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Le Courant

Automne 2013 | 15

The Coaticook River

The Coaticook River Coaticook holds great pride in their river which grandly courses through the landscape in its distinctive journey. The river that runs through our city is not only a natural attraction but also is the source of the economic life that has developed in Coaticook. The city has seen various industries flourish with the help of the river and its high hydraulic power potential. An economic engine which contributed to the way of life and to the growth of Coaticook.This finding has already been given high credit in the newspaper L'Etoile de l'Est during their 1890's publications. In the following articles, I will share with you the main points of articles as written by Hilaire Lacroix, from the month of August 1890 to February 1891, as submitted to the newspaper L'Etoile de l'Est. 1-8-1890-Stanstead County enjoys one of the world's most beautiful lake scenery in Lake Mempremagog. This name is derived from the Abenaki Mamhrobagak language and means large expanse of water. This lake measures 32 miles in length accompanied by wide variations in width. It is endowed with such remarkable views all to the prestige of our country and our county. There is regular steamboat service leaving Newport, Vt. which is located in the southern most end of the lake. The steamboat travels to the village of Magog which is located at the most northern point of the lake. There are only three rivers in the county, namely the Niger, the Tomifobia and the Coaticook Rivers. This last river is considered to be the most important as seen by the volume and the good and plentiful amount of water power used by many industries. The word Coaticook is also taken from the Abenaki Koategok Koattegw, meaning ''river of the pines''. Long before the arrival of the French in Canada, the indigenous people named all the rivers in the country. This helped to guide or give direction to these people in times of war, hunting and fishing trips. It has been indisputably proven that the Coaticook valley was composed of pine woods while this type of wood is rarely seen at greater heights. The source of the Coaticook River is Norton Lake and a group of ponds in that area in the northeast part of the state of Vermont. The outlet of this river is in front of the Capleton Mines where the water joins the Massawippi River in the Township of Ascot. The length, without taking into account its circuitous route, is approximately 29 miles.

8-8-1890-Averill Stream, flowing from two lakes of the same name on the Vermont side, descends to one mile and a half south of the border and empties into the east side of the Coaticook River. This is the most abundant source of water which drains into the Coaticook River which the owners of the factories downstream rely on during dry periods as a reserve. There was a large dam built on Averill Lake to help regulate the flow of water and this is the first of the dams along the river.

13-08-1890- We must now follow the river to the town of Coaticook. Continuing our journey, we finally reach our town and it is here where we should stop and especially give all our attention in order to describe in as brief and true a manner, the most noteworthy points, the most picturesque points that I have yet to explore. The distance from the bridge on Main Street to the first dam is about a third of a mile. The river displays an extraordinary winding, tripling perhaps, the actual distance from one point to the other. About halfway can be seen Charles Lamoureux's mill, which is composed of a sawmill and the factory of household furniture which is shipped to Montreal by the Grand Trunk Railway. This mill, driven by steampower, enables Mr. Lamoureux to employ 30 to 40 men to work throughout the year.

22-08-1890 (p.2) The river is crossed over, near Charles Lamoureux's mill, by a nice arched covered bridge which thus establishes contact between both sides of the river by Saint Jean Baptiste Street. Within the vicinity of the town, the area around the banks of the river is composed of swampland, not suitable for farming and not suitable for building purposes. One of the reasons why this area is set apart and divides the business sector of the town with its factories, is due to the fact that the dam is of a disproportionate height holding the waters behind and with considerable washing along the banks of the river. This dam has undergone various changes since it was put up in 1818. This dam was built about an acre in size to the one that exists today by Vester Cleveland and Richard Baldwin. These two men were living in Barnston at that time. The sawmill that went up in 1819 was situated on the east side. Several years later, it was destroyed by a fire. Another one was put up on the same foundation and it also burned. It was decided it was preferable to go to the west side to rebuild and the dam was built a little further down, to the site it occupies today. In 1853, Levi Baldwin made arrangements to sell his flour mill at Pinnacle Mountain in Barnston to his boss, Percival Baldwin. He then proceeded to build another flour mill and installed two millstones. This mill was beside the sawmill and its motor performance was the same. It was finished being built within a short period of time with a prosperous business underway when a devastating fire reduced the building to ashes a few months later. It was always believed that this fire was the work of an arsonist but Levi Baldwin rebuilt soon after at the same site. Twenty years later, in August 1873, the building was again destroyed by fire. Lewis Sleeper had become the owner of this business a few years earlier along with some other mills situated nearby.

