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This article first appeared in the February 24, 2010 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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Who put the banana in Banana Island?

by Mark Burgess

Historical Society river tour gives up the Gatineau's secrets

Is Banana Island a small, rocky outcrop identified by the late journalist Ernie Mahoney in the Gatineau Valley Historical Society photo archives and used as marker by the Gatineau River Yacht Club to "race to Banana Island and back?"

Or is it a barely-submerged sandbar just to the south, used today as a swimming spot for sweaty dragon boaters?

The intrigue doesn't end there. Whatever its true location and geological formation, does Banana Island owe its name to its shape or to the skinny-dippers who famously made it their point of pride?

The mystery is one of many the formidable tag-team of the GVHS and the Friends of the Gatineau River are seeking to uncloak on their Heritage Paddle, a historical tour down the river from Wakefield to Gleneagle on June 13.

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THE GATINEAU RIVER GOOD LIFE. This 1931 photo show Amra Gussow (b. 1915 -d. 2008) doing a back flip off the swimming rock at Burnett in the Gatineau River with the Scott Family farmhouse In the background. Photo courtesy Historical Society of the Gatineau.

But it's also a recollection of the region's living history, where everyone from Kaz to Chelsea has a river story and a specific version of it, coloured by experience, memory and now the diligent research of the GVHS.

A good amount of this river history was buried with its 1926-1928 flooding, only to be remembered when unsuspecting motor boats unintentionally discover a submersed island or when enterprising youth swim deep enough. Former Chelsea mayor Judy Grant, for instance, used to swim through the window frames of the submerged Burnett Farm.

The flooding made once-fierce rapids a distant memory, obliterated the village of Cascades and sent the railway tracks -among other things, living, inanimate and! dead - scrambling to higher ground.

Karyn McCarthy of Lac-SteMarie said the St.-Nom-de-Marie church was moved up from its pre-flood spot in winter using logs and horses, and the original building has rested in the same spot since 1928.

The neighbouring cemetery was also relocated. Debunking another popular misconception, McCarthy said the white cross in the middle of the lake was placed there by the Brothers of Sacred Heart and does not mark the spot of the former graveyard.

Up and down the Gatineau new events collide with old ones, vying for significance in the popular imagination. One such point is the former site of William Copeland's farmhouse, which later became Scarfs Landing and home to the Anchor Inn, where a scow regularly crossed the river. It landed on the other side at roughly the spot where Senator Raymond Lavigne's senate aid famously felled trees on a neighbour's property a few summers back.

The June 13 self-guided FOG tour will offer some of the old and new. A map and historical guide will be available for download from its website (www.fog-arg.org), and participants can depart from Wakefield between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. or from Farm Point at 11 a.m.

"We're really excited because I think it's kind of a new way of getting the community involved in the river and providing some perspective on its history," FOG President Alain Piche said.

A draftsman feast will be provided at the Gatineau River Yacht Club at 3 p.m., for a suggested $5 fee.

Expedition Radisson will provide a shuttle service back to Farm Point and Wakefield in return for a small donation.

The lower Gatineau River, a watery repository of our history and our memories

In advance of the Friends of the Gatineau River's (FOG) June 13 Heritage Paddle, here is the Low Down's sneak peek of a handful of the approximately 50 sites to be featured on the self-guided tour.

Some of them, such as Eaton's Chute, were drowned in the 1926 flooding, never to be seen again, while others, such as the Wakefield covered bridge, made stunning comebacks.

The Low Down would like to thank everyone at the Gatineau Valley Historical Society for their assistance in compiling photos and facts, especially Linda Bardell, Louise Schwartz and R.J. Hughes.


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The numbers on the map correspond to the image numbers below.


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1. Log Boom, Burnett Photo: 1975 Remember the days when the Gatineau was a working logging river? This photo shows a tug boat towing a huge log boom past the bay at Burnett (across from Sawmill Road).
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2. The Filming of Grey Owl, Cascades Photo: Movie poster 1999 Hollywood heartthrob Pierce Brosnan wowed the locals when he came to Chelsea to shoot scenes for the Richard Attenborough biopic of naturalist Archie Belaney's life. The movie bombed, but boy did our Hills look good!


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3. The Ferry at Kirk's Ferry Photo: 1912 This is the Paddy Fleming ferry on the Cantley side. It is probably Jack O'Connell, a longtime assistant ferryman, in the white shirt holding the oar. Minnie McAllister is shading her eyes with her hand and Alfred Hogan is in the bow. In Kirk's day most services were on the west side of the river. By the 1900's Fleming was ferrying west bank residents to Cantley to the blacksmith and to the grist mill on Blackburn Creek. Ferry traffic was heaviest at train times.
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4. Eaton's Chute, Kirk's Ferry Photo: This is actually a postcard, date unkown Oon't recognize Eaton's Chute? That's because the rapids were covered up when the river was damed and flooded.


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5. Anson Green's diving tower, Larrimac Photo: 1935 Green's diving tower (formerly water tower) sat in front of his cottage at Larrimac on the Gatineau River. Left to right: Judy O'Halioran (Burns), Bill Hazlegrove, Ann O'Halioran (Kirkpatrick/McKibbin), Sid (Isabel Green), Monica Green. The tower was originally Selwyn's tower at Kirk's Ferry. Gordon Wilson brought it to Larrimac and cemented it in for ten dollars.
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6. The Seagull Marker, Farm Point Photo: (Ok, we stole this one Irom the Internet) A perched seagull is really the only wayan unsuspecting boater would know there lurks an island just inches below the Gatineau's surface (see editorial, Page 4). The former Star Island (disappeared under the flood) was once owned by local entrepreneur Freeman Cross. He later built a cottage there called "The Comet".


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7. Banana Island, Burnett Photo: 1986 Banana Island undergoing face-lift. Editor's Note: At the time of publication, there was some debate amongst Gatineau Valley Historical Socief)< members as to whether this photo is actually of Banana Island, as well as how the island got its name (see story above).
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8. The Peerless Hotel. Cascades Photo: 1924 Looking south at the old Peerless Hotel and down river. The rapids in the background were called 'The Narrows'. The 30-room hotel built by Billy Wllson was another popular spot and a hub of the communit) as it housed a post office, telephone exchange and a general store. The large brick structure was closed when the Gatineau River was flooded by the dams at Chelsea in 1927.


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9. Freeman Cross sawmill, power plant, toy factory, Farm Point Photo: circa 1900. Cross harnessed the water coming down from Meech Creek by building a dam in 1908 which powered his sawmill. In 1912 he built a powerplant and produced some of the first electric power available locally to the public at the time. His property was expropriated by the Gatineau Power Company and this buiding was torn down, or fell down, circa 1926.
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10.The Burning of the Wakefield Covered Bridge Photo: 1984 The original red covered bridge that is the icon of Wakefield was originally built in 1915 and was one of the first bridges to link the two shores of the river. To the horror of villagers, it mysteriously burned down in 1984, most likely an act of arson. But the community rallied and raised the funds and timber to rebuild it over a ten-year period. The new bridge was inaugurated by the Governor General in 1997.