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  • Mandy Sinclair

Marc Cantin on his ancestor's vision for St Joseph, Ontario

Updated: Mar 25

A canal system connecting Lake Huron to Lake Erie, the hive of business activity in the lakeside St Joseph, Ontario, and the removal of an imposing hotel that cornered Highway 21 and County Road 84. Marc Cantin share's his great-grandfather Narcisse Cantin's vision during a chat with Postcards from Huron County host Mandy Sinclair.

I chatted with Marc via Zoom where archives and momentums of a family past appeared in the background, while Marc shared personal stories. It was like sitting down with someone I'd know for years, but had only recently learned about this chapter of Huron County (I returned to the area after 20 years away, please forgive me).

Marc and his wife Pauline hold private archives and have fashioned their house around the family history, turning it into a museum/archives of sorts. They have kindly allowed me to share the sketches and drafts of the plans included below to help illustrate the chat.

A rich, nautical history

With a shipbuilding history, the Cantin family eventually made their way to Quebec from France upon invitation from the Hudson's Bay Company. The family eventually made their way to the Huron Tract (tune in to find out why), where Narcisse was born and eventually proposed canal would connect Lake Huron to Lake Erie.

St Joseph as a bustling business hub

At the turn of the century, this area was booming and experiencing its heyday. The very grand Balmoral Hotel cornered Highway 21 and County Road 84. There were brickworks, carriage factories, organ factories and more, as Narcisse Cantin was soliciting funding and government approvals to bring his idea for a canal system to life.

Image of the Balmoral Hotel in St Joseph, Ontario courtesy of the St Joseph Historical Society

When I say that it isn’t always about the story of the seaway, it’s more about the dream. That’s one of the favourite parts, the dream that a man had and to promote it like he did.

Marc Cantin of his great-grandfather Narcisse Cantin's vision

As any entrepreneur who truly believes in their idea will understand, Narcisse made several attempts for government approval. But, eventually, with the Great Wars eventually underway, investors started to get nervous and pulled back funding, as Marc explains in the episode.

Image courtesy of the St Joseph Historical Society

The Balmoral Hotel was eventually torn down, and in a forthcoming episode with historian David Yates, listeners will find out more about this hotel that was torn down with brick sold to recover building costs.

Listen now:

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