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When I look at communities in Canada, there are a wide assortment of things I can focus on. Perhaps it is the notable people who came from the town, or maybe it is a unique part of its history, and sometimes it is the very people who founded the community itself. For Magog, it is many different and interesting tales, including a legendary beast.
The history of Magog, at least for Europeans, begins with the American Revolutionary War and a man by the name of Ralph Merry
The area itself had been settled by the Indigenous people dating back 14,000 years, before the Europeans began to arrive.
The first fixture in the area was a fish dam, constructed by the Abenakis nation of people, but would be abandoned as more settlers came in.
The town itself was born in 1776 when Loyalists from Vermont came into the area and named the community The Outlet, since the flow of water emptying into the Magog River from the lake happened at that point. As for Merry, he would arrive in 1799 and settle west of the Lake, buying up all the lots around him, including the village. At that point, he became the mayor, judge and developer. Merry had served in the American Revolutionary War and after the war would live in Rhode Island and Vermont. Hearing of land in Lower Canada, which was offered freely to anyone who would swear loyalty to the Crown, Merry took advantage of this and bought the previously mentioned land. He then began to develop saw mills along the river, and an iron works that failed due to the poor quality of the iron. He continued his development of the village with a wool mill, general store and carpenter’s shop. In 1818, he helped to erect the first school in the area and his son Ralph Merry Jr., would be the first teacher. His match factory, built in Magog, was the first in Canada.
By 1823, his work to build up the community and attract new residents resulted in a stage stop on the mail route between Montreal and Stanstead being set up. Today, his home, built in 1821, is the oldest structure in the community. Merry would pass away in 1825.
I would like to talk about the name itself, which is an odd name for a town. It was officially adopted as the town name in 1855 but its origin is not known. It could be taken from a First Nations word, or from the Biblical reference to Gog and Magog, a king and his nation referred to in the book of Ezekiel. Magog is also the name of a mythical giant in British folklore captured by the first king of the britons. Likely though, it comes from Lake Memphremagog, which itself comes from the Abenaqui term mamhrobagak, which means “great extent of water”.
The parents of Alvan Head Moore would come to the Magog area with other Loyalists in 1797. As for Alvan, he would receive his education at Canadian and American universities, and become the president of the Waterloo and Magog Railway, which would eventually become part of the CPR. The first mayor of the community, he was also the justice of the peace for the area and the commissioner of the superior court. In 1896, he was elected to the House of Commons as an independent, but would lose his next two elections. He pass in 1911.
Buckskin Joe was born on Oct. 4, 1840 near Magog in a log cabin to Samuel and Judith Hoyt. He was originally named Edward Jonathan but it was a name he rarely ever used. From an early age, danger seemed to follow Buckskin Joe. As a one-year-old baby, his mother heard his cries and came running to find a wild hog had entered the cabin and was running out with her baby in its mouth. Throwing a milk stool, the hog dropped Joe and kept running. Is this true? Who knows, but it makes for a great story. As a child in school, well he didn’t go to school very often, choosing instead to skip and spend his time outdoors. Eventually, the school and his mother gave up on trying to get him into school. His grandfather started to teach him to use a gun and knife, and he began to wear his hair long. With his grandfather, Joe began to wear buckskin for good.
As an adult, he would join the J.T. Johnson Wagon Circus, and would tour through the eastern United States as an aerial performer and acrobat. By 1858, at only the age of 18, he had mastered playing the violin, cornet and clarinet.
When the American Civil War began, Joe enlisted with the Union Army and fought with the Army of Potomac, including in the Battle of Bull Run.
After the war, he married and continued to learn acrobatics and musical instruments. He would eventually learn 16 instruments and be able to turn somersaults over the backs of horses, elephants and camels. In 1870, he would settle in Arkansas City and spend the next 20 years using it as his home base. For the next three decades, Joe would make his way around America and Canada, following gold rushes, mining and more. He would pass away on April 20, 1918, having worked 65 different jobs through his life by his own count.
His grandson, Dr. Vance Hoyt, would state about his grandfather, “Gramp was an example of the essentially untamed. With a keen mind, plenty of curiosity, and a tremendous desire for life and its various manifestations, he was always searching for distant scenes and never reckoning in space or hardship what lay between what he visualized and its accomplishment. Grand was, in fact, a super man, because he was not only untameable but because he had the raw strength to dare to be unpredictable.”
That amazing life, spread across the continent, began in Magog.
I love talking about the people who came from a community and where they eventually ended up. Buckskin Joe was one such person, but so is Emile Aduet.
He was born in Magog in 1888 and would go on to earn a law degree from Laval University. For a time, he was the youngest notary in the province. In 1911, at the age of only 22, he was selected to go to London for the Coronation of King George and was presented with the King’s medal by King George himself. If that wasn’t enough, he also spent some time playing for the Montreal Canadiens.
The Pole Bridge of Magog would help to make the area famous in 1860 thanks to a drawing published in a New York magazine. In the painting, the first church in Magog, built in 1831, can be seen. The house in the painting is believed to be that of Ralph Merry. The painting became quite famous, making the bridge famous, with copies of it hanging around the United States and Canada. As for the artist, that was William Bartlett, who was born in London and travelled Canada documenting the landscape and its structures.
I would like to talk now about My Canadian Journal, the excellent diary of the wife of the Governor General. It provides a great look at a community during its early years. She describes Magog in her journal as such.
“Sir Hugh Allan’s steamer met us, and in her we spent an hour and a half going to Magog, where I now am and where we arrived at 10. We were drawn a mile up to the hotel by boys and soldiers…Saturday 17th. Our hotel is an ordinary country inn and the view from the windows is not remarkably pretty, which is the fault of those who chose the site, as they might have had very fine views. Sir Hugh Allan came for us at ten and we steamed up the lake in his yacht…when we got into the steamer again, we had a thunderstorm but reached Magog safety at 7:30. Sunday 18th, very showery and thundery and a wretched day to spend in a country inn. We went to church and were preached to by an American bishop. He, the Bishop of New Hampshire, came to see us at lunchtime. Monday 19th, we left Magog by train for Bolton.”
No mention of Magog would be complete without talking about Lake Memphremagog. The lake sits between Newport, Vermont and Magog, but is mostly in Quebec, roughly 73 per cent. Of course, no speaking of the lake is complete without mentioning Memphre, the creature that apparently lives under the waves of the lake. First reported in 1816, it would be seen over the years, with the last time being in 2005.
The tales of Memphre go back many years. There is apparently a Viking petroglyph on top of a mountain in the area that shows a serpent but this should be taken with a grain of salt as there is no evidence the Vikings ever made it so far inland. Of course, when Europeans did arrive to the area, they were warned by the First Nations not to swim in the lake because of what was in the water.
If you have not heard of Memphre, compared to the Loch Ness or Ogopogo, that is normal. Memphre is not advertised or commercialized and you can’t find a shirt with his name on it, which adds to the charm of the suspected beast.
One of the earliest descriptions of the creature comes from Norman Bingham, in his novel The Sea Serpent Legend in 1926. In the book, he described the creature in the lake as follows through a poem:
They saw a monster dark and grim
Coming with coiling surge and swim
With lifted head and tusk and horn
Fierce as the spirit of Hades born
As of 2001, there had been 223 reported sightings of Memphre, from 465 witnesses.
In 2011, an artistic impression of Memphre would appear on a coloured Canadian quarter.
Information for this article comes from Wikipedia, Huffington Post, Mysteries of Canada, Virtual Museum of Canada, The Origin and Meaning Of Place Names In Canada,