Charlottenburgh and Lancaster were two of the original eight "Royal Townships" established along the Saint Lawrence River in Upper Canada in the 1780s. This area was first settled by United Empire Loyalists. The development of this area was encouraged by Sir John Johnson, a wealthy landowner loyal to Britain, who was forced to abandon his land holdings in New York State during the American Revolution.
From the late 18th century to the early 19th century, the area was almost entirely settled by Scottish emigrants from all over the Scottish Highlands due to the Highland Clearances. Specifically, the Inverness-shire area of Scotland. Canadian Gaelic / Scottish Gaelic had been spoken in Glengarry County since its first settlement in 1784.
Johnson built a house in Williamstown near the end of the 18th century, The Manor House, which is now a Canadian National Historic Site. A grist mill and saw mill, now gone, were also built on the same location. Williamstown also contains the oldest log house in Ontario which was built in 1784. Occupants over the years have included the Reverend John Bethune (1751–1815), the great-great-grandfather of Doctor Norman Bethune, and David Thompson, Canadian explorer.
Some of the main partners of the North West Company, including Hugh McGillis, lived in this area.
The Glengarry Celtic Music Hall of Fame is located in Williamstown.
Williamstown is also home to Canada's oldest continuing annual fair, which celebrated its bicentennial in 2012. It is also quite possibly North America's oldest annual fair although this distinction has yet to be authenticated.
The Nor'Westers and Loyalist Museum is also located in Williamstown.
South Glengarry is the location of four National Historic Sites of Canada: the Bethune-Thompson House, the Glengarry Cairn, the Sir John Johnson House, and the ruins of St. Raphael's Roman Catholic Church.
St. Raphael's Catholic Church was built commencing 1821 under the authority of Alexander Macdonell later Bishop of Regiopolis (now Kingston, Ontario). This is one of the oldest churches in what was then the colony of Upper Canada. In late 1970, the church interiors, roof and tower were destroyed by fire, but the ruins were preserved. In 1973, a smaller church with the same name was built, attached to the ruins .
The primary source for basic documents (vital statistics, land records, wills) for people who lived in the Province of Ontario is the Archives of Ontario, 134 Ian Macdonald Blvd, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M7A 2C5.
Civil registration did not begin in the province until 1869. Before then there may be church records of baptisms and burials. For the most part these are still held by the denomination who recorded them. Copies of marriage records made pre-1869 had to be sent by individual clergymen to the registrar of the county in which the marriage took place. These marriage records are available through Ontario Archives, on micorfilm through LDS libraries, and on paid and unpaid websites, but because they were copied at the registrars' offices, they cannot be considered a primary source.
Vital Records after 1869
Birth, marriage and death registrations are not open to the public until a specific number of years after the event occurred. Births to 1915 are now available [October 2014]; dates for marriages and deaths are later. Birth and death registration was not universally carried out in the early years after its adoption. Deaths were more apt to be reported than births for several years. The more rural the area, the less likely it would be that these happenings were reported to the authorities.
Land Records and Wills
Information on how to access land records and wills is best sought on the Archives of Ontario website. An ancestor's land holding might be found on Canadian County Atlas Digital Project if he was in occupancy circa 1878.
Association for the Preservation of Ontario Land Registry Office Documents (APOLROD). A list of Land Registry Offices for all Counties of Ontario.
The original censuses are in the hands of Library and Archives Canada, known to Canadians as "LAC". Copies of original microfilms are online at the LAC website for all censuses up to 1911. Each census database is preceded with an explanation of the geographical area covered, the amount of material retained (some census division material has been lost), the questions on the census form, and whether there is a name index. Census divisions were redrawn as the population increased and more land was inhabited. The 1921 census is only available through Ancestry.ca, but it is free-to-view.
E-books and Books
Some websites with more local information on Glengarry County