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Ferries of the Gatineau River
Kirks ferry
Kirk's Ferry and Fairy Hotel in the background c. 1920.

Crossings by these ferries spanned a period of nearly 100 years; the first scow appeared about 1850 and the last ceased operation about 1940. They were rendered obsolete with the construction of roads and convenient bridges, and lastly through the flooding by the hydro dams in the 1920s.

The scows were generally in the service of people living on the East Side of the Gatineau who wanted access to the better roads and services on the west side.

Ownership of the 18 ferries between Kirk’s Ferry and Low was either municipal or co-operative among a few families, no charge being levied in either case. The only commercial ferry was the most southerly, Kirk’s land later Fleming’s about 12 miles north of Hull. The scows that served as ferries were all flat-bottomed, with upturned ends and operated by oars, though five were connected to cables, and at least two had rudder type boards. What was probably the first ferry established on the Gatineau is commemorated in the name of the settlement of Kirk’s Ferry. Details of its nineteenth century operation are skimpy and the only reference to it in print appears in Rev. John Gourlay’s book, “History of the Ottawa Valley,” published in 1896.

“Mr. Thomas Kirk from Londonderry, Ireland came to the Gatineau shortly after the Blackburns (1829) and got land on both sides of the Gatineau at a place where the stream is flat and placid for some distance, a thing not that common on that rapid river. There he established what was long known as Kirk’s Ferry. Teams and loads were ferried on a scow.”

Canada’s early census records make no mention of the occupation of ferryman. Thomas Kirk’s occupation is listed several times as shoemaker and by 1861 he was 76 years old and a widower. His youngest son, John, lived on the right bank opposite his father and is listed at that time as a tavern keeper, age 26, married to Mary Brooks, with six children.

It seems logical that John could have initiated the ferry service as a commercial venture in conjunction with Kirk’s Tavern, a popular stopping place for shantymen and coach travellers.

MacDonald, Joanne, from Up the Gatineau! Vol. 6, 19–20.

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