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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Research: Quebec Non-Francophone Ancestors by Althea Douglas M.A., CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Counties of the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada—1795
Counties of the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada—1795
by Althea Douglas, based, in part, on the Gale and Duberger map.
Townships, Counties and Judicial Districts
The Township borders have remained more or less constant (though some have been split into North and South or East and West segments), but their arrangement into counties, the size of the counties, and the names of the counties, all being political, have changed more than once. As well, the Judicial Districts been divided and subdivided as the population grew. Check your dates with care, a good sequence of historic maps, gazetteers and directories will be essential.
In 1791 authorization was finally given for a survey of the lands behind the seigneuries. About a hundred Townships were surveyed, generally around ten miles square. Each township was subdivided into lots of about two hundred acres, and a portion set aside for the Crown and for support of the Protestant Clergy. For administrative purposes, townships were grouped together into Counties. For legal matters, they were assigned to one of the Judicial Districts.
The 1794-1795 Gale and Duberger map of southern Québec shows three counties south of the St. Lawrence and west of the Richelieu: Huntingdon, Kent and Surrey; and five east of the Richelieu: Bedford, Richelieu, Buckinghamshire, Dorchester and Hertford . The county borders run perpendicular to the St. Lawrence, in the same way as those of the Judicial districts, but are on a diagonal to the 45th parallel which became the border with the United States.
Huntingdon, Kent, Surrey, Bedford and Richelieu are in the Judicial District of Montréal, much of Buckinghamshire is in the District of Three Rivers, but its eastern section extends into the District of Québec. Dorchester includes Québec City and the populous area east and west of the Chaudière River, while Hertford runs to the east of Dorchester. Also in the Judicial District of Montréal, and north of the Saint Lawrence are, from east to west: Warwick, Leinster, Effingham and York. Yes, there once was a York County in Québec and it took in all the “New Townships on the Grand or Ottawa River”, namely Onslow, Eardley, Hull, Templeton, Buckingham, Lochaber, as well as the Seigneury of La Petite Nation.
Counties of the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada—1833
Counties of the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada—1833, by Althea Douglas.
The Ever—Changing Counties
About 1830 a more logical county structure was established and the Townships were apportioned out to six counties: Missisquoi, Stanstead, Shefford, Drummond, Megantic, and Sherbrooke (see J.W. Duffy’s map of 1833 ). In 1855 Brome County was erected, taking over Bolton and Potton from Stanstead, Sutton from Missisquoi, and Brome and East Farnham from Shefford. Similarly, the other large counties were gradually subdivided. Richmond, Wolfe and Compton were carved out of Sherbrooke County, which, in the process was absorbed into Compton. This did not last and in 1871 the County of Sherbrooke was reconstituted, though consisting of only two townships. It had a large population and was a centre of commerce and industry. Arthabaska was separated from Drummond, and Megantic lost ten “French” townships to a greatly enlarged Beauce. In the 20th century, Frontenac was formed from the southern portion of Beauce and the eastern part of Compton County.
North of the St. Lawrence and along the Ottawa River, by 1867, York County disappeared, largely into Ottawa County, with Pontiac to the north-west and Argenteuil and Two Mountains closer to Montréal.
The Judicial Districts, important to those seeking Court and land records, are almost as confusing as the County divisions. When townships were established, their counties were assigned to one of the original three districts. There was such great discontent because of the great distances settlers had to travel (over very bad roads) that in 1823, the Inferior Judicial District of St. Francis was erected, a judge appointed to reside in the district, and a court of Quarter Sessions of the Peace established. Only appeals had to go to Three Rivers or Montréal.
During the Session of 1830 an act established Registry Offices in the counties of Drummond, Sherbrooke, Stanstead, Shefford and Missisquoi, “for the enregistration of all acts or deeds in law, and instruments in writing, by which immovable property should be transferred, disposed of, or encumbered in any way”.
By 1867 the Judicial district of Bedford served Missisquoi, Brome and Shefford; the District of St. Francis embraced Richmond, Sherbrooke, Wolfe, Compton and Stanstead and the Arthabaska District included Megantic, Arthabaska and Drummond. These divisions make relative geographic sense, but administrative districts continue to change with population and politics. The regional branch of the ANQ is probably the best place to enquire about such matters, because they can also advise on the accessibility of Notarial records.
- Charles, P. de Volpi and P.H. Scowan, The Eastern Townships A Pictorial Record (Montréal: Dev-Sco Pub. 1962) Endpapers.
- Bouchette, Joseph, "A Plan of the New Townships on the Grand or Ottawa River in which LANDS have been granted", A Topographical Description...of Lower Canada (London, 1815) engraved by J. Walker. See Plate 2 in Charles de Volpi, Ottawa A Pictorial Record/Recueil Iconographique (Montréal: Dev-Sco Publications Ltd., 1974)
- Charles P. de Volpi and P.H. Scowan, The Eastern Townships A Pictorial Record (Montréal: Dev-Sco Pub. 1962) Plate 1.
- For several maps, and a more detailed discussion, see Douglas, Althea, "The Eastern Townships: A geographical introduction" and "Settlement, Canadian Genealogist, Vol 10, No. 2 (June, 1988) pages 92-115.
- These divisions and sub-divisions are given in detail by Joseph Bouchette, The British Dominions in North America..., 2 volumes (London, 1832) Vol 1 pages 175-181.
- For details, see Bouchette, Vol 1 pages 179-180.
- The Eastern Townships Gazetteer and General Business Directory..., Smith and Co., St. Johns, 1867, reprinted Page-Sangster Inc., 1967
- See map and listings in Smith and Co.'s The Eastern Townships Gazetteer, Registrars are listed on page 45.
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