DENISON, AVERY, settler; b. c. 1775 at Stonington, Conn., son of Elisha Denison and Keturah Minor; d. 28 June 1826 near Trois-Rivières, Lower Canada, and was buried at Danville, Lower Canada.
Avery Denison’s ancestors, who were probably Scandinavian-born, had settled in England, and some of them moved to the American colonies towards the end of the 17th century. Whether through attachment to the loyalist cause or desire to obtain cheap land, several members of the family petitioned for grants in the province of Quebec in 1789. According to a strong tradition in the family, Denison, who was just 21, crossed the border on 19 Feb. 1796, applied to the Lower Canadian authorities, and obtained a grant of 5,000 acres in Shipton Township. The story is rather implausible, since official documents make no mention of this large grant and, even more important, all transactions by the land committee of the Executive Council had been suspended in 1795. Moreover, Governor Robert Prescott*’s opposition to the system of township leaders and associates was to delay settlement of the non-seigneurial sector of Lower Canada for some years. Under this system a promoter would recruit a number of associates, who were granted 1,200 acres apiece in a given township; each of them would then hand over 1,000 acres to the township leader to reimburse him for the expenses of petitions, surveys, road-building, and the like. The speculators won out over Prescott. Thus Shipton Township, which at that time comprised the present Cleveland Township, was granted to Elmer Cushing on 4 Dec. 1801, partly to reward him for his role as an informer in David McLane*’s trial in 1797. Since Cushing was always short of money, it is quite possible he sold several lots to Denison even before the grant was official; this hypothesis would explain the absence of documentary evidence about the boundaries of Denison’s properties and the way they were acquired. It is certain, however, that Denison owned a huge estate, much of which remained in his descendants’ hands until recently, despite numerous transactions and squatters’ encroachments.
Although the lands in Shipton were considered the best in that part of Buckingham County, it took unusual courage to push into the area in the late 18th century, through the woods, along water-ways, or on the few improvised trails. Denison spent several seasons clearing the land and building a log house, and then in 1801 brought Eunice Williams, whom he had married the previous year, from the United States; shortly after her arrival she gave birth to a son, Simeon Minor, and they subsequently had three more children, John Williams, Malvina, and Eunice.
Denison’s homestead was well situated in the middle of the township near Leet Creek; it was on the 8th concession between lots 22 and 24, a few miles from the road that in 1809 was named after Governor Sir James Henry Craig*, and at an equal distance from the future villages of Richmond and Danville. In the first two decades of the 19th century Denison continued to develop his lands, raised cattle, and even ran a distillery which utilized his own potato crops. Around 1822 he turned over all his assets to his elder son, who had attained his majority but was then still unmarried; the reason for the transaction is unknown. On 28 June 1826 Denison apparently was returning on horseback from Quebec, where he had sold some cattle, when he was attacked by highwaymen and died near Trois-Rivières. His body was the first to be buried in the Protestant cemetery at Danville.
The mill Avery Denison had planned to build was put up by his son Simeon Minor and became the hub of a small village with a post office and an Anglican church. Although the village no longer exists, the site of Denison Mills bears vivid witness to this pioneer family’s spirit of initiative and unrelenting labour. The mill, which has been carefully restored, was made a historic monument by the Quebec government on 20 Sept. 1973, as an example of loyalist architecture in the Eastern Townships.
ANQ-E, CN1-27, 19 août 1826. ANQ-Q, ZC2-3, 1–4. PAC, MG 11, [CO 42] Q, 79–82; RG 1, L3L: 71987, 78413, 78480; RG 31, C1, 1825, Shipton Township. Elmer Cushing, An appeal addressed to a candid public; and to the feelings of those whose upright sentiments and discerning minds, enable them to “weigh it in the balance of the sanctuary” . . . (Stanstead, Que., 1826). Bouchette, Topographical description of L.C. Langelier, Liste des terrains concédés, 915–16. “Papiers d’État – Bas-Canada,” PAC Rapport, 1891: 150–75. Denis Allaire et Danielle Bédard, Le hameau Denison Mills (Québec, 1977). Caron, La colonisation de la prov. de Québec, 2: 86, 120–21, 137, 182–83. Edward Cleveland, A sketch of the early settlement and history of Shipton, Canada East (Richmond, [Que.], 1858; repr. Sherbrooke, Que., 1964). Rodolphe Fournier, Lieux et monuments historiques des Cantons de l’Est et des Bois-Francs (Montréal, 1978). Hilda MacNaughton, History of Denison’s Mills, founded Feb. 19, 1796 (n.p., 1966). G. F. McGuigan, “Administration of land policy and the growth of corporate economic organization in Lower Canada, 1791–1809,” CHA Report, 1963: 65–73. [Hilda MacNaughton], “History of Denison’s Mills,” Richmond County Hist. Soc., Annals (Richmond), 1 (1966): 100–5.