History of the Valley Petite-Nation
The valleys of both the Petite-Nation and the Lièvre rivers broke away from the glaciers ten thousand years ago. Since then, rivers and lakes have drained the soil to allow forests to grow. Wildlife began to thrive and people from the south arrived to develop this land of abundance. Six thousand years ago, two groups of Amerindians lived in this region. Physically different from each other, both tribes, according to archaeological excavations carried out in the Baie Martin near Plaisance and Baie Noir-est in Thurso, have been identified as ancestors of the Algonquin and the Iroquois. Oueskarinis, meaning "people of the Petite-Nation" in Algonquin, was the name given to the tribe that permanently lived in this region. The community was nomadic, meaning that they survived on hunting, fishing and harvesting.
Nomads were also frequent travellers, trading with neighbouring nomadic tribes. Upon returning from a trip to the east in 1653, they were attacked by the Iroquois near Petit-Lac Nominingue. The Oueskarinis were then decimated by the Iroquois close to the source of the Petite-Nation River in the northern part of the region.
In 1613, Champlain is said to have made a few stops and interesting discoveries on his expedition west to l'île aux Allumettes. On his arrival at the Petite-Nation River he wrote, "We found a very nice, wide river, which belongs to a nation called Oueskarini that live north of here, four days away. This river is very pleasant, full of islands and land edged with beautiful, bright forests and good earth for ploughing." Missionaries and coureurs des bois would also follow that route on their way up the Ottawa River. In 1674, the Seigneury of the Petite-Nation was granted to Monseigneur de Laval, the first bishop of Nouvelle-France. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were marked by the fur trade, and coureurs de bois were forever travelling rivers and lakes looking for valuable pelts.
It is at the beginning of the nineteenth century that the Seigneury of the Petite-Nation really began the colonization process. West of the Seigneury, near the Blanche River, Scottish families settled in the townships, the British system of dividing land since the Conquest. In 1802, Joseph Papineau, a notary, purchased the Seigneury from the Séminaire de Québec and settled down with his family and nineteen other settlers along the shores of the Ottawa River. Denis-Benjamin, the youngest of the Papineau's, was given the responsibility of coordinating the establishment within the Seigneury. He became associated with anglophone entrepreneurs who developed the wood industry and operated the sawmill in Sault-de-la-Chaudière near Plaisance. A village called North Nation Mills was built around the lumber mill. The company W.C. Edwards stopped its lumber operation and shut down its facilities in 1920.
In 1817, Louis-Joseph Papineau bought the Seigneury of the Petite-Nation from his father.
In 1845, upon returning from exile in the United States, he begun building the manoir seigneurial in Montebello. From this point on, following a full political career, the popular orator was dedicated to the development of the Seigneury until his death in 1871 at the age of eighty-five.
In 1850, in the Seigneury, colonization was in full swing with approximately 3,000 people. West of the Seigneury, in the townships of Lochaber, Mulgrave and Derry, Irish, German and French-Canadian colonists decided to live the rugged life of settlers.
In time, they cleared the land and began farming. Slowly, as the settlement got bigger, they built a church and a post office. A village was born. The beginning of the nineteenth century also marked the beginning of an emerging wood industry. England was fighting Napoleon and the northern forests of the region fed the shipbuilding yards of the UK Royal Navy. The settlers of the Petite-Nation thus spent the summers clearing and cultivating the soil and the winters working up in the logging camps. The seigneurial regime was abolished in 1854 and the religious authorities had, from then on, a huge influence on the development of the parishes right up until the middle of the twentieth century.
The railroad, which ran through the Petite-Nation, contributed immensely to the development of the region. In 1877, in addition to the existing steamboat operation, the railroad linking Hull to Montreal was completed. The train stopped in Thurso, Papineauville and Montebello. Due to this new means of transportation, wood was shipped faster to the United States, Canada's major economic partner since the mid-nineteenth century. The timber company Singer accelerated the development process by building its own railroad linking Duhamel to its new pulp and paper mill in Thurso in 1926. Becoming the economic basis of the region, agriculture and forestry continued to grow throughout the twentieth century. At the same time, in the midst of an economic depression, Château Montebello was being built in the village, formerly the centre of the old Seigneury and was soon to become the driving force for the tourism industry. In 1930, the largest log building in the world was finished with the help of three thousand, five hundred labourers.
The second half of the twentieth century was when vacationing took on a new meaning in the region. City people in search of country vacations built cottages around the many lakes during the post-war period. In the forties, a bus ran daily between Montreal and Lac-des-Plages. Communities were formed and organized. Institutions were put into place, administrative and health services were provided in Papineauville and in Saint-André-Avellin and, in 1961, the newspaper "La vallée de la Petite-Nation" was published for the first time.(Source : http://www.papineau.ca/Papineau/index_e.aspx?DetailId=210)
The Petite-Nation was not spared the "earth connection" of the seventies. Craftsmen, artists and professionals settled into country living, bringing a cultural touch to the region. The people of the Petite-Nation followed their destiny and profited from the numerous opportunities of the territory while welcoming an increasing number of tourists to the region.