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A Land Purchase for Philemon Wright!

For the week of Monday August 8, 2005

On August 12, 1796, Philemon Wright of Woburn, Massachusetts, bought half of Hull, Ripon, Grandison and Harrington townships for ₤600 sterling. Wright was a lumber merchant and farmer who established the first farming settlement in the Ottawa Valley in Lower Canada. He is considered one of the founders of the Outaouais. First known as Wrightstown, it became the City of Hull, and just recently, the amalgamated City of Gatineau, an important part of the National Capital Region.

Portrait of Philemon Wright
Portrait of Philemon Wright (oil on canvas)
© Library and Archives Canada / 1946-156-1
Wright learned to farm in Woburn, where he was born and raised. He arrived in Lower Canada in 1800 with 37 settlers, and the final deed was signed in 1806 for just over 33 182 hectares. There he tried to create a new society focused around agriculture. Wright believed that economic life was stabilized by agriculture.  His many projects included: potatoes, wheat, hemp, cattle, various animals, and most importantly, the timber trade.

The timber trade became the core of the economy in Hull Township, especially when Britain switched from European timber sources to those in Lower Canada. This was due to Napoleon’s Berlin Decree in 1806, which essentially stopped the shipping of goods to Britain from ports under Napoleon’s control.

Mill and Tavern
A view of the mill and tavern of Philemon Wright on the Ottawa River, Lower Canada (gouache on wove paper)
© Library and Archives Canada / 1989-402-1

 Wright played an important and respected role in the development of the region. He invented chutes to bypass waterfalls and rapids that prevented damage to the wood.  It became known as the Hull Timber Slide. He also founded both a brickwork and cement factory. He then contributed to the building of the Rideau Canal, and in 1832 secured a courthouse and jail for the Hull settlement.

Wright also was interested in politics and public service. He was a representative of the provincial grandvoyer (chief road commissioner). The governor appointed Wright as a justice of the peace in 1806.  Two years later, was appointed captain in the Argenteuil battalion militia. In 1830 he was elected to the House of Assembly of Lower Canada for the Ottawa riding.

Wright died in Hull on June 3, 1839.  His sons and sons-in-law would carry on the family business. Philemon Wright and his major technological innovation, the Hull Timber Slide, were designated a National Historic Person and a National Historic Event in 1976 respectively.  In 2000 a plaque commemorating Wright was placed in Hull (now Gatineau), Quebec.

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