Article 2

A great movement was underfoot from about 1876 to 1881 for the setting up of factories in the country for the production of the sugar beet. There was great interest throughout the population of the town to start up a business here. The creation of such a mill promised to be a great asset. The business men worked very hard to bring the sugar beet industry in our town. We will return and review this industry in detail a little later.

29-08-1890 In 1857, another two-story building existed on the western bank of the river, to the left of the bridge. It belonged to the late Sami Cleveland, father of Samuel Cleveland who lives in North Coaticook. The engine power had come from the first dam, already mentioned. John Cleveland, brother of Samuel Cleveland, worked in the north part of this building. He had operated a business making hardwood shoe frames for about three years. The rest of the building was occupied by wood working shops and clapboards. The building also housed much equipment such as lathes, planers, circular saws, etc. This building looks like it has been recently built. In 1857 or 1858, Ezechiel Page moved here from somewhere in Ohio or Pennsylvania. He rented this building for the production of oars made of ash for the United States Navy. Mr. Page hired between 20 to 30 men in this work and the shipment of oars was made to New York on the Grand Trunk Railroad via Portland. Wood for the oars was sought out within a 50 to 60 mile radius of the mill but the amount provided was too small. It was decided to obtain a better quality of wood in Upper Canada. The cost of transporting the logs was considerable. In less than two years Mr. Page went bankrupt and the factory closed its doors. A short time later the building was engulfed in flames and all the machinery was so damaged it could no longer be used. Lewis Sleeper was born in the county near Stanstead. He acquired all the water power in the area that we have been describing, with all the mills and buildings associated with it. In 1861, he built a large three-story building in connection with the new dam which was located about 200 feet lower than the first dam. The following year, 1862, a brother of L. Sleeper came here from Galveston, Texas. His name was Wright Sleeper.

5-09-1890 Wright Sleeper was gifted with a very proficient talent as a mechanic. Lewis Sleeper welcomed the arrival of his brother and allowed him to set up a shop for himself in the new building. Wright Sleeper began immediately to gather all the large and small equipment in order to get ready for the tooling work, turning lathes and other equipment that would have been used in local mills and factories. The shop could be found on the ground floor of the building and the second floor was used by Mr. Worthen, maker of woven products on looms which functioned by hand cranks. This work was well finished, they were able to complete a wide variety of printed cloth patterns of easy to make combinations of skillful and novel designs that were easy to set up and use. Mr. Worthen had put up about a hundred different samples of his crafts but found it too difficult to run off all of them to sell. In less than two years the industry was closed. These premises emptied out to be used in turn by different persons for carpentry work, the making of furniture and other wooden products of various kinds. Among these people were: Jos. Jasmine & Catudal, Jos. Aubertin, the Rev. J.B. Chartier along with a Mr. Ewing who established a household furniture shop, some sort of washing tubs with wring machine attachments. A.H. Cummings used the third floor for making door frames, doors, wooden moldings, etc., etc.He made use of large and small machines taking into account recent innovations and timesaving steps in this industry. From about 1865 to 1874, spending had taken on a life of its own without thought of control and beyond reason. It was known as a boom period. Inflation was rampant in business and was felt by all levels of society. There was an unstable rise in price levels, money was easy to make but the concept created artificial worth with exaggerated yields or unreasonable profits. Everyone became a speculator, the merchant, the manufacturer, property owners, the ordinary businessman. They were gambling away their money to make quick profits. The credit rating, however, remained at a more fixed point. Coaticook went into a deep financial crisis and businesses fell into a long recession. It was a tough period which lasted from the year 1874 until the year 1880. The population went through a trying time.

12-09-1890 Wright Sleeper became a partner in his business with L.R. Bangs of Stanstead. Orders for new pieces and repairs of all kinds for mill machinery as well as tools went in and out of this workshop. The success of this company was assured from the beginning and many competent workment left this industry and got well paying jobs elsewhere. The company was dissolved after two years and Mr. Bangs retired and went to live in the western part of the United States. It was in 1865 that Mr. Sleeper took on Norman Baldwin, son of Levi Baldwin, as an associate and mainly to work in the accounting department of his business. This choice did not prove to be a profitable decision because Norman Baldwin, who was used to working in a small mill, came to find himself experiencing major difficulties trying to manage his financial role in a business which was considerably larger than what he was used to. This situation lasted about six years until the fall of 1870 when he involved Wright Sleeper in a financial scandal which let to the bankruptcy of the company.

