GVHS Logo

Up the Gatineau! Selected Articles

The following article was first published in Up the Gatineau! Volume 44.

A Decade in the Woods: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton’s Winter Cabin in Gatineau Park

by Danielle Siemens

In the fall of 2014, while I was studying art history at Carleton University, Dr. Carol Payne alerted me to the work of a little-known British-born photographer by the name of Rosemary Gilliat. Since then, I have scoured archival holdings in both Ontario and Nova Scotia, striving to know everything about this remarkable woman and her contributions to photographic history.

A Decade in the Woods
Rosemary Gilliat in front of Shilly Shally, 1958. © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e4311156.

Born in 1919 in Hove, England, Gilliat trained in commercial photography in London before immigrating to Canada in the early 1950s and embarking on a fruitful freelance career. From 1954 to 1965, while living in Ottawa, Gilliat rented the intimate winter cabin known as Shilly Shally in Gatineau Park, transforming it into a destination for park visitors and leaving a lasting impact on the Gatineau community. In the Gilliat Eaton fonds housed at Library and Archives Canada are several hundred photographs from Gilliat’s time at Shilly Shally, in addition to a 550-page diary, several letters, and a delightful guest book filled with people’s names, comments, and even some skillful drawing. Throughout my article I draw heavily on this archival material and privilege Gilliat’s own words when I can. While my focus is on the approximately 10- year period Gilliat spent visiting Gatineau Park, I encourage readers interested in other aspects of her life, or more generally in women’s histories or the history of photography, to make use of the rich archival material that is available.

Second only to her passion for photography, Rosemary Gilliat was an avid cross-country skier. Shortly after settling in Ottawa in 1952, she began to frequent the Gatineau Hills on her free weekends to ski the vast network of trails. Regularly accompanied by her close friend and roommate Anna Brown, Gilliat would hop on a bus to Chelsea on Friday nights or early Saturday mornings and hitchhike or ski into the park, often having to break trail and carrying a rucksack chockfull of food and supplies. On one of these weekend trips, while hiking near Lac La Pêche, Gilliat and Brown met long-time Gatineau visitor Sheila Thomson, whose parents, William and Catherine Hoare, rented a cabin on Ridge Road (now Trail no. 1) known as Ski-Wiff (formerly the Blake Cabin). According to Thomson’s account, Gilliat and Brown took an immediate liking to the Hoare cabin and expressed an interest in finding such a place for themselves. To their good fortune, Thomson knew of a vacant and charming little cabin known as Shilly Shally located less than half a kilometre northwest of where Ridge Road meets the Fortune Parkway and a short jaunt from Keogan Lodge. In November 1954, for the modest sum of $25 for six months, Gilliat began renting Shilly Shally and, with Brown’s assistance, transformed it into a winter retreat. For the next 10 years she spent most weekends from November to April cross-country skiing, birdwatching, taking pictures, and maintaining her winter dwelling. Adventurous and hardworking, Gilliat was also exceedingly generous and opened Shilly Shally up to friends and strangers alike. When in residence she always had the kettle boiling, offering guests fresh coffee and trail advice and, on occasion, lending equipment to the poor soul with a broken ski or missing pole. Even when she was away from the cabin, a sign on the door notified skiers and hikers that they were welcome in for a quick break or escape from the blistering cold. The hefty guest book is material testament to Shilly Shally’s prominence in Gatineau Park; while Gilliat had only 37 visitors in her first season, by 1961–62 251 people signed the book (while many more likely stopped by without leaving their physical mark). This suggests that Gilliat’s modest cabin became an invaluable hub for park visitors—a reliable site for warmth, rest and good conversation.

