By Jean-Pierre Bernier, Aurora, Ontario

The village of Alfred is located between Ottawa and Montreal on Champlain’s new historic route, which closely follows the route that the “Father of New France” took on his first voyage to Huronia (the former Huron-Wendat country) in 1615 and 1616. According to Statistics Canada (2016), French is the official language spoken by 86% of Franco-Ontarians in Alfred, which will soon celebrate the 150th anniversary of its Saint-Victor parish.

In the 17th century, the shores of the Ottawa River were used as occasional campsites for canoe travellers on their way to or from the heart of the Pays d’en Haut. Near the actual village of Alfred, which has become the axis of agri-food in Ontario, lived the Oueskarinis, a small native people that our ancestors rightly called “The Little Nation.” Today, the Nation River that crosses the Township of Alfred and Plantagenet, before flowing into the Ottawa River, reminds us of this era prior to any European colonization in Eastern Ontario.

The first Alfred settlers came from Ireland between 1820 and 1830. Their names included Brownrigg, Tierney and Watson. They made potato a staple food that held a great place in the daily gastronomy. For them, a high-quality potato was worth its weight in gold. Starting in 1830, the Péladeau family from Beauharnois, the Sarrazin family from Vaudreuil, the Lavoie family from Kamouraska, the Ouellette family from Lac Saint-Jean, the Simard family from Laprairie, and many others from Lower Canada, came to settle on the Arabian lands of Alfred (in Upper Canada) which were, according to the Irish, well supplied with nutrients. Over time, the Francophones took over from the Anglophones and became a strong majority. This “Gallic” village in Eastern Ontario became confident in its agri-food knowledge, and its villagers were able to capitalize on their knowledge.

Rich in this intercultural transmission of agricultural knowledge between nations, the people of Alfred and the surrounding area gradually gave the potato an unparalleled quality. Recognized as the “French Fries Capital of Canada,” Alfred is proud of its reputation throughout the continent. Since its origins in rural Quebec in the 1950s, the famous Quebec poutine has become part of the local history at the request of the users of Highway 17. Numerous feasibility studies have shown that gastronomic/culinary tourism can be practised in high-end restaurants as well as in large fast-food chains, not to mention snack bars, canteens, and dairy bars.

In response to working from home and the need for workers to get out of their cyber bubble, the village of Alfred has recently joined the region’s popsilos art tour, synonymous with a well-deserved break, in connection to the growing popularity of nearby farm and cheese silos. The short three-minute video (click on this link) will give you more information on the popsilos tour inspired by the castles of Scotland.

Montreal artist Ankh One worked with the producers of the Lalande Farm (1163 Caledonia Springs Road in Alfred) to create a breathtaking new work that adds to the existing monumental murals on the Undiscovered Treasures Tour. Alfred’s silo named “Stardust” represents the balance between man, nature and the cosmos: three elements that form a harmonious whole, a precious, yet fragile life. The fresco can be read from left to right, a bit like an unfolding story. As producers are often vulnerable to the weather or to the unforeseen events of mother nature, its theme is “Vulnerability,” with each silo having its own theme. During the winter season, a whole new perspective is offered to visitors, a bright colour palette against a white background of pure snow.

Web trolls will be totally ignored – as they should be.

With the hope of making people love history.

JP #amfr

Courtesy of Jean-Pierre Bernier