Pride of Place: Pontiac’s history sparks interest

Readers continue to contact me regarding our region’s rich history. Recently, I received e-mails from two people who obviously want to learn more, and they’ve given me permission to share their comments with you.

Firstly, Doug Brandy wrote to me on the 22 October regarding the pioneer history of Ladysmith. He had just visited a local resident, Denver Thrun.

Says Doug, “Denver remembers some of his grandfather’s tales of travel in the old days. It took a half day to get from Ladysmith to Shawville by horse and wagon, now a 15 minute trip by car. The journey from Wolf Lake took two nights as the travellers got as far as the Thrun farm in the first day then continued on to Shawville the next morning. They would return to the farm that night and make it back to Wolf Lake the third day.

“Denver’s grandfather bought the farm from some of the earliest German-speaking settlers in the area, the Wiegans (sp?) family. The Wiegans (later Anglicised to “Wiggins”) grew peas to supply the men at John Bull and other lumber camps to the north. Denver pointed out their cemetery, dating back 125 years or more. They had to establish their own burial ground since the Lutheran church was not yet built in Ladysmith.”

Doug concludes, “I find the history of parts of the Pontiac compelling. Unfortunately, over time there are fewer residents who can recall the early days.”

He’s right.

Another reader named Debbie Vidmar, from Toronto wrote me on 22 November to comment on an article I wrote about the Black River Inn, printed in The Equity on May 5, 1993. It was forwarded to her attention by Elsie Sparrow of the Pontiac Archives.

Ms Vidmar writes, “According to Vernon Price in his book, ‘Logging on the Schyan’ , the Black River Inn used to be known as Sammy Cassamer’s place. My great grandmother, Willemina Cassemer (Denault) used to help run the place. Her father, Casimir Denault was a squatter up the Black River according to the census of 1860. His wife was left as a widow sometime before the 1870 census.”

Did I, she asked, have any further information on the Inn

Pressed for time, I simply wrote back, thanking her for her interest and telling her that I would ask you, my readers, for more information. Here’s what she added, by way of a second e-mail on November 27.

“Thanks for responding to my query. I read the internet version [of The Equity] every week, and I enjoy it even thought I do not really know the people or places. You are welcome to use my letter.

“The wife of Casimir Denault was Mariah Pack. Mariah was the daughter of Samuel Pack, who lived in the area from at least 1840…. I have no idea about Casimir Denault. No one has been able to find the marriage certificate, or anything else that would help flesh out this character.

“Apparently, there were about 9 families living on the Black River in the 1860’s, I would have to check my notes to be precise, and they were squatters since the area had not been officially surveyed. The only information from the 1871 census declared that Mariah was a widow with many children. At some point, I gather that they [the inn] became a resting place for the logging groups that went up the Black River.

“In the 1871 census the family was listed as Cassamer, and not Denault. My great grandmother, Minnie Denault (Cassamer), married Elzear Chennette, also from the area, and that part of the family emigrated to northern Ontario around 1891.

“I really enjoy trying to track down informaton about the area. The people who lived there so long ago were incredibly tough and self reliant, and the area was very interesting. It would be nice if there was more information about the area’s history, especially about the workers, not the lumber barons.”

Both Doug Brandy and Debbie Vidmar mention that they want to hear more stories of the Pontiac. I agree, and believe it’s almost impossible to live here in this historic region of Canada without being interested in history.

And I don’t mean the revisionist history of the separatists, who absurdly want to deny that Hull was founded by republican American Philemon Wright in 1800.

I mean the real, resonating history of our Pontiac forefathers. I mean the stories such as tumble from the mouths of our local tellers like Armande Ducharme of Luskville.

I vividly recall sitting on the sandy banks of the Coulonge River, years ago, in the days when the Friends of the Pontiac Rivers were alive and well. I remember M. Ducharme spinning his tales, in French, of Joseph Mondion, of the French fur traders, and of Algonquin natives.

And I remember Venetia Crawford of Campbell’s Bay, telling her stories of the Pontiac, of the Polish Hills, and her collection of stories, “The Moose that Walked on Stumps.”

Other creators use a different medium to capture the essence of our land. Artists like Elke Bzdurreck painted her watercolour series of people of the Pontiac. And relative newcomers such as Michael Neelin execute their highly detailed interpretations of farmhouses, outbuildings, rivers and woods. These works speak for themselves as reminders of our past, chroniclers of our present.

Let’s keep the tales alive. If you wish, send me some of your tales and, periodically in this column (with your permission) I’ll share them with my readers.


Katharine Fletcher is a Quyon-based freelance writer. Contact her at