Valley Lives - Allan Richens

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the January 09, 2013 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Yacht club cofounder dedicated history buff dies at 81

by Lucy Scholey

Late last year, a man called the Richens household with a concern: he had not seen Allan Richens cross-country skiing in Gatineau Park lately.

Joyce Richens had to tell the caller her husband was ill. He was not fit enough to make his noted 20 km-a-day treks through the woods or his hour-long walks.

Known as "the old man of the Hills" Richens was a trailblazer in more ways than one. From bushwhacking trails through the park, to seeking out and preserving Chelsea's historical gems through writing and storytelling, to co-founding the Gatineau River Yacht Club (GRYC) in 1962, Richens wore many hats during his 81-and-a-half years.

Valley Lives
Allan Richens was the last remaining cofounder of the Gatineau River Yacht Club. Up until last summer, the 81-year-old would frequent his favourite spot on the main island, "Richens Point, where he would swim and read. Mike Beedell Photo.

To friends, he was known as "civic-minded," "dedicated" and "active."

At home, he was known as "Mr. Wonderful," a man who was patient with his daughters, Jennifer and Janet, and his grandchildren James and Graeme. He taught them how to sail and took them swimming and hiking.

That's why it was so shocking when a rare fungal infection in November eventually claimed Richens's life Dec. 31.

Sitting in the knotted pinewalled home that attracted the couple to Gleneagle in 1959, Joyce Richens is still upset by the death of her sprightly, healthy husband. Her light and cheerful voice cracks when recalling certain memories.

"He would be out today," she said, remarking on the sunny, minus-13 C weather. "We swam out the front door and skied out the back door."

The couple had been married for 57 years and they were highschool sweethearts in Ottawa. She was a nurse at the Ottawa Civic Hospital, and he joined the navy for five years before delving into aerial photography and then working for the National Research Council in stereo photogrammetry

His 12-person team created the camera at the end of the CanadArm for NASA.

Being a surveyor, he quickly became familiar with Gatineau Park's trails.

By the time the couple's first daughter, Jennifer, was six years old, the family would crosscountry ski to Camp Fortune with food in their back packs, spend the day on the hill and cross-country ski back home. In those days, skis doubled up as cross-country and downhill equipment.

Joyce Richens said she was taken aback at how gracefully the six-foot-three man would slowly navigate turns on his telemark skis when the snowplow technique was the norm.

The family's love of sailing led to frequent meetings among like-minded people at the Richens house from 1960-61. Gerry Byers, Ivan Herbert, Pat Evans and John Winfield would meet with Richens about the idea of starting a yacht club.

Finally, the group decided to buy two islands connected by a walkway to the shore and a cottage for $12,000.

It grew into the Gatineau River Yacht Club, still a sailing hub for kids, beginners and avid sailors alike.

Richens's favourite spot on the main island of the now-50-year-old sailing club was "Richens Point," where he would spend every day of the summer reading a book and swimming. A sign with his namesake recognizes, up until late last year, the club's only remaining founding member.

In 1976, Richens became a member of the Larrimac Golf Club. He frequented the club up to four times a week until his illness. He was known for carrying his bags around the course - no carts for him - and hitting the ball straight and high.

That form did not win him any trophies at Larrimac, but he played well enough to break par at the Old Course at the renowned Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrew's in Scotland, scene of many British Opens.

Richens was a representative on the Protestant Regional School Board of Western Quebec in the 1970s and served as a Chelsea municipal councillor in 1987-89.

Also in the 1980s, he joined the Gatineau Valley Historical Society (GVHS) and became a director in the 1990s.

He compiled names and stories about Chelsea residents who died in battle and erected a cenotaph at the Chelsea Pioneer Cemetery.

He also pushed the National Capital Commission (NCC) to restore the Watsford's Look Out and Healey Farm. His obituary states that he often kept the NCC "on their toes."

"Allan had little tolerance for wastefulness in general and bureaucratic nonsense in particular," wrote his daughter, Jennifer, in an email to the Low Down. "A good example of this was when he blazed a few old trails to keep them marked.

"Well, the NCC got wind of this very minor activity and immediately insisted on forming a committee to discuss blazing, blazing techniques, the appropriateness of blazing and of course an environmental assessment.

"Allan found this hilarious as this was shortly after the Ice Storm of 1998. His response was to suggest that they assess the effects of that very major event and he continued in his own quiet way to blaze at will - without the benefit of any committees or studies."

If Carol Martin, past president of the GVHS, needed to speak with Richens about anything related to the historical group, she would be up at 8 a.m. to join him on his trek to Musie Loop, Ojai Road and, if they needed to talk further, down to the train tracks in Kirk's Ferry.

Every year, Richens organized a 14-km historical walk from the Larrimac Golf Club to O'Rourke's Clearing and down to the Carbide Wilson Ruins. It was a combination of two passions: history and the outdoors. It pulled in people from all walks of Richens's life.

"His interests were linked in his mind," Martin said.

This was especially the case at a council meeting last year, when Chelsea Mayor Caryl Green handed out awards to both the GVHS and GRYC for their 50th anniversary celebrations. Naturally, Richens accepted on behalf of both.

Richens is leaving behind partner Joyce, daughters Jennifer and Janet, grandchildren James and Graeme, sister Dorothy and niece Ann Elisabeth.

There will be a celebration of Richens's life at the Larrimac Golf Club on Feb. 16 at 1 p.m.

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