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More Curious History - Tales from One Side of the River

Philemon Wright, erased


A CONTINUING THEME running through the Capital Chronicles has been how the History of the Capital region often gets told in Curious ways - especially when viewed from different sides of the two solitudes.

For the uninitiated, you can read my two blogs here and here, which focus primarily on that aspect of our local history.

Recently (Nov. 28, 2022), Ottawa-Gatineau's daily French newspaper, Le Droit, published an article written by local personality Raymond Ouimet, which focused primarily on E.B. Eddy and his place in history.

Anyone who has lived in the Capital Area for any amount of time will instantly recognize the name of Ezra Butler Eddy, whose industries covered the north shore of the Ottawa River. Eddy certainly left his mark, not only as a Lumber Baron, matchstick maker, and newsprint manufacturer, but also left a lasting legacy as a politician and philanthropist, and Ouimet outlines all of that in his article.

But as I read further, I was surprised to see that the section entitled Fondateur d'une ville (Founder of a city), was all about how Eddy founded Hull in partnership with Oblate Father Pierre-Étienne Reboul in 1875, when the city was incorporated.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I realized that I had just read a new Curious History: according to Ouimet, Hull was not founded in 1800 by Philemon Wright, my g-g-g-g-grandparent. Who knew? ... but to quote Kevin McAllister from the seasonal favourite, Home Alone:

If Hull was "founded" in 1875 by EB Eddy, then it can be said that Montreal was "founded" by Jacques Viger in 1831 and that the City of Quebec was "founded" by Elzéar Bédard in 1832 (these being the dates of incorporation for those cities).

Every fact-based history of those three cities tells us that Philemon Wright founded Hull in 1800, Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, and Jeanne Mance founded Montreal in 1642, and Samuel de Champlain founded Québec in 1608. (History 101: The incorporation of a city only marks the official registration of an official entity and government, while the founding of a city speaks to its origin.)

Now, I'd be lying if I said it was the first time I had seen this revelation from M. Ouimet because it is not. It's a pet theme of his; one that is chosen by arguing that the definition of the word Founder is unclear.

I continued to read the article, as I wanted to see which arguments were brought forward to support Ouimet's Curious History and it just got curiouser and curiouser ...

Business is business.

IN THE OPENING of that second section of the article, Ouimet writes that Eddy "... is taking advantage of the difficulties Philemon Wright's descendants are having in adapting to the changing business world", presumably referring to the many times that the Wright family faced financial difficulties due to the frequent fluctuations in timber tariffs - a situation that ruined many a Lumber Baron. Ouimet makes no mention of how the Wright family enterprises were central to the financial and political success of his town and practically every nascent community of the Ottawa Valley, including Bytown.

On the other hand, regarding Eddy, Ouimet describes his many moments of practical insolvency as triumphs; simply difficulties that he overcame.

Curiously, Ouimet then takes Eddy down a notch or two by taking a particularly culturalist [1] swipe at the man, by writing this:

"Eddy was disliked by Hull residents because he was an uncompromising, hard-nosed employer ... who never integrated with the city's French-speaking population in any way. And while he was actively involved in a number of philanthropic endeavours in the regional community, one cannot help but notice that it was primarily (and very largely) the Protestant community on the Ontario shore that benefited from his contributions."

Ouimet obviously ignores that the equally large English population of Hull (at that time) benefitted from Eddy's philanthropy, nor does he consider that a very large percentage of the whole population of Hull - 2,000 employees at its zenith - were likely very happy to be gainfully employed in Eddy's mills. [2]

With two swipes of his pen, Ouimet manages to make Eddy the Founder of Hull and "the man that was hated by all". Curious, n'est-ce pas?

And what of Père Reboul, you might ask? Although Père Reboul certainly had a great deal of influence in the Francophone and Catholic communities, I'm not entirely certain that his contributions to the overall development of the city should place him into the "founder" category. Ouimet does not elaborate on his curious choice except to take one more ... ahem ... unsecular swipe at Ezra Eddy, writing:

"Eddy was also an influential member of Freemasonry, an organization that is not very popular among French-speaking Catholics."


Curious History

WITH the advent of feminism in the 20th century, "chauvinism" became a word that was appropriated to describe misogyny in 20th-century society. That word however originally arose in the 1830s and comes directly from the French chauvinisme, which was eponymous with a fellow named Nicolas Chauvin:

"Chauvin was said to have been one of the most loyal soldiers in Napoleon's Grande Armée. Chauvinism is the unreasonable belief in the superiority or dominance of one's own group or people, who are seen as strong and virtuous, while others are considered weak, unworthy, or inferior. It can be described as a form of extreme patriotism and nationalism, a fervent faith in national excellence and glory." [3]


Am I wrong to think that the choices behind all of this curious history are both chauvinist and unsecular? Here are other examples of how both chauvinism and secularism are at play in the Capital's Curious History:

  • The names of the rivers and falls were changed in the colonial era, sometimes erasing the nature of the place (eg. Rideau River [4]), sometimes erasing the cultural presence (eg. Ottawa [5] and Gatineau rivers [6]).

  • The name of Christiana's House (aka Chrissie's House) in Jacques Cartier Park in Hull was changed to la Maison Charron. [7]

  • The spectacularly different treatment given to the memory of Jos. Montferrand and Andrew Leamy - two pillars and defenders of the Catholic faith, two legendary figures known for their dominant physical presence in the Ottawa Valley Timber Industry. [8]

... and now, here once again, in this most recent revisionist narrative meant only to erase the importance of the actual Founder of Hull: Philemon Wright.


It is curious, that ...!

 

[1] Culturalism is defined as placing the central importance of one culture as an organizing force in human affairs.

[2] With regard to the treatment of his employees: In the midst of the Industrial Revolution, there were few jobs that had health & safety regulations like we have today. Working in mills and factories was brutal and dangerous. That being said, Ouimet conveniently ignores that when EB Eddy began making matches in Vermont in 1851, and brought the business to Hull in 1854, it was he and his wife who made them, dipping the matches into the liquid phosphorous, exposing themselves to the very same dangers that the Allumettières were exposed to.

[3] From Useless Etymology, the Etymology of Chauvinism. (link)

[4] The Rideau River's name in Anishinabemowin was Pasāpikahigani Zībī, meaning “the river of rocky formations” or Pasapkedjiwanong. Click here for more.

[5] The Ottawa River's Anishinabemowin name was Kichi Zībī meaning Great or Grand River. That the name Ottawa was attached to the river and the region, is a curious history all by itself. Click here for more.

[6] The Gatineau River's Anishinabemowin name was Tenagadino Zībī, meaning the Wedged River. Click here for more.

[7] The name of Christiana's House (aka Chrissie's House) was changed to la maison Charron when a local historian made mistakes in interpreting the historical documents related to the property. Click here for more.

[8] Recently, Raymond Ouimet attempted a character assassination of Andrew Leamy, labeling him as a Shiner - a thoroughly disproven claim. Ouimet's article was based entirely on a slanderous polemic written by Albert LeBeau, published on the ultra-nationalist site, Impératif Français. LeBeau's article is filled with assumptions and accusations with no foundation in primary sources. LeBeau admitted to colleagues that he published his article after reading the blog post I had written here. He declared the blog post I wrote "was an insult to the memory of Jos. Montferrand".





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