Building a Nation: Two Tweed families did their part

By Barry Penhale

Settled in the 1830s, the community on Stoco Lake now known as Tweed was originally called Hungerford Mills, named after the township. Later renamed after the Tweed River in southeastern Scotland, the settlement was incorporated as a village in 1891.

Tweed was a bustling place when I first began visiting during the 1950s. Tourism following the end of the Second World War was enjoying remarkable growth and Tweed was to benefit from an influx of visitors unlike any previously experienced. The village’s location on the very doorstep to fabled fishing waters and unrivalled Precambrian Shield scenery was an advantage not enjoyed by many other communities. These were indeed boom times and with each additional visit I became more enthralled by the village and full of admiration for a handful of Tweed’s most dynamic citizens.

This 1952 photo shows the inviting wide main street of Tweed with the Tweedsmuir Hotel sign plainly visible. Photographer not identified. Photo courtesy Lewis Gaylor Collection (Gaylord Hardwood Flooring)

This 1952 photo shows the inviting wide main street of Tweed with the Tweedsmuir Hotel sign plainly visible. Photographer not identified. Photo courtesy Lewis Gaylor Collection (Gaylord Hardwood Flooring)

In that exclusive category, along with Tweed News publisher Sam Curry, already a legend in weekly newspaper circles, two notable families long identified with the business life of Tweed and environs stood out -- the Courneya and Rashotte families, whose Canadian ancestral history predates colonization in Ontario.

Evidence of early arrivals to New France indentifies the presence of the Courneya family dating back to 1675. A plaque in the historic old quarter of Quebec City commemorates the arrival of the earliest Rashottes, whose name at the time was spelled “Rageot.” Early on they toiled in the Quebec bush until word of an abundance of timber in today’s eastern Ontario proved to be the magnet that lured them to the Tweed district.

Two dedicated genealogists have done wonders assembling remarkably thorough accounts of the Courneya family (Nora Kearney, Belleville) and the Rashotte family (Mike Rashotte, Florida). Their exceedingly detailed research plus the findings of others represents an important local genealogical depository to be accessed at the Tweed & Area Heritage Centre.

It is doubtful if a more genial ambassador for the village of Tweed ever existed than the enterprising Edward James “Ted” Courneya. Under his stewardship the Tweedsmuir Hotel became known as a “high quality food destination” province-wide.

The Courneya family was well-known in the hospitality field. Ted’s father, E.J. “Eddie” Courneya, with 22 years experience as owner/operator of the Queen’s Hotel in Tamworth, had purchased the old Huyck House Hotel in Tweed in 1944. Following major renovations a contest was held to rename The Huyck House, which, since 1886, had played a significant role in the growth of the young village. The contest created much excitement though it was not anticipated that nine different individuals would each propose the same name — “The Tweedsmuir.” A draw of names followed and the result found George Clark of Tweed declared the contest winner.

Ted Courneya took over The Tweedsmuir in 1953 following wartime service in the RCAF and five years in the hotel business in Northbrook. Such words as ambience and even atmosphere were not in vogue back then but The Tweedsmuir had plenty to spare. During Ted Courneya’s tenure the Hotel Tweedsmuir’s dining room wowed patrons with an eye-catching theme based upon the culture of Canada’s indigenous people. Native-made moccasins, porcupine-quill baskets and even a full-size birch bark canoe suspended from the ceiling (the canoe possibly the work of Johnny Bey from the Mazinaw area) added to the “outdoorsy” décor. Colourful masks on the wall under concealed lights were based on originals in the Royal Ontario Museum. All renovations to the tastefully remodelled hotel were made under the capable direction of Felix Rashotte and, whenever possible, local suppliers and tradesmen were involved.

For many diners the ‘piece de resistance’ when eating at The Tweedsmuir was the charming rustic furniture made from native Canadian kiln-dried Eastern Cedar and widely-marketed under the name Rusti-Cana. The last family member to operate what began as the Rusti-Cana division of the Rashotte Lumber Company, headquartered in Tweed, was the affable Richard Rashotte, who took over in 1973.

Various colour images from surviving catalogues rekindle memories of the Rusti-Cana line of cedar furniture that was for many years immensely popular with homeowners and cottagers. Photo courtesy Chris Rashotte (Rashotte Home Building Centre)

Various colour images from surviving catalogues rekindle memories of the Rusti-Cana line of cedar furniture that was for many years immensely popular with homeowners and cottagers. Photo courtesy Chris Rashotte (Rashotte Home Building Centre)

In the fall of 2016, a meeting with Richard and his father, Don Rashotte, aged 94, proved to be an enjoyable and informative occasion made all the more so by the addition of Don’s daughter, Rosemary Gaylord. I was to be treated to some important tid-bits of information generally not known outside of the Rashotte family. An example was hearing of a trip to Wiarton that Don and Ted Courneya had made in the early 1960s, meeting there with Cecil Warder, whose concept for a rugged line of furniture appealed to them. Once back home Don, at the time president of the Rashotte Lumber Company, began the manufacture of his own line of attractive furniture substantially refined in size and Rusti-Cana was born.

