Chapter 11 - Andrew Hemphill in Quebec


The Charter-Hemphill Story


Chapter 11

Even today Quebec maintains an old world look.

May 13--We had a dense fog and the sea ran high, the rain pouring down in torrents, which made our vessel pitch and roll heavily; indeed the day presented nothing but a somber aspect. From the 16th to the 18th, we were completely enveloped in a fog, which when cleared away, we had the gratification to find ourselves in a direct course for the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and in sight of Newfoundland. Weather very cold, and snow visibly seen lurking on the rocks and mountains.

May 22—We saw several grampuses sportively playing around us, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which were frequently seen to emerge from the troubled deeps, spouting and blowing from their inflated nostrils like so many high-pressure engines. A few seals also made their appearance here.

May 23—We entered the river St. Lawrence with very foggy weather, but a fair breeze; at three-o’ clock in the afternoon, took on board a French-Canadian pilot.

Proceeding further—islands are almost innumerable, very mountainous, and covered with snow. Those islands are principally inhabited by fishermen. We also passed a group called “Pilgrim Islands” at four o’clock, were off St. Johns at five, opposite the island of Orleans. At the north-western extremity of this beautiful island we had a fine view of the Falls of Montmorency; and, in sight of Quebec, at eight o’clock cast anchor at the long-looked-for port after a stormy passage of six weeks.

Fig. 2 The shores of the St. Lawrence River


Quebec [City] is partially situated on a lofty eminence; and, at a distance, has the appearance of being a mountainous island, at the foot of which lays several hundreds of vessels, principally of heavy burthen. The buildings in general, are covered with tin, which on a dull day has the appearance of snow, and has a very chilling effect.

A strongly fortified garrison stands at the lower part of the town, at the side of the river St. Lawrence, and is considered by some to be impregnable. The upper part of the town, on the brow of the mountain, furnishes the advantage of a commanding and extensive view of the spreading waters of the St. Lawrence, and the adjacent country around.

Fig. 3 Frozen late December to March, the St. Lawrence River forms a land bridge at Quebec City


Along the shores of the river St. Lawrence, white houses, principally only one story in height, are scattered, hundreds of miles, at very short distances from each other; and the churches, with their spiral tops covered with tin, indicate a division of districts into parishes.

A short distance back from the shores of the river, in the rear of the dwelling-houses, woody mountains range along the coast. The cultivated part of the country lays over the mountains, but the principal part of the inhabitants are domiciled along the shores of the river; and, during the heat of summer, the situation may be considered healthy and pleasant.

The King’s Wharf in the Port of Quebec,1827-1841

After spending a night at Quebec [City], I set out the following night, by steamboat, for Montreal. On the way we passed the Queen, steamer, under water, in the river, which had left Quebec with passengers for Montreal, at eleven o’clock, on the night we arrived. The weather being extremely foggy, she came in collision with the Sydenham, steamer, and sunk in eighteen feet water, and several emigrants and others were unfortunately drowned. I escaped being one of her passengers by allowing myself to be prevailed upon by the captain to remain on board the ship all night. We reached Montreal on the 29th, at ten o’clock at night, one hundred and eighty miles from Quebec.

The inhabitants of Montreal are remarkably conspicuous in their habiliments: the dress of the lower order of the French is quite of the Harlequin description ; some of their garments display a great variety of colors, which gives them an eccentric and fantastic appearance.

Narrative of a Voyage to, and Travels in, Upper John Taylor, pub. 1846


There are no comprehensive lists of immigrants arriving in Canada before 1865 and consequently, it is not known when Andrew Hemphill arrived other than between April and early December 1850 when the St. Lawrence was navigable. Andrew was living in the Chateauguay Valley, on the south side of the St. Lawrence River, across from Montreal.

The Chateauguay Valley is in southwestern Quebec, officially called Canada East then, but the name “Lower Canada” was still in popular useage. The valley roughly encompasses the drainage basin of the Chateauguay River; which flows from the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York state and joins the St. Lawrence River at Montreal. See Fig. 6) Today the Valley is mainly made up of rural communities and is known for its agriculture and apple orchards, although the town of Chateauguay serves as a suburb of Montreal.

