The Gatineau Park Chronicles

From The Gatineau Park Chronicle Fall 2007 issue.

The Beginnings of a Park

by Denis Messier

Gatineau Park covers an area of more than 36,100 hectares, situated between the Gatineau and Ottawa rivers.It is made up of more than 1,400 parcels of land acquired by the Canadian government over a period of almost 70 years. Today, for residents and visitors to the Capital region, Gatineau Park is a vast expanse of rolling, green space on the horizon north of the city. It is a paradise for fresh air enthusiasts and nature lovers. It has become a treasure of natural and historical heritage, preserved for the enjoyment of current and future generations of Canadians. However, this has not always been the case.

The Gatineau Park Chronicles
Lookout in Gatineau Park - National Film Board of Canada.

Cottagers in the Hills

In the middle of the 19th century, several factors contributed to the rise of a continent-wide movement focused on a return to nature. Industrialization, rampant urbanization and the unhealthiness of the cities prompted people who had the financial means to look for "a little piece of paradise" in the country. In addition, philosophical, political and philanthropic movements, inspired primarily by the romanticism that characterized the era, called for both the cleaning up of cities and a return to nature. The influx of cottagers to the Gatineau Hills and the later creation of Gatineau Park were events that flowed from these ideological movements.

The Founders of Kingsmere

The Gatineau Park Chronicles
Sir John George Bourinot - Library and Archives Canada. PA-025660.

In the years following Canada's Confederation, several senior federal public servants built cottages on the shores of Jeff Lake (now Kingsmere Lake), on sites that had been cleared by pioneers in the early 19th century. Sir John George Bourinot - who was a writer, historian, chief clerk of the House of Commons, co-founder of the Canadian Royal Society, and purported to be the first political scientist in Canada - was one of the first and the most noted of the cottagers during this period. John Stoughton Dennis was a surveyor, militia officer and deputy minister of the interior under the governments of John A. Macdonald, and was involved in the events leading up to the Métis rebellion in Manitoba and the suppression of Louis Riel and his rebel companions. He is also recognized as an early resident of the area. It was Bourinot who, in 1880, along with several other summer residents, renamed Jeff Lake and founded Kingsmere, a model cottage community. They were followed by several others,such as Dr. William Thomas Herridge, who served as minister of Ottawa's St.Andrew's Presbyterian Church for 30 years. Dr. Herridge built a cottage which was bought by William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1924, and became Moorside.

Charles Edmond Mortureux and the Ottawa Ski Club

At the same time that these cottagers built secondary and sometimes permanent residences in the hills, thousands of other citizens left their mark by making, maintaining and using an entire network of trails, on which they engaged in their favourite sport: skiing. They gathered at the Ottawa Ski Club, which was established in 1910, and at one time had more than 10,000 members. It was the largest ski club in Canada, and one of the largest in the world. At first organized for ski jumping in Rockcliffe Park, the club changed its focus at the end of the First World War. At that time, it set its sights on the lands around the property of Garrett Fortune, a pioneer of the hills, whose modest cabin would become Camp Fortune. The members of the club developed an entire network of trails, between Hull and Camp Fortune. Part of this network included a series of shelters and huts that were built to provide shelter for the skiers.

The Gatineau Park Chronicles
Skiers in Chelsea, Quebec, 1922 - Canadian Ski Museum, Ottawa, Ont. (X2006-92-9-34).

Without a doubt, the most well-known of these shelters is Kingsmere Lodge, a former farmhouse converted into an inn, on a 100-acre parcel of land that Captain Gerald Wattsford, a veteran of the Boer War (1899-1902),had purchased in March 1921 from a farmer named William Murphy. The farm included a 13-bedroom house to which a nine-hole

Charles Edmond Mortureux was the first president of the Ottawa Ski Club, and was active in this capacity from 1919 to 1946. Besides being a key figure in establishing skiing in the Gatineau Hills, he was also one of the tireless supporters of forest conservation in the region.To help preserve the integrity of the Ottawa Ski Club's properties in the hills, Mortureux also supported the activities of the Federal Woodlands Preservation League and its goal of creating a park in the Gatineau Hills.

Apart from the well-known cottagers and the institutions that marked this period, dozens of other more modest citizens, who remain anonymous,contributed to the specific orientation of activities in the Gatineau Hills. The descendents of many of them can still be found around Meech and Kingsmere lakes, and they account for the majority of the private residences that can still be found in the Park today.

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