While we were together Richard Rashotte mused on the market demands during the heyday of Rusti-Cana when it was necessary to go full tilt to satisfy the needs of cottagers and the hospitality industry. Customers included many popular area resorts including Fernleigh Lodge, Twin Pines, Birch Cliff Lodge, Limerick Lodge and Kirk Cove. One cannot possibly know how many surviving pieces of Rusti-Cana are out there today in cottages and homes.

So popular was this uniquely Canadian furniture that a vice-president from the famous department store chain, Eaton’s, came to Tweed to meet with Richard. Assorted pieces of Rusti-Cana were shipped as far away as Florida and the Yukon. Richard Rashotte with a chuckle recalled his 15-year dealings with an entrepreneurial New Yorker who profitably sold Rusti-Cana at greatly inflated prices, assuring his customers that each item was handcrafted by Natives from the wilds of Canada.

Descendants of some of the earliest settlers, circa 1850s, remain active in the area, some living as did their ancestors within the locale known as ‘The French Settlement,’ situated three to four kilometres north of Tweed. Such names as Le Sage, Morrow, Trudeau (not the PM but related), Fobert, Bergeron and Langevin, plus the ever-present Courneyas and Rashottes, are still very much in abundance.

A number of variants in both spelling and pronunciation have cropped up over time. Tweed & Area Heritage Centre curator Evan Morton has informed me of at least five different spellings of Courneya. I have held with one spelling — the same one I first encountered upon meeting Ted Courneya. Unfortunately he is no longer with us to comment on family name spellings, having passed on in Kingston in 1985 and is buried in St. Carthage Church Cemetery, Tweed. His legacy went beyond business achievements. He served as the longtime chairman of the Tweed Branch of the Canadian Arthritis Society and volunteered with Branch #426 of the Royal Canadian Legion. It is interesting to note that his wife, Dora, a personality in her own right, served on Tweed’s ‘All Female Council’ in our Centennial year, 1967 — first of its kind until repeated in the United States, some time later.

don rashotte.jpg

Whenever families get together it is commonplace to remember those hardy individuals who came before us and their place in building the country. Felix Rashotte operated Tweed’s first garage while Louis Rashotte, another pioneer garage operator, was born in Tweed in 1891 and died in 1995 at Northbrook, having lived past his 104th birthday. His accommodating a hip replacement at age 100 should have earned him a place in the Guiness Book of Records.

Joe Rashotte, with but Grade Three education, went on to employ a staff of 30 as he designed and built numerous noteworthy schools and churches across eastern Ontario. It was Joe who came up with the innovative idea of moveable walls in schools! And speaking of landmarks, the Joseph Rashotte Company built St. Carthagh School (1939) and Tweed’s ever so familiar municipal building (1950).

Finally, Raphael Rashotte added to a remarkable family’s lasting legacy by contributing an architecturally significant style to Tweed in the form of the 1939 “Art Moderne” residence located at 139 Victoria Street South. An “eye-opener” when constructed, it remains a landmark worth discovering for anyone who plans to include some touring of Hastings County during this important year for Canada.

 

Acknowledgements: Don & Richard Rashotte; Rosemary (Rashotte) Gaylord, Lewis Gaylord (Gaylord Hardwood Flooring); Chris Rashotte (Rashotte Home Building Centre); Tweed News; and Evan Morton (Tweed & Area Heritage Centre)

 

 

PHOTOS:

 

MAIN STREET TWEED

This 1952 photo shows the inviting wide main street of Tweed with the Tweedsmuir Hotel sign plainly visible. Photographer not identified.

Photo courtesy Lewis Gaylor Collection (Gaylord Hardwood Flooring)

 

RUSTI-CANA (use whichever works best)

Various colour images from surviving catalogues rekindle memories of the Rusti-Cana line of cedar furniture that was for many years immensely popular with homeowners and cottagers.

Photo courtesy Chris Rashotte (Rashotte Home Building Centre)

 

Don Rashotte

An example of family longevity, Don Rashotte of Tweed was a mere 94 years of age when interviewed for this article in September, 2016.

Photo courtesy Rosemary (Rashotte) Gaylord