Couple honoured for renewing spirit at Eastern Ontario ghost town

Parc Historique Gagnon Historical Park, at the site of the Ontario ghost town of Gagnon. Van Dusen photo, Nation Valley News

Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News

LIMOGES — Does Rejean Pommainville like local history? The lifelong farmer and regional director with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture is building his own personal pioneer settlement on the home property east of here… he adores local history!

With several buildings already installed in the private attraction, Pommainville is always looking to add something else. Wife Barbara is a staunch supporter.

And this isn’t even what the Pommainvilles were recognized for during the recent online presentation of a prestigious award for an extraordinary contribution in raising awareness and fostering preservation of Ontario’s French heritage.

During the presentation, the home settlement was mentioned in passing. In partnership with Laurentian University, the Huguette-Parent award carrying a $500 cash prize was presented to the couple for their work across what’s now known as Calypso Road over the past 20 years. Rejean said he was both surprised and honoured.

They led the way in establishing a memorial to the once thriving lost village of Gagnon, including donating the family home. That’s where Rejean attended primary school and where his father drew milk to the community cheese factory.

Now listed as an Ontario Ghost Town, Gagnon boasted two sawmills, general store, the cheese factory, butcher shop, hotel, post office and school. The settlement began in the late 1800s between Casselman and Limoges; it was established by French Canadians in the lumbering business who came from Quebec looking for greener pastures.

The Huguette-Parent panel noted the ancestral home where Rejean and his many brothers and sisters were born was moved from the home farm to the Gagnon site to serve as a museum.

“Their intentions are fundamentally nourished by the joy and pride they receive from sharing history. The nomination presented shows in a significant way that their engagement coincides with the purpose of the award,” the panel declared.

Van Dusen photo, Nation Valley News

The Pommainvilles involvement in resurrecting the spirit of Gagnon started when a committee was formed and a large crowd gathered to unveil plaques recalling the village’s history. Since then, a shelter has been built, picnic tables introduced and trees planted at what is now known as Parc Historique Gagnon Historical Park which has been closed due to C-19.

In 2010, the Pommainvilles built a new home and their 1880 log house which had served four generations was relocated. The house was spared from an 1897 fire which destroyed South Indian (Limoges), part of Casselman and thousands of cords of firewood piled at Gagnon. The second storey has been removed, a new roof installed, and a summer kitchen added.

Gagnon’s original reason for being was lumber, specifically pine trees which were cut, sawn, and transported to Montreal for shipment to Britain’s ship building industry. Two sawmills were located conveniently close the Canada Atlantic Railway which became Canadian National.

Partly because of dwindling forest reserves and partly because of the 1897 fire, the two mills closed, leaving behind a postmaster named Gagnon. Still, the community expanded and prospered through the 1940s thanks to dairy farming.

When milk which had been processed locally went off to more modern regional facilities, the post office was transferred and, in 1965, the last students left #4 Cambridge Separate School … the death knell was sounded for Gagnon.

Many of the remaining farmers purchased abandoned acreage to enlarge their own holdings and some less fertile lands were sold to nearby regenerated Larose Forest. With the park, an annual summer picnic, and a 200-page commemorative book, a new era has emerged for Gagnon and, COVID-19 permitting, some events could return to the park this summer.

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