Sheenboro History

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Photo of a steamboat

The history of this Municipality is woven with that of the Upper Ottawa River, where First Nations’ peoples used the waterway as a highway. Later, the river and its tributaries were used in lumbering to transport logs to the downriver markets. Steamboats brought people to its shores and provisions to settlements like Fort William and Sheenboro.

The first Europeans passed by the shores of this municipality. They were explorers, a French soldier, Chevalier de Troyes, Jesuits, and other missionaries and fur traders. The fur trade led to the establishment of a trading post at Lac des Allumettes, which later was called Fort William.Fort William shorelineThe Fort William trading post was started in 1821 and its workers were mostly Scotch. As lumbering pushed out game and depleted the number of furs traded, this post adapted by selling provisions to the lumber companies operating in the region.

The origins of Sheenboro’s name are not clear. One source indicates that it was named “Sheen” was after various centres in England, though oral history from one family maintains that the name is linked to their ancestral roots at Sheen Falls in County Kerry.

Photo of Berrigans MillAn excellent source on Sheenboro’s history is a graduate thesis by Sean Darcy (descended from the Sheenboro Darcys) who examined the relationship between lumbering and farming in Sheenboro during the settlement of the municipality. In the 1830s, the Irish appear in Sheenboro, and he puts forth that lumbering in the Upper Ottawa River and its tributaries drew the Irish who came by kin or chain migration. Often a couple would come and then a sister of the wife would settle with her family. Initially they squatted on land, worked it, and got title later.

McCool Lumber Camp - 1938Some were lumberers, and many of them were young and single working in the lumber camps, trying to get money to buy land and establish a farm. By 1851, three-quarters of them were Irish, but there were also French, Scottish, and English settlers in Sheenboro.

John Downey, who had emigrated by 1825 from Downpatrick, County Down, Ireland, was the first to obtain title to his land. He had worked his way from Bytown (now Ottawa) and was settled in Sheenboro by 1833. He worked on the Rideau Canal, as did another Sheen resident, John Sullivan.

Sheenboro families worked their farms, and the men would work in the lumber camps from late fall to the spring. The seasonal nature of work in the camps would allow them to get home in time for spring planting. Some of the farms sold and delivered provisions to the lumber camps in the area, taking their teams up the river on the ice. One song called Schyan Boys provides insight into the dangerous journey teamsters faced when traveling the ice to the shanties:

Oh when we reached the Ottawa, he gave us this advice,
Saying, “single out your horses, boys be careful of the ice,
Saying, “single out your horses, boys and make sure to step out light,
To cross the Ottawa River, here at Schyan Point.

A photo of SheenboroIn the 1870s, Sheen had grown, and it had a small village including a church and cemetery, a hotel, a store, and a sawmill in the area. Throughout the 19th century, farming continued to dominate the means of work.

The place has a unique musical culture cultivated in its Irish, Scottish, and French roots fostered in lumber camps, after farm work bees, and at community or church dances. To this day, gatherings always see a fiddler rosin a bow, a square dance being organized, and a song being sung.

Some families have retained their pioneer farms while others were sold as their offspring sought work in larger centres. However, their descendants and others are drawn back to the family farm or to a cottage on the Ottawa River. Their numbers contribute to a major population growth in the summer. In recent years, some of those cottagers have decided to retire to Sheenboro.

A photo of the Parrish - 1873

The beauty of the place, the sense of community and pride in Sheenboro’s heritage has created a unique and proud identity of this place that draws people to it. The poem Sheen – ‘bout Fifty Years Ago by Father Burke, based on his conversation with M. Downey, describes life circa 1850 but exemplifies the community spirit that exists today:


At logging, raising, reaping, we always made a bee,
So much we had to plod alone we liked the company;
And working seemed much lighter when we did not toil alone —
’Twas nice to be with friends sometimes with troubles like our own.

Sheenboro Flag

Flag of Sheenboro

I chose the blue and white wavy horizontal lines to represent the mighty and precarious Ottawa River. The closeness to the Ottawa River by the community of Sheenboro may have been the impetus for its formation. The river has provided local people, past and present, with an easy access route for trade, business, visitation, and the discovery of new territory and traditional peoples. It provides opportunity for sport and leisure, as well as exposure to nature in the beautiful wilderness of Sheenboro’s back yard. The yellow fleur de lis represents the community's governance by the province of Quebec and its colonization by France. The green shamrock represents the large settlement in Sheenboro of the Irish community. It represents their faith, love of music, dance, song, sharing, and friendship.

By Roger Hacking


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