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.
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.