Two major archaeological sites, one near Missisquoi Bay on Lake Champlain and the other at the junction of the north and south branches of the Missisquoi river in Potton Township, show that the valley was inhabited some 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. A smaller site in Sutton near the Potton line dates from this period.
Between 1771 and 1774, John Collins, assistant surveyor for the government of the British Province of Canada, explored the region and found the Abenaki Indians established in the area. During the American war of Independence, 1776-83, soldiers of the British Army under General Reidesel patrolled the country between the Richelieu and Chaudière rivers, along the 45th parallel. After the British lost the war, people in the United States who remained loyal to King George had the choice of resettling in other British colonies or returning to England. Between 1792 and 1800 nine families of squatters settled in what would become the Township of Sutton. Thomas Spencer and Alexander Griggs came from New York State in 1792 and settled between Sutton and Abercorn. In 1795, Joseph Soles of Rhode Island settled in North Sutton near the Dunham line. The following year Moses Westover from Massachusetts settled near the corner of Mt. Echo and Elie Roads and in 1797, William Marsh settled in Sutton flats, which is now the village of Sutton. Thomas Shepard of New Hampshire came to Abercorn in 1798 and built the first grist mill in the Township. The village near the mill was called Shepards Mills until the opening of the post office in 1848, when it became Abercorn. In 1799 James Miller from Vermont came east along the Missisquoi River to Glen Sutton. The following year, Theophilus Hastings and Benjamin Burnett, also from Vermont, came to the Glen. This area was known for many years as Dodges, after a tavern at the south end of Bridge Street. In 1861, J.A.M. Ferris, the first member of Parliament for Brome County, suggested the name Glen Sutton.
The Township of Sutton
In March 1802, the Township of Sutton was founded and 200 acres of land was granted to each of 181 people, including those already settled in the area. In this respect, the township was unusual. The normal practice was to grant a township to a prominent person and his associates. By the census of 1803, there were 500 people in Sutton Township, of whom 101 were landowners, indicating that a considerable number of the grantees had not taken up residence. Of the Landowners, 82 were married men,15 were single men and 4 were women, by 1832. The population had grown to 825 despite the disastrously cold year of 1816, when 6 inches of snow fell between June 6 and 8, and frost was on the ground every month. This resulted in widespread crop failure and great hardship. Many young people went west at this time.
The French-speaking settlers
By the 1840’s, good land was becoming scarce in the seigneurial area of Canada East, and the French-speaking population began looking elsewhere for land.They moved into the Eastern Townships and the families Dubé, Gendron, Godue, Lusignan and Métivier came to Sutton. The first French-speaking person to participate in municipal politics was Baptiste Saint-Pierre (Batiste Sampier in the records of the time) who was named assessor in 1858.
In an attempt to reconcile the political differences that caused the rebellion of 1837, the British Parliament passed the Act of Union, which united Upper and Lower Canada as the Province of Canada. The old colonies became the districts of Canada West and Canada East. In its first term the new assembly of Canada passed the District Councils Act allowing the formation of municipal councils. Sutton’s first council met on July 21, 1845, and elected one of its members, Moses Westover, as mayor, and named George C. Dyer as Secretary-Treasurer. Ten years later, on July 1, 1855, the Township was incorporated. On July 1, 1867, Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were united by act of Parliament in London to become the Dominion of Canada. At that time, Canada East became the Province of Quebec and Canada West the Province of Ontario.
The need for a Town Hall became apparent and in 1859 it was built by Alden Olmsted from the plans of W.M. Dow, at a cost of $1,650. In 1912 the front part of the building was added. The facade was remodeled in the 1950’s and the building took its present form after the renovations of 1993. Thirty-eight men from Sutton lost their lives in the two World Wars. Their names are listed on a bronze plaque by the door of the Town Hall and commemorated by the clock at the top of the tower, which was erected by the Junior Girls Institute in 1949.
Opening to the world
In 1845 the customs and excise port at Abercorn was opened, in 1848 the post offices in Sutton and Abercorn were opened and a telegraph line was installed between Abercorn and Knowlton passing through Sutton.
In 1890, Mansonville Utilities installed the first telephones in Sutton and continued to provide service until about 1950 when the company was bought by Bell Canada. After World II, telephone service was extended to the rural areas and a program of rural electrification was undertaken by the Quebec government.
By the mid 1950, most homes in the region were equipped with both services. In 1949, The Sutton Library was founded as a private lending library. In 1995, the Township started a municipal library associated with the school. This library is a multi-media institution equipped with computers and linked with the South Shore Library System (C.R.S.B.P.)
