The information contained in this paper was taken from a thesis written by Brother Jules Martel s.c., of Victoriaville College, in 1960. It was written in French. Mr. Courtland Delaney of Richmond for translated the parts of the thesis which pertain to the Craig’s Road. RCHS Archives.
The earliest known date about the road was 1805 when settlers signed a petition asking for means of communication with other parts of the province. This petition was read in Parliament on September 6, 1806 and accepted. A committee was appointed to look into the matter. Parliament had no money for this project and contractors were offered blocks of land adjacent to the new road, conditional on their locating a colonist for each mile they would construct. The offer was not considered favourable and no contractor tendered to do the work, so the road dreamed of remained but a plan on paper for some time.
Then began the era of Craig. With his secretary Ryland and with Sewell, they hoped to settle the Townships with Protestants as soon as possible, to preclude their being taken up by the French element.
In 1806, Craig started work to open the road from Quebec to the Eastern Townships for British immigrants, but the results were disappointing, as the road seemed rather to promote trade with commercial centers of the new lands by the colonists. However, the work provided healthy employment for the British troops stationed at Quebec and opened a road to the Eastern Townships. If the main objective was not attained, at least the road remained – in a poor condition – to serve as an outlet to Quebec.
After 1806, John Caldwell and others from Montreal and Quebec, impressed by great political and commercial benefits to be derived from communication between Quebec and the Eastern Townships, at their own expense, traced a road from the seigneuries of the Chaudiere River, a distance of about twenty miles, toward the nearest settlement in the Townships. From there, roads started to other colonization centers in the townships and towards the United States. Caldwell then offered to construct the road if the government would give him 400 acres of Crown land, per mile of road constructed in Leeds, Inverness, Ireland, Chester, Tingwick and Shipton. This offer was not accepted and the project was abandoned.
In 1810, Craig formally asked the Government to let him make the road between the Capital and the frontier. The French majority in the House reused Craig’s request. He decided to go ahead on his own and use a military contingent under Quarter-Master General J. Kempt and Major Robinson using the plan traced out by John Caldwell. On April 18, 1810 Elmer Cushing from Shipton presented a petition requesting that the road traced by M. Kilburn for John Caldwell be completed.
On August 2, 1010 the Quebec Gazette carried the following item: “Last Monday morning parts of the different regiments of the Garrison, about 200 men crossed the river to begin construction of a road from St. Gilles through the Townships of Leeds, Inverness, Halifax, Chester and Tingwick to Shipton on the St. Francis River. The road at Shipton connects with another road to the U.S.A., and we learn that via this road the journey to Boston will require much less time than formerly. This road will give an easy communication to Quebec markets for the settlers along the St. Francis River.” A few days later, Craig wrote to his secretary Ryland: “We have started the road to the Townships. This had become necessary and urgent as we are almost reduced to famine. In truth I believe this undertaking will be of prime importance to the general interests of the colony. At present all this part of the country is so unrelated that it appears not to belong to us at all. We require a means of communications not only to supply us with the necessary provisions, but also to bring this population to our doors, so to speak, and to show the settlers that they belong to the colony and should share in its development. There is no hope of completing this work unless an extraordinary effort is made. Major Robinson is on the job with 180 soldiers; Quarter–Master General Kempt has made a tour of inspections and reports work progressing very well. I hope to see the road completed by mid-October. George Hamilton has advanced 1000 pounds that we will repay with lands. We will have sufficient money as we hope to do the work one third cheaper than had we employed local labour.”
The soldiers were handled in a military manner as the Quebec Gazette triumphantly announced: “A 75 mile road has been cut through ancient forests, making a fine wagon road from Quebec to Shipton in the District of Three Rivers. It is generally 15 feet wide, clear of all stumps and other encumbrances, embellished by 120 bridges of different sizes, of which 24 span large brooks. One bridge, named Craig, very strongly built, spans a branch of the Becancour River. This wide passage to the Townships gives Quebec City some hope of independence, in filling the needs of a growing population. Limited at the present time to the produce of an ungrateful neighbourhood and poor farming, we have had to rely on larger districts for our support. Craig’s Road leads to richer lands and each forward mile means greater opportunities. Many hundred heads of cattle have already reached here by this road, to the consternation of the small but avid dealers of cattle and sheep, who at times, have kept us in a state of famine. We do not hesitate to call this work the most important local event since this province became British.”
