A brief history of Hudson

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Earlier this week, a resident sent me this question on FB Messenger:

I live in the area formerly known as “Como” even though when I bought my house, it is Hudson. I notice in writings, such as your recent interesting article on WordPress people who have lived in Hudson a long time always have to refer to an address here as “in Como” ex: Thursday’s council candidates round table, 7:30 at St. Mary’s Parish Hall in Como”.  When I meet my kids’ friends parents at Mount Pleasant and I mention where I live, many who are from here say  “oh, you are in Como”.  Why does that happen? Was there a cultural or economical divide between “Como” and “Hudson” that people who have lived here a long time need to make a comment? As a “newcomer” of 15 years, I am hoping you can shed some light on  something that has always puzzled me.  I pay Hudson taxes and will vote in the Hudson election. Just curious.

Here’s my response:

Prior to 1969 Hudson, Hudson Heights and Como were separate villages. Each had its own mayor and council and sent out its own tax bills. Each had its own post office and railway station (Hudson Heights also had Alstonvale and Choisy stations).
With the completion of the Trans-Canada Highway n the early ‘60s, the Three Villages saw an influx of new residents and developments such as Fairhaven. Their respective councils came to realize they shared a number of common concerns, the biggest being water.

In those days the residents either had their own wells or were supplied by a private company, Suburban Water. Suburban’s wells, reservoirs and aqueducts were old (pipes were a mix of lead, iron, steel, asbestos, even wood and dead animals occasionally tainted the open reservoirs). House fires were frequent in those days and there were no hydrants. Volunteer firefighters had to draft water from the lake.
Talk of merging the Three Villages was not new, nor was resistance. Heights residents saw little benefit other than water. Fiercely independent, Como had its own business sector and no interest in amalgamation.

Hudson had the most to gain because it had most of the region’s businesses.
In 1965, Hudson was a thriving regional shopping destination, with three grocery stores, four hardware outlets and dozens of businesses, even a sock factory. St. Lazare was a small agricultural community featuring some of Canada’s best-known riding stables and not much else. Vaudreuil was a summer community; Dorion, a separate municipality, was a truck stop.

We lived in Hudson Heights. My father and like-minded residents believed the three villages stood to gain from a merger. In 1961 my dad bought the only local newspaper, the Hudson Gazette, to campaign for amalgamation. It was a long, bitter battle. The Yes side won the 1968 referendum by a narrow majority. My father was seen by many Heights old-timers as a traitor because he challenged the discrimination that still prevailed throughout Quebec. (Irony: those social distinctions live on in the names of Hudson’s six electoral districts half a century later.)

Once the merger was law, negotiations began to buy the waterworks from Suburban Water and to install new water lines and fire hydrants. The town acquired new fire trucks and built the firehall that parks and recreation now uses.

The merger debate created grudges that remain to this day. If you have the opportunity to talk about this with old Como residents, you’ll occasionally get an earful on a bad day, when something triggers old memories.

There’s a longer version of the merger history. Back in 1999, when millennium projects were all the rage, I began my own, a recent history of Hudson, Hudson Heights and Como written from the Hudson Gazette’s archives, beginning in 1950. The Gazette Vaudreuil-Soulanges Millennium Project ran as 50 weekly instalments. Here are my Millennium Project columns covering 1966-1969:

1966

1966 blew in with astounding news – Ron Alloway, the nice guy who bought a place from Perry Bedbrooke in Mountain Ranches, turned out to be Charles Wilson, one of the members of the gang that stole close to $20 million from a British mail train carrying bags of  worn-out currency for eventual destruction. The train’s engineer was beaten into a bloody pulp by the thugs during the robbery.

Arrested, tried and convicted on the word of informers, the gang  split up and fled to different corners of the world after escaping from a Birmingham prison in 1964, a year into 30-year sentences.

Wilson, his ‘pretty blonde wife Pat ‘ and kids made their way to Canada via separate routes and settled in the Heights in the Pyke cottage before moving to Mountain Ranches.

He was a real charmer, read the Feb 1. Lake of Two Mountains Gazette. He paid his bills promptly, had a friendly wave for even his most casual of acquaintances, was a welcome member of Whitlock Golf and Country Club and was never known to have anything but a cheery smile on his face.

The only suspicion was how Alloway made enough money to support the house in
Mountain Ranches, a wife and three kids. Locals were miffed that Alloway had conned them, but that didn’t stop them from hiding Mrs. Alloway and the kids from the hordes of British tabloid journalists that descended on the area like a pack of baying hounds.

In fact, Gazette publisher Ron Jones ended up removing a rifle and shotgun lying on the bed in the master bedroom – as if Wilson had been contemplating a last stand. Jones phoned various police departments, but nobody was interested in safeguarding the guns, let alone guarding the Alloway home from curious intruders.

