Merry of Magog
It is surely prophetic of Magog’s industrial future that before there was any sign of a community, the first attempt at industrialization and utilization of water power should have sucessfully taken place. Nicholas Austin, a Loyalist settler who lived at Gibraltar Point across the lake from Georgeville, or Copp’s Ferry as it was then known, set up a grist mill at The Outlet. He had already been milling for some time at Gibraltar Point, starting his operations here with a simple coffee mill he had purchased in Quebec and carried through the forest on his back. At The Outlet he built a rough dam — a breastwork of field stones dumped without cribbing into the Magog River. Crude as it was, it diverted the flow into two narrow channels, both of which were eventually put to work. A water wheel in fast-running channel operated his grist mill. Later the flow was harnessed to run a saw mill, then two carpentry shops, and next Magog’s first textile plant — a forecast of things to come. It was a frontier wool-carding mill.
But those developments, though they grew out of Austin’s crude power dam, are not traced to him, but to Ralph Merry III, the first real settler of Magog.
Ralph Merry III arrived from Massachusetts in 1798, three years after Austin built his dam. He was well supplied with cash and influence and at once disclosed his intentions — he was on the ground to stay. It is quite certain that Merry considered the site naturally adapted to the foundation of a large and thriving settlement. He bought Austin’s grist mill and saw mill, and seems to have paid something for the dam. He also acquired 13,000 acres of land — all the presentday town — plus full water rights.
The years were prosperous for Squire Merry, as he came to be know. He worked and gave good service to the settlers of the region. His work and initiative were rewarded. In 1814 he built a house which stands in Magog today, and was, until recently, occupied by his descendants.
Merry’s house, the oldest house in Magog built by a son of the founder of Magog (1821), top-right is Ralph Merry V. Illustration from H. Belden’s “Historical Atlas of Quebec Eastern Townships” (1881)
His enterprise served “The Outlet”. In 1818 the community erected its first school. The Squire’s son, Ralph Merry Jr., was its first teacher. A general store or trading post was opened in 1820 by John Weatherbee, though it is generally supposed that it was financed by Merry.
The store eventually became Magog’s first post office, and the building, still standing today, is occupied by the Magog branch of the Bank of Montreal. In 1834 young Ralph Merry started a match factory in The Outlet — the first one in Canada and though the project eventually failed, it was another step in the community’s industrial history.
At the turn of the century more and more settlers were arriving. Circuit riders were coming through regularly, visiting isolated cabins, preaching, praying and advising, and of great importance, bringing the news of the day from outside. The pioneer families of Chamberlain, Merrill, Baird, Peasley, Geer, Brown, Turner, Lloyd, Ives, Donigan and Wallace were already located along the east bank of Lake Memphremagog. This thickening of population, though settlers were miles from a neighbor, had such an effect on The Outlet that the worst of the settlement’s birth pangs began to diminish.
It was this early that the history of the future Magog’s textile industry can be said to date. Sheep raising was developing and Merry added a wool carding mill to his primitive water power establishment, where settlers could bring their wool to be processed for home-weaving. No one of that date could possibly have foreseen the great textile plants of today, yet the little carding mill must mark a significant, if short step in Magog’s industrial progress.