Winds of Change Can be Achieved in Small Town Canada

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Cowansville, Quebec–Part of South Street Before

Two weeks ago something reinforced my idea that things could change in small towns with some conviction and years, yes, years of hard work.

 

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Cowansville South Street After–Now there’s a fountain is where that gas station was across the bridge.

Cowansville is a town in south-central Quebec, Canada, located on Lac Davignon 20 kilometres (12 mi) north of the American border. The population last I looked was the same as most small towns, about 12,000, and that is where I was born and grew up.

Cowansville has had a similar history to most rural towns.  Jacob Ruiter was the first person to settle on the current site of Cowansville and in 1800 he built a flour mill, and then a saw mill. During the 1870s, they had the South Eastern Railway (then the CPR and the CNR) linking Montreal to Cowansville and to other locales.

 

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Nesbitt Residence–Constructed in approximately 1881, this Second Empire Style home was declared an historic site in 1991. Originally called the Lismore House, the structure was built when three local men, a senator, a high constable and a mill owner, each competed to build the most grand and luxurious home in the town. Of the three, only the Nesbitt Residence still stands.

 

In the 60s– most of my generation moved away, the town gradually lost their industrial businesses, and it began to go downhill. For years Cowansville remained stagnant until one day they decided to do something about it.

 

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My Grandparents home on South Street next to the Shell Station across from Varins Pharmacy. The F. J. Knight Co Electricial Co.- torn down in the late 70s

 

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Taken at 9 am on a Sunday morning. Just part of South Street 2016- night and day of what it once was.

 

 

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This building was across from my grandfather’s business  on South Street–and we used to buy Easter Chocolate there as a child. It has been around for a very long time- yet looks great!

 

In  the 70s my late father Arthur Knight, who was an alderman and deputy mayor, fought to have an artificial lake (Lac Davignon) put in the middle of town. Of course like anywhere they fought against change, but now it is an active waterfront that brings in tourists. Not only do they have bike paths, swimming etc.– but they offer volleyball, softball, tennis, miniature golf, skate park,  and playgrounds.

The town park (one of 22 parks they have built) where I used to go swimming across from the town hall is now lush with mature trees that were planted when I was a child. It was a gentle reminder to myself that many years have passed-too many years– and did I still recognize those trees? How did they get so big?

 

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Cowansville is a town of 14 bridges and the historic sector of Sweetsburg contributes to Cowansville’s charm with its Loyalist influences, majestic buildings, and Victorian-style homes. There is: The Bruck House (1875), “Les Belles Disparues” fresco mural tour, numerous restaurants, and the La Mie Bretonne bakery’s village café (identified as a Café de Village) which provide Cowansville residents and visitors with pleasant settings in which to relax and take the time to enjoy life.

and let’s not forget about those restaurant terraces the town encouraged being added for summer enjoyment. Cowansville’s western sector actually has several big-box stores- but yet their downtown survives and thrives.

 

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As I stood on South Street across from where my Grandparents home and electrical business once stood my mouth dropped. From a run down street in the 80s- it was now full of attractive stores, and not a vacancy to be found. Where I bought my first pair of lime green mod shoes from Hashims was now a cluster of stores with nice wide sidewalks with fancy light posts. So how did they do it?

One of my forever friends from Cowansville Murray Dover told me:

Our town has struggled with factory closures etc, but we have a town council and local citizens who have worked steadily to improve the town. We do have a large debt but they have taken advantage of government programs, etc. Improvements on Main street (like South Street)  will soon reopen.

There will be a new dam on River St. work on the new end of town,  Prison, *BMP and Massey Vanier, (regional school) new long term facilities. We have become a service town, but the dedication and love of our town really shows with the parks, lake, flowers, swimming pool beach, arena.. a lot for a small town.

I might also add that a local family have bought, built , renovated, and now run the old Princess Theatre.

(Pop Culture Fact: Did you know Doris Day once went to the Princess Theatre to watch the daily rushes of one of her films being shot in Knowlton?)

  • *BMP is the Brome Mississiquoi Hospital

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Dam being refitted and no one is making money off of it.

 

Cowansville resident and friend Margaret Clay Jacob added:

We have had a bandstand in Davignon Park for many years and a new one was put up last year, very nice…they have Music in the Park there one day per week in the summer months. We do have a great little town here and most of that we can say is due to our fantastic Mayor, Arthur Fauteux but don’t know if he will run again next year. He has fought and won 2 bouts with cancer in the past few years and has worked through all of it, a great, hard working man of conviction.

 

I have no one left there now, only the family gravestones at the Union Cemetery, a Anglican church vestry named after my Grandmother, memories at Legion Branch 99 that my grandfather helped found, and a street named after my family.

It took years to improve Cowansville– but it can be done! What they have done should be an example to all small towns- as it is nothing short of amazing.

Bien fait Cowansville ! Bon travail ! Vous montrez aux autres que c’est possible!

 

Related reading:

PLACES OF A LIFETIME

Eastern Townships

historicalnotes

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Cowansville, Quebec newspaper with my Grandfather F.J. Knight in the middle. (2001)

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Photo from Ville de Cowansville

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Arthur Knight–Cowansville Town Hall Photo–Photo from Ville de Cowansville

Knight Family of Cowansville Quebec Genealogy.

Knight, Arthur John  
b. 13 DEC 1924 Cowansville, Missisquoi Co., Quebec
d. 12 FEB 1982


Parents:
Father: Knight, Frederick John
Mother: Dellar, Mary Louise


Family:
Marriage: 06 SEP 1947 Cowansville, Missisquoi Co., Quebec
Spouse: Crittenden, Bernice Ethelyn  
b. 14 OCT 1927 Montreal, Hochelaga Co., Quebec
d. 27 SEP 1963 Cowansville, Missisquoi Co., Quebec


Parents:
Father: Crittenden, George Arthur
Mother: Griffin, Gladys Ethelyn


Children:
Knight, Linda Susan –still HERE some how– Linda Knight Seccaspina
Knight, Robin Anne— Born 1956-Died in August of 1997

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You can buy memories of Cowansville High School here.

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

3 responses »

  1. Very nice Linda, lowed your article on our great little town, actually the population is up to the 13,000 mark. Didn’t think my comment would be included though, hope everything I put down was accurate..Margaret

    Liked by 1 person

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