Efforts underway to save the Neilson House in Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier

Neilson House.jpg

Picture of Neilson House

The Neilson House, in Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier, Quebec, has been chosen as one of the five finalists in the Historia TV contest, "Sauvez un bâtiment de chez vous." The public is invited to vote on-line at www.historiatv.com from Tuesday, November 16 through Friday, December 10, 2010. At stake is "La Bourse Historia pour le Patrimoine," a $20,000 grant toward the restoration of a heritage building.

The Neilson House, also known locally as the Clark/Montgomery House, is a mid-19th century house constructed in the neo-classical style. The Honorable John Neilson most likely built it in 1830, but some evidence suggests that his son, William, built it closer to 1850. In either case, it remains the oldest house in Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier and dates back to the origins of this village. In fact, it was John Neilson, along with his three partners, who opened up the region around the Jacques-Cartier River for settlement in 1816. Known for years simply as "The Settlement," this community grew to become the municipality of Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier.

John Neilson, politician and journalist, was an extraordinary man for his times. He believed fully in the harmonious cohabitation of the French and the English. In fact, shortly after immigrating from Scotland to Quebec in 1791, he married Marie-Ursule Hubert and raised ten children; the boys brought up in the Presbyterian Church and the girls raised Catholic like their mother. He was the owner and publisher of the Quebec Gazette, which is still published today as the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, and served as a Deputy in the Canadian Party under the leadership of Louis-Joseph Papineau. John Neilson died in 1848 in Cap-Rouge and is buried in the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church cemetery in Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier. His wife, Marie-Ursule, is buried beneath the Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier Catholic Church. Almost 200 years after the founding of "The Settlement," this municipality continues John Neilson's vision of living in harmony and welcomes all with the motto "Together, in the Heart of Nature."

Though there is no evidence that John Neilson ever lived in the Neilson House, we do know that his son William lived here. A couple of different families lived in the house before Samuel Clark purchased it in 1870. Samuel lived here with his son and daughter-in-law, James Clark and Janet (Jack) Clark. When James and Janet's daughter, Mamie, married Norman Montgomery in 1926, the house entered its best-known years. Local residents still recall the parties of the late 1940's and early 1950's at the Montgomery's with the music of local "musicianers" such as Basil and David Banning. An exceptionally large house for its day, the north side was closed off most of the time. The big empty rooms, however, were the perfect place for a square dance.

Mamie, Norman and their son, Clark Montgomery, moved away in 1966, eventually settling in Ontario where Clark, now age 83, still lives. Although the house has been abandoned since then, there are still many Clark-Montgomery cousins, nieces, nephews and friends living in the area who remember the warmth of this home and have hopes of seeing the building restored.

The project to save the Neilson House was instigated by Mont-Saint-Sacrement Secondary School student, Charles Breton-Demeule, resident of Lac-Delage. Passionate about local history, Charles has been learning about this area through the MSS Archaeology Club as well as through research for his Secondary V personal project, "Mettre en valeur le patrimoine de Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier." When he learned of the Historia Contest, saving the Neilson House became front and center of his activities. Working with Debbie Chakour, cultural activities coordinator for Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier, he rallied the MSS students and the Valcartier community to nominate the Neilson House for this contest. So many people went on-line to nominate the Neilson House, attach a photo and explain why they thought the building should be saved, that Historia had to take notice. Take notice they did and chose the Neilson House as one of five finalists from across the province.

Now it is up to the public. The building receiving the most votes from Tuesday, November 16 to Friday, December 10, 2010 will be awarded the $20,000 grant. Everyone is invited to participate, whether living in Quebec or anywhere that has access to the Historia website. Votes can be registered on-line at www.historiatv.com simply by clicking on the "contest (concours)" section then "Sauvez un bâtiment de chez-vous" and "La Maison Neilson." Each person has an unlimited number of votes per day and can vote every day of the campaign. The only catch is that after two votes, additional votes will be blocked until the internet browser is reopened.

The Neilson House is currently owned by Couvoir Quebec - Quebec Turkey Hatchery, but will be open to the public when it is restored. What does the future have in store for the Neilson House? Possibilities include an exhibition room for heritage artifacts, space for historical archives, a hall for cultural events and a "big empty room" for square dances. More information about this project, photos and videos can be found on www.historiatv.com as well as on the Facebook page "Sauvons la Maison Neilson de Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier."

All that is needed now is votes.... lots of votes. Log-on to www.historiatv.com and vote often!