150 Years of History in the Hills

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the June 14, 2017 issue. Reprinted with permission.

This is the twelfth in a continuing series of photo essays celebrating our Gatineau Valley history and heritage during Canada's sesquicentennial year. The series was created by the Gatineau Valley Historical Society (GVHS), in collaboration with The Low Down to Hull and Back News. All images are courtesy of the GVHS.

Hop on a ferry across the Gatineau

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

150 Years of History in the Hills
Clockwise from left: The scow operating on the Gatineau River at Farm Point, with John and Herbie Caves, circa 1940, accompanied by their horses - Teddy, Daisy, and Maude. Apparently the current here was never so strong that a cable was needed. They are returning home from Cantley after putting in the crop, landing just north of the Meech Creek.

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 cooperative 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.

150 Years of History in the Hills
The scow at Alcove, running along an elevated cable with passengers and a car, circa 1912. The sloped ends of the scow allowed it to fit into the bank and passengers could disembark directly, though sometimes boards were put down. You could whistle for the scow, or take a rowboat over to bring the scow back.

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 holes cut 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. Excerpt from 'Summer Bridges: Ferries on the Gatineau' by Joanne MacDonald, in Volume 6 of 'Up the Gatineau!'.

150 Years of History in the Hills
A horse scow photobombs a family swimming party at Blue Sea Lake, circa 1916. Photo courtesy E.M. Kindle
150 Years of History in the Hills
A ferry-scow on its way to Cantley. Two popular hotels on the west bank of the Gatineau River at Kirk's Ferry are seen in the background. The occasion was the Loyal Orange Lodge picnic, July 1921 on Howard Brown's farm

Return to list.