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CHARLES SYMMES (1799-1868) AND THE SYMMES INN, AYLMER

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Charles Symmes. (Photo - Aylmer Heritage Association)In January 1819, Charles Symmes, aged 20 and living in Massachusetts, wrote to his uncle, Philemon Wright, asking for work. He was hired and arrived a few months later to work as a clerk and bookkeeper. Two years later, he was sent to manage Chaudière Farm, in what is now known as the Aylmer sector of Gatineau.Symmes entered into partnership with Wright, by which he would lease and farm some of the Wright property and manage a tavern and store. He also purchased a section of land from his uncle. In 1824, Symmes returned to Massachusetts to marry Hannah Ricker.

Charles Symmes managed the small community for his uncle until a bitter disagreement arose between them. Both men had sought approval for their communities to be proclaimed the “government village” with the Court House and other government buildings located therein. In 1825, the Surveyor General selected “Symmes Landing” as the government village and relations between the men were severely strained. In 1828, Symmes was forced to make the final payment to Philemon Wright.In 1830, Symmes had his land surveyed into building lots and put up for sale. Streets were laid out and several were named after members of the Symmes family: Tiberius, Thomas and Charles (now Symmes).

In 1831, Symmes built a handsome hotel on the riverfront to lodge travellers staying overnight before boarding the boat for the next Symmes’ Inn from Main Street. Engraving by William H. Bartlett, 1842. (Source - Aylmer Heritage Association)portion of their journey. The following year, he gained an interest in the steamboat industry that was springing up in the town and a partnership in the first steamboat to ply this section of the Ottawa River, the Lady Colborne. Over his lifetime, Charles Symmes donated the land for the Anglican, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic churches. He served as Mayor of Aylmer from 1855 to 1862.Charles and Hannah Symmes had ten children. Charles died in 1868 and is buried in Bellevue Cemetery.

SYMMES INN
Constructed in 1831 by Charles Symmes, the Symmes Inn played a vital part in the early settlement of the region and a major embarkation point for travellers moving westward to open up and settle the country.

Symmes Inn Museum. (Photo - Matthew Farfan)

Arriving in Hull by boat from Montreal, weary travellers came by stagecoach along the Aylmer Road. They broke their overnight journey in Aylmer, staying at the British Hotel or the Symmes Inn before leaving the next morning on the 6 a.m. steamboat from Symmes Landing.At the end of the 19th century, the Symmes Inn was converted into apartments by the Ritchie Brothers, sawmill owners. In the 1930s and 40s, it served as the popular Aylmer Aquatic Club – not as a place for water sports, but as a nightclub and dance hall.

The building fell into disrepair in the 1950s and 60s, serving for a few years as Roy’s Flea Market, until a fire left only its shell. A decade later, Symmes Inn was declared a historic site and, in 1979, with provincial and federal government funding, it was restored to its original glory. The Inn served as a restaurant for several years and, later, as the Cultural Centre for old Aylmer.With its elegant verandahs and dormer windows, the Symmes Inn continues to spark curiosity and admiration for its splendid architecture and setting. For those who live in the Aylmer sector, the attractive stone building is an ongoing reminder of the town’s roots.In 2002, Gatineau Municipal Council declared the Symmes Inn the “Heritage Gem of Gatineau.” Today, this handsome building is the home of the regional history museum of the Outaouais – the Symmes Inn Museum.

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EDITOR'S NOTE (August 31, 2021):
The following was received from a reader:

Hello,

My name is Rick Henderson. I am an author/historian from the Outaouais who has written two books about Philemon Wright, his family and the Ottawa Valley in general. I’m a 4th g-grandson of Philemon & Abigail Wright.

Local history is, as you can imagine, a significant preoccupation of mine. I have spent the last 16 years absorbed in research and have come to understand that history is constantly updated, edited and corrected by further research as time goes by. So, it should not be surprising that new facts and perspectives can precipitate the editing of online histories or create new publications to emerge.

This article on your Webmagazine page regarding Charles Symmes is largely correct, however there are some anachronisms and missing information that should be pointed out:

1. Charles Symmes was born on April 4, 1798 in Winchester MA and died on August 25, 1868 in Aylmer Qc. At the age of 21, he arrived in Wright’s Town to work as a clerk for his uncle Philemon Wright, in April 1819.

2. Origins of Aylmer Qc.: The first settlers of what would become Aylmer - Daniel Wyman, Gideon & Zenus Olmstead, and Ephraim Chamberlin - arrived in 1802 at what then was simply called the Chaudière Lake Landing, which was connected to Wright’s Town (f. 1800) by a rough road called the Britannia Road (built in 1804). When the road was improved in 1818, and tolls placed at its beginning and end, it became known as the Britannia Turnpike and the landing then became known as Turnpike End. That same year, Philemon's oldest son, Philemon Junior, built the Chaudière Lake Farm, a hotel, a tavern and a store to accommodate travelers who journeyed up the Ottawa River beyond the Chaudière Falls. In November 1821, Philemon Junior died suddenly in a tragic coach accident. As a result, Philemon Sr. needed a new manager for the Chaudière Lake Farm. His other sons were busy managing the family's timber business and so, in 1822, Symmes signed a contract with Philemon Sr., by which he would lease the Wright farm and manage the Wright hotel, tavern and store. He also purchased a section of land from his uncle. Charles managed the Wright holdings at Turnpike End for 5 years, until 1827.

3. Because Turnpike End was founded by Philemon Wright Jr. in 1818, it could not have been called Symmes Landing until Symmes built his Inn and partnered in the steamboat service in 1831-3.

4. Philemon and Charles were very close, even traveling together back for a visit to Woburn in 1820. The nature of the later “dispute” between Symmes and Philemon Sr. was simply a legal case, with Philemon suing his nephew Charles for non-payment. Charles’ counter-claim made in court was that Philemon had not honoured the contract. The judgement however, was made in favour of Philemon and Charles was forced to pay. Although that case dissolved the contract, there is no evidence that the dissolution caused any difference in their relationship. Lawsuits from doing business in the Township were a very common occurrence for the settlers; frequently as well between family members.

5. The Crown’s decision to create the government village was the result of a recommendation made in 1825 by Joseph Bouchette, Surveyor General. Since the beginning of the settlement of the Township in 1800, the Crown had required that a “government village” be created to contain official buildings like the Court House and Post Office. Bouchette recommended that Turnpike End be the place to create this government village. There is nothing in Diane Aldred’s history, nor in the archives to support the assertion that the Crown decision caused “relations between the men (to be) severely strained”. In fact, the letters between nephew and uncle and subsequent letters between Charles and Philemon’s son Ruggles were always quite cordial.

6. The only other known dispute between Charles & the Wrights occurs when Charles cut timber on Ruggles Wright’s property without permission and is told by the Justice of the Peace to cease and desist. Charles & Ruggles continued to do business together for years.

These corrections take nothing away from Charles Symmes but they may reflect a fairer representation of both the facts and the timeline of the development of Aylmer, as supported by acclaimed Aylmer historian Diane Aldred and a reading of the letters between Symmes and the Wrights, in the Wright Fonds at LAC and various other archives.

Regards,
Rick Henderson