Gatineau River Heritage Paddle: A Guide - Second Edition


The guide consists of three parts. Part I is the series of river maps from Wakefield to the Chelsea Dam. Part II leads paddlers north to south along the west shore, introducing each historic village and hamlet, whose names on the highway markers in the municipalities of La Pêche and Chelsea are almost their only mementoes. Part III circles around the Chelsea Dam and takes the route back north along the east shore, identifying points of interest in the municipalities of Cantley and La Pêche. A short addendum provides guide readers with an overview of some of the interesting natural wonders in and along the river.

Historic Highlights

  • The Gatineau River is a 386 kilometre tributary of the Ottawa River.
  • The river was an ancient Algonquin trade route. Blackburn Creek in Cantley was an aboriginal resting spot and Algonquin campground.
  • It was an important fur trading route and was used by the first European set tlers to locate their new land grants, before roads existed. After the winter freeze up, it was used as a roadway. Its name comes from the Gatineau family, prominent fur-traders in the 17th century.
  • Logging dominated life on the river until 1991. Philemon Wright's three sons were given logging rights here from the Crown Timber Office from 1832 to 1843.
  • The hydroelectric project of 1926-27 dramatically changed the face of the river forever. Before its flooding, the Gatineau River was a raging torrent known for its picturesque falls and many dangerous rapids. The river was difficult to navigate and drowned many an unwary swimmer. In 1926 the Gatineau Power Company undertook a mammoth hydroelectric project, employing thousands of men. The company expropriated dozens of farms, businesses, houses and cot tages to make way for the damming of the river at Chelsea, Paugan and Low.
  • The original railway line along the west bank of the river was constructed in the late 1880s for commercial and passenger transport. In the mid-1920s, it was relocated further west on higher ground because of the hydroelectric project.
  • The construction of the rail line in the late 19th century opened up the Gatineau to Ottawans, who escaped the hot and humid Ottawa summers to modest cottages along the river. This was known as "summering" up the Gatineau. In those early days, there was no electricity or running water, and only simple outhouses (toilets). Many of these early cottages were razed or relo cated when the river was flooded. Some of these cottages still line the banks of the river; many have been converted to all-season residences.

As you paddle, imagine what rests beneath you - perhaps foundations of former farmhouses, abandoned mines, or drowned islands. More farmland disappeared during the flooding on the Cantley side of the river than the west side; lost forever are many historic farms such as the Tenaga Farm owned by the Pattersons, and farms of the Clark and Elder families. On the east side, Kirk's Ferry lost its key business core and never recovered as a thriving village; Cascades was nicknamed the "lost village".

Along the rocky shoreline and on the islands, you can still find evidence of the logging era, such as iron hoops embedded into the rock. If there was a south wind, the rivermen had to winch their boats along, tying them to these "rock boats" which acted as anchors set into the rock along the river. They were also used for attaching the booms. If you are lucky, you can still find these and discover bits of large chain and huge hooks along the shore.

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