Valley Lives - Ernie Mahoney

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the May 06, 2009 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Chronicler put love of Hills in newsprint

by Cynthia Vukets

Ernie Mahoney loved stories. And he loved the people who told them.

Mahoney would sit for hours on end with the elders of the Gatineau Hills, listening to tales of days gone by, offering a sympathetic ear to one and all. His office over Wakefield's Kaffe 1870 was an informal drop-in spot and "looked like a museum" according to West Quebec Post publisher Fred Ryan.

At Mahoney's funeral service May 2 at the Wakefield United Church, friends and neighbours recalled climbing the steps to that museum of an office to chat about local politics and history Many others said how they would miss seeing Mahoney's bearded face looking down from his window over Wakefield's main drag. He'd always have a wave and a smile for passersby

Valley Lives
Pat Evans (1913-1999), in conversation with Ernie Mahoney at the West Quebec Post Wakefield office April 29, 1997.

He passed away April 28 after a brief illness. He was 78. Mahoney is survived by his longtime partner Debra McLachlan of Wakefield, his first wife Heather Mahoney, his second wife Helen Brennan and his children Robert, Sarah and Adam, and grandchildren Dylan, Garrett, Connor and Sharlea Jean. He was predeceased by his third wife Eileen Ann Withers.

Born in Ottawa in 1931, Ernie attended school there then moved to Europe to attend the London School of Economics. He traveled the continent before settling in Ottawa. He was a self described "immigrant" to the Gatineau Hills where he lived for more than 50 years.

"Ernie's a character," says Judy Grant, former mayor of Chelsea and former editor of the Low Down, where Mahoney began his journalistic career in the mid-1980s.

"He just had a way with people, he could get them to tell him anything," she recalls. "I can remember him sitting in the News office and he'd say 'what the hell am I going to write about?'"

Then he'd run out the door and be back a few hours later with the story of a butcher, baker, candlestick maker, or as in Mervin Cross' case - a bus driver.

Cross drove the bus to Philemon Wright High School for 35 years. He says Mahoney used to ask why "every time I'm on the road I always run into you in the school bus?"

And Cross replied: "Ernie, I live in the bus."

Valley Lives
Mahoney, representing GVHS, lays a wreath at 2006 Remembrance Day ceremony in Chelsea.

So Mahoney set about doing a story about life on the bus, the little things that happened with the children and their families. That piece "Thirty five years and half a million miles," was published in the West Quebec Post in September 1994.

There are countless other articles, including a dozen pieces for the Gatineau Valley Historical Society's publication "Up the Gatineau," like it. Mahoney spent decades carefully, thoughtfully and passionately preserving the history of the Gatineau Hills and the people who live here.

"He made a huge contribution, I think," says Grant.

Ryan echoes that thought.

He was almost a walking encyclopedia or a walking museum," he says. "He was really just an incredible resource."

Valley Lives
Mahoney, in his famous bermuda shorts and knee-high socks, meets Richard Evans, President of Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network, and Valerie Bridger, QAHN Administrator in Wakefield in 2002.

Mahoney had a passion for sailing, a love of the Gatineau River, and a great sense of humour. Two of his articles for "Up the Gatineau" are entitled "There's a tavern in the town" and "You never told who your bootlegger was." Carol Martin of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society, of which Mahoney was president at one point, says these articles showed Mahoney's amusement at the human condition. He had given up drinking when he wrote the pieces, but found them funny just the same.

"He knew about human foibles, he wrote about them and he was amused," she says.

But never judgmental. Through tears, friends and colleagues who spoke at the memorial service explained how Mahoney's kind, gentle nature and generous spirit made everyone feel right at home. And he was at home in the Hills.

Grant sums it up: "If you went someplace, there was an event or anything, Ernie was always there. There he'd come with his camera slung over his shoulder and his writing pad in his hand. Everybody knew him."

The church was packed during his service, with people standing when there were no more chairs left. Everybody who knew him will miss him.

But, onwards and upwards, as he would say.

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