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Indian trails, or routes ran along both sides of the river where possible and these developed most of the roads. As trails were upgraded to roads, the situation for travel improved.

Up to the1800s travellers were at the mercy of the seasons which greatly restricted travel. In the winter, the roads were often abandoned for easier passage along the frozen river, and in the summer, a canoe trip was preferable, and quicker than following a rugged path on land.

Early settlers made do with the ever changing condition of these routes until eventually some main roads were developed. First came toll roads supported by wealthy founders, and eventually the government began to contribute to the development of roads in the area.

In 1846, a petition was sent to Québec City for assistance in the construction of a road going north from Hull for a distance of 75 miles (125 kilometres).

Special mention was made of the need for a bridge over the Lapeche River at Wakefield. The Gatineau Road bordered the west bank of the river and tolls were levied for its use. In such hilly country, with the drainage going towards the Gatineau, meant that the roads were in often very bad condition.

Gilmour's Contribution

tollgate keepers
The tollgate keepers at Gilmour Gate House c. 1890

The Gilmours established the Hull and Wakefield Macadamized Road Company (HWMRC), opening up the Gatineau valley to settlement and agriculture. The HWMRC operated as a tollroad (with a toll station north of the Gilmour house, in Chelsea). The tolls never paid for its upkeep. The Province finally accepted responsibility for the road on August 2, 1923. This is what eventually led to the construction of what is now known as Highway 105.

The Stagecoach

stage coach
The stagecoach, a vital link to the outside world c. 1850.

In 1851 William Patterson began operation of the first stage coach between Bytown (Ottawa) and North Wakefield (Alcove). As a passenger and mail service, it provided a vital link with the outside world. The coach was a four-wheeled vehicle with four seats set crosswise and was open to the weather.

This service continued until the arrival of rail service in Wakefield in 1892.

In the mid-1920s, the road was moved further inland from the river because once the Paugan, Chelsea, Farmer’s dams were completed the new water level of the Gatineau River would cover the old road.

Before the bridges were built across the rivers and lakes, ice roads were marked out as soon as they had frozen enough to walk on. Rows of evergreen branches were placed to warn the traveller not to stray off the road where the ice was known to be safe. During the spring break-up, these roads would remain safe much longer than the rest of the ice. Many horses became wise about the safety of the ice and would warn the driver and only proceed with urging and reassurance.

The roads were not plowed until after World War II. Roads were rolled after each snowfall to provide a good surface for sleighs and cutters. This was done by a pair of giant lawn rollers, side by side, pulled by a team of horses.

The many covered bridges in the country required snow to be spread on the floor for the sleighs and cutters.

By late winter a layer of ice covered it to a depth of 10 inches with two ruts worn down by the wheels of cars to the same depth. At times one could drive to the city (Ottawa) without steering; that is, with the wheels in the ruts like a train on rails. A major problem arose on meeting a car in the same ruts going in the opposite direction. Everyone carried an axe, a shovel and chains to carve the ice to guide the car onto the roadside.

The Snowmachines

Geggies snowmobile
Another view of the Bombardier 'snowmachine' late 1930s
View of the Bombardier 'snowmachine' late 1930s

By the late 1930s, snow machines started to be developed. First came a Ford roadster that was converted for snow travel in the winter, with skis on the front, and six wheels with heavy chains on the back. This one was replaced by a similar apparatus using a Chevrolet rumble seat sports car. In 1940, Bombardier Company had developed a machine with four skis and a Ford engine at the back, with an airplane type propeller to push it along. Very successful it was also, especially on roads broken by horses and sleighs. It was neither warm nor comfortable, the brake was a loop of heavy chain to throw over the front ski, and it did not work well if the snow was wet. In the spring, trips had to be planned to take place at night or early morning when the temperature was low enough to make a firm road.

The river road from Ottawa to Wakefield was followed until 1946, when highway 105 was constructed to avoid some of the more difficult areas of the Gatineau Road

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