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 village thanks to their friendship with the bestselling novelist Louise Penny, they are only following an American tradition dating back more than 150 years.
The origins of North Hatley are linked to the American War of Independence in the 18th century.e 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, almost 2,000 American loyalists had already settled in the vast territory called the Province of Quebec.
The immigration challenge
This wave of immigration represented a major challenge for the British authorities. How can we reward the king’s loyal American subjects by granting them land, without upsetting the French-speaking people? In 1791, Britain finally found a solution. It divided the province into two: Upper Canada and Lower Canada.
It was the new lieutenant-governor of Lower Canada, Alured Clarke, who had the task of opening the new province to colonization. In February 1792 he announced that the area south of the “St. Lawrence River” near the border would be granted to all those who wished to settle on Crown lands. But the process was complex and slow to start.
Photo Credit: The Fusilier Museum London / Public domain
Familiar names for tourists
Two men, a British and an American, waited more than 11 years before being granted almost 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 his fortune in commerce, he launched into land 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 associate, he opened the way for other Americans from Massachusetts and New Hampshire. They were called the LeBarons, the Wadleighs or the Hoveys, names that will be familiar to tourists who visit the village today.
Steamboat on Lake Massawippi around 1904.
Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
The arrival of the railway
Americans were also responsible for transforming North Hatley into a popular vacation spot in the late 19th century.e century. Two factors were decisive.
First, the village was finally connected to the railway networks giving access to the Eastern Townships from the United States.
In 1871, the Massawippi Valley Railroad (MVR) built a new railway line between Newport, Vermont, and Lennoxville, which passed through North Hatley. The Connecticut & Passumpsic Railway, which had already linked Boston and Newport since 1864, leased this new section. Suddenly, North Hatley was accessible to summer visitors from New England and beyond.
The other factor which 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 restructuring following the Civil War in the United States.
North Hatley more popular than their country
But restructuring did not rhyme with reconciliation. The large southern families who before the war were accustomed to spending their summers in New England decided to shun the country of the Yankees 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.
Powhatan Henry Clarke
Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
The most famous was Henry Atkinson, owner of Georgia Power in Atlanta, who built a large summer residence in 1900, inspired by George Washington’s residence at Mount Vernon.
Becoming 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.