Houses of the Gatineau Hills

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the June 25, 2014 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Historic O'Neill House moving on up

by Anastasia Philopoulos

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
At over 150 years old, the O'Neill house is looking pretty good, even on supports. Photo courtesy Thierry Boyer.

Two archaeologists who love old houses buy a historic property in rural Quebec and decide to slowly and lovingly repair it to its former glory. Sounds like a story from a book, yet it's just another chapter for the O'Neill House.

Located on Hwy 105, near Chelsea village, and built in the 1850s, the historic building has gone through quite the move recently. Its current owners, Thierry Boyer and Elisabeth Veyrat, decided to move the building back 6.76 metres from the highway in order to build a second story and take the house back to its original state.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
A shot of the action from underneath the house. Photo courtesy Thierry Boyer.

The house was built by Paddy O'Neill and was used as an inn for travellers moving between Ottawa and Alcove. The place was painted red with a sign indicating that it was a temperance hotel, and the long table located on the first floor had room for only ten diners. Notably, the first General Session of the West Hull Municipal Council was held at the house on March 1, 1875. The house stayed in the O'Neill family for close to a century and a half, but a fire in the 1960s destroyed its back section and second story. It was later rebuilt as a bungalow. Boyer and Veyrat bought the house in 2008, adding that it needed a little love and repair.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
Construction workers building support for the house. Photo courtesy Thierry Boyer.

Boyer focused on making the house safe and more energy efficient, and adds that he had a bit of a battle with the raccoons. "They had been used to some freedom and access in the attic and crawlspace, and obviously were not aware that we had purchased the house," he joked. In addition, the couple put a lot of effort into keeping the spirit of the structure alive, restoring the floors and some of the walls where they could. They even salvaged planks and used them in other rooms that needed them. "This work is still ongoing as only one room is back to its original walls," Boyer said.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
An old photo of the original O'Neill House provided by the former owners. Photo courtesy Cooke family.

Passers-by can't help but notice the changes underway. "The house was built according to the roads of the 1860s, not the standard roads that became 66 feet wide in the 1960s. Therefore, the road sneaked under the house." In order to re-build the second storey, the couple had to move the house back.

Starting on June 4, one contractor built new foundations while another lifted the historic building and moved it. The house was laid on its new foundations on June 23. Unfortunately, during the process, the original granite foundation was lost. "We plan to keep the top of the ancient granite walls apparent on the ground in front of the house, in order to materialize the former footprint," Boyer said.

The couple would love to hear from anyone who has old photos, documents, or anecdotes about the house. You can email them at e.veyrat@wanadoo.fr.

"We are archaeologists. The past is important to us. Preserving this house makes a lot of sense from a cultural point of view. That's where Chelsea was founded, in our minds."

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