It was there he met Anne Liggett, who like him, was an Ulster-Scot. And they were both thirty-seven years old. They married in 1854 in the Church of Scotland, Presbyterian in Huntingdon, another town in the Chateauguay Valley. It is learned from the church registry that Andrew is a widower. Until that documewnt surfaced it was not known he had had a wife back in Ulster. And possibly children. Did she die from one of the many fevers or diseases resulting from starvation?

Fig. 4 A mill or grain warehouse in Huntingdon on the Chateauguay River

Lucille H. Campey's wrote in Seeking a Better Future: The English Pioneers Ontario and Quebec, “This desire for a fresh start after a personal tragedy probably explains the relatively high number of men and women who emigrated soon after loosing spouses.” We can only speculate but it very well could have been a motivating factor for Andrew. The parish record refers to Anne as a spinster, which turns out to be a common term used for an unmarried woman during that period.

The Ligget (or Liggett, Legget, or Leggett . . . ) family arrived in Quebec in 1827 when Anne was about ten years old. Her father James, 3GGF, Grandfather 3GGF), had recieved a land grant of 100 acres in Godmanchester, Huntingdon County, Quebec. Such grants were incentives to populate and settle land in Canada, especilly to former UK soldiers. Anne had two older brothers: Robert and James, and possibley more siblings. Her father died in 1851 and was buried in Ormstown. The church registry shows he died the 9th day of June, 1851 at seventy-four years-old.

St. James Anglican Church Ormstown Built 1852

The possibliltiy of Anne recieving some inheritance from her father can be speculated about. The Elmanac: The History of Elma Township 1857-1997, shows Andrew aquiring, or at least applying for a patent, for 100 acres in the township Elma, Perth County, Canada West. They eventually reside there but not until after January 14, 1861, which is the earliest date the 1861 Census could have been takne. The census indicates that the Hemphills and the Liggett families share a home, as it is in Ormstown; the Hemphills are probably living on the 100 acres granted to James Liggett. (To see the census, click here). Anne has two older brothers, one with a much younger Scottish wife, still using her maiden name, as does Anne, at least on the census. The year of the census, Andrew and Anne have two boys, five and three years old. They are close in age to their Liggett cousins, four and two. All the men are farmers.

Little is known about Anne's mother.

Fig. 5Kiosque-rue-Saint-Laurentkiosque-rue-Saint-Laurent Beauharnois. Date of photo is unknown.

James Hemphill (GGF), Grandma Charter’s father, was born in Beauharnais, another town in the valley, two years after the marriage. A year later, a second son, William, was born in Ormstown, also in the valley.

Incidentally, during the War of 1812 forty-four years earlier, the Battle of Chateauguay was fought near Ormstown in which the British force consisting of 1,530 regulars, volunteers, militia and Native Americans repelled an American force of about 2,600 regulars which was attempting to invade Lower Canada and ultimately attack Montreal. The Battle of the Chateauguay was one of the two battles (the other being the Battle of Crysler's Farm) which caused the Americans to abandon the Saint Lawrence Campaign, their major strategic effort in the autumn of 1813.

Prior to the Great Famine, almost all Irish immigrants were Protestant. They settled in farming communities north of Montreal—places that the Quebec immigration agent had been recommending to newly arrived immigrants. This was around 1820. However, with larger populations and thriving economies, Huntingdon and Beauharnois counties, located near the American border, proved more popular. In 1851, the combined population of Irish on the south side was 6,100, compared with only 3,900 Irish living on the north side.

Unlike the north side of the St. Lawrence, where the Irish were spread across four counties, Irish enclaves on the south side were more compact. Here, they were concentrated in Huntington and Beauharnois, the latter being the more popular despite its apparent drawback in only offering leaseholds to settlers, but they were won over by “the general goodness of the land, the variety of timber, among which oak, elm, pine, and beech are in great quantities,” the extensive waterways through which felled timber could be brought to the St. Lawrence, and the “easy access by main roads” to the United States.

