suggest that settlers, traders and farmers existed in the area long before formal recognition.

The post-contact regional population was a mixture of French Canadian, Ojibwe and Mohawk residents. To this was added an influx of American English loyalists and refugees from the Thirteen Colonies (now the United States), French Canadian and Acadian migrants, and later, poor Scottish and Irish immigrants and refugees. These different groups mixed and integrated over time, with family names and histories reflecting a blending of different backgrounds that was typical of Eastern Ontario.[1][2]

Smaller but impressive contributions in the region were made by everyone from Jewish traders, craftsmen and merchants to former slaves. John Baker, who died in 1871 at the age of 93, and was said to be the last Canadian born into slavery.[3] Slavery was ended in the colony of Upper Canada in stages, beginning in 1793 when importing slaves was banned and culminating in 1819, when Upper Canada Attorney-General John Robinson declared any slaves living in Canada free. Most of these former slaves settled and integrated into the same communities where they were freed. By 1833, all slaves in the British were free. This was the first major power in world history to abolish slavery.[4][5]

The aftermath of the American Revolution resulted in the formal division of Upper and Lower Canada (later, Ontario and Quebec) to accommodate loyalists fleeing persecution in the new United States, and distribution of land throughout Southern Ontario brought major change to Eastern Ontario. Cornwall and the surrounding area, originally called "Royal Township #2" and "Johnstown", was a rough place, and bred a local culture of self-reliance.

Mille Roches' settlers and residents were integrated into a tightly-knit region after the Loyalist arrival, with Cornwall as its economic centre.

Integration and Community[edit]

Mille Roches, like many of the local communities, was unusually integrated. For hundreds of years, the local population has been characterized by a mix of economic migrants, refugees and opportunists. Mixing of different social classes and ethnic backgrounds was common early in its history, due to the interdependence demanded by isolation and the lack of support or interference from authorities.

The original native population was remarkably welcoming, and the Iroquois were especially known for integrating newcomers into local societies and for adapting to change. Many people in the region have some native ancestry as a result.

In the 1780s-1830s, A "Bee" was a social event that pooled local labour resources, and was often a festive occasion. These "Bees" presaged the development of a varied and integrated culture drawing on many different classes, backgrounds and ethnic and linguistic groups forced to work together for common goals, the primary of which was survival. These were extremely common in Eastern Ontario generally, and especially so in the early villages of the St. Lawrence valley.

"In her book "Roughing It in the Bush", Susanna Moodie observed that “people in the woods, have a craze for giving and going to bees and run to them with as much eagerness as a peasant runs to a race.” ... Bees often involved all ranks and nationalities of society. Thomas Need, a saw mill operator in Victoria County, described in From Great Wilderness to Seaway Towns the raising of his facility in 1834 in the following way: “They assembled in great force and all worked together in great harmony and good will notwithstanding their different stations in life.” These gatherings exhibited the lack of aristocracy in the rural loyalist settlement along the St. Lawrence River and residents’ disregard for individuals’ former social standing or lineage."

"The harshness and isolation of frontier living prevented the development of an aristocracy and, instead, united all members of the community in a struggle for survival. Early loyalists, regardless of the amount of land they owned, depended upon the help of their neighbors to clear land, build homes, and share supplies and food during times of poor harvests."[1]

Growth and Development[edit]

Among many other sites, Mille Roches was originally an obstacle for water navigation up the St. Lawrence river. Rapids prevented the deep-bottomed hulls of ocean-going ships from moving inland into the Great Lakes basin. Boats would have to unload, their contents carted and carried overland, and then be re-loaded. Calls for building a canal at this spot on the river came very early.

The area immediately around Mille Roches had been used as a source of stone for a long period before being formally settled by Europeans. North of the townsite were limestone quarries, which had been in use by suppliers in Montreal, and the name of the town in French refers to either the large numbers of rocky formations in the area or the rapids which prevented river navigation.