A Decade in the Woods
Rosemary Gilliat cooking at the woodstove in Shilly Shally. In an essay titled “Winter Cabin,” Gilliat wrote “The cabin is heated by an elderly cast-iron wood stove with curly convolvulus plants embossed on it and the name ‘FAVOURITE WARRIOR.’ It has one wooden leg. If humoured with the right brand of hardwood, split small, the stove will send out such tropical waves of heat that the top bunk becomes untenable. The lower reaches are more frigid; par [sic] because the deermice, squirrels, weasels, shrews and other wildlife maintain an intricate system of tunnels that ensure an icy draught at foot level.” Credit: Cole Harbour Heritage Farm Museum.
A Decade in the Woods
A drawing by John A. Roberts (husband-to-be of Anna Brown) with the inscription, “Rosemary Gilliat fotograffing flying squirrel. Dec 31st 1957.” Photo by D. Siemens. Shilly Shally Guest Log 1954-65. © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/R12438-45-0-E, Box 2, File 6.

Before coming under Gilliat’s care, Shilly Shally had been the humble abode of another group of Ottawa skiers, but the history of the property goes back much further. In the mid- to late 19th century, a number of families settled along Ridge Road, and the original land grant for Lot 25, Range 9 was allotted to Irish settler Michael Egan (married to Catherine Young). Ownership eventually passed down to their son, Michael Egan Jr., but with his passing in 1901 his widowed wife, Elizabeth Curran, married a man by the name of Edward Young. In the early 1920s their sons built a cabin on the property as a winter logging camp, lodging there until the winter of 1938–39.1 Shortly thereafter, the building was expropriated by the Federal District Commission (FDC) (now the National Capital Commission, or NCC). In 1943 Sheila Thomson’s family helped fix up the dilapidated logging shack, which was near their own Ski-Wiff cabin, for her father’s stenographer and a group of her Ottawa friends. Dubbing it Shilly Shally, for several years the young women rented the cabin from the FDC for weekend ski getaways.2 By the time Gilliat arrived in 1954, it was again in desperate need of care and attention.

A Decade in the Woods
Gilliat reading on the lower bunk at Shilly Shally, with an unidentified man above. © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e4311639.
A Decade in the Woods
Four visitors to Shilly Shally (clockwise from top left: Helen Salkeld, Audrey James, unidentified, and Anna Brown). © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e4310883.
A Decade in the Woods
Four unidentified women, a few of the many visitors who dropped by Shilly Shally over the years. One of Gilliat’s visitors, Helen Forsey, inscribed on the back of one of her own photos of the cabin, “This is Shilly Shally: only Rosemary’s magic makes it capable of holding 20 people, a huge bunk, a stove, and a table.” © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e4310881.
A Decade in the Woods
Close friends of Rosemary and frequent visitors to Shilly Shally: Verne and Bessie Tant with their children Ilea, Judy and Margo, circa 1954. Gilliat wrote in her journal, “Quite a crowd in Keogan’s and all the Tants—the 3 little girls. There is Isla [sic] 5, Judy 3, & Margot [sic] 16 months. The two older ones skied in from their cabin on the Ridge Road—a long way for 2 such small things…what a wonderful life for kids—they are so unafraid & trusting & also independent. When they left Judy was packed into one rucksack with small skis & sticks dangling from the back—& Margot bundled into another on her mother’s back. When the parents bent down to fasten their skis the small girls were tipped almost upside down, but it did not worry them in the least.” © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e4310887.
A Decade in the Woods
The Tant family, circa 1959. © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e4310885.
A Decade in the Woods
Two of the Tant daughters washing up, circa 1959. © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e4310888.

Gilliat’s diary describes her and Brown’s first weekend in Shilly Shally:

We went in and took stock. New stove pipes are needed, and the whole building is sagging at the back. The snow having melted & dripped & rotted the logs, which must have been there for years & years. We will have to shore it up, and really ought to replace all the logs on the back wall …. We have to replace 2 windows, chink the walls and white wash the interior. But it should be possible to make it hospitable for the winter. We also need a ‘specialist’ to deal with our wooden hut down the path. We found a little stream which should see us through for water—though we might have to cut the ice as there is not much flow. Anna’s cousin viewed the damp old shack with a certain degree of horror—but we can visualize the possibilities …. Not too many people come this way, & we hope we shall see something of the birds & animals. In fact we are very excited about it.

