by Pierre HÉBERT
It often happens that we have a treasure right under our nose, and we’re so busy looking elsewhere that we forget it even exists. One of these treasures is the Eaton Corner Museum in Cookshire-Eaton.
Founded in 1959 by the Women’s Institute, the initial aim was to preserve the history of Compton County. Today, its aim is still to preserve the history of the first colonists, both English- and French-speaking. “For us, history is bilingual,” said Jacqueline Hyman, secretary of the non-profit organization, speaking in French.
The museum, situated on Route 253 and clearly identified on the Townships Trail, is notable first for its main building, a former Congregationalist church. But the history of the first colonists is not contained in this building alone. It is also found next door in the Foss House, and across the street in the building known as the Academy.
Inside the church, vintage benches and the original platform, pulpit and pump organ provide an ambiance of yesteryears. Along the sides and back, exhibits were created, showing off various objects to whet the historical appetite. You can find the story of the first colonists, Americans from New England. Then came the English, Irish, Scottish and the arrival of the first French-speaking colonists in about 1834. You can read about them or listen to historical characters telling their stories in either French or English, using audio phones. Visitors can discover the original means of transportation: walking, horseback, or rafts. Also, you can see what life was like in those times, how communities were organized, families, churches, schools, post offices and more.
Today it’s a small hamlet, but in the mid-19th century Eaton Corner was a prosperous economic centre with a stagecoach stop (Quebec-Montreal-New England). There’s even the story that the first anesthesia for surgery in Canada was administered in Eaton Corner. Dr. Worthington of Montreal used it while amputating William Stone’s leg. Unfortunately, the arrival of the railroad to Quebec had the effect of putting an end to this booming prosperity.
Just across the road, inside the Academy, visitors have a chance to soak up the daily life of yesteryears. There’s a little school with a schoolmaster, desks and exercise books, all scrupulously presented. Being in an agricultural region, it is not surprising that the history of tilling tools is largely represented. But one also finds objects that were essential to daily life. It is impressive to note the ingenuity of our forebears in designing tools. The museum exhibits various items, from a scale structural model of a barn to typewriters to an old-fashioned washing machine – in fact, all that could represent daily life. The museum contains more than 4,000 artefacts. Because of space restraints, not all are exhibited, but enough are shown to properly portray life in the past.
Entirely restored to its luster of yesteryear, the Foss House is the welcome centre, and where special events are offered, such as temporary exhibits. Just recently, the works of the artist Denis Palmer were exhibited, showing what life was like in the past. In the welcome centre are also offered books containing stories of the past, whether those of the local physician, Dr. Lowry, or other persons playing diverse roles.
For Ms. Hyman, the aim is “to give an idea of the lives that were here. We want to communicate what the life of settlers was like in the 1850s, what was important for them, the influences. They were people, families.” She added, in the same breath, “many people come to research their genealogy. We have a lot of documents, particularly of English-speaking families. We have the archives of the Société d’histoire du Haut-Saint-François.»
Added to all that is the project of developing a heritage garden. “We want to present what the settlers ate, potatoes, beans and other things. We have seeds that were passed down from generation to generation, as well, for different kinds of flowers.”
The Eaton Corner Museum is open to the public during the summer. Although its doors closed recently for the winter, it is possible to arrange group visits at any time of the year. Just call 819-889-2698 or 819-875-5256.