At first, locals wanted the kids to be allowed to stay in Hudson. But as Ron wrote in an editorial, what about the children growing up in a community where everyone knows what and where their father is? We can’t curb the tongues of everyone, we can’t shield the children from the jibes of ‘jailbird kids’ they will inevitably receive.

That brought Ron a righteous blast at the next council meeting from both Heights Mayor David Aird and Chief Charlie Pooley, both who counted Alloway among their acquaintances. Their biggest beef – Ron’s characterization of Pat Alloway’s cockney accent and his suggestion that local kids might be bullied.

Amalgamation inched its way a step closer with a massive report that discovered that there would be (a) no major financial effects from a merger; (b) better services and (c) easier zoning. In fact the biggest debate was over what to call the new beast.

1968 marked the beginning of a  Canadian motoring era – the first Toyotas went up for sale at the Village Pump and immediately were adopted by the rally crowd….meanwhile, Dolly, the old red Volks towed onto the ice off the  government wharf, finally broke through and plunged into the lake. You could buy into a pool at the local Legion – before it was decided Dolly was an affront to Quebec’s environmental protection and gambling laws. Another Hudson tradition died.

What was to have been a gala Friday-night dance at St. Thomas School to mark the rebirth of Hudson’s Club des Jeunes turned into tragedy October 7 when 19 young people died in a bus-train crash in Dorion; Hudson police were bombarded with calls from anxious parents as news of the horror became known.

Meanwhile, the town was buzzing with the discovery of the body of an 18-year-old Roxboro girl just off Cote St. Charles. Heights’ cop Charlie Pooley turned the case over to the QPP, who refused to confirm reports Linda Blanchette had been strangled.

The Blenkinship homestead, one of the oldest buildings in Hudson, was heavily damaged by fire that October. Built in August, 1844, the house was so badly damaged, it was torn down.

Feelings ran high that fall in the editorials of the Lake of Two Mountains Gazette: The local blood donor clinic attracted 124 donors, far fewer than organizers expected. The Gaz railed on about community apathy.

Meanwhile, local youth including the young Jack Layton were trying to sell the idea of a youth centre as a worthwhile Centennial project for the three communities. The Gaz ran one of their letters on the front page and several more inside; essentially, the kids wanted a hall large enough for an average dance with a stage, snack bar, sound system, tables, chairs and maybe a juke box.

The kids’ demonstrations, letter-writing, even a 600-name petition – fell on deaf ears. The fix was already in; the Centennial Projects board for the Three Villages voted $30,000 to improve Benson Park, complete with wading pool, basketball court and better parking facilities. (One has to wonder what happened to the wading pool, basketball court and parking.)

But local outrage was reserved for a far more hypocritical decision. After coming down hard on Rigaud and the Three Villages for dumping raw sewage into the Ottawa, the Quebec Fish, Game and Tourism Ministry approved a sewage line into the Lake of Two Mountains to get rid of raw waste from Oka Provincial Park – immediately across the river from Ile Cadieux’s water intake.

The Heights had water woes of its own. Local resident John Vipond, whose property sat between Harwood Road and the lake, wrote to the Gaz after being told by Heights councillor Art Grubert to stop whining about a town ditch that was sending torrents of water into Vipond’s basement every time it rained.

Vipond’s beef: He didn’t see how Grubert had the right to tell him it wasn’t Town business. That prompted a flurry of letters suggesting it was okay for councillors to be rude because they weren’t being paid enough to be nice.

Blind pigs: Back in ‘66, locals would have had to drive to Dorion or Hawkesbury to buy booze. There’s no wonder, then, that enterprising locals would open blind pigs where locals could pick up a fifth of their favourite at any hour. Delivery was extra, but business was brisk; the Hudson Gazette reported at least four plying their trade right under the noses of the local constabulary and elected officials.

Amalgamation: The 20-year-old debate to merge Hudson, Hudson Heights and Como was heating up in Three Villages council chambers. But not for long – in December, 1966, someone from the Quebec Municipal Affairs Ministry produced a report showing the cost of running one merged municipality would be less than the bills for the Three Villages. After that, it was just a matter of time.

1967

Hudson Heights rang in Canada’s centennial year with an ugly political battle. At issue was the council’s new master plan that would have called for major changes to the community’s road network.
• Ridge Road would be extended westward across Whitlock Golf Club to intersect Birch Hill, Brisbane and eventually Harwood Road;
• An area on Harwood Road (now Lower Alstonvale) midway between Main Road and Highway 17 was designated a Civic Centre;
• Main Road would be rerouted south of the CPR tracks to connect with Harwood Road, with the current Main Road terminating at a dead end just west of the tracks;
• The area between Harwood and Choisy Station Road was to be zoned industrial multiple-family dwellings.