Craig’s Road did not immediately produce all the beneficial results expected, but it was a great convenience to the settlers in the townships. Stage coach service was installed between Quebec and Boston as per a notice in the Quebec Gazette on December 21, 1810: “Public notice is given that a regular stage coach, Quebec to Boston , via Craig’s Road will begin next January 10, 1811 and will be continued regularly in the winter only. Coaches will leave Quebec and Boston on Mondays of each week, will meet at Stanstead on Wednesdays, and arrive at Quebec and Boston on Saturdays of the same week. Persons wishing to reserve space on these coaches are requested to call the office of Josiah Stiles, near St. John’s Gate for all information. Coaches will follow this schedule: Mondays, St. Nicholas, St. Gilles, Leeds and on to Brown’s in the Township of Ireland for an over-night stop; Tuesdays – over night at M. Tilton’s on the St. Francis River, passing via Chester, Tingwick and Shipton; Wednesdays – Brompton, Orford, Ascot, Compton, Hatley, Barnston and overnight at M. Salesbury in Stanstead; Thursdays – Derby, Salem, Brownington, Barton, Sheffield, Linden, St. Johnsbury, Barnet, Tygate, Newbury to Haverhill where travellers connect with stages to Boston and other U.S. points.”
Little was known of the condition of the road and travellers wondered if they could make the trip with security and minimum of comfort. The road followed high ground so as to eliminate drainage and construction of too many bridges, but as stated before 120 (bridges) had to be built and many low-lying areas were paved with corduroy (logs laid side by side across swampy ground).
Governor Craig appears to have overlooked the upkeep of the road and left that part of the work to his successors and to the colonists who could not be relied upon, as the road passed through miles of virgin forest. Mr. Stiles complained that he could not run his stage coach the next winter because trees had blown across the road during the summer storms. The Government realized that if these trees were not removed the price of provisions would increase because the Quebec market was supplied by this road. They ordered the road cleared at a cost not to exceed 50 pounds. The Gazette, dated March 28, 1811 carried the following news item: “The stage from Boston, due Saturday, arrived Tuesday night. It was delayed by bad roads due to the sudden and unusual arrival of spring weather at the southern end. From Boston to about 70 miles from Quebec, the snow had almost all melted, frost is coming out of the ground, rivers are at flood, brooks and low lands are flooded, and the road through the wooded sections is encumbered by fallen trees.” This was but the beginning of the troubles to come, despite high hopes for the success of the road and the use of the money spent.
Mr. Felton, testifying before the Committee of Interior Communications in 1818, claimed that the Townships had no completed road connecting the large cities in the province. He said, “Craig’s Road has 23 miles uncompleted in the District of Quebec requiring a further expenditure of 1200 pounds”. Former officers and soldiers complained that the region lacked proper roads to enable communication with the cities and that they lacked the means to undertake the work themselves. The Road Commission had no funds available at that time either. The inhabitants of Shipton and Melbourne put in their complaint as follows: “Because of insufficient funds, Craig’s Road remains uncompleted from the Township of Tingwick to the limit of the District of Quebec, twenty miles, thus cutting all communications with Quebec unless a 60 mile detour is made along the St. Francis River.”
After these many complaints, proposals and counter proposals were made re the financing of repairs and upkeep to the road. The law stated that each settler must keep up the road that passed on his land; but everyone knew that the King and clergy could not be forced to work their share on the 2/7 of the lots that they owned in the townships. Much land was also owned by absent proprietors who were not interested in the upkeep of the road. During 1823 legislative authority made amendments to the law of 1796 pertaining to the roads, whereby absent landowners were subject to legal action to ensure proper upkeep of their share of the road. Failing action from the land owner their land would be seized and sold.
Mr. Felton made a more specific report. He estimated 10 pounds per mile for minor repairs and 60 pounds per mile for the lane through the townships of Tingwick and Chester. He thus arrived at the figure of 2040 pounds for the District of Quebec, and 660 pounds for the District of Three Rivers – a minimum requirement of 2700 pounds to make Craig’s Road the main artery of travel from the townships to Quebec. After these reports the Government voted only 1600 pounds toward the required repairs.
The Legislative Assembly was abolished in 1837 and all money grants were stopped. The road commissioners were replaced by overseers by a special act of 1839 with not more than three inspectors in each parish. The chief overseer for the District of Quebec was R. Antrobus. Mr. Witcher was sub overseer for the Eastern Townships. Under the new system, new roads were opened here and there with the arrival of colonists from Nicolet and the Bois-Franc, but nothing indicates that the local roads or main arteries, such Craig’s Road, benefitted in any way under the new law and regulations. Everyone attributed the deplorable state of the roads in the province and more particularly, in the Eastern Townships, to the weakness of the Municipal Law of 1841. Under it members of distant councils had not sufficient authority to oblige the settlers to make necessary repairs to main roads. The new commissioners had this explanation for their failure: “The Commissioners, in view of the bad financial situation of the Province cannot recommend any grant for Craig’s Road, but they are of the opinion that improvement to the road would be of great value to surrounding localities.”
Thus it seems, in a few words, that perhaps carelessness, incompetence, politics and corruption were a few of the reasons for the frustrations and failures that have been reported here.