With resource development, mall farmsteads started appearing early in the history of European settlement in Ontario, and much of this settlement is undocumented.

From 1780 to 1830, after formal recognition resulting from Loyalist settlement, development was slow but steady and a substantial village emerged. Growth was spurred by the use of water power and spawned the development of a large number of mills. Combined with impressive local stone deposits, the result was a mini-boom in grain milling, stone cutting and milling, and textile operations. In August, 1835, its people were rewarded with their own post office.

The Cornwall Canal was built in 1834, to facilitate travel to the upper St Lawrence basin and the Great Lakes.[6] Unfortunately, the canal cut the town off from the mainland, creating an island in the middle of the river. Over time, the village expanded to the north, eventually forming one town split in the middle into "old" Mille Roches on one side of the canal and "new" Mille Roches on the mainland to the north. The canal's course caused the decline of the village and the area only improved with the arrival of railways in the 1850s.

The Ault family was an example of the burgeoning prosperity of the area. They ran textile mills. It was this family into which Levi Addison Ault was born. Mille Roches was also known for niche businesses, including the very respected Brooks Furniture Company, as well as a range of talented craftspeople in many industries.

Canal and lock construction in the late 1800s and early 1900s brought work, large boats and electric power generation stations. Railway connections provided much-needed connections to other local communities for public services, such as high schools, which were located largely in Cornwall.[7]

Independence and Enterprise[edit]

As it was a transit corridor linking greater economic powers to each other, Eastern Ontario has long been a region known for independence and enterprise. One inevitable aspect of being a major trade route and border zone is smuggling. This has a remarkably long tradition, but formal recognition and notoriety increased in the 1920s, during the Prohibition period in US history.[8] Smuggling is a major local concern, even today.[9] Current plans in Cornwall and the area call for dismantling its reputation as "smugglers' alley".[10]

This history of independence is partly the result of isolation, self-reliance. Governments have typically neglected the area, treating it as little more than a transit corridor. This began very early, and even the Loyalist settlers were forced to be more or less completely self-reliant.

"The original 516 settlers arrived in Royal Township #2 with minimal supplies and faced years of hard work and possible starvation. Upon their departure from military camps in Montreal, Pointe Claire, Saint Anne, and Lachine in the fall of 1784, loyalists were given a tent, one month’s worth of food rations, clothes, and agricultural provisions by regiment commanders. They were promised one cow for every two families, an ax, and other necessary tools in the near future. For the next three years, bateaux crews delivered rations to the township, after which residents were left to fend for themselves."[1]

Inundation and Obliteration[edit]

By the 1910s, Mille Roches was a prosperous, well-to-do town with a diverse economy.

Starting in the 1920s, plans began for damming the St. Lawrence to build a massive hydro-electric power plant and an artificial body of water that was navigable for ocean-going ships.[11] This would bury much of the local landscape under an artificial lake. As negotiations between governments continued for two decades and more, local land values plummeted as a result of the project's apparent inevitability. By "Inundation Day", on July 1, 1958, which was also the Dominion Day ( Canada Day ) holiday, many landowners complained that market value compensation was insufficient, since the Seaway plan had already depressed property values in the region. These complaints were never addressed.

Many of the houses were moved to one of the new villages constructed along the new rivershore. Long Sault, named in memory of the former rapids, still has many of the older homes from Mille Roches that were moved to new sites in the town, as well as a museum devoted to the history of The Lost Villages.

Under water, divers have explored what remains of the old power generation plant and the paper mill, but most of the buildings were removed or demolished.

Today, nothing of the village remains above water. A beach in on the Long Sault Parkway park, based on a chain of islands, is named after the village. From these former highlands, the view overlooks a broad bay, on the far end of which is the site of the village, now lost under Lake St. Lawrence.

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Coordinates: 45°01′39″N 74°49′52″W / 45.0276°N 74.8312°W / 45.0276; -74.8312