26-09-1890 In 1871, Mr. Sleeper put up a shop for a foundry to be occupied by Mr. Sleeper and Baldwin. It would be located in front of their workshops and on the east side of the river. A temporary bridge was erected to connect the two shops. The mechanical industry and the foundry were close enough and their work complemented each other. Mr. Sleeper set about quickly to put up a new one-story building, in brick, 25 feet long and 40 feet wide. The work was accomplished with great enthusiasm because as part of their usual work and the making of plows, they were able to produce 300 mowers a year, all complete and ready to use. One of the associates, Norman Baldwin, fled to the United States. Mr. Sleeper realized that the work must be discontinued as he could not meet his financial obligations. Mr. W. Sleeper, got the discharge from his creditors after a year, and after another year, was able to run his shop again under the direction of a former employee named Akhurst. As the year went into 1877, he formed a new commercial business called Sleeper and Akhurst. They employed 23 to 27 workers on a regular basis.

Sleeper and Ackhurst




Article 3

3-10-1890 About 1848, Samuel Cleveland, Sr., then owner of the water power situated on Lot No. 26 and 27 of the 2nd Range of Barnston Township, on the west bank and also all that part of the lot that are owned and running westward, built his house on the hill within sight and a short distance from the river. He also built a distillery almost in front of the mills, to the left of the road going toward Compton and he made whiskey there for nearly five years. In 1852, John Cleveland built a shop beside the river where he began to make clapboard forms for shoes. 10-10-1890 The manufacture of the sugar beet was established because it was claimed that this vegetable grown in our earth was sweeter than that which was cultivated in Europe. The promoter of this company was a German named Gerard Lomer, a former furrier merchant on St. Paul St. in Montreal. Mr. Lomer had many acquaintences among people of finance in Montreal. He began to form a company by selling shares to capitalize on this new industry in Coaticook. He managed to raise the sum of $150,000 in capital and legally drew up the papers for the new company. The company was named ''The Pionneer Beet Root Sugar Company of Coaticook''. As soon as the charter was announced, a general assembly was called to set up the organization. Gerard Lomer was named the Director General, Robert Krantz, the Mechanical Engineer, Ernest Anders, Work Superintendant and, several other officers were also named. Towards the end of 1880, Mr. Lomer came to an agreement with Lewis Sleeper to buy water powers, mills and other buildings belonging to him on the west bank of the river, for the purposes and services of the company which he represented. In February 1881, preliminary work was begun. It became necessary to use the west side of Compton Road to bring together under one roof the proposed buildings. It was designed to make use of six buildings for the purpose of this industry. The leveling of the rock along the edge of the river was stressful and dangerous work to build a foundation that was suitable and solid for industry to put a structure on.

Pont de la bettrave -rivière



17-10-1890 The buildings were completed in January 1882 after multiple problems. All the machines and all the necessary tools were set into place, ready fo function and transform the beets into sugar. The company had sent their representatives to various parts of the country to encourage farmers to grow the beet root. The company pledged to pay the farmers the sum of five dollars per ton weight of 2,250 pounds of beets delivered to railroad sidings, near where they lived. The farmers who lived in the surrounding area of the factory were asked to deliver goods at the factory. Upon delivery of all these huge piles of vegetables in the fall of 1881, all the space available to hold the produce was so full and even further produce within the grounds which caused problems. They piled up 500 bushels at a time in various pits, covered the produce with dirt all along the railway. The rumor spread that there was an abundance of surplus produce and this rumor soon reached the growers. As a result the company became insolvent. They refused to deal further with the situation. With spring came the warm rays of sunshine resulting in thick steam rising from the mounds of buried beets. They had to open up the pits to speed up the decomposition process. We had to choose the best quality beets to undergo the first chemical operation in order to get the syrup. A large quantity of beets were left to spoil and rotted on the premises. The ground was covered with this debris and the pulp was recovered and used mainly to fertilize the pastures where bulls were kept. The quantity of pulp was so huge that it became necessary to give it away to anyone who could come and take it away. After all these setbacks, the first of the samples of the product were distributed to the shareholders. The quality of the product and some other problems came about leaving the company to dissolve itself in the spring of 1882.

