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Happy 100th birthday to Chelsea's Cascades Club
By Lynne Evenson
The Cascades Club in Chelsea celebrated its 100th birthday this year, so The Low Down invited longtime club member Lynne Evenson to write about the group's storied history.
The Cascades Club, a not-forprofit community organization located on River Road, has a long and vibrant history.
It was first established as a social club in 1920. The original building was situated across from the Cascades Railway station and Gordon's country store on the west bank of the Gatineau River in the village of Cascades. Not far from it were tennis courts, a sandy beach and a baseball diamond further up the road.
At the time, the Gatineau River had many turbulent rapids, one set in front of the clubhouse and another set just north of it - hence how the village of Cascades got its name. Up until 1992 the Gatineau River was used to transport felled white and red pine that floated downstream to the lumber mills.
There were several trains a day from Ottawa to Wakefield, which were used by many cottagers who arrived in May to spend their summers on the Gatineau River. At the time, the clubhouse had a wood stove and a piano used for dances and sing-a-longs. It became the recreation club and village council centre for cottagers and year-round residents. The early functions of the club were community meetings and summer activities, such as teas, bake sales, hay rides, bingos and sporting events. Baseball was the popular sport at the time, with each village from Alcove to Chelsea having their own team. Games were played at the diamond just down the road, often followed by a dance at the Cascades Club.
In 1927 the Gatineau Power Company built dams at both the Chelsea and Farmer's Rapids, which flooded 150 farms, many homes, and the road and railway that ran along the Gatineau River. The year before the flooding, the clubhouse was sold to the Gatineau Power Company in exchange for $600 plus 3.25 acres of land along the newly built River Road, where the club is situated today.
The old clubhouse was moved that winter to higher ground near today's Air Cascades site using several teams of horses to pull it across the frozen ground. There it remained for 50 years as the Gatineau Boom Company's cookhouse to feed its lumbermen who worked on the log drives on the Gatineau River. The contents of the clubhouse, which consisted of the piano, two baseball trophies and a large photo of the 1922-23 Cascades baseball team, were all moved and stored at the Cowden's Farm on Cowden Road.
This was not the end of the Cascades Club.
In the spring of 1935 the Cascades Club became incorporated, with the mandate: "To establish, maintain and conduct a social and athletic club for the accommodation of its members and their friends, and to provide a clubhouse and other conveniences..." It is believed the building of the new clubhouse began in 1933 for a total cost of $500. The building was finished in August 1935, just in time for the Cascades Picnic Day. At the time it was not winterized, but used as a summer clubhouse.
In the 40s and 50s, softball was an important activity at the club, with games occurring in the field in front of the clubhouse. Square dancing, Friday night movies of Abbott and Costello, Saturday night dances, hay rides and wiener roasts were also very popular.
In the 60s the club was having financial difficulties due to declining membership. It became apparent that summer activities alone could not sustain it. So in the 70s there was a move to establish a year-round facility.
In 1979, with the financial support of many club members, the club built two squash courts, bathrooms and winterized the clubhouse for full-time use. This helped put it back on its feet. Many social events - the club's first health and fitness class, squash tournaments, baseball and barbeques - took place in the 80s, and by the mid-90s one of the main activities at the club became country dancing.
By the late 90s the club saw the opportunities that the Gatineau River had to offer. Through the hard work and dedication of key volunteers, a paddling program and summer camp for children was started in 1998. Eventually a long-term lease of waterfront property beside Air Cascades was obtained in 2012. This allowed the club to build a beautiful boathouse (the shape and colour mimicking that of the old Cascades railway station) and allowed club members to enjoy the river and the different watersports offered. Over the next 20 years, the club has produced world class competitors in both its dragonboat and sprint canoe kayak programs, who have won many medals at national and international competitions.
Along with the water sports, the club also offers spinning, squash, boxing, yoga, children's summer camp, darts, and many social events, making this club as strong as ever 100 years later.
Even though the Cascades Club turned 100 years old this year with little fanfare due to COVID-19, there are still big plans to celebrate its birthday in the upcoming year. Until then, a beautiful book about the history of the club, written by member Betty Pavey, is now available for around $80 and can be ordered from the Cascades Club website at cascadesclub.ca or by emailing an order to cascadesclub@ gmail.com.
Lynne Evenson is a long-time Cascades Club member and lives in Chelsea.