In addition to regular maintenance such as chopping wood, shovelling snow off the roof, and whitewashing the walls, Gilliat and Brown lugged in window panes and pipe, repaired the cast iron wood stove—embossed the “Favourite Warrior,” replaced rotten logs, and dug out a cellar. At one point, Brown even demolished the outhouse and built a new one, about which Gilliat remarked, “Never having gone in for privy building before I am sure the specialist himself would approve of the workman like job she is making of it.” These two single professional women were audacious, resourceful and fiercely independent. Gilliat emphasized these qualities in her countless photographs of Brown and many other female friends at Shilly Shally.

A Decade in the Woods
Anna Brown carrying stove pipe, circa 1954. © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e4310882.
A Decade in the Woods
Rosemary Gilliat carrying a chair, no doubt to accommodate the growing number of visitors to Shilly Shally. Courtesy of Anna Brown, from her personal collection. GVHS 02886.001/52.

A Decade in the Woods
Anna Brown shoveling snow off Shilly Shally’s roof. © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e4316678.

Brown, a plant pathologist at the Central Experimental Farm, was also a keen birdwatcher. She took it upon herself to build a bird feeding table, which, as she improved on it over the years, became a lively meeting ground for birds and squirrels. What began for Gilliat and Brown as a simple gesture of offering seed and suet to the local birds grew into a greater fascination with the natural world. Eventually, from the Canadian Wildlife Service (now part of Environment and Climate Change Canada) Brown learned how to band birds and obtained a banding permit. Her birdwatching pursuits became the subject of a photo story Gilliat published in Weekend Magazine in 1958. “Birds that Like our Winter” included pictures of Brown and the attractive local birds, as well as a charming cover photograph. In her diary, Gilliat kept detailed lists of all the birds and other animals she saw, and she wrote at length about tracking and photographing the squirrels, porcupines, deer and beavers that frequented the area. In later years, she wrote about her relationship with animals in Gatineau Park in two articles published in Trail and Landscape (the quarterly newsletter of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club). Accompanied by several of her photographs, these articles detail Gilliat’s time at Shilly Shally and, as she called it, her “tardy education in natural history.” While lighthearted in tone and full of comical anecdotes, the articles stress the value of learning about wildlife and the importance of living alongside animals in a respectful co-existence. Gilliat’s decade in Gatineau Park clearly transformed her relationship with the natural world and helped shape her future conservation efforts.

A Decade in the Woods
Guest book page from the 1957 Spring Party. Photo by D. Siemens. Shilly Shally Guest Log 1954-65. © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds. /R12438-45-0-E, Box 2, File 6.
A Decade in the Woods
Monique MacConail with her 18-month-old daughter Kathleen—they skied two miles in the races. March 1965. © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e 4311443.
A Decade in the Woods
Young Charlie Roots with his husky sled dog in 1955. © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e4311402.

Under Gilliat’s care, Shilly Shally also became well known for its annual spring party, the “Snowshoe Scramble.” As Sheila Thomson and her husband Harry already held a cross-country ski race at Ski-Wiff, Gilliat decided to revive “the fine old sport of snow-shoeing” in her “own neck of the woods.” In March 1956, Gilliat and Brown, both still relatively new to Ottawa, gathered a mere eight guests for their inaugural race. Yet the event was such a success that Gilliat hosted another the following spring, and as the years passed the annual party become a hotly anticipated event. Each season, Gilliat and friends laid a new trail and came up with additional novelty events, such as the snowshoe egg race—or “Snowshoe Omelette” as they called it—and prizes were handed out to the first man, woman and child to cross the finish line. In one iteration of the race, each contestant could begin once only they had successfully fed a chickadee from the palm of their hand. Eventually, Ferdie Chapman, head of the Ottawa Ski Club’s Trail Riders, took over as starter. As the race outgrew its humble headquarters, it moved to the nearby Keogan Lodge (in 1964) with the permission of the National Capital Commission and the Ottawa Ski Club. By 1965, Gilliat’s final season renting Shilly Shally, a record 240 participants and spectators attended.

