A few years ago Ralph Simpson made an important discovery in his barn: three collections of photograph negatives. The photographer was his father Lem, who as a young man had taken up photography as a hobby.
As a teenager and young adult Lem (born in 1903) often brought his camera along with him to record the people, places and events of his community - the Cote St. Charles Settlement.
Newcomers are familiar with the parts that make up the Hudson of today - Como, "the Heights", and Hudson itself, the central community that gave its name to the amalgamated town in the 1970s. But they may be less familiar with the names of other local communities where English-Speaking settler s put down roots. St. Henry, now part of Ste. Marthe, is one; another is the Concession of Cote St.Charles, now`in St. Lazare.
Michel Eustache Gaspard Alain Chartier de Lotbiniere, Seigneur of Vaudreuil, surveyed the Cote St.Charles Concession in 1811. Among the earliest settlers were Solomon and Ebenezer Grout, Loyalists originally from New Hampshire. Other names associated with the Cote in the 19th century and beyond were the Wilsons, Hodges, Grisdales, Viponds, Lancasters, Blenkinships. The Simpson family has lived "up Cote" for generations.
The early Cote settlers were general farmers, growing crops such as flax to sell, with cows and chickens supplementing the family income as well as putting food on the table. Ralph Simpson notes that the original topsoil was thin, and that after a couple of decades the sandy higher ground in the area was exhausted, although the clay-based lower ground in the west was still fertile.
Cote St. Charles boasted its own Anglican and Methodist churches, the latter church now known as Cote St. Charles United still welcoming the faithful. Children attended Cote St. Charles School; when it closed in 1915 they transferred to Como Modern School.
The people of the Cote made their own entertainment, too. Dances, of course. But they also organized hockey teams, playing against rivals from St. Lazare, Ste. Marthe and St. Justine. If you wanted to communicate with a friend in distant Como, you wrote a letter. Horse and carriage delivery down the Cote's sand and gravel road got the letter to its destination faster than Canada Post does today.
It was this rural life that young Lem Simpson recorded with his camera in the years of World War I and the early 1920s. Recently Ralph began collaborating with Hudson Historical Society Vice-President Scot Gardiner to digitize these pictures and include them in the Society's visual database.
On Monday September 11 we will get a glimpse of life in a significant part of our area as the Hudson Historical Society launches the autumn season of meetings with a picture tour of the Cote as seen by a young man 75 years ago. We'll meet in our usual location, St. James Church Hall, 642 Main Road, Hudson at 7:30 p.m. Please join us for what is sure to be an enjoyable evening! (We ask non-members for a $5 donation. Yearly membership is $10, $15 for a family.)
For more information, contact Kevin O'Donnell at (450) 458-5948, or by email.