A glimpse of the Townships in transition: A Lac-Brome Museum virtual book launch

By Taylor McClure – Special to Brome County News

The Lac-Brome Museum is organizing a virtual book launch for a new book by local historian Jimmy Manson, well known for his involvement in the museum’s lecture series, titled The Eastern Townships Between the Two World Wars: Transition and Tragedy. While the museum cannot hold its lecture series as it used to, it wanted to highlight Manson’s research on a period of the region’s history important to its transformation. Keeping in mind former Brome County Historical Society curator and pioneer for Brome County history Marion Phelps throughout his process, Manson hopes his new piece will give Townshippers a sense of pride in their history.

“In general, our mandate is to promote and preserve the history of our area, but this particular time between the two World Wars is an important one and one that doesn’t really get highlighted because it is bookended by those two big events,” said Rachel Lambie, curator for Lac-Brome Museum. “It’s great to have that covered and for us to be able to promote it in this way.”

Manson peviously published three books through the Brome County Historical Society and decided to add on to the last which ended at WW1. “It was such a transitional period in the Eastern Townships and when I sat down to think about the topics and the changes over of the years and the topics that need to be discussed, I really had to think a lot about it” said Manson.

Manson emphasized that it was important for him to cover the social, political, and economical history of that time. “And I think I did that,” he said. “The title does summarize the period and the tragedy is very easy to come up with. It began with Spanish Flu at the end of the First World War, something very topical now, and the impact it had here. The first outbreak in Canada actually began in the Eastern Townships at a school in Victoriaville. Practically everybody who studied there came down with Spanish Flu and a lot of people died.”

In terms of what readers should expect, the book includes important discussions on the Great Depression. “I had access to some important papers and sources for that so what I look at in that chapter is the terrible suffering of people. Obviously, people could not keep their homes because they didn’t have money, they couldn’t buy wood, most heated with wood, people lost their jobs, there were massive layoffs, and some people had their wages cut in half,” explained Manson. “I look at the municipalities that failed because they were expected to provide relief to hungry people.”

He provides details of a strike at Bruck Silk Mills, a massive layoff at Dominion Textile in Magog, and the tensions that began to arise between the Francophone laborers and English executives of the textile mills in Drummondville. “Unlike the rest of Canada where a lot of workers tended to view the people exploiting them as capitalists, in Drummondville they are seen as English. There’s a real nationalist slant associated with that.”

The transitional period in the Eastern Townships came with the Southern Canada Power Company when they began to make electricity available to certain areas, which Manson said radically transformed the region like nowhere else in Quebec.

“There was a proliferation of factories in Sherbrooke, Granby, Cowansville, and Farnham. They all became industrial centres in the Townships and consequently by end of 1920s, the Townships became the textile centre of Quebec and Canada,” mentioned Manson. “There were demographic consequences because so many people moved from farms to towns and cities, but there wasn’t a big impact on Brome County because it remained primarily rural until after WWII.

Readers are also given special insight into some letters written by Harriet Baker, born to a prominent family in the Eastern Townships, writing to her cousin from Europe about the political situation just before WWII. “She was warning people about the war at a time when most weren’t giving it much thought whatsoever.”

Inspired by Phelps and his aunt, who both encouraged and supported his passion for history, Manson hopes his new publication will be something that Townshippers can relate to and that will give them a sense of pride in their local history. “What we have seen, unfortunately, over the last 40-50 years or so is the Quebec government eliminating references to les Cantons-de-l’Est, except for reasons of tourism, and a whole generation has grown up believing that Estrie is just another name for Cantons-de-l’Est. Esrtie is a small part of Cantons-de-l’Est so I hope people understand that the Eastern Townships has a proud history and it’s something worth reading, writing, and talking about and not only for people like me whose ancestors go back to the beginning.”

The virtual book launch will take place on March 19, starting at 1 p.m. and reservations can be made by contacting the museum.

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