A Decade in the Woods
Helen Forsey, 1961. Helen and her sister Margaret first met Gilliat in the winter of 1959– 1960 while hiking along Ridge Road. They visited Shilly Shally often and, according to Helen, Gilliat became something akin to an aunt to the teenage sisters. During one visit to the cabin, 16-year-old Helen’s ski pants got soaking wet, so Gilliat fashioned her a newspaper skirt to wear for the day. Holding a hatchet in one hand and a bucket in the other, Helen was likely fetching ice from the nearby stream when this picture was taken. © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/ e4311406.
A Decade in the Woods
Peter Glynn, the season’s cross-country ski winner, with Bryan Aller (shown with his hand on Peter’s shoulder). Gilliat wrote in her diary, “Two hundred and forty people attended the tenth spring party (1965), and even Ferdie had to borrow a loud-hailer to marshall [sic] this lighthearted mob. Most of the races are now for skiers but the cross-country snowshoe race still draws a fair number of die-hards. [E.] Norman Smith of the Ottawa Journal gave away the prizes, (all donated by organizers and competitors), and this included the fine silver cup which he presented last year to encourage young trail skiers. This year it was won by nine-year-old Peter Glynn Junior, who has ski-ed more than 200 miles on the trails.” © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e4311717.

A Decade in the Woods
Anna Brown removing a log from the wall of Shilly Shally while Dorothy Stotesbury (whose married name was later Turkawski) and an unidentified woman peek through the opening. © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e4311437.
A Decade in the Woods
Anna Brown at the window of Shilly Shally. © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e4311383.
A Decade in the Woods
Dorothy Stotesbury posing with a chickadee. This photograph was the cover image of Weekend Magazine on February 1, 1958. © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e4311382.

A Decade in the Woods
Guest book entry, “Wood Workers Sept 26/27 1959.” Gilliat wrote in her journal, “The cabin has brought me staunch, hard-working friends who helped out with saw and axe when the woodpile mysteriously melted, and who repaired the cabin when it began to sag ominously.” Photo by D. Siemens. Shilly Shally Guest Log 1954-65. © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/ R12438-45-0-E, Box 2, File 6.
A Decade in the Woods
Anna Brown and John Roberts in Shilly Shally, shortly before they married and moved to Williams Lake, BC, 1958. Gilliat wrote in her diary, “I think poor Anna was sad at leaving Shilly Shally for the last time. And it will not be quite the same without her.” © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e4311157.

In the summer of 1958 Anna Brown married John Roberts and moved to Williams Lake, British Columbia.3 By herself, Gilliat found the cabin more difficult to maintain. Yet by then she was well known in the area and had several friends who often lent a helping hand. In fact, the following fall Gilliat undertook a wall rebuilding project with the assistance of a group of Gatineau friends. Although she expressed trepidation over attempting such an immense and technical job, Gilliat was extremely satisfied with the result. The following is a snippet of her detailed re-telling of the renovation:

So we took everything off the wall & then the wrecking began in earnest. I must say I was fearfully worried when they started tearing the [illegible] old cabin down—the only HOME I’ve ever had! It looks so ruthless. The back corner of the cabin was propped up. The bad logs were hammered out—& it was quite appalling to see the rotten state they were in. They crumbled in dust some of them & all were decayed & soft—so it really was necessary that this job should be done if the cabin was to be rescued. They took the entire side wall out—& the bottom log was just wood fibre—crumbled like the stuff you plant bulbs in! They dug it out in shovels full & laid a row of flat stones to support the bottom log …. After lunch the most difficult part of the job began. The new logs had to be shaped & eased into place, a very slow & hard job—it took about an hour per log …. I feel if all goes well Shilly Shally should stand many more years provided the F.D.C. does not get tough and bulldoze them [i.e. the remaining log cabins in Gatineau Park] out of existence.

