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Nestled in a valley of orchards at the foot of Mount Pinnacle, Pike River runs through the midst of the small village of Frelighsburg, Quebec. That same river once supplied water power that some hoped would provide manufacturing and increase population in the area. I am sure none of the early settlers would imagine that now instead of “roughing it” dining tables that serve fine food and cheesecake are clustered on a terrasse that flanks the Pike River.
From the time of its early settlement in a town that was called “the last stop before the border into Vermont”, there were eight roads that met and centred in the village, and these roads in turn branched out into thirteen or fourteen roads. Everyone thought that the small hamlet was going to grow rapidly, but the village lots were rented out on long leases and annual rents rather than being sold, and people just didn’t want to deal with the consequences of not owning their own properties.
There was a grist mill and a saw mill, and the owner of the land near the river kept all the water power rights to himself. The word ‘share’ was not in his vocabulary and the end result was that the village industry did not grow, nor did the population.
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John S. Gibson is said to have been the first area settler and stumbled upon what is now Frelighsburg in 1790 and built a log home which later became a grist mill. He wasn’t much of a man for progress or settling down, but more of a thrill seeker, almost losing his life a few time to the Indians. He died at the age of 89, but not before he disposed of what he owned along with the land where Frelighsburg now stands for the price a dog. Yes, he took a dog for payment.
Mr. Owens was said to be the man that made that ‘canine deal’ with Gibson, who in turn flipped it to Cenroy and Yumans from St. Johns who made a few improvements, and then they flipped it again to Abram Freligh. Freligh for whom the town is named, was a physician of German origin who moved up to the Townships from Albany, N. Y. His son Richard Freligh represented Mississquoi in Provincial Parliament and he also built the Freiligh mill in 1839.
Frelighsburg also suffered the plundering from the Fenians, and a sum of $15,400 was offered as compensation to the suffers of this raid which is about $221,496.95 in 2017. What I found most interesting was that the name of the town changed like other small rural towns of the day. It was first known as Conroy’s Mills after another mill owner until Mr. Freligh arrived in town. In the early part of its existence it was also called Slab City.
The story goes that years ago a number of men from the surrounding country all happened to meet to have a few drinks. Those initials glasses of spirit turned into way too many and things began to get out of hand. One of the drunken participants was a gentleman from Dunham who was refused another drop by hotel keeper Joel Ackley. The drunken man became indignant and began to launch a tirade of angry words against the hamlet of Frelighsburg which he called Slab City. They say he chose the name Slab City because of the great quantities of sawdust and slabs, which was a slang word for bark in those days.
I wonder if the hotel had served the fabulous maple glazed smoked salmon, the bbq ribs, the salmon mousse and the cretons that the local supermarket now does if he would have been so harsh. It was pretty wild to even consider the town to be named such a name seeing there was only a slab fence and a slab house that was built by the local blacksmith named James Willis. When I was going through newspaper archives I found an article about the Fenian Raids and they named both Frelighsburg and Slab City as being affected. So was Slab City really Frelighsburg, or was it just a location nearby?
In 1942 Frelighsburg was reported in the newspapers to be changing its name to Lidice in homage to the Czecho-Slovakian village that was savagely raised to the ground in July of 1942. Later a response from the town was that the whole world had it wrong; they were in no way about to change the name. Names are not always what they seem, especially with villages, towns or cities– names change– but memories don’t, so no matter where you lay your hat, you can call it what you want– but just make sure it’s documented properly so people like me don’t question it years later.
Clipped from Daily Ohio Statesman, 19 Jun 1866, Tue, Page 3
Clipped from Dunkirk Evening Observer, 22 Sep 1942, Tue, Page 8
Clipped from The Ottawa Journal, 22 Sep 1945, Sat, Page 13
Clipped from The Burlington Free Press, 21 Aug 1871, Mon, Other Editions, Page 2
Clipped from Vancouver Daily World, 14 Mar 1894, Wed, Page 1
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