Outraged Heights residents banded together. Calling themselves the Citizen’s Committee for a Better Hudson Heights, they descended on the council meeting and forced the council to abandon the master plan – but not without being themselves accused of dirty politics.

The inevitable showdown came when the Citizens’ Committee ran a slate in the municipal elections, the first time the Heights mayoralty had ever been contested. Mayor David Aird faced former Gazette publisher Don Duff in a bitterly-fought election. At issue: Council’s insistence that Hudson Heights needed an industrial park to keep taxes down.

When the votes were counted, the council-backed slate was elected and the Citizens’ Committee gang frozen out – but they won in the end. The Heights master plan was scrapped.

The Three Villages desperately needed another doctor, but eyebrows shot up when Dr. Gilbert Croteau opened the area’s first chiropractic clinic, claiming to cure ’Headache, Bronchitis, Liver, Paralysis, Nervousness, Asthma, Backache, Hemorrhoids, Respiration, Digestion, Lombago and Menstruation’

But nobody could cure what ailed the local Centennial Committee. With barely five months to go to Canada’s Centennial, the local project to revamp the park on Yacht Club Road hit a brick wall in March when Como refused to pay maintenance fees for the proposed fancy new playing fields and chalets. Never mind that a third of the kids who used the existing park were from Como. Never mind that it would cost $6.50 per year per family, raged the editorial in the  Gaz.

When July 1 finally rolled around, the Three Villages had done nothing permanent, but it was a fine summer for picnics and plenty of cross-Canada canoeists ended up spending time here.

Another local tradition ended in the Spring of ‘67 – the annual Viviry Creek Bottle Race. Alan Blenkinship, owner of the property bounding the creek, announced that due to the increase in the number of homes, the area was ‘too private’ for a bottle race. He urged organizers to take the race to another local stream, but interest faded. One happy note: Marg Gardner managed to uphold her personal tradition of falling in during the race – 14 of the 15 times she entered.

Insect infestation was a huge problem that hot, humid spring. Tent caterpillars and mosquitoes had locals demanding that Hudson spray the Fairhaven area with DDT and the heck with the birds.

Not so fast, said council – we’re not spraying until residents deal with leaky cesspools – a suspected source of regular outbreaks of infectious hepatitis.

1967 was also the summer that the local constabulary decided to crack down on free-running dogs and unlicenced bicycles. In the case of the hounds, too many kids were having to get rabies shots after  having been bitten.

Expo ’67 brought  plenty of house guests to the Three Villages, but nary a single lasting Centennial project, thanks to ongoing squabbling about the cost of maintaining an upgraded athletic facility on Yacht Club Road.

But the end of summer was just the beginning for the local horsey set as riders from across Eastern Canada converged on St. Lazare for various equestrian events. It was an open secret that George Jacobsen and other guiding lights behind the Montreal and Lake of Two Mountains Hunt Clubs felt they had the inside track for the upcoming 1976 Olympic Games equestrian events. (They eventually went to Bromont, thanks to the Desourdy family’s courting of Olympic officials.)

There were plenty of complaints about the local car rally enthusiasts. Volvos, Triumphs, Coopers, MGBs  – and Steve Thom’s eclectic Mercedes collection – spent weekends hammering along the back roads in St. Lazare and Vaudreuil, kicking up rooster tails of gravel and dust. Whatever the complaints, the Lake of Two Mountains Car Club had enthusiastic members and a column in the LTM Gazette.

There was plenty of new construction off Cameron Avenue, but the best deals in 1967 were in the Heights. Four bedrooms on a big lot with old trees overlooking the lake: $27,500. Mortgages were being offered at 5 1/2 per cent.

Canada’s Centennial Summer did have one local effect – the plaquing of historic properties in the community. First to be plaqued was  the  rambling white home on Mount Victoria once owned by George Matthews, after whose wife Elizabeth Hudson the town was named. Then came Mullan’s General Store, built in 1824 as a schoolhouse, courthouse and church – on different days of the week, of course.

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Marcel Patry, the last owner of Mullan’s General Store before its transformation into a private residence. 

The plaquing frenzy climaxed early in October, with a plaque-a-thon organized by the Hudson Historical Society and the Women’s Canadian Club. All three mayors and scores of history-minded locals spent an entire weekend unveiling plaques on 17 buildings. At least half of them have since been  renovated, destroyed by fire – or torn down to make room for new homes without architectural merit.

