Low Down Articles

The Way We Were

This article first appeared in the "The Way We Were" column in the March 2, 2011 issue of the The Low Down to Hull and Back News. External Link Reprinted with permission. See complete list of The Way We Were articles or search Low Down Articles.

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Pioneer a man on the go well into his 90s

by Louise Schwartz

Foreword: by Louise Schwartz: Old Time Stuff was a regular feature of the Ottawa Citizen for many years. This edited record of the memories of Charles Chamberlin from June 14, 1924 covers Chamberlin's life in Chelsea.

Charles W. Chamberlin is known from one end of the Gatineau to the other. He has built houses, barns and bridges, big and small by the hundreds in all parts of the Gatineau. By calling he is a mill wright and "framer." When the Old Time Stuff found Mr. Chamberlin, he was busy repairing the foundation of his house, for though 95 he is remarkab1y active and takes a keen interest in everything that goes on in the outer world.

The Way We Were
The dam on Chelsea Creek, a.k.a. Brook's Creek, owned by Charles Chamberlin. The nearby shed is said to have contained the grain grinders from the grist mill of former owner Lennox Brigham. (1890). Photo courtesy Gatineau Valley Historical Society.

"I should tell you I had very little education," he said. "The only teaching I had was what I received during the winters from Rev. Mr. Meach, the missionary farmer, who in his spare time came down from Meach lake and taught school at Old Chelsea. But the teaching wasn't steady, so none of the boys learned very much."

Mr. Chamberlin has been living at his present home since 1855. It is a very nice frame home situated just beside the right of the junction of the Kingsmere and Meach Lake roads. It is painted white and trimed with green. Mr. Chamberlin owns 110 acres and the spot where his house stands is in the very centre of Hull township. He is rather proud of the fact.

The farm, well over a hundred years ago, was owned by Lennox Brigham, one of the first of the pioneers. When Mr. Chamberlin bought the farm, the old grist mill which Lennox Brigham had built on the little creek had gone. Shortly after he took over, he built a saw mill. It was not a big saw mill, as saw mills go, but it was in size all the 15 feet head of water power would work. Most of the time as many as ten men were employed which was pretty good going for a small creek which had its origin in the springs in the mountains less than three miles away.

But sometimes when the thaw comes rapidly in the spring the creek rises quite high. Well, one year when the creek got particularly festive the whole mill went right over the dam and down into the stream. The destruction of the mill meant a loss of fifteen hundred dollars.

During the next winter, Mr. Chamberlin built a new dam with an 18 foot head. That mill worked profitably for a number of years but gradually it found itself unable to compete with the Ottawa mills and so quietly it ceased to operate. Today no sign of it maintains. For a time, Mr. Chamberlin also ran a shingle mill further down the creek, but it also succumbed to competition. Today, at 95, Mr. Chamberlin is leading a comparatively quiet life. But he has the spirit of middle age and is always on the go, doing something around the farm. "To what do you attribute your longevity?" the O.T.S. asked. "Well" he laughed, there is no particular secret. First of all, I come of a long-lived stock.

I do not attribute my years to anything in particular, except perhaps to the fact that I have always kept busy, have kept my mind active, and have never worried. If people want to live long, they should take a healthy interest in everything about them and take reasonable care of themselves. I do not know any other recipe."

Postscript: For over 75 years, until his death in 1931 at 103 years, Chamberlin lived in what is now known as the Brigham-Chamberlin homestead. The house was relocated to No. 9 Padden in Old Chelsea in the 1960s when Meech Lake Road was rerouted. It is now owned by Jenny Crawley. Readers are reminded that memories are not always perfect. There may he historirical inaccuracies in Chamberlin's reminiscences.