Selby Lake–Photo from DuProprio
Yesterday staring out the window at what I call the frozen tundra of winter I remembered the days of being a child and actually liking winter. Memories of making snow forts, tobogganing and snowmobiling with the Wallet family were a reminder of happy winter thoughts. Somehow though the memory of lying in the middle of frozen Selby Lake, in the Eastern Townships, came back also.
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For the last 35 years I have been terrified of deep water. I am not going to get into the complete story but it involved a bad dream, local history, and my heritage home. Top that off with the premiere of the film Jaws and you have got yourself one big bag of fear.
Summer or winter everyone used to go to Selby Lake just outside of Dunham, Quebec when I was a kid. It was the place to go to meet friends, picnic and have a good time. If you look up any information online it will tell you that Lac Selby/ Selby Lake has an average elevation of 176 meters above sea level. The location is sparsely populated with 17 people per km. and the nearest town larger than 50,000 inhabitants takes about 3:36 hours by local transportation and child mortality is 7 per 1,000 births.
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I wasn’t born in Selby Lake, but laying in the middle of a frozen Selby Lake was the day I thought my mortality was over. Murray Wallet had been towing his children and I around by snowmobile and he thought it might funny if he sped up a bit. Well, I will never be in the circus as my equilibrium is gone baby gone. With the increase in speed I slid off the toboggan and found myself in the middle of the lake.
One minute went by, five minutes went by and there I was still laying flat on my back on the ice. I could hear soft cracks in the ice from the cold expanding and all I could think of was that my time was near. Had it been years later when the full onslaught of Bathophobia (fear of depths) or ichthyophobia (fear of fish) had set in I don’t think I would have ever spoken again. Of course Murray ended up picking me up later and I remember looking out at the centre of the lake on the ride home and shuddering.
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So what do I know about Selby Lake besides fear?
In 1794 or 1795 Jonathan Hart from the states settled in the south part of the Townships in what is called Selby Lake. On the north part and adjacent to it William Farrand, also from south of the border, cleared out 25 acres and sold it to a Mr. Petersham from Massachusetts in October 1799. The property passed through several hands and was eventually purchased by Johnathan Selby in 1822.
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What has not been said in a lot of the history books is that the area around Dunham and Selby Lake used to be infested with bears and wolves. Good thing I didn’t learn that in school as I have bear-phobia too. Well, in 1808 the creatures probably figuring their time was near with all the new settlers began a season of continual feasting on the flock of inhabitants.
The flocks of sheep would huddle closely together scared to death by the howls of the wolves. One night they attacked eleven sheep belonging to Mr. Joseph Baker which were confined in his yard and killed them all. Soon after that the wolves got bold and attacked a Heifer Mr. Baker had forgotten was in the field.
Of course those wolves caught that poor Heifer and I am not going to tell you the rest of the gory details as this isn’t American Horror Story. But, I bet all of you realize that the poor old gal was found in the field the next day half eaten.
Mr. Baker couldn’t save her that night as he had been confined to the house with an injured leg–but he had had enough. The next day all the inhabitants around the area got together and offered a bounty. That’s right- thirty dollars for the head of every wolf that was killed in that part of the township. One after one they were done away with in the course of a few months by a man with the last name of Sargeant.
Even though I love animals you have to agree with me that those wolves and bears had to go– which brought me back to another horrific childhood memory from Selby Lake-bloodsuckers. I can still remember 50 kids from the Parish Of Nelsonville Anglican Church happily running into that water all at once and 5 minutes later they all ran out screaming. One of the altar boys was covered in bloodsuckers and standing on the water’s edge crying.
Like the television show American Horror Story a large group of parents began to assemble together similar to an angry group of Puritans screaming:
“Someone get the matches, anyone got a lighter?”
Using a flame used to be a common but medically inadvisable technique to remove a leech and these parents were gung ho to set this kid on fire. That day the same feeling came over me similar to the day that I was lying in the middle of the lake. Most likely it was the same way those early settlers felt too after their animals got massacred.
All it was was an overwhelming haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy– but it certainly wasn’t anywhere near Selby Lake.
Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read.
Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in Hometown News and now in The Townships Sun
My wife was from Cowansville. Her father worked at Vilas plant. They had cottage on Selby Lake outside of Dunham Her name was Nancy Ann Filion. We were married in Anglican church by Rev Peacock.
I remember George.. I remember her… sending much love.. I went to CHS.. a few years younger than her