Skip to main content

Touring the Old Three Villages

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version
Matthew Farfan

larger_Stanstead.Butters.Housejpg.JPGStanstead, which includes the old Three Villages of Stanstead Plain, Rock Island and Beebe, boasts one of the richest concentrations of heritage architecture in the Eastern Townships. The combined population of these three sectors of what is now "metropolitan" Stanstead is a whopping 3,000, give or take a dozen or so.

But nowhere else does a town this size have so much to offer in terms of heritage. In fact, Stanstead recently designated twelve of its buildings as official heritage sites. This is more than any other town this size in Quebec.

With no less than twelve churches or former churches, most of them dating back to the mid-to-late 1800s, two museums, a library and opera house, the Townships' oldest customs house, dozens of historic homes and public buildings of all periods and styles, and buildings and streets traversed by the international boundary, this town is a paradise for anyone who likes to combine walking with history. There is even a trail linking the three parts of town.

Last year, Stanstead released a brochure, called "Stanstead Heritage Tour." Published in English and French versions, and available at the town hall and outlets around town, this guide is lavishly illustrated with antique and modern photographs, and replete with anecdotes and lore about Stanstead's colourful past.

Within its pages, visitors will discover such places as Centenary Church, the largest Protestant Church in the Eastern Townships, the Colby-Curtis Museum, Granite Central (a museum featuring exhibits of both granite and model trains), Stanstead College, the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, the "old double post office," an international building that once housed post offices for two different countries, and an international street called "Canusa."

Equally interesting are the anecdotes that one will learn. Such as the fact that Stanstead was long considered a haven for smugglers. Or that the town was home to Canada's very first car, built by local boy Henry Seth Taylor in the year of Confederation! Or that the international boundary is not where it should be. Or that Beebe is named after a convicted counterfeiter. Or that Montreal's Sun Life building owes its granite walls to Stanstead. Or that the Beatles almost reunited here!

Stanstead is the ideal place for a leisurely walking tour. There are lots of things to see along Dufferin Street, downtown (the heart of old Rock Island), or in Beebe, a picturesque village in its own right. There are two or three good restaurants, a café, a first-rate bakery, and some very nice parks, including one with a fountain right downtown.