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The first monuments of 1843-45 were made of cast iron and there have been 18 different styles over the years.

In 1902, the International Boundary Commission chose granite to replace cast iron monuments along the Quebec-New York border.

Now the monuments are standardized - stainless steel monuments out west, granite monuments in the east. From Beebe, Quebec, granite.

The first new granite monuments were made of stone from the Haselton Quarry (now Beverly Granite) around 1975. According to the commission's Carl Gustafson, the stone was studied by the Department of Mines and Resources and found to be a solid, durable material.

Granite for monuments still comes from Beebe-area quarries today.

This summer J. McCutcheon Granite carved out 40 reference markers made of Canadian white granite. These are destined for the southwest branch of the St-Jean River.

Incidentally, the reason stainless steel is used along half the border and granite in the other half is because the Americans preferred the former, the Canadians the latter. It was decided to use granite in the east because transportation into the bush is easier here than out west.


The Quebec-Vermont/New York border runs along the 45th parallel, right?

Well, in theory anyway.

This latitude halfway between the equator and the north pole was first formally chosen as the dividing line between British North America and the newly formed United States of America in the Treaty of Paris in 1783, although the decision to use the 45th as the boundary between Quebec and New York goes back further.

From the beginning, American and Canadian officials squabbled over whose reading of the 45th was more accurate; because of the rudimentary nature of equipment and surveying techniques in early days, data often varied.

In 1796, the Vermont General Assembly claimed that the 45th parallel was too far south - in other words, parts of Quebec should be in the USA. Nine years later, the Vermonters gathered new numbers that showed the border was in fact 13 miles too far south.

Of course, other reports said the border was too far north.

To settle the dispute, the two countries appealed to the King of Netherlands, who in 1831 pronounced that the 45th parallel should be moved to a new position - virtually in the middle of the two lines claimed by each country.

In the end after much hand-wringing and surveying (and likely the general realization that it was a nightmare to solve) the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842 scrapped the whole thing, stating that "the old line of boundary surveyed and marked by [Thomas] Valentine and [John] Collins previously to the year 1774 as the 45th degree north latitude" was settled on as the boundary.

A subsequent survey following the treaty found the boundary to be quite crooked.

In an unpublished essay, Dr. A.C. McEwen, former International Boundary Commissioner for Canada, comments on the crooked line:

"It should be remembered that their retracement was undertaken 70 years after an original survey that had been performed with compass and other primitive equipment under difficult conditions, nor could there be certainty that the true location of the old survey lines was in all places recovered. An unfortunate and incorrect impression has grown up over the years in some quarters that the 1771-74 boundary survey was performed by men who were too drunk or incompetent to do reliable work, and this is an unfair assessment of, for example, a person like Collins who was a surveyor of undoubted ability and integrity."

The Growth of Customs
Old Customs House
The First Customs House, Stanstead, QC, built 1821
Stanstead Journal, May 9, 1974

Customs evolved as traffic did. The earliest, and only, Customs House east of St. John's, Quebec, was established at Stanstead Plain in 1821, and was situated in the old brick building just north of the Maples Hotel.

There was very good reason for the establishment of a Customs House at Stanstead, for it was on the stage route from New England to Montreal, one of the busiest and most important points of entry on the border.

This event was to establish a pattern that has followed through to the present. Through the years, the Customs has grown and changed with the mode of transportation and with the volume of traffic. When the Customs was opened at Stanstead in 1821, probably with one or possibly two officers, travel was by stagecoach or horse-drawn vehicles. The second stage was to be set with the coming of the railroad.

Freight and passenger traffic on Lake Memphremagog had necessitated the establishment of a Customs House at Georgeville, Copp's Ferry, in 1854, which in 1863 became an outpost of Stanstead. From this time right up until the present, there has been Customs facilities on the lake, in 1863 at Magog and in 1866 at the Judge Weir property in Cedarville, all under the port of Stanstead.

With the coming of the railroad to Newport in 1863 and a little later to North Derby, Vt., where passengers and freight transferred to stagecoach via Georgeville to Montreal, the scene was set for yet another Customs House. This office was also under Stanstead.

With the completion of the Massawippi Valley Railway between Lennoxville and Newport in 1875, Stanstead Junction, later to become Beebe Junction, took on great importance as a point of entry into Canada. So much so that it replaced North Derby in 1888 and Stanstead was closed in 1909 to become the Port of Beebe Junction.

When the Customs House at Stanstead closed and the main operation moved to Beebe Junction, an office was established at Rock Island in the residence of John Paquette, where it remained until the new Customs and Post Office building was completed in 1912.

It was shortly after this that the third stage in the traffic pattern began to take over with the coming of automobiles and trucks. The flow of traffic on Route 5 from the United States to Canada grew rapidly on Rock Island's Main Street and the Old Yellow Store, built in 1809, was purchased and became the first Main Street Customs.

As the 1920s drew to a close, it was obvious that more and better highway facilities had to be provided. Accordingly, in 1929 what we now know as the Old Main Street Customs was completed and the port moved from Beebe to the new office. The railroads had had their day.

Customs Officers
Left to right are Wilfrid Breault, Henry Lalond, Henri Routhier, and Harold Beane. This photograph, courtesy of Pete Rodrigue, originally appeared in The Journal on May 9, 1974, accompanying the article reprinted in part below. It was presumably written by editor Lloyd Bliss, who acknowledges the assistance of longtime Customs collector Ed Struthers.

Even with the new building, it was soon obvious that additional facilities would be needed to handle the rapidly increasing flow of traffic. On holiday weekend, the number of vehicles and persons passing through the Port of Rock Island in one day far outnumbered the total annual flow between the years 1918 and 1927. In 1936, the old Kathan Store just south of the new Customs was purchased, the building demolished, and made into an inspection lot.

Even with this added facility, cars were often lined up entering Canada south of Derby Line. On some occasions, traffic was diverted to the Beebe highway office, which had been opened at its present location in November 1932.

While highway traffic diminished slightly during World War II, it increased by leaps and bounds during the late Forties and Fifties. It soon became evident that larger facilities were going to be needed and the Department of Public Works first produced a plan that would take the highway directly through Rock Island roughly in the vicinity of Church Street.

Eventually it was decided to bypass Rock Island entirely when Vermont and Quebec got together with the location of Interstate 91 and Route 55. This resulted in the opening of new Customs and Immigration buildings on both sides of the border in 1966, capable of handling the increased flow of traffic at high speeds.

Even with this new facility that housed the Port Offices as well as the commercial traffic, it became obvious that new facilities were going to be required on Main Street to handle the Route 5 traffic. The old Rock Island Overall Company factory was purchased and a new and modern building constructed and opened for business on April 1, 1973. The Department of Public Works had now taken over the east side of Main Street from the Tomifobia River to the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, as well as 25 acres east of the town.

>From a one-man operation started in 1821, the Port of Rock Island has grown to 39 permanent employees in the Customs Service, with 10 student summer employees, and an immigration staff of 18, estimated to be probably the third or fourth largest annual payroll in the community.

The Journal, May 9, 1974

[Editor's note: Today, the three Stanstead offices employ 46 Customs officers, six immigration officers, and 13 summer students.]


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posted 10/27/99