Stanstead Township is proud to present its homeland, located on the eastern shore of Lake Memphremagog, between Magog and Stanstead in the shadow of the Elephant and Owl’s Head Mountains. Here, the mountains give way to hills (Bunker, Browns and the Porcupine hills). We also find a happy mix of forest and farmland, creating a rustic and bucolic atmosphere and exceptional views.
The low population density, the conservation status, the wealth of heritage and the beauty of our landscapes make our community a special place. Our beautiful region attracts more and more residents and vacationers, drawn by lakes Memphremagog and Lovering lakes.
Stanstead Township includes two villages: Georgeville and Fitch Bay, each contributing in its own way to our sense of identity. So, too, other interesting dualities are part of our makeup. Our population is composed in the main of equal numbers of Francophones and Anglophones. It includes year-round residents and seasonal vacationers, with diverse backgrounds as country folk and city folk. We live on the lakeshore or inlands, on properties that range from the opulent to the most modest.
Working together, our challenge is enhance and protect, for ourselves and future generations, the natural environment that is our heritage. Our mandate is to make it possible for everyone, young and old alike, to participate in the stimulating human environment that brings so much to the quality of life we enjoy.
The red letter day that marked the beginning of municipal government in Stanstead Township was July 21, 1845.
On that day, seven leading men in the Township appeared before a Justice of the Peace at Stanstead Plain and were sworn in as the “councillors of Stanstead”. They had been elected over the previous two days by 231 male voters – no women were eligible – who had made their way over rough trails to the border village to chose the Township’s first Municipal Council.
The new council was responsible for the original Stanstead Township, its boundaries from the Vermont border to just north of Georgeville, and from Lake Memphremagog to Barnston Township – a large swath of countryside then still thinly settled. The Stanstead Journal reported that its population stood at just 1,430 in 1849.
The most striking aspect of this first election of local government was how long it had taken in coming. Northrup Frye, a native of Sherbrooke who became Canada’s foremost literary scholar, aptly described the Eastern Townships in the settlement era as “a northern spur of New England”.
With few exceptions, the homesteaders who came into “the wild lands” around Lake Memphremagog beginning in the 1790s, were not, as is often supposed, loyalists dissatisfied with the young Republic to the south eager to return to British rule. Rather these hardy and resilient folk were attracted by the availability of free, or at any rate, cheap land. They brought with them the character and values of their native New England, including the democratic ideas that had fuelled the American revolution.
Years before the rebellions of 1837-1838
As a result, the British colonial authorities regarded them with distrust, and were unwilling to allow local government to take root in the townships. In is celebrated report on the grievances that brought about the Rebellions of 1837-38 in Lower Canada, Lord Durham concluded that “the utter want of municipal institutions giving the people any control over their local affairs, may indeed be considered as one of the main causes of the failure” of the colonial government. As far as the townships were concerned, the Durham report pointed to the irony that they presented “a lamentable contrast in the management of all local matters to the bordering state of Vermont, in which the municipal institutions are the most complete, it is said, of any part of New England.”
It was in response to Lord Durham’s recommendations that the colonial government approved the establishment of the first municipal government in 1845. Stanstead’s newly-elected council set about making up for lost time. According to the historian J.I. Little, it became “one of the more dynamic municipal institutions in the region.” Meeting at Griffin’s Corner, the seven councillors chose one of their number, 54-year Elisha Gustin as the Township’s first mayor.
The overwhelming preoccupation of the councillors – as it would remain for their successors until well into the 20th century – was the deplorable state of the roads, and how to improve them in a cash-poor economy. The council drew up a meticulous list of twenty-five roads (for example, “from the Widow Mansergh’s to Mr. Tilton’s”) and appointed an overseer for each. The overseer’s job was to ensure that each owner or occupant of 200 acres put in ten days’ labour every year to maintain the stretch or road that ran past his property.
A day’s labour was defined as “ten hours of faithful labour of an able-bodied man, with suitable tools.” When the snows of winter came farmers were required “to keep open Winter roads well broke for Public travel.” Anyone unwilling or unable to contribute the required labour – presumably including the likes of the Widow Mansergh – was obliged to pay a tax instead of five shillings per day.
This left the question of how to assess the residents of Georgeville and the Head of the Bay (as Fitch Bay was known until it acquired a post office in 1854). For this purpose the council defined a village as “ten dwelling houses” within a distance of thirty acres.” Owners or occupiers of village lots were required to perform two days’ road labour per year.
After two years’ experience of local government at the township level, the need became clear for greater co-ordination among the townships. To provide this, all of their responsibilities were transferred to County Councils, including a newly-created Stanstead County Council. It was composed of two councillors each from the townships of Potton, Bolton, Hatley, Stanstead, Barnston and Barford. The Georgeville shopkeeper Chauncey Bullock became mayor the County Council’s first Mayor, and his brother, Increase, its secretary-treasurer.
“There is no lazy blood coursing the veins of the members of this council,” the Stanstead Journal reported. The Council found itself virtually submerged by a flood of petitions for new and better roads. It met for three days five or six times a year, at Abraham Channel’s Tavern in Georgeville or at Dr. M.F. Colby’s Inn at Stanstead Plain. The sessions often began at 7 a.m. and ran until well past midnight. The Council’s business expanded from dealing with roads to regulating the schedule and fares of the Georgeville horse-powered ferry named Hope. It also included licensing traders and shop-keepers and “Houses of Entertainment,” as the early travellers’ inns were called.
It was the County Council that introduced the first municipal tax based on property evaluation – amounting to a modest one-half one per cent for the “making and repairing of summer roads.” Not surprisingly, operating on an annual budget of just £200 in 1851 (in today’s terms roughly $11,000), the council was always in the position of pushing a boulder uphill. Improving roads often meant encroaching on private property – provoking at one council meeting an extended debate, the Journal reported, “chiefly on the ground whether a man’s private interest should stand in the way of the public good.”
Recognizing that County Councils were saddled with too much geography to manage effectively, the colonial government restored the township councils, with their greater sensitivity to local concerns. The Municipality of Stanstead Township is now less than half the size it was on the red letter day in 1845. The village of Stanstead Plain was spun off as a separate municipality in 1864, followed by Beebe Plain in 1872 and Ogden and Stanstead East in the 20th century. Today’s Stanstead Township Council stands in a proud tradition, its mandate still to serve the public good as its predecessors did in times long ago.
Presentation of the municipality
Stanstead Township in figures
Major social and demographic information
Date of establishment
Name of the MRC