Fig. 6 Chateauguay Valley and environs, including Montreal and St. Lawrence River

Another difference between the Irish on the north side of the St. Lawrence, who generally came directly from Ireland, a significant proportion of those living on the south side had begun their stay in Canada East by taking up laboring work in or near Montreal. The construction jobs made available by the building of the Lachine Canal in the early 1820s, the Chambly Canal in the early 1830s, and the Sainte Anne de Bellevue Canal ten years later were a godsend. The wages earned gave the poor the springboard they needed to finance their farming aspirations.

Many of them on both sides lacked the funds to relocate father west and the amount of money needed to begin farming was prohibitively expensive. See Fig. 10) They worked as laborers, seasonal farm hands, and loggers until they accumulated enough to migrate further west and start farms.

Those emigrants with family or friends already settled in the colony invariably fared best, such as Joseph Carrothers from Ulster, who had lost his sister Jane to typhus during the migration of 1847, and had taken ill himself, was able to recuperate for a month at the home of his brother, Nathaniel. Nathaniel had arrived several years earlier to farm near London, Ontario, not far from Perth County   where Andrew and his family finally settle. Writing to relatives in Ulster, Joseph said, “Those that is settled for some years is well off . . . I am with a wagon maker learning to make wagons at $20 a month.”

The Irish Catholics who came during the Great Famine tended to congregate in Montreal where they felt at home with the French Catholics. Montreal grew from 9,000 inhabitants in 1800 to 58,000 in 1852. In Montreal the English and Scottish dominate the west, the Irish are concentrated in the south-west, and in an industrial neighborhood along the Lachine Canal, known as Griffintown. They worked on the canal and in the industries surrounding it, the Victoria Bridge, the railways, and the Port of Montreal.

A typical day of work was 15 hours long. Housing was precarious too. Built close to one another and with wooden frames, they were frequently exposed to fires. In 1852, a huge blaze burnt half of Griffintown to the ground, putting hundreds of people on the street. Systematically, every spring, the ice break-up on the St-Lawrence flooded the area and caused loss and damage to an already poverty-stricken community.

Harsh living conditions in Griffintown, undoubtedly – but, according to many testimonials of former Griffintown residents, an incomparable, heart-warming sense of community and belonging as well. For an outsider, Griffintown might have seemed miserable, but the wooden houses and small streets of the area were populated by a spirited and tightly knit community of proud people. Despite their hardships, said one resident, “Griffintowners felt rich in a way no outsider could understand.”

There was a strong spirit of camaraderie between neighbors and fellow Griffintowners. “The sidewalks were busy,” she remembers, “and familiar voices and laughter, along with the odd shout and clatter, would filter through the shutters, joining the whiff of yeast from the brewery, the scent of chocolate from Lowney’s factory. The red-brick houses, hard to the sidewalk, made a dramatic backdrop for some larger-than-life characters.”  Gangs stood at every corner, but instead of threatening the population, they gave residents a sense of security. “At one point there was a police station on Young Street, but it closed after a year or so because there was so little crime.”

Fig. 7 Loading ships with timber at Quebec City, 1860s


Throughout the 19th century, Quebec experienced very rapid population growth. However, by the 1830s and 1840s, Quebec’s most fertile farmland had been systematically occupied, leaving landless farmers searching either for affordable, accessible and fertile land, or gainful employment. Between 1784 and 1844, Quebec’s population increased by about 400 per cent, while its total area of agricultural acreage rose only by 275 %, creating an important deficit of available farmland. While not as dramatic, this trend continued between 1851 and 1901. 

