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This article first appeared in the December 17, 2014 issue of the The Low Down to Hull and Back News.External Link Reprinted with permission. Search complete list of Low Down Articles.

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History lesson along Chelsea cross-country trail

By Tyler Dawson

In addition to being good exercise, a cross-country ski down the Winter Trail in Chelsea is now educational.

That's thanks to a series of signs that Sentiers Chelsea Trails and the Gatineau Valley Historical Society have put up along the track, explaining various historical points of interest along the river.

Heidi von Graevenitz with Sentier Chelsea Trails plants a smooth one on the freshly installed historical sign that are along the Winter Trail in Chelsea. Tyler Dawson photo.

"It was to show to people the dramatic changes that have taken place in the landscape over the last 100 years," said Louise Schwartz of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society.

The Gatineau Power Company's Hydroelectric Project raised the water levels, so a set of treacherous waterfalls, called Eaton's Chute, for example, disappeared. Roads and rail lines were also re-routed to higher ground. "I just think of them as representative of our roots, and ... that we're cottage country. The train opened up (the region] significantly, allowing people to come up from Ottawa," Schwartz said.

Only some bits of the geog. raphy are still there, but the ar chive of photos that the Gatineau Valley Historical Society maintains helps visualise the past as skiers whisk along the trail.

"What we're trying to do is encourage more people to get out there, ski on the tracks, and these signs, in part, are acknowledgement of our history ... and the landscape that people used to move in," said Heidi von Graevenitz with Sentiers Chelsea Trails. The Low Down went along with von Graevenitz and Alain Pichè to install a sign along the route, which has been Loop and ends at Farm Point.

"Instead of having to drive up and down, or go to the park, they can go down to the corridor and ski into the Chelsea village," said Pichè.

There will be seven historical signs along the route, as a pilot project.

"They will be located near really significant natural sites," said Pichè. Von Graevenitz said in the future, they may think of adding QR codes to the signs, which can be scanned with a smart phone to access further information. Some of those are geographical - such as locations where waterfalls once streamed before the river level moderated them. Others are actual former towns or villages that are now under water.

"You do see remnants, but they're kind of like Atlantis," said von Graevenitz.

For cross-country skiers (and dog walkers, for that matter), the winter trail has become a social area, where many people are out and about, especially because the trail is fairly flat, and therefore accessible to people of all ages and athletic skill levels.

"We thought this would be a great addition in terms of community life, to teach people a little bit about the history and to give them an appreciation about what was here before," explained Pichè.