pont de la bettrave


Beet Factory




21-11-1890 Before the factory manufactured wool, there existed specially adapted mills for the carding of wool into bales. Some of us can remember their grandmother spinning wool and hemp with an old fashioned shuttle and bobbin. Great strides in progress had been made. Improvement in the spinning and weaving of products had undergone marked change. The number of textile factories is considerable. Given that there are a large number of farmers in the surrounding area, that come to sell or trade their products in our city, certain persons were encouraged to establish a factory in our city in the spring of 1882. The associates were R.G. Trenholm, F.H. Nunns and John M. Nunns. One of the associates, J.M. Nunns sold his part in the business to M.F. Stevens in 1883. At the death of the latter in January 1890, the company was dissolved and has been run since then by R.G. Trenholm and P.H. Armitage. This establishment wove fabric, flannel, bed covers, horse blankets (light or heavy), the carding of wool fabrics and knits, plain or colored, which would be of practical use in the countryside. They also bought uncarded wool which they would take in exchange for their products. Misters Trenholm and Armitage exclusively used wool produced by the farmers in the surrounding townships. Their goods were not of a high quality product but still possessed a durable wear with a suitable appearance. Twelve to fifteen men and women are employed on a permanent basis throughout the year in this factory known as Coaticook Woolwen Co.

Wollen Mills



The hydraulic power was shared with A.H. Cummings & Sons, this is the third dam on this part of the river at a distance of 350 yards from the first dam. The building in which this industry was located was built on the east side of the river in the establishment of Sleeper & Akhurst by Freddie Cross in 1870 for the manufacture of horse drawn wooden rakes. For eight years, he took in quite considerable orders for this era. He sold his store to J.J. Parker, son of Alpheus Parker, of Barnston. Mr. Parker continued along with the same type of industry for three years with much success. Having big ideas for an increased work load, he came to the conclusion that this site was too small for future operations so he bought the hydro power and more extensive property in Dixville. He continued making rakes. He set up to make specially sized boards for export to Central and South America. These transactions turned out to be very profitable for him. He died in the summer of 1888 of consumption, his brother Josiah took over the business along with a Mr. Howe for continuation in the same type of work. One of the buildings that they took over was by the third dam in the river and this was used to start up another type of industry. They started up a wool and cloth (printed material) industry because there was great demand for these items. The industry that we just mentioned.

Article 4

28-11-1890 The hydro-electric plants on the river were numerous and many were not in use at the time that the third dam was built. Starting at the third dam to the flat valley in Coaticook North, the river follows a tumultuous course to the bottom of a steep gorge, 75 to 125 feet deep. It was difficult under these circumstances to establish the motor force and momentum for this or any other industry. In 1870 or around that time, Jonathan Taplin, acquired the water power to establish a sawmill. Many of his friends advised him to abandon a project which presented so many problems. These troublesome predictions only served to intensify the will of Mr. Taplin who made a thorough study of the plans, consulted the most experienced men in mechanical science in order to work out the difficulties in this venture. He built his dam within a short period of time, the area chosen was a more favorable spot, the length section was anchored in solid rock and the base was installed below the level of the river bed, to protect against violent flooding and ensuing debris. He next installed the heavy duty drive wheel which had recently been constructed. He now had to give his full attention to the exact detail and proper installation of the angle pole which would communicate motion from the base to the summit and get the machinery above to function. This guide-pole, in mechanical terms, means a piece of wood, most often rounded, was firmly attached to the drive wheel with a cogged or gearing at its highest point, attached to other wheels giving the driving force for the desired type of work wanted. It seemed necessary to install this pole, one hundred feet in length, at an inclined angle of 45 degrees. When all the work was completed, a first test was tried and everything worked perfectly, Much to his pride Mr. Taplin was very successful in this undertaking and his friends quick to congratulate him. Mr. Taplin got a lot of work in the new sawmill and he ran the mill for three years. He later sold this business to a man from the Township of Stoke. The name of the purchaser was Goodman Randall who ran the work for two to three years and in turn sold it to A.H. Cummings in 1875-1876. Mr. Cummings moved all his machinery to the new site and took on his son in partnership with him. Apart from his regular business, he continued basic sawmill work. He bought logs for his own purposes or for orders. The sawmill business announced that it had 600,000 to 1,000,000 feet including boards, planks, and other wood of different sizes. The manufacture of laths, clapboards, shingles, etc. and specialty door crafting, frames and shutters, other framework completed this business. All types of carpentry work in hard wood, cornice work, mills, butter boxes or molds, and new and economic ways of doing things completed the range or scope of business.

