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Visiting Casey Township, Ontario: Long and Distinct Memories in a Peaceful, Northern Community

Updated on March 28, 2020
Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
Franco-Ontarian Flag ;
Franco-Ontarian Flag ; | Source
Casey Township (Development Road), Ontario, Canada
Casey Township (Development Road), Ontario, Canada | Source
Casey, George, Elliott M.P. (Elgin W., Ont.) Mar. 24, 1850 - 1903
Casey, George, Elliott M.P. (Elgin W., Ont.) Mar. 24, 1850 - 1903 | Source
Alphonse & Dorimène Desjardins (circa 1916)
Alphonse & Dorimène Desjardins (circa 1916) | Source

The spatial and historical radiation of a municipality

Northern Ontario's Casey Township, in Timiskaming District, is a peaceful, small, significantly agricultural community, named for George Elliott Casey (1850-1903), long-serving Member of Parliament for Elgin West.

George Elliott Casey notably served as Chief Whip in the Government of Prime Minister of Canada Alexander Mackenzie from 1874 until 1878, and late in life also worked for the Library of the Parliament of Canada. A journalist by profession, he served as President of the Canadian Press Association. His work is also sometimes remembered for his role in contributing to making the civil service less dependent on political patronage (the similar, broadly contemporary achievement in the US of President Chester Arthur comes also to mind).

Generations of the extended family of George Casey have played prominent roles in Canadian parliamentary and public life. Reportedly a great-grandson of George Casey was Roméo LeBlanc (1927-2009), Governor-General of Canada from 1995 until 1999 (1), and a great-great grandson is Dominic LeBlanc (1967-)(2), President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada since 2018. George Casey was also related by his marriage to Frances Camilla Biggar to a number of other parliamentarians (3).

75% Francophone

A striking feature of Casey Township is the fact that its population of a few hundred is 75% Francophone. A majority of the Township's inhabitants reside in Belle Vallée, which was conferred with its municipal status in 1909. The remainder of the Township's people — mainly Anglophone — lives in the rural hamlets of Pearson and Judge.

Casey Township is crossed by Ontario Highway 65. First designated in 1937, the highway was extended to the border between Casey Township, Ontario and Notre-Dame-du-Nord, Quebec, where it becomes rue Ontario. The Township is also crossed by the Blanche River, which drains into Lake Timiskaming near the border with Quebec.

The character of this rural agricultural community has been strongly influenced by Quebec and French Canada. It is interesting that the nearest Roman Catholic parishes to the Francophone Eglise de Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours (see 'Also worth seeing' below) in Belle Vallée are in Quebec, in nearby Nédélec and Notre-Dame-du-Nord respectively (where there is also an independent Francophone evangelical congregation). In Belle Vallée there was a chapter of the Soeurs de l’Assomption de la Sainte Vierge, active in education, between 1935 and 1968. Among local, bilingual non-agricultural businesses is Broderie Cérik Embroidery.

Another interesting feature of this rural community is that it was not always primarily agricultural in character; at its foundation not a few local people were engaged in the silver and cobalt mining industry.

Interestingly also, Casey Township was one of the relatively few places outside Quebec in which a Caisse populaire — now the Mouvement Desjardins federation of credit unions — was opened in the early years of operations. This now giant movement was founded by Alphonse Desjardins (1854-1920)(4). In his lifetime, Alphonse Desjardins received notably more legislative support for his Caisses populaires from Quebec Premier Lomer Gouin than he did from Prime Minister of Canada Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Thus, it is maybe significant that here outside Quebec — just outside — a Caisse populaire was already active in Casey Township within the lifetime of co-founded Alphonse Desjardins.

A First Nations reserve at Timiskaming — a relatively short distance due east of Casey Township — is location just over the border in Quebec.

Here, so to speak, in this peaceful, northern community, the Elysian Fields that drive historical memories have distinct embeddings.

March 23, 2020

Notes

(1) Roméo LeBlanc also served as Speaker of the Senate of Canada from 1993 until 1994, and in several Cabinet ministries under Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, as well as representing Westmorland-Kent in the Federal Parliament from 1972 until 1984.

(2) Dominic LeBlanc also served in the Federal Government in various ministerial portfolios and as Leader of the Government in the House of Commons from 2015 until 2016.

(3) These included: James Lyons Biggar (1824-1879)(George Elliott Casey's father-in-law), who served as a Province of Canada legislator representing East Northumberland and subsequently Northumberland East in the Dominion Parliament; William Hodgins Biggar (1852-1922)(brother-in-law), who represented Hastings West in the Ontario legislature and served as Mayor of Belleville; Herbert Charles Wilson (1859-1909)(a family cousin) who served as Speaker of the Territorial Assembly of the North-West Territories and subsequently as Mayor of Edmonton. Another member of the extended family identified with Canadian parliamentary government was Oliver Mowat Biggar (1876-1948)(nephew), who served as Chief Electoral Officer of Canada; he also served as Judge Advocate General of Canada and as Co-Chair of the Canada-United States Permanent Joint Board on Defence.

(4) With Dorimène Roy Desjardins (1858-1932) Alphonse Desjardins founded the Caisses Populaires in 1900. A journalist and subsequently a French-language parliamentary stenographer, Alphonse Desjardins was motivated to make credit union services available particularly because many Francophone people involved in agriculture found it difficult to obtain loans from some of the Anglophone-led banks in Montreal; he even noted an extreme case of a banker having obtained 3000% interest on a loan. He also served as a French-language parliamentary stenographer. Some years following her husband's death Dorimène Roy Desjardins was appointed Vice-Patron of the Union régionale des caisses populaires Desjardins de Québec. The former home of Alphonse and Dorimene Desjardins in Lévis, Quebec, is now classified as a heritage building.

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

At the boundary between Casey Township, Ontario and Notre-Dame-du-Nord, Quebec
At the boundary between Casey Township, Ontario and Notre-Dame-du-Nord, Quebec | Source

Also worth seeing

At Belle Vallée, in Casey Township, the Eglise de Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours is a striking stone building, dating from 1913; features include a prominent tower.

New Liskeard (distance: c. 13.8 kilometres), the Little Claybelt Homesteaders' Museum has family history research facilities and various artifacts recalling local, pioneer days. A scenic waterfront at New Liskeard lies along the shore of Lake Temiskaming.

Devil's Rock, near Haileybury, Ontario (distance: c. 24.6 kilometres) is an awe-inspiring rock outcrop, which overlooks Lake Temiskaming.

Notre-Dame-du-Nord, Quebec (distance: c. 10.8 kilometres); another vacation spot on Lake Temiskaming, with a fossil centre museum and an annual Truck Rodeo (French: Rodéo du camion ).

...

How to get there: Air Canada flies from Toronto Pearson Airport to North Bay Airport, where car rental is available. From North Bay, take Highway 11 north to New Liskeard and thence Highway 65 (signs toward Notre-Dame-du-Nord, Quebec); Casey Township is in Highway 65 before the Quebec border. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

Map location of Timiskaming District, Ontario
Map location of Timiskaming District, Ontario | Source

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