Sunday, October 1, 2023

North Hatley, the most American town in the Eastern Townships (and very popular with the Clintons)

Every year, former US President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary spend part of their summer vacation in North Hatley. If the Clintons set their sights on this picturesque town thanks to their friendship with best-selling novelist Louise Penny, they are simply following an American tradition that dates back more than 150 years.

The origins of North Hatley are linked to the American War of Independence in the 18th century. Some 40,000 Americans loyal to the British Crown decided to leave their country and seek refuge in British North America. By the end of hostilities in 1783, nearly 2,000 American Loyalists had already settled in the vast territory called the Province of Quebec.

The challenge of immigration

This wave of immigration represented a great challenge for the British authorities. How can we reward American subjects loyal to the king by granting them land without upsetting the French-speaking people? In 1791, Britain finally found a solution. She divided the province into two: Upper Canada and Lower Canada.

It was the new lieutenant governor of Lower Canada, Alured Clarke, who was tasked with opening the new province to colonization. In February 1792 he announced that the area south of “St. Lawrence River” near the border would be granted to all those wishing to settle on Crown land. But the process was complex and slow to start.

North Hatley, The Most American Town In The Eastern Townships (And Very Popular With The Clintons)

Familiar names for tourists.

Two men, a British and an American, waited more than 11 years before they were granted nearly 24,000 acres in the new township of Hatley.

Henry Cull, originally from Dorset in England, was a businessman who settled in Quebec around 1784. Unable to make a fortune in commerce, he launched into real estate speculation. In 1803 he allied with Ebenezer Hovey, an early Connecticut Loyalist, to form a 33-member association to operate the claim.

Cull eventually acquired the lands bordering the Massawippi River and the northern end of the lake. With his American partner, he paved the way for other Americans from Massachusetts and New Hampshire. They were called LeBarons, Wadleighs or Hoveys, names that will be familiar to tourists visiting the town today.

North Hatley, The Most American Town In The Eastern Townships (And Very Popular With The Clintons)

The arrival of the railway

Americans were also responsible for transforming North Hatley into a popular vacation spot in the late 19th century. Two factors were decisive.

First, the town was eventually connected to the railroad networks that gave access to the eastern townships from the United States.

In 1871, the Massawippi Valley Railroad (MVR) built a new rail line between Newport, Vermont and Lennoxville, which passed through North Hatley. The Connecticut & Passumpsic Railroad, which had already connected Boston and Newport since 1864, leased this new section. Suddenly, North Hatley became accessible to summer visitors from New England and beyond.

The other factor that played a determining role in the transformation of the small, peaceful village was the very particular circumstances of the time. The period from 1865 to 1877 corresponded to the era of post-Civil War restructuring in the United States.

North Hatley is more popular than its country

But restructuring does not rhyme with reconciliation. The many southern families who before the war were accustomed to spending summers in New England decided to avoid Yankee country in favor of North Hatley.

In 1886, a new trend began to develop when Dr. Powhatan Clark, a Baltimore resident and friend of the LeBaron family, built a second home in North Hatley. Other Americans followed his example.

North Hatley, The Most American Town In The Eastern Townships (And Very Popular With The Clintons)

The most famous was Henry Atkinson, owner of Georgia Power in Atlanta, who built a large summer residence in 1900, modeled on George Washington’s residence at Mount Vernon.

Converted into a hotel in the 1950s and named Manoir Hovey, the establishment perpetuates the name of the man who deserves to be considered the first American pioneer of North Hatley.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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