Facrue A.H Cummings


12-12-1890 The fourth dam will be where the flour mill is to be built. The hydraulic power is placed exactly on the same source as that of A.H. Cummings & Sons. Mr. Trenholm and Mr. Tomkins made the purchase of a new mill site in 1872 from G.O. Doak and Samuel Cleveland for the sum of one thousand dollars. Soon after they built their mill which measured 40 X 45 feet with three floors in the back and a floor and a half in the front. The work would begin on February 22, 1874 and when everything was finished, the appearance of the building would be a completely new building. In 1883, Isaac N. Boucher acquired the property for six thousand dollars. Later this mill passed into the hands of Charles Wheeler from Barnston who held ownership for one year until he sold it to Louis Olivier, a Sherbrooke merchant. Mr. Olivier then sold the property to Alexandre L'Heureux of St. Pie, Quebec on March 1, 1888 for the sum of seven thousand, five hundred dollars. He is a machinist who checks all the equipment and machines to the smallest detail to make sure that everything is running properly in this business. He restores the whole place to high standard and 3,000 bushels per year production. He also offers for sale different types of oats, bran and flour.

Article 5

2-01-1891 The fifth dam will be occuped with a braiding company. This industry is the only one of its kind in the Dominion. The installation of this unique establishment toward the specialization of the braiding industry in Coaticook proves well the progressive spirit of our town. The beginning of this industry dates back to 1885 by E.F. Tomkins. Having served as the managing director of the Coaticook Cotton Manufacturing Co. for several years, and projected changes in this business which meant undergoing modifications which did not suit him. As a consequence, he resigned from his position in the administration which was accepted. Mr. Tomkins began the transaction for the site known as ''The Big Waterfall'', which had the best hydraulic power on the river. This property was then that of the Knitwear Company for several years. Mr. Tomkins wanted to buy sufficient land for industrial purposes which he proposed to establish in the near future. The purchase price he paid was $600, the property was certainly worth $2,000. Mr. Tomkins went to England where he spent several months studying the intricacies of the braiding industry. The most advanced and economic machinery, the best markets for wool purchase, the fine fleece of Angora goats, silk thread, finance, worker's wages, the efficiency of production...nothing escaped the astute observation of Mr. Tomkins. He then went to the United States, thoroughly visited mills in his line of industry in this country. Mr. Tomkins brought in two associates to work with from our city. They were Benj. Austin and Newell W. Thomas. Also, a Mr. Greenwood from Cornwall, Ont. who is the president. The company is established with an investment of $20,000 bound under the title of The Coaticook Narrow Fabric Co.

Usine Narrow avant Belding




The building for this industry was built in 1886, in brick with a dimension of 40 X 50 feet, with one floor and basement of the same size. The building contains 200 looms specific to the manufacture of braids and several other machine accessories related to finished braids. These looms have their own particular mechanisms. This factory manufactures quality braid, wool hems for the bottom of dresses in all shades, in rolls suitable for this purpose. There is also found lace corsets with metallic clasps, coat edgings in black silk, black edging in hems of Angora goat hair that were of a perfect finish. All of these products are of high quality and the sales prices of a very affordable rate. Large orders were made up and distributed in all the provinces of the Dominion from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. The staff of employees consists of 25 persons, almost all were women. The engine power of this factory is hydraulic, the drive wheel is combined with a mecanism fifteen feet below the river bed, which moves a steel wire cable 150 feet in length, to reach the summit which connects to the mecanism inside the factory. There is a stairway from the summit to the bottom of the waterfall. It is easy to observe that the Coaticook River plays a major role in our development. The picturesque scenes that this place offers is worthy of mention due to the economic effect it created.

Barrage Belding Pouvoir

Barrage Belding


Barrage Belding Turbine



Bibliography: The information collected in these articles were from Hilaire Lacroix published in the newspaper L'Etoile de l'Est from 01-08-1890 to 13-02-1891. Each week Mr. Lacroix ran a column in the newspaper and taught us about the beauties and the economic powers of our Coaticook River.

Le Courant

Le Courant est publié par la Société une fois par année. Membres de la société, historiens professionnels et amateurs partagent avec les lecteurs le fruit de leurs recherches. Les textes sont disponibles en français et en anglais. La publication de cette revue est rendue possible grâce au soutien de commanditaires locaux que nous remercions avec toute notre gratitude.

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