The Lemieux Cemetery©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
On May 4th 1971, residents of St. Jean Vianny in the neighbouring province of Quebec were going about their daily affairs when the unthinkable happened and the ground suddenly slid away from beneath them. On that tragic day, 40 homes disappeared and 31 people lost their lives in a horrific mudslide, caused by the lethal combination of record rain falls and a rare subsurface called Champlain Sea Clays or Leda Clay that turned into mush when saturated.
In wake of the tragedy at St. Jean Vianny, a second landslide some 12 days later in an unpopulated area along the South Nation River in nearby eastern Ontario went almost unnoticed. Although no lives were affected, it marked the beginning of an intense period of study on soil conditions in the Ottawa-St. Lawrence lowlands.
Lemieux got its start in the mid 1850s as a mill town to service the local lumber industry. Over time it grew into a small faming hamlet. Louis Lemieux opened a post office in 1875 that operated for almost 100 years. The Roman Catholic Church was the focal point of the tiny settlement and by 1891 the village became known as La Paroisse Saint Joseph de Lemieux or the Parish of St Joseph de Lemieux.
The Chesser family were most active in Lemieux's early history. Alfred Chesser owned the saw and flour mills and later planing mills, along with a general store. He also served as postmaster from 1882 to 1890. John Poparat was the blacksmith and Paul Sauve, the long-time carpenter. By 1884 George Ryan had opened the Temperance Hotel. During the late 1800s, Lemieux's population hovered at between 50 and 100. By 1888 there was both a Roman Catholic Church and a school. By the 1890s Joseph Leroux had taken over the hotel and Henry Bradley became postmaster. The Bradley family continued to handle the village's mail for the better part of the next 60 years.
Life in Lemieux carried on pretty normally until 1989 when the South Nation Conservation Authority (SNRCA) made the shocking discovery that the same treacherous soil conditions, that had claimed so many lives in St. Jean Vianny almost twenty years earlier, also lay beneath the village of Lemieux. Then they were faced with the grim task of telling the residents, most of who had lived in Lemieux for generations that they would have to leave. The residents were relocated to nearby communities. Where possible homes and other buildings were moved and the remainder bulldozed.
Lemieux was officially abandoned in 1991 and none too soon. In 1993 the town's former main street suddenly slipped away, leaving a crater 680 metres long and 320 metres wide. In 1994 the SNRCA contracted an assortment of seedlings and other plantings to prevent further erosion.
Several years later former residents and government officials erected memorial plaques on the former location of Lemieux' main street. The plaques illustrate the history of the area's soil conditions, describe recent attempts to stabilize the soil and commemorate the sad story of Lemieux, the tiny village the government had to destroy.