“For having put Saint-Hilaire on the map from an educational, economical, agricultural, recreational, industrial, architectural, religious and social perspective, Thomas Edmund Campbell deserves recognition as the greatest of Hilairemontais since he, above all others, was a man larger than life.”
Michel Clerk, 1994
The person who has most contributed to the development of Saint-Hilaire in the last three centuries was undoubtedly Thomas Edmund Campbell.
After completing military college, the young English officer Thomas Edmund Campbell is given imperial missions in Egypt, Turkey and Russia. Later sent to Canada to stop the 1837-38 rebellions, he would suppress the Sons of Liberty in Châteaugay, but he also defended the rebels’ rights by stopping Anglophone volunteers charged with setting fire to the insurgents’ homes. After his return to peace, he is promoted to military assistant to the governor Lord Sydenham. Fluent in French, Campbell facilitates the dialogue between the colonial state and the francophone leaders. In 1841, he marries Henriette-Julie, daughter to the lord of Fossambault. Redeployed in England the same year, Campbell returns with his young wife but he dreams of emigrating to the vast expenses of Canada. When his parents-in-law write five years later telling him that the Rouville seigniory is for sale, Campbell acquires it, leaves the army and packs his bags, as well as those of his wife and children, for his new country.
As soon as he arrives in Saint-Hilaire, Campbell buckles down and starts tackling the hefty task of developing his domain. The forest provides him with oak, maple and pine trees, the nearby rocky grounds of the mountain are suitable for orchards, the valley’s soil is good for grain fields and the Richelieu River is rich in fish. In less than two years he has set up a 150 acre farm with horses, cows, pigs, chickens, cowsheds and stables. The cultivators and apple growers of Saint-Hilaire are initiated to modern agricultural methods; the iron plow can plow deeper into the soil and replaces its wooden ancestor. Campbell exports apples and maple sugar to Europe. Elected president of the agricultural society of Rouville, he suggests holding agricultural exhibitions. Yearly contests stimulate and reward the most productive cultivators and breeders.
With his seigniory developed, Campbell becomes the secretary of the governor Lord Elgin in Montréal. Lively and energetic, he joins the directorship of the Bank of Montréal and of the mutual insurance company of the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railway. Impressed by the project for a Montréal-Halifax railway passing through the Richelieu at Saint-Denis, Campbell convinces his co-directors to have it pass through Saint-Hilaire instead. The economic development of Saint-Hilaire and Beloeil will benefit from this for nearly 150 years. In 1848, Campbell has François Leduc (grandfather of painter Ozias Leduc) erect the framework of a great stone mill on the foundation of the wooden mill, which burned down a few years earlier. Historian Armand Cardinal comments on the activity of this mountain hamlet: “The mills made it a crossroads for industry, commerce and agriculture for 150 years and particularly under the reign of Thomas Edmund Campbell.”
The home of his predecessor no longer meeting the needs of his family or social life, Campbell hires architect Frederick Lawford, creator of several churches and banks in both Canadas, to design a Tudor-style castle that is still the pride of Saint-Hilaire. At the same time, Campbell offers Lawford’s services to the parish priest Monet to complete the church’s interior. This is how the church, with a French catholic exterior, houses a neo-gothic interior with an anglo-protestant look!
To fight the illiteracy of his citizens, Campbell funds a school in the village where boys and girls can learn the basics of French and arithmetic. Her ladyship Henriette-Julie Campbell will herself build a convent where the Jésus-Marie sisters will teach girls from 1855 to 1985. The Campbells’ interest in education will spread outside of Saint-Hilaire since Thomas will later sit on the board of Lennoxville’s Bishop’s College.
A haven of peace and natural beauty, enhanced by a lake and a sugarloaf at the foot of which stretches the Richelieu valley and where several Monteregian Hills are visible, the Saint-Hilaire mountain was, from 1851 to 1895, the site of a magnificent holiday resort: the Iroquois House, a creation of Campbell, frequented by the posh upper classes from Montréal and New-York. At the Lower Canada elections in 1857, Thomas Campbell is elected deputy of Rouville. The following year, he is declared a member of the synod of the Anglican Church of Montréal, a position he will keep until his death in 1872.
Michel Clerk, 1994