The Town of Sutton received its charter as a separate municipality in 1896. The first Mayor was F.A.Olmsted and council appointed C.U.R.Tartre N.P. as Secretary-Treasurer. The reasons for the split from the Township are not clear but, it was probably the consequence of a dispute over the installation of a municipal water system for the Town. The Township council passed a resolution for the installation of a water system at the meeting of February 1892. At the next council meeting this resolution was rescinded, with no explanation recorded in the minutes. In 1929, two important events took place. First the Town of Abercorn was incorporated as a separate municipality in June. Again the reasons for the split are not clear. Second the Great Depression arrived with the crash of the New York stock exchange in October. In the 1930’s growth was slow but, a trend started which would completely change the community. Increasing agricultural mechanization made the hill farms more difficult to work. They came on the market and often were bought by people from Montreal looking for a vacation home or a place to retire. About half the population now consists of part time residents and retired people. In July 2002, the Town and Township were merged by a Provincial decree. The new municipality is called the Town of Sutton. Abercorn remains a distinct municipality.
The big fire
The water system had not been built by April 15, 1898, when fire destroyed the centre part of the Town. The bell of the Methodist Church, now the United Church, awakened people at 3a.m. The Sutton Lumber Co. mill on Maple Street was a blaze. Bucket brigades were formed and the fire was extinguished with water from the nearby Sutton River. The mill was a total loss. Around 7am, the fire bell sounded again. This time Dr. MacDonald’s barn at the corner of Maple and Pleasant streets, where the Auberge St. Amour now stands, was on fire.
The barn was full of hay and burned briskly. Wind spread the fire towards Main Street, sparing the Methodist (United) and Baptist Churches, which are among the most handsome older buildings in Sutton. The Catholic and Anglican churches were out of harm’s way to the north and south of the railway tracks respectively. The fire consumed 35 buildings in the centre of town, including the hotel and the railway station, before it was put out with help from Knowlton, Farnham, St. Johns, now St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, and Richford, Vt. As a result of the fire, both the Sutton water works and the Volunteer fire department were created when bylaw 6 was passed by the Town council on May 23, 1898. Fire service was extended into the rural areas beyond the reach of the water system in 1938, after the purchase of a pumper truck which is housed today in the Heritage Sutton museum. This marked the start of cooperation between the Town and the Township in the management and financing of the fire service.
Floods and Bridges
From 1918 to 1928, the Township entered a period of bridge construction. The first was built in Abercorn village the next, the International Bridge, was built across the Missisquoi River between Glen Sutton and East Richford, Vt. Smaller concrete structures were erected across the numerous creeks in the region and sometimes bear the name of their builder. The flood of November 1927 swept away 45 bridges in the Missisquoi Valley, including the International Bridge. By all accounts this flood was the worst of many in the region. Newspaper stories show that severe flooding of the Missisquoi river occurred once every 4 to 5 years between 1868 and 1927 and often thereafter, the latest being in 1998.
Economic Expansion and the Railroad
The southeastern Counties Junction Railroad, now the Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railroad, reached Richford, Vt. in 1871. It passed through Sutton thanks to intensive lobbying by the Mayor of Sutton, Asa Frary, as well as a subscription of $63,000 to the railroad by the municipality. This sum was more than three times the annual municipal revenue. The line was formally opened on October 31, with celebrations at every station along the route. The coming of the railroad sparked an economic expansion by allowing the export of agricultural and forest products from the region and promoting the formation of light industry. The area was not to see a similar boom until the opening of the ski hill on Sutton mountain in 1960.
The Mount Sutton ski center
A pivotal event of the fifties was the arrival of J. H. Boulanger in Sutton. He, with A. Deslauriers and C. Dionne, bought the Sutton Daisy Creamery and founded Sutton Milk Products Ltd. The Boulanger family had the foresight and enterprise to develop Mount Sutton as a ski center. In 1960, the Mount Sutton ski hill opened, paving the way for the development of the tourist area on the lower slopes of the mountain. The first of many housing developments was the Project Archimède in 1983. To service this project and the ski hill, sewer and water systems were built in 1984. The sewer system was linked to the Town’s system and a sewage treatment plant was constructed as a joint project of the Town and Township. In 2000, a new sewage treatment plant was built as a joint project of the Town and Township. All these projects received generous help from Québec. It is to the tourist and recreation development that we owe the many fine stores, restaurants and auberges in the region. There are many other stories of enterprise and dedication which have not been mentioned, all have contributed to the lively and interesting community we choose to call home.