Learn more about the history of Magog and the Merry House

Has the Merry House piqued your curiosity?

Learn interesting facts about the history of the Merry family and the historical site.

La rue Principale dans les années 1920. Fonds Georges Abbott. La Société d'histoire de Magog

Principale Street in the 1920s. George Abbott fonds. Magog Historical Society

What is a citizen site of memory?

The “site of memory” concept was developed by historian Pierre Nora, and to this we have added the word “citizen.” The site of memory concept refers to all the cultural markers of a community. Adding the citizen specification to our site of memory integrates notions of individual appropriation, use, and involvement by all Magog residents.

The strategic location of the Merry House

A must-visit historical site and cornerstone of the development of the City of Magog, the Merry House is located in a desirable downtown sector, on the shores of Magog River and near Lake Memphremagog, making it a prime site. Long before permanent settlement by Magog’s first residents, the region was occupied by Abenaki groups. On the land where the house is positioned, traces of Indigenous peoples dating back 3000 years have been found. Progressively, other groups came to settle in the region, with American, Irish, English, and French Canadian settlers shaping local identity.

The Merry Family

It is at this strategic location that at the end of the 18th century, Nicholas Austin built a first mill. Ralph Merry III chose the same site in 1799. Arriving from Massachusetts where he had fought with revolutionary troops, Ralph Merry bought a small piece of land from Nicholas Austin. He settled there with his family, initially in a small log house. Considered the founder of The Outlet of Lake Memphremagog (former name of the City of Magog), Ralph Merry III was a farmer, blacksmith, and then businessman. He had the Merry House built in 1821, and bequeathed it to his son the next year. One after another, six generations of the family lived in the Merry House, around which the City of Magog grew. Several members of this illustrious family contributed in a major way to the development of Magog.

Among the members of the Merry family who lived in the house was Ralph Merry V, grandson of the founder of The Outlet. A well-known man in his community, Ralph Merry opened a matchstick factory and a general store and, with his son-in-law Alvin Head Moore, helped bring the railway to Magog. He was also mayor of Magog Township in the 1870s and 1880s.

The Merry House’s architecture

The Merry House is the oldest house in urban Magog, and its overall appearance has remained very similar to that which prevailed in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its New England-inspired architecture is a remarkable example of the American vernacular architectural style.

One of the interesting features is the structure of its roof, with a very large front roof overhang supported by four non-squared tree trunks, where the former location of branches can still be seen.

Gable dormers poke through the roof slopes. The exposed face of the clapboard-clad siding is angled to prevent water infiltration. The double-hung windows with 12 to 20 panes are characteristic of the first models of this type of window used in Quebec during this era. Of note, the components of the house were installed in classically inspired, symmetrical pairs, and local materials adapted to the climatic conditions were used.

The Merry House has been recognized as a heritage property by the City of Magog, and its state of preservation is rated as “exceptional” in the City of Magog’s heritage inventory.

Magog, the mecca of the textile industry

Under the initiative of influential men such as Alvin Head Moore and Ralph Merry, the textile industry steadfastly developed with the opening of the Magog Textile & Print Co. in 1884, which was merged in 1890 with Dominion Cotton Mills, and merged again in 1905 with the renowned Dominion Textile Company. The industry grew quickly and hired more and more workers. These newcomers, including numerous French Canadians, settled near the plants. In the span of a few years, the population had increased a lot. From a little hamlet of barely a few dozen residents, by 1890, it had become a town of more than 2000 residents.

Back then, the town’s progress matched the pace of the textile industry, suffering from its downturns and enjoying its years of prosperity. Over time, the industry declined steeply, starting in the 1980s and until the closing of the last plants in the early 2000s.

Tourism and economic vibrancy

Already a popular tourist destination in the 19th century, the region was renowned for the beauty of its landscapes. The arrival of the railway and the launch of steamboats on Lake Memphremagog travelling between Magog and Newport in the United States fostered the growth of tourism, an economic activity that was becoming increasingly important in the region. Recent years have seen the arrival of new industrial sectors, in fields such as new technologies, services, and health, contributing to the diversification and vibrancy of Magog’s economy.

La rue Principale dans les années 1920. Fonds Georges Abbott. La Société d'histoire de Magog

Principale Street in the 1920s. George Abbott fonds. Magog Historical Society