A Decade in the Woods
Michael Eaton, Rosemary Gilliat’s husband, stands in the hole on which an outhouse will be built, 1963. © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e4311465.
A Decade in the Woods
Rosemary Gilliat photographing ice formations inside Shilly Shally, 1963. © Library and Archives Canada. Reproduced with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Source: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e4311350.

Gilliat’s concern over the threat of the NCC’s park development was not unwarranted. In her four years of renting Shilly Shally thus far, she had already witnessed significant transformations to the park, such as the construction of the Fortune Parkway and the expansion of trails for recreational use. She also observed the destruction of several original edifices and with them the erasure of the history of settlement in the area. On the demolition of one cabin she casually referred to as the “Champlain Inn,” Gilliat wrote:

The FDC had evidently bull-dozed it—& now there is no sign to show that once some poor Irish ex-soldier took up a grant of land and tried to farm it and build a home for himself in these lovely woods in the nineteenth century. I expect the same thing will happen to the few remaining cabins before much longer. The F.D.C is going ahead with development & opening up of the Gatineau Park—and I’m sure that these little old cabins have no part in their plans for attracting tourists to our woods—though actually I would say they are an attraction—as log cabins are a part of a passing Canada ....

For Gilliat, the NCC posed a threat not only to her own home in the park, but to the overall heritage of the area. Such expansions also endangered the local ecosystem, further distressing Gilliat to no end.

A Decade in the Woods
New Year’s Eve at Shilly Shally, Dec. 31, 1957. Left to right: Harry and Sheila Thomson, Paula and Cyril Champ, John Roberts and Anna Brown. Credit: Rosemary Gilliat. Courtesy of Sheila Thomson, from her personal collection. GVHS 02859.049/52.

In spring 1965, a recently married Gilliat moved to Nova Scotia, marking an end to her time at Shilly Shally. Although she never returned to the region, Gilliat remained heavily invested in the cabin’s future, as well in as the broader developments of Gatineau Park.4 Her absence from the community was also surely felt. For several years she received letters from various friends thanking her for her “marvellous hospitality” to both “birds and people” and insisting that Shilly Shally was not the same without her. In 1967, Ferdie Chapman wrote to her,

I do want to thank you for everything, for you gave much to help the trail skiers get going again, the woods are full of them now, not like the old days … you[r] hospitality at Shilly Shally meant so much to trail skier, trail rider and stranger, it was sort of an additional trail lodge …. I still remember meeting the two young men at the parkway and Ridge road, with map open, who asked is the cafeteria open in Shilly Shally, that was one of the best I ever heard ....

In the same year as her relocation, Gilliat’s friends Peter and Ninan Glynn took over stewardship of Shilly Shally, and the NCC immediately rebuilt the cabin. Since the Glynns’ departure in 1986, Shilly Shally has remained a public rest spot for park visitors. While today its interior is notably bare, it is easy to imagine the intimate cabin in Gilliat’s day, crammed with bunk beds and overwhelmed by the soothing aroma of homemade soup.

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Louise Schwartz for all of her encouragement and assistance in my research. I am also indebted to Sheila Thomson and Helen Forsey, whose fond memories helped me paint a vivid picture of Gilliat and Shilly Shally.


1 Interview with Frank Young (son of Elizabeth and Edward Young) by Sheila Thomson, January 28, 1966, Recollections of Early Days in Gatineau Hills, copy in GVHS archives.
2 Among them were Evelyn Leonard, Esther Bryan and Nancy Poole.
3 Still living in Williams Lake, Anna (Brown) Roberts, now 88, was instrumental in the development of the Scout Island Nature Centre and is a founding member of the Cariboo Potters Guild.
4 With ambitions to return to the Gatineau region, Gilliat and her husband purchased a piece of land in Cantley (adjacent to what is now the Gatineau Satellite Station) shortly before departing Ottawa, yet they never did build or live on the property.


Return to list of articles.