If these roads could speak: Tales of Sutton

Audio guided circuit 3 - Free

© Personal archives Nigel Goodall / Collection Jean Wilson Logan, personal archives Dominique Parent /
Personal archives Gwen Morton Davies

If these roads could speak,” they would tell you all about the colourful lives of those who lived along the border in the early 1900s, when Prohibition reigned in the United States and tourism was a growing industry. Come and enjoy this heritage radio drama, enhanced by music and sound effects. "Who knows what's waiting for you at the bend in the road, in Glen Sutton, Pearl?" The story begins when an orphaned girl comes to this hamlet in the Eastern Townships. Yes, Pearl Porter (1895 - 1982) is buried in Glen Sutton Cemetery, but her spirit will accompany you on this journey into the past. A journey along roads with scenery of breath-taking beauty, dotted with New England-style architecture, where history and legends come together, to a little hamlet nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains and where the Missisquoi river flows, sometimes calm, sometimes turbulent! 

Listen to a short audio extract:

The 20 members of the cast – professional and amateur actors - portray characters who lived in Glen Sutton, one of the nine hamlets of the Township of Sutton. Come and visit the places where these persons come alive again in a time-twisting plot written by Andrée Pelletier, co-writer of the TV series “Blanche,” the sequel to “Les Filles de Caleb.”

The audio-guided heritage tour follows the picturesque route called The Townships Trail (Chemin des Cantons), taking you deep into the Anglo-American heritage of the Townships. A tour on foot awaits you in Glen Sutton.

Note to residents and visitors: This story is largely based on accounts by seniors in the Glen Sutton community, especially Jean Wilson Logan, daughter of Pearl Porter. The script has been written for the purpose of the tour, so it is not a biography. The locations of places and events were researched by Heritage Sutton.

Glen Sutton is one of the oldest hamlets in the Township of Sutton. It is nestled in the magnificent Missisquoi River valley and surrounded by mountains. Come and admire its fields, barns and old homes: just follow the picturesque route called The Townships Trail (Chemin des Cantons) a road that takes you deep into the Anglo-American heritage of the Eastern Townships.

Two studies have noted that the Missisquoi River valley in the Sutton area, which includes the hamlet of Glen Sutton, is of national and even international interest, and endowed with great visual appeal. The riverbanks and floodplain create a rich natural resource.

The Missisquoi valley is also a symbol of the daily cross-border life experienced by Glen Sutton inhabitants for over a century: families living on both sides of the border, buildings built right on top of the boundary line, people smuggling alcohol during Prohibition in the United States, “international” businesses, not to mention architecture that drew its inspiration from Vermont and New England. It was definitely a “border culture,” an identity forged since settlement began in 1799.

1816 is known as the year of freezing and starvation, the year without a summer …

Throughout the northern hemisphere, the ecological balance was off. Countless species of birds that were normally only seen in the depths of the forest, invaded the cities. Birds fell dead to the streets. Trees lost their budding leaves. Elsewhere on the planet, snowfalls were stained with brown, blue, yellow and sometimes even red!

People speculated wildly on the probable causes of this strange phenomenon. Some blamed sunspots, others an avenging God. Some even went so far as to blame Benjamin Franklin, accusing his new and widespread invention of the lightning rod of blocking the sun's rays from warming the Earth.

The real cause was the explosion of the Indonesian volcano Tambora. Its power was such that thousands of cubic meters of debris and ash, not to mention 200 million tons of sulfur dioxide gas, were projected into the stratosphere. A fine dust permeated the earth's atmosphere for several years, filtering out the sunlight. This caused the earth's temperature to drop drastically, especially in the northern hemisphere.

In Sutton, the desperate pioneers planted a second crop of corn, potatoes and beans between the two periods of freezing but to no avail. Corn was the staple food for poor families, and without it, starvation became inevitable. Almost 90% of the harvest failed in certain areas of Quebec. And the cost of what little food did survive the frosts soared out of the reach of many.

In Europe, famine provoked riots: armed crowds stormed bakeries and grain markets. Some historians believed that this famine created conditions conducive to the typhus epidemic that killed millions of people from 1817 to 1819. Mary Shelley was inspired by the darkness of 1816 and its stormy nights to write her novel Frankenstein. Its dark and gloomy atmosphere echoed the conditions in much of the world.

Here in our region, 1816 was the "straw that broke the camel's back" for many pioneers who couldn’t face the misery of the first years of settlement. Many left for the cities or went West to places like Ohio or the Northwest Territories, convinced that Sutton's climate had changed permanently. Richford, on the other side of the border, became a ghost town. The few inhabitants who decided to remain survived with difficulty.

The story of the Jones family can be found in the first history book of the Eastern Townships.
This text is largely based on an article by Carol-Ann Griffin, “Sutton’s Year Without a Summer” published in the fourth Heritage Sutton booklet in 2004. The Heritage Sutton booklets are a goldmine of information about Sutton’s history and heritage.

The Historic Glen Sutton Church is open for group tours. Please book at least three days in advance before coming to the site. Call (514) 948-1313 or write to [email protected]

You can try a sample of the circuit on the GuidiGo website.

This circuit has been made possible thanks to the financial contribution of the Town of Sutton and the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec.

To add to your experience and learn more about Sutton history, visit the Museum of Communications and History of Sutton.
The permanent exhibition displays more information about the great fire.
The Heritage Sutton Historical Society regularly publishes its History sketchbooks sold in several places in the village or via their website.

Museum of Communications and History of Sutton

Contact: Richard Leclerc Travail 32 Principale Sud Sutton QC J0E 2K0 : 514 891-9560 Site internet: museedesutton.com

Héritage Sutton – Historical Society

Travail 11 Principale S. Sutton QC J0E 2K0 Site internet: www.heritagesutton.ca

Sales points for the History sketchbooks:

  • On va s'aimer encore - thrift store: 29 Principale N.
  • Le Cafetier: 9 Principale N.
  • Tourist Office: 24-A Principale S. (opposite the Town Hall)

Instructions for downloading the audio guide

Circuit 3 - If these roads could speak: Tales of Sutton
Itinerary: 24 stops | Duration: 3h30| Audio: 103 min | Distance: 38 km (43 km from Abercorn)

Download the free GuidiGO application.
Use the App Store (for Apple devices) or Google Play (for Android devices).

2. Download the circuit: 

  • Once the app is downloaded tap GO Store (Apple) or Discover (Android)
  • Choose Pick a place (Apple) or Places (Android).
  • Scroll down to Canada and choose Sutton. Pick which of the free Sutton historical circuits you want to download

* If this is your first time using GuidiGO you will need to create an account via e- mail, Facebook or Google.

* We recommend downloading the app and the circuit before coming to Sutton. The download usually takes 10 to 15 minutes but can take up to 40 minutes dependent on the speed of your internet connection. If you are already in Sutton when you decide to follow the circuit the Tourist Office at 24 rue Principle Sud opposite the Town Hall has free Wi-Fi access and can help you out.

3. You will find your downloaded circuit in the Library (Apple) or My Tours (Android).
To make your visit as easy and pleasant as possible we highly recommend printing the Users Guide and the Circuit Directions below.

These documents are also available at the Tourist Office in Sutton.

Discover our first circuit - On the trail of the pioneers: tales of Sutton

Discover our 2nd circuit - Life in the hamlets: Tales of Sutton