The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the March 30, 2011 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Old CPR station now a stop for fine dining

by Norma Geggie

The Cafe Pot-Au-Feu is a fine example of a building which has had an interesting past.

When the Canadian Pacific Railway line reached Wakefield in 1892, the railway built a station on a site near where the turntable is presently situated.

The stop in Wakefield was known as La Peche to signal its location at the mouth of the La Peche River. When a decision was made to relocate - the building was by no means old - but there is no record of it being moved to the Pot-Au-Feu site. There remains the possibility that this might have been the case, with additions being made to it.

Photos from an album show the "new" station nearing completion in 1929. Numbers of commuters, either en route to school or to work in Ottawa, gathered there each morning. A turning point was constructed in Alcove to allow for a shorter-route commuter train to eliminate the longer run up to Maniwaki and back.

The Way We Were
Construction work on the Wakefield train station, now the Cafe Pot-Au-Feu, goes on behind Clair (Bun) Earle in 1929. Photo courtesy Gatineau Valley Historical Society.

As well, the train on weekends provided a popular conveyance for skiers, who usually left the train at Rockhurst and skied through the village on their way to the hills above the Shouldice farm, which later became the site of the Vorlage Ski Hill. This convenient service remained in place for nearly 30 years.

As well as the early "commuter" train, one which passed through Wakefield at about 10 a.m. took shoppers into Ottawa, where it was possible to walk from the well-placed central station opposite the Chateau Laurier Hotel, shop on Sparks Street at places like Murphy Gamble and request that one's purchases be delivered to the station for pick-up later. What convenience!

When the CPR ended its service, the Wakefield station was purchased by three friends - Roman Braglewisz, Alan Hopkins, and Neils Larssen. All being architects and interested in early architectural styles, they determined to retain the distinctive style and made minimal changes to the building.

One end was secured for a restaurant, Cafe Pot-Au-Feu, run by Irene Braglewisz; the other end, which had served as the baggage shed, was converted into a sporting goods store run by Roman Braglewisz to satisfy his interest in guns and the out-doors.

For ten years, Melanie Hopkins utilized a small room in the building's centre, called The Pot Shop, with a deep central window to display her handmade pottery. Roman Braglewisz bought out his partners at a later date and converted the space upstairs into a small apartment.

It was not until recently that I learned that during the Cold War a bomb shelter was built in the basement - as had been done in other stations throughout the country - a cinder-block "hole" which accommodated not much more than a telegraphist and his Morse code machine, who could maintain contact in a case of absolute emergency. This unique part of our history was dismantled when storage was required from a side door of the restaurant.

The attractive blue colour of the building made it stand out as not being a CPR station, something of a protest by the partners who felt that they had been dealt with unkindly by the CPR in the business deal. We have these three architects to thank for preserving what was a vital part of service to the community.

The Pot-Au-Feu is possibly the earliest of all the many restaurants in the village of Wakefield, and it's still running under Nina Braglewisz. The "station" ambiance remains, the view from the station platform, now a verandah for outdoor dining, second to none, and the same might be said of the food and service found there.

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