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BRIEF HISTORY OF GLENGARRY

It was Scottish Highlanders who settled the lands that became Glengarry County. They had emigrated initially to the Mohawk Valley in New York, and then, displaced by the American War of Independence, emigrated again to the great forests that lay north of the St. Lawrence River.

Other Highlanders arrived directly from Scotland, some 500 in 1786 who settled at St. Raphael’s, hundreds more in the 1790s and early 1800s. The settlers built rough log shanties, began clearing the land of its great oaks and elms, and somehow survived the winter cold and the summer insects that were their companions in their new homes.

The area around Williamstown became popular among veterans of the North West Company, the fur-trading syndicate that operated from 1779 to 1821, and whose explorers and traders were instrumental in the opening of the Canadian West. Among them was David Thompson, who drew his famous maps of the West in a house still standing among Williamstown’s many historic structures.

New immigrants arrived later, French-Canadians from Quebec from the early 1800s on, Dutch and Swiss and diverse others especially in the years following the Second World War. But the stamp of the Highland Scots has remained on the county, in its place names – Dunvegan, Dalkeith, Glen Sandfield, Munroes Mills, Maxville (which was Macsville originally), Loch Garry, the Scotch River, Glengarry itself – and in steadfast traditions, the great annual Glengarry Highland Games, Highland dance classes, a strathspey and reel society, a Gaelic choir.

Farming was the intended activity of most early Glengarry settlers, and the tidy fields and family farmsteads found in the county today attest to the pioneers’ ambition and labour. But given the great trees that covered the land and the demand for lumber and potash, forestry was the major occupation of most Glengarry men in the 19th century.

Another legacy of Glengarry’s wealth in lumber and woodworking skills is the great number of 19th century squared- cedar-log houses and barns still found and in use in the county today. This is much in evidence in the Dunvegan area. Cheesemaking became a major Glengarry industry in the latter 19th century, a time when, it was said with only slight exaggeration, there was a cheese factory at every crossroads.

In the early 1880s, the railway arrived in Glengarry County and brought new prosperity to the region, particularly to Alexandria, which had been founded in the early 1800s with the construction of a grist mill on the Garry River there, and which remains today “the hub of Glengarry” (it’s at the centre of the county) and its largest town. Among the successful businesses of the time was the Munro and Mcintosh carriage company, which manufactured up to 10,000 sleighs and carriages a year in the years before the First World War, and made the “buggy from Glengarry” famous around the world.

                                                                                                 Dane Lanken