The 20-year-old debate over whether the Three Villages should get married continued to drag on. Quebec was pushing these shotgun weddings in order to save money, but Gaz publisher Ron Jones wasn’t impressed with their tactics. One example: The three local councils were invited to a closed-door meeting at Whitlock – and barred Ron. Bad move. His double-barrelled counterblast came in a heavily-slanted article entitled A Nothing Story and in an editorial headed Fusion Confusion.

No wonder Quebec wanted to keep it a secret. Figures released just before Christmas, 1967 showed Hudson Heights would be the biggest tax-bill winner after amalgamation – from $60 per capita, to $46. Como would jump from $35.

That was the fall the Hudson High senior football team won the Greater Montreal Football Championship. Steve Doty’s team, led by team captain Larry Smith’s pass reception, became an HHS sports legend.

But  interest in local athletics was dying. Residents resisted any attempt to use any part of their taxes to pay for upkeep of the town rink and playing fields at Benson Park. Not only that – an emergency meeting discovered that although the Athletic Association paid a dollar’s rent on the land, nobody knew who owned it.

1968

After 50 years of endless debate,  the Three Villages voted in 1968 to merge into the municipality of Hudson.
It took all year.

All three councils held public meetings  in April to allow residents to vent their concerns; attendance was poor. In Como, the farmers wanted to keep taxes down but others wanted the roads paved; Hudson was concerned it would have to pay for services in the other two communities. Hudson Heights couldn’t afford to clean its ditches and big landowners were facing enormous tax evaluations.

But when the issue went to a three-village referendum on Wednesday, May 15, Como voted against. Turnout was poor; of the 1220 eligible voters in the Three Villages, only 583 voted. But this was not to be Como’s last word; in September, the town mailed out ballots to its 295 ratepayers. Of the 212 returned, 184 voted yes to amalgamation.

From then on, things happened quickly. In December, 1968, Hudson Mayor George Runnells declined the job heading the new provisional council; Doc Runnells was about to turn 90. Heights Mayor David Aird also declined, making Como mayor George Armstrong Hudson’s provisional mayor.

The Three Villages already had a combined police force by then. Vandalism was on the increase and hardly a week went by that somebody’s car didn’t get taken for a joyride, thanks to the trusting local habit of leaving keys in the ignition. Problem #1 was the cost of full-time policing. So in August, Hudson Heights agreed to merge its police force with that of Hudson-Como. Heights Chief Charlie Pooley promptly retired.

Spring 1968 brought the usual demand that something be done to ‘get rid of’ mosquitoes; some locals still thought the best treatment was DDT. That brought a torrent of angry letters from birdwatchers and one from zoology student Randi Olson, who pointed out that any pesticide is concentrated as it moves up the food chain, affecting birds, fish and other beneficial species.

In the end, it was only Alastair Grant, real estate agent, mining promoter and noted local eccentric, who spoke out in favour of a massive aerial DDT bombardment of the local mosquito population.

Real estate in ‘68 was still a bargain. A nine-room, five-bedroom house on half an acre of mature pine in Hudson was going for $25,000. In Como, Royal Trust agent Donella Darling was selling 20 lots in Hawthorne Park, just west of the Willow, for $3,500 apiece, 10 per cent down. Hawthorne Park? It’s now Leger Lane. Also renamed: Como Station Road became Bellevue Drive after CP tore down the old station.

The summer of ‘68 saw a lot of roadwork – like the widening and repaving of Macaulay Hill, the disappearance of the hump on Cameron at Lakeview and the straightening of Como’s deadly Parsons Corner. It also saw the startup of an employment agency for local teens.Teens Unlimited was given office space at Hudson Heights Town Hall, where residents could connect with local teens looking for odd jobs.

The fall of ‘68 saw another debate pit Hudsonite against Hudsonite. Some locals, including Hudson’s sizeable population of pilots, wanted the federal and provincial governments to build a proposed mega-airport in St. Polycarpe.

Others were aghast at all that noise and traffic.

Don’t worry, Air Canada pilot Alan Mills wrote in the Letters section. The new generation of aircraft is much quieter. Besides, look at all those new jobs we’ll be getting, Mills wrote.

In the end, Mirabel got the nod.

— Millennium Project, by Jim Duff, from Gazette Vaudreuil-Soulanges archives

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One thought on “A brief history of Hudson

  1. Fascinating thanx. On abandoned or proposed or simply rumored airports; web research is still vague. Have been searching for history of the former military airstrip at Lac des Loups in La Verendrye provincial park, a choice of Hudson astronomers Luna-Tics thanks to no artificial light.
    Hundreds of web searches, RCAF, O’Connel Construction historical (three miles west on rte117 sits Le Domaine, known back then as O’Connell lodge) even asking Park rangers yielded nothing. A few years ago a docu wasmade about a native community displaced in the Cold War for the project
    but nothing about the base itself.
    Unsolved mystery

    Like

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