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The Gatineau River has always been an important transportation route. It was well known to the various Indian Nations of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence valleys and it was used extensively as a highway for seasonal travel.

canoes and pointer
Canoes and a raftsman pointer on the shore of the Gatineau, near Kirk's Ferry c. 1900s

When considering transportation in early Gatineau days one must remember that the Gatineau River had no power dams and was a free flowing river. It actually starts at Lake Capimitchigama 150 miles north of Ottawa. It would be high in the spring and low in the late fall, with portages required in many places.

Canoes were made of long strips of birch bark stretched on white cedar frames and laced together with roots from juniper or spruce trees and joints were covered with spruce and pine gum. Travelling canoe groups always carried extra long strips of birch bark to make quick repairs if needed. The canoe was used well up to 1860.

There were no bridges. We would presume Indian trails or routes ran along both sides of the river where possible and these developed into most of our roads. An early settler would move in to the area by canoe or on foot having likely come from Quebec or the New England area. Having secured land, and perhaps employment, he would want to build a house. The early ones had to bring in everything they needed to supplement what nature provided. This they had to move by canoe, boat, horse, or sleigh in the winter. As trails improved to roads, the situation for travel improved. Up to 1800 it was based roughly on the condition of the roads in the season one travelled and whether the river could be used. When the river froze up it was likely used for travel and, of course, could be crossed to get to the other side


Kirk's ferry
Kirk's Ferry with Fairy Hotel in background c.1920

The ferry-scows on the lower Gatineau River served as summer bridges for the rural settlers who were predominantly of Irish and Scottish origins. The ferries, operating between the east and west banks in the ice-free season from late spring to late fall, were the only regular water transportation across the swiftly flowing river with its many rapids and waterfalls.

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 1920's.

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 and 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.

To cross the Gatineau in the winter, ice bridges were built at the main ferry crossings by strengthening the ice with water shovelled out of cut holes in the ice for four or five nights. Evergreen branches marked the finished road. These ice bridges often lasted later in the spring than the ice around the bridge.   See more...


Bridge crossing
Bridge crossing the Gatineau River c.1866.

The first bridge across the Gatineau was built in 1866, below the rapids at Limbour. It was made of wood, and from an archival photo it appeared to have been a simple Kingpost design with six main spans. This bridge was destroyed by spring floods in 1878, and its replacement, also of wood, was destroyed by fire in 1892. Subsequently, steel bridges were built at Pointe Gatineau in 1895 and at Ironside in 1902.   See more...

Power Dams

Kirk's Ferry with Fairy Hotel
Kirk's Ferry with Fairy Hotel in background c.1920.

Prior to 1926, the only dams in the area were the ones built by industries in the area that used the water flow to power there mills. One such example is the dam on the Lapeche Creek used to power MacLaren's Grist Mill.

How the Big Dams Came to Be:

In 1926, Canadian International Paper (CIP) formed Gatineau Power, a subsidiary intended to manage its hydroelectric resources.

Between 1926 and 1929 Gatineau Power built three hydroelectric dams and reservoirs on the Gatineau River to meet the demands of CIP factories area and Hydroelectric Power Commission of Ontario.

The needs of the paper industry were met through the harnessing of the Gatineau river. This was achieved by the building of the Paugan, Chelsea and Farmer's Rapids dams, which raised the output of usable power from the river to 450,000 kilowatts.

The immense endeavours involved in the construction of these magnificent brick structures, are portrayed in the classic architectural design that was used.

Earlier agreements were made to control the waters of the Gatineau in 1912. This was finally attempted when a reservoir was built at Baskatong Lake in 1928, and at Cabonga Lake in 1929, resulting in the flooding of many local settlements along the river.   See more...

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