Valley Lives - Musie Ditchfield Brown

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the January 19, 2011 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Kirk's Ferry matriarch's name will live on

by Louise Schwartz

Musie Ditchfield Brown was arguably the matriarch of Kirk's Ferry, most likely the last of her generation of farming families still living in this Chelsea community. On Dec. 29, after a short illness, she died at the Wakefield Memorial Hospital at the age of 88.

The widow of Arthur Ferguson Brown, she passed away the same day as her sister-in-law, Dorothy J. Brown, the widow of Arthur's brother, Andrew Brown. The two brothers were born at opposite ends of 1919, Arthur on Jan. 9 and Andrew on Dec. 29. Both farmed in the Gatineau Valley most of their working lives. For almost 70 years, since she moved there as a young bride, Musie called Brown's Farm her home. A Kirk's Ferry landmark sitting on the brow of a hill overlooking the Gatineau River, this renovated 1850s homestead and its weathered barns has been the subject of many an artist's canvas.

Valley Lives
Fifteen-year-old Musie Ditchfleld with her then-beau Arthur Brown at Johnson's Lake, near Ladysmith, Quebec. Circa 1938. Photo courtesy of the Brown family.

Its farmland was sliced in half when Hwy 11 (now Hwy 105) was built in the mid 1920s, replacing an earlier road running by the river. In the years since, most of the original hundreds of acres of land have been severed into individual building lots and sold.

Musie's family came to the Gatineau Valley from Ottawa in the mid 1920s. Her father, Frank Ditchfield, worked for Ormes Furniture, refinishing furniture and pianos. After he contracted emphysema, his doctor advised a move to the country for fresh air. The Ditchfields rented farmland in Cascades from farmer Jason Cross. They raised chickens and cows, grew a variety of grain and vegetable crops, and sold whatever they could to eke out a living.

To supplement their income, the Ditchfield family took in boarders, often three or four young people at a time. Musie, the youngest of four, helped her mother, Mary Sherwood, and older sister, Helen, with the endless cooking and cleaning. She would also deliver the bottles of milk her family sold to nearby neighbours, making the trek by skis in the winter.

Musie's two brothers became well-known in the Gatineau hills. Harvey was a carpenter who built the new Cascades Clubhouse in 1935, followed by the Larrimac Golf Clubhouse a few years later. Her other brother, Sherwood, was greenskeeper at the Larrimac Club for a number of years. The Ditchfields were neighbours of Ernie Brown and Effie Sully, whose son, Arthur, began dating Musie when both were in their teens. Arthur and Musie would socialize at the Cascades Tip Top snack bar dance hall, run by Billy and Peg Wilson, or play softball in the nearby fields.

They were married in 1942, when Musie was 19 and Arthur was 23. Arthur and Musie had two children. The elder, Jim, a builder and developer of the Ridge Group in Kirk's Ferry, became the youngest mayor of West Hull (now Chelsea) in the mid 1970s. He now makes his home in the Turks and Caicos. Daughter Shirley-Anne owns and runs the Wakefield gilt shop, Jamboree, housed in a historic building next to the railway tracks.

Arthur was known for his gift of the gab, while Musie had a more reserved nature. She was active in her community, supporting organizations such as the Chelsea United Church and the Gatineau River Yacht Club, the latter when son Jim was racing there as a youth in the 1960s. More recently, she loved attending the monthly seniors' lunches in Chelsea.

Musie continued to live alone at the farmhouse after Arthur's death in 1993. True to her farming upbringing, she was hard-working and independent. Even last summer, at the age of 87, she could be seen sitting on her riding mower, keeping her large lawn trim. A few years ago, she bought a new snowblower, operating it on her own to keep her laneway open in the winter. Interviewed in 2010 for a Low Down story on Brown's Farm, she was interested and engaging, pulling out old photo albums, eager to share early memories of the area.

Musie Ditchfield Brown will be buried next to Arthur at MacLaren Cemetery in Wakefield. Her parents and two brothers are buried at the nearby Hall Cemetery. In addition to her children, two grandchildren and a great-grandchild, her sister, 93-year-old Helen Ravenscroft, survives her.

Musie's name will live on. Musie Loop, one of the main roads in the Ridge Group, was named by developer son Jim for his mother. Even her maiden and married family names, Ditchfield and Brown, are immortalized by Chelsea road names in Burnett and Kirk's Ferry.

Information for this story was obtained thanks to Jim Brown and Shirley-Anne Brown, and Volume 20 of Up the Gatineau!

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