Local history comes alive in Westmount’s  Hurtubise home

Prof. Stéfan Coté shares a moment with his class on the steps of Westmount's Hurtubise home

Two hundred and eighty years after Louis Hurtubise built the house that would become the family’s home for the next two centuries, Professor Stéphane Côté made sure that the 20 boys and girls who make up his sixth grade class in NDG’s École St. Raymond got to understand that history is a lot more than just the time, dates and events that fills up so many pages in their history book.

“Take a good look at that picture,” said CHQ (Canadian Heritage in Québec) Director Jacques Archambault as he pointed out the picture of a farmer working the plow that was hitched behind a massive black bull. “That’s how you plowed your fields back when there were no tractors.”

During a brief power point presentation that described the home’s (nearly) tri-centennial history, Archambault stressed that Canadian history owes a massive debt to the Hurtubise family who managed to save all of the family’s legal documents ever since Jean Hurtubise first bought the property from the colony’s Sulpician Order back in 1699 when the French regime was still at war with the Mohawk nation.

“You must remember that the year 1701 was a very important year for everybody in Ville Marie,” said Archambault, because that’s when the French signed ‘The Great Peace’ – La Grande Paix’ – the peace treaty that ended the wars with all of the 39 tribes that represented Native nations throughout the St. Laurence River valley.

As three acres of the property faced the (now diverted) St. Pierre River that used to run through what is now Montreal’s Sud-Ouest, the Hurtubise farm had access to its own water and occupied a narrow rectangle that stretched all the way from St. Henri (below the Glen) up to what is now the Westmount Boulevard. Based upon the family’s efforts to conserve census records, land deeds and all of their assorted legal documents (bills of sale, tax receipts,) related to the property, Canadian history owes the family a massive debt because their detailed archives provide a coherent reflection of the mid-18th and 19th century labor that defined life on the land in the new colonies. By the turn of the 20th century, the family began to sell off its land to developers up until the mid 1950s when there was nothing left but the house and its stables. Following the death of Léo Hurtubise in 1952, local residents who understood what the home meant for future generations rallied to save the property after which the CHQ was created to preserve and protect Canadian Heritage properties in Québec. Sixty years later, Archambault made sure that his young audience got their fair share of fruit juice and cookies before he reminded them that “...it’s your history, and it’s up to you to care for it, and to respect what these people did to build this nation.”

“That was a morning well-spent,” said Linda Simard as the entire class began to make its way back to school. As Simard is principal of the school, she was pleased to share the morning’s tour with the children, and she hopes that there will be more tours for other classes in the new year. “When you combine what’s taught in a classroom with a real experience, that’s always the kind of lesson that a child will remember for a long time.”

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