Fig. 8 House in Griffintown for Mr. Meredith

The agricultural regions of Quebec that began to be actively colonized in the second half of the 19th century suffered either from a lack of fertility, difficult access to major markets, a short growing season, or a combination of all three factors. Thus, agricultural activity in these regions was quite arduous and often was largely oriented towards self-sufficiency and subsistence. For many, farming in these areas was only a part time activity. These farmers participated in an economy based on agriculture and forestry. Farming was often so unprofitable in peripheral regions that many would have to spend the entire winter, and part of spring and fall, working in the various primary stages of the timber trade. These seasonal jobs gave farmers access to desperately needed hard currency to develop their farms and ensure their subsistence but created long term patterns of dependency. Indeed, with timber barons being often the only major employers in many regions, farmers had little or no choice but to enter into a dependent relationship with them. Frequently, timber companies paid thousands of landless employees with company scrip, lent money at very high interest rates; were the only market for the produce of local farms or monopolized the retail trade through company stores. They thus controlled the retail and purchasing price for goods, services, manpower and credit. The result was near monopolies that could have a virtual stranglehold over their region, notably, through debt peonage. Both the farmer and the timber baron lived in a symbiotic relationship. The farmer needed the employment, and the markets created by the timber industry, while the timber baron relied on the farmer to provide the manpower and the produce needed to fuel his logging camps. While co-dependent, there is no doubt, given the plentiful supply of labor, as to who profited the most from this system. The farmer could not subsist without the timber trade while the relative poverty engendered by subsistence level agriculture provided the cheap labor which the timber baron needed to generate profit. Quebec historians have termed this relationship l’économie agro-forestière.

Fig. 9 Griffintown, 1896

Aside from the obvious difficulties associated with this type of farming, agriculture in the more fertile and established regions also suffered from serious problems. For most farmers, credit, vital to agricultural expansion, technical amelioration, crop diversification and improvement of the livestock, was difficult to obtain. Before the creation and widespread expansion of Caisses populaires, the francophone equivalent of a credit union and the government farm credit system established in the 1930’s, standard agricultural credit was difficult to obtain in rural Quebec.

Fig. 10 The equivalent of £44 in 1865 in today’s dollars is $5,340.
From The Canadian Settler’s Guide by Mrs. C. P. Traill, an English woman who pioneered with her husband. In the seventh edition, the total capital required was £56.

The problem of indebtedness was of course related to the low productivity of the Quebec farms. There were various reasons for this, and historians have debated them for decades. However, it should be noted that, ever since the beginning of the 19th century, Quebec was in a state of agricultural crisis that would truly only end with rural electrification, as well as with the large-scale development of the dairy industry and market gardening in the 20th century. Essentially, it should be borne in mind that until the onset of the 20th century, most Quebecers lived on farms, when the climate, land base, and quality of soils suggested that this should not be so. Without proper alternatives, the people of Quebec were condemned to rural life. Without credit they could not improve their condition and, consequently, they fell increasingly into poverty. Historians have estimated that the gross revenues derived from agriculture by Quebec farmers were, on average, $230 annually. This was less than half the income that Ontario farmers derived from their land.

Thus, credit problems, and the poverty attending it, were an important motivator for emigration. Farmers all over Quebec would have to migrate to big cities in order to find work either to pay off their debts, or after their farms had been foreclosed. Furthermore, lack of credit hampered agricultural modernization which, in turn, engendered un-dynamic, un-profitable farming. Overall, these factors combined to generate poverty even within the most fertile of Quebec’s regions.

The next chapter reveals Andrew Hemphill and his family’s experience in southwestern Ontario.

Click on an image to see it full size

Item 11.1
A record of a James Ligget born in Belfast. Source unknown. This is very tenative.
Item 11.2
1842 Canada Census. Ormstown, Quebec. James Liggett, head of household and family of five are highlighted on the list.
Item 11.3
Entry in church registry for death and burial of James Liggett of Ormstown, 9th day of June, 1851. An Ulster-Scot, he arrived in Canada in 1827. He was the father of Anne Liggett. He was seventy-four years-old when he died.
Item 11.4
1861 Canada Census. Andrew and Anne and their two young children are listed along with Anne’s brothers Robert and James and their infered spouses and children. Anne is using her maiden name for some reason.
Item 11.5
Andrew Hemphill and Anne Liggett’s 1854 marriage recorded in church registry.

Primary Sources:

  • Hanna, Charles A. The Scotch-Irish or The Scot in North Britian, North Ireland, and North America. G. P. Putnum's Sons, 2010, N.Y. and London
  • Campey, Lucille H. Ontario and Quebec’s Irish Pioneers: Farmers, Laborers, and Lumberjacsk.Dundurn, 2018, Toronto