Valley Lives - Edmund McSheffrey

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the May 24, 2017 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Gatineau Hills grit: splitting logs till the end

By Ben Bulmer

Edmund McSheffrey prided himself on his meticulously stacked woodpiles. In all the years his sister, Hilda McSheffrey Bruyere, and her husband, Marcel Bruyere, would go and help out on the Wakefield farm, they were never once allowed to stack the wood. "He'd say, 'you can split, I'll do the piling'," said Hilda. "He didn't like the way we piled."

Edmund McSheffrey
Edmund McSheffrey stands outside his garage in 2015 standing proud for a picture for the Low Down.

Edmund McSheffrey died on May 3, just 10 days before his 90th birthday. Born May 13 1927, Edmund was one of seven children raised on the family farm - where he would spend his whole life - a few kilometres north of Wakefield at the corner of River Road and Maxwell Road on the east side of the Gatineau River. His great grandfather had developed the land when he arrived from Ireland in 1851. A bachelor all his life, "his first love was the farm," said Hilda, and he often joked about his first farm job as a "water boy", fetching water for the workers when the barn was being built - he was just three years old at the time. In the early days, like many Hills farmers, he raised a variety of livestock before focusing on cattle, and kept farming until he was in his late seventies. On top of the cattle, he sold firewood - as many as 200 cords in a season. At age 18, he spent a winter working as a logger in a bush camp, cutting down trees with saws and axes in minus 40-degree weather. Woodcutting remained part of his routine until the end.

Hilda remembers her brother as being quiet and fairly shy, with a passion for trucks, tractors, and anything with an engine; it was a passion that stayed with him throughout his life. He purchased the latest and greatest tractor with "all the bells and whistles" just a few years ago, said Marcel. As a young teenager, Hilda remembers Edmund practicing reversing "as fast as he could" from the farm to the road in his 1939 Dodge pickup truck, "and he was pretty good at it." In later years, he'd win prizes for showing off nifty driving skills at a country fair.

The quintessential old time farmer always looked the part. Friend and neighbour Tiina Podymow said he always sported a plaid shirt and suspenders. "He had a very distinctive laugh that would make anyone smile," said Podymow, adding he stacked wood in a way she'd never seen before.

Neighbour and friend Wendy Harris said the first time she met Edmund, she commented about the wood stacks: "He had the most amazingly straight and neat and picture-worthy firewood piles that I have ever seen." Harris describes Edmund as "very sweet and very easy going...always polite...just a happy gentle soul." Edmund would call almost daily and start every conversation with a weather report, something that always made her laugh. And even in his eighties, Edmund was able to work younger guys off the property. "He would chuckle about that, that they'd never come back."

Even though Edmund lived alone, friends all talk of his outgoing and sociable nature. He was a regular at all the seniors' luncheons in the area, from Wakefield and Chelsea to Low and across to Poltimore. President of the Wakefield Golden Age Club Sally Swan said Edmund always showed up and described him as, "a quiet man in one way, but [he had] a glint in his eye. He didn't miss a trick."

Neighbour and friend Maurus Moore said the two of them would often go for breakfast or lunch at the Pineview Restaurant or Barbe Jr's Restaurant, where Edmund would order a "hamburger steak" with "nothing green, nothing green", waving his hands around. And it wasn't just food that enticed Edmund to leave the farm - he read an article in the Low Down about a fiddler playing the Black Sheep and invited Moore to go and see the show. Moore discovered he was a loyal reader of the Low Down - in later years, he read with one eye and a magnifying glass after losing the sight in the other eye in an accident while in his eighties. He still drove his truck, tractor, or four-wheeler to his many social engagements, Bingo being a particular favourite.

Edmund may have lived in the same house all his life, but he enjoyed travelling. Heading off to Vancouver to see his nephew Barry, the pair travelled to the Rockies, Whistler, Banff, and the surrounding area when Edmund was in his seventies. He joined Ottawa Valley Tours for trips in Canada and to the US. An avid snowmobiler, Edmund was a member of the Pontiac Snowmobile Drivers' Association, taking plenty of overnight trips with Hilda and Marcel. He'd also skied in his younger days and spent 16 years working as a "lifty" at Vorlage

Hilda remembers her brother's sense of humour and the "another fine day" he started every phone call with - Edmund called his sister and brother-inlaw four to five times a day.

"I know a lot of people really appreciated that he was very generous," said Marcel. "He was a real old timer...he was always a very good, living soul."

Edmund McSheffrey
Edmund McSheffrey circa 1949.
Edmund McSheffrey
An old-time farmer Edmund could stack wood like no-one else. Photos courtesy Gatineau Valley Historic Society and Hilda McSheffrey Bruyere.

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