Over 50 years of Land Possessed
By Don Stewart
(updated version by Les Sentiers de Gore)
Margaret Cook’s novel Land Possessed lives on 150 years since the story described by the author took place. In 2019, Les Sentiers de Gore celebrated the 50th anniversary of its publication by organizing activities highlighting Margaret Cook and her work.
This tale of pioneer life in the Laurentians was first published by Lachute’s Giles Publishing in 1969 and reprinted in 1975. The book brings the reader to the small hamlet of Shrewsbury where Margaret Cook retraces the history of the pionneers of this part of the Laurentians. Perhaps it’s not great literature, but it’s a classic that’s locally important. It’s a love story, a romance, a tragedy, and a historically accurate portrayal of pioneer life in this area. It should be studied by anyone wanting to know how our local ancestors lived 150 years ago.
The novel was based on Margaret Cook’s many conversations with oldtimers in Gore during her 30 years living there part-time. The story unfolded between October 1869 and November 1870. The settings include the beautiful fields of the Glen in Wentworth, Shrewsbury, Lake Barron, Fiddler’s Lake and Lakefield in Gore, Lake Anne at the southern tip of Morin Heights, and Point St-Charles in Montreal.
This novel has many interesting features, including Sam’s excellent accounts of the voyage from Ireland as a boy. There are good descriptions of their log cabin, schooling, berry picking, their diet of stewed partridge and venison, a long walk to Montreal with a visit to Joe Beef’s Tavern, potash making, hanging out at the local still, walking through the trails at the time, the threat of bears, the cattle show and tug-of-war at the Lachute Fair, the Fenian raids, pregnancy and childbirth. It vividly portrays pioneer life in our region.
The most significant revelations are portrayals of the rivalry between the Irish pioneers and French-speaking Quebecois—partly due to mutual hatred between Protestants and Catholics, one of the unfortunate prejudices brought to the new world from Ireland, where such rivalries still exist. When a Protestant girl fell in love with a French-Catholic boy, their love ended with the burning of his home and his murder by a gang of jealous Irish boys. The Orange Lodge in Shrewsbury—and the annual 12th of July picnic-- were hotbeds of such prejudice.
Artist Patricia Good (pictured at left) illustrated the book with a number of drawings of the early days in the pioneer area. She was part of an original pioneer family and lived on the 1840 family homestead in Shrewsbury until her death in 1975.
But who was Margaret Cook? Iva Marguerite Fern Neill was born in the Township of Shefford, Quebec, in 1897. She taught first at the Lachute Academy around 1918–1922, and then at Macdonald College, where she likely met her future husband, Dr. Harold Sterling Cook.
She wrote a monthly column for the Lachute Watchman for more than twenty years between 1949 and 1971. It was entitled “Sunnyacres Sketches” during the summer and “Exile from Sunnyacres” during the winter. Sunnyacres was the name of the farm she bought on Scott Road in Gore in 1943—the place where she spent every summer for over 30 years.
No photos of Margaret Cook can be found. She’s buried at the Lakefield cemetery. The rock for the tombstone was taken from her property, and sits on the highest point of land behind Holy Trinity Church, overlooking the graves of the families that inspired her novel.
Her novel was the inspiration for the play, Nature’s Victory, by Don Stewart--performed first by Theatre Morin Heights in English in 2005, and in French by the Troupe de Théatre Amateur d’Argenteuil in 2019.
Sunnyacres, on Scott Road in Gore, was Margaret Cook’s summer home for over 30 years.
To read the original text and a short history of Gore, you can purchase issue number 12 of the Porcupine, the journal of the Morin-Heights Historical Society (morinheightshistroy.org). A documentary film on the Life and Times of Margaret Cook, produced by Les Sentiers de Gore, is currently under production.