Valley Lives - Preston Wilson

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the February 24, 2010 issue. Reprinted with permission.

A final farewell to 'The Godfather of Cascades'

by Tim Wilson

'Behind-the-scenes kinda guy' dies at age 75

Preston Wilson passed away February 3rd after a lengthy illness, at the age of 75.

Many of you knew Preston as one of the Gatineau's interesting characters. Others may recognize him as a frequent contributor to the Low Down, whether it was a letter to the editor, excerpts of articles written for the Gatineau Valley Historical Society, or the Worst Joke of the Week.

The only child of Peg Preston and Billy Wilson, Preston represented the fifth generation of the family to live in the Gatineau Hills. The history of Cascades and this Wilson family are inextricably linked. Along with the Bates and Cross families, the Wilsons would buy land from the Gordons, one of the original pioneer families. Afterwards, in 1890, Preston's grandfather Samuel Wilson and his wife, Alice Cross, established the 30-room Peerless Hotel near the powerful set of rapids that gave Cascades its name. The rapids and the hotel both vanished in 1926 when the Gatineau River was damned at Chelsea. Later, Preston's parents operated the Tip Top Restaurant opposite the Cascades Club, both of these of establishments being at the heart of the community: Billy also started a fledgling local newspaper called the Gatineau Echo.

Valley Lives
Preston Wilson.

Preston's first school was on the Pine Rd, a mile-walk from his home. As with all schools in that era, the trip was uphill both ways. The last school he attended was Carleton University. He whizzed through the early grades. At Carleton he lingered, eventually earning his Bachelor of Science degree in Geology. Carleton must have been a more enjoyable place to spend a cold winter day than a frigid one room schoolhouse. Regardless, the path from a one-room schoolhouse to a university degree was a path that not many other locals of his day had traveled.

While wintering in the south (Ottawa) Preston took the train home to Cascades on weekends. On the train he would meet a quiet girl with a big heartwarming smile, on her way home to the Woods family farm in Lascelles. Melva would become his wife of 45 years.

No stranger to good times, Preston's "good old days" spanned multiple decades. Some of his best times were playing softball for a Cascades team that may not have won a lot of games, but in the words of his close friend Bob Ross, "never lost a party:" A powerful right-hand hitter who was never cheated at bat or in life, Preston always swung for the fences. Later, he would employ the exact same swing, with much less success, at local golf courses. Once Preston's playing days faded he kept the softball tradition in Cascades alive for 20-plus years by coaching countless area kids through weekly informal pickup games, and later as part of an organized league.

Valley Lives
Preston Wilson stands on top of King's mountain in Kingsmere. Photo courtew Tim Wilson.

For much of the 1970s and '80s the Cascades Club enjoyed a re-birth. During this period, through the vision, efforts, and design of Alan Hopkins, the Club went upscale and traded in softballs for squash balls. Preston's enduring memories were not of the many hours spent on the squash courts, but his sense of pride at the magnitude of what friends and neighbours had accomplished through volunteering their time and effort. In those days, the Club was also the social hub of this close-knit community, with the infamous beef barbeques being the most notorious of events in an active social calendar. Preston and Melva would forge many friendships during this period that would last for the rest of their lives.

Despite his keen interest in local affairs, Preston never ran for local council. He was more of a behind-the-scenes kind of guy: For those who did run, Preston's official endorsement and nomination were golden, earning him the moniker "the Godfather of Cascades."

With retirement came the time to explore other passions. Preston walked daily, without fail; preferably back in his beloved Meech Creek Valley: More than anything, Preston loved to write and wrote extensively, whether it was a poem to celebrate a friend's birtfiday, a letter to the editor of the Low Down, articles for the Gatineau Valley Historical Society, or his novel "Tales of Finnigan Leblanc: Prince of Mushrat", published at the tender age of 73. This novel combined Preston's gift for making others laugh and his love of local history; as he sought to celebrate the simpler times and characters that have now all but vanished from this area. He also loved scouring the countryside with Linda Bardell and Anita Rutledge to study and photograph old homesteads and the prettiest decrepit barns. He was the organizer of this group and named it "The Explorers Club."

Valley Lives
Preston Wilson. Adrienne Herron photo.

Armed only with Preston's topographical maps from the 1930s, and his horrible sense of direction, this was probably a very appropriate choice of names.

Preston also looked forward to meeting weekly with the rest of the "happy gang" at the Gatineau Valley Historical Society archives, and considered his work there, preserving memories of his area and era, as one of his most important accomplishments.

In life Preston enjoyed simple pleasures, like a cool cucumber from the garden on a hot day; or singing along note for note to any Hank Williams song, and sharing jokes and laughs with family and friends. As Preston's health declined he lost his memory; but never his love of music and his sense of humour.

Above all, Preston was fiercely proud - proud of this area, proud to say that he came from Cascades, proud to be a Wilson, and proud to be a published author.

The words that he leaves behind are his legacy, words that celebrate the inhabitants of the Gatineau Hills - words that bring laughter - words that bring history to life.

(A memorial reception for Preston will be held on Saturday March 6th at the Cascades Club. The reception will include a few selected readings of Preston's funniest pieces).

Tim Wilson is Preston's son and he lives in the Cascades sector of Chelsea, Quebec.

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