The Way We Were
The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the October 26, 2005 issue. Reprinted with permission.
Search for Shangri-la in Meech Creek Valley
by Catherine Joyce
Carol Froimovitch is my guide to the Meech Creek Valley. It is a day out of time - a wild, wet October afternoon straight out of 'Wuthering Heights'. Clouds scud across the sky, trailing dark shadows across the rolling hills. There is a quiet, a timeless quality to this place that lifts you out of the absurd, robotic pace of the 21st century. Carol remembers. The feel is still in her body. Her eyes mist over as she gazes out across the valley.
"I came here with Mark in 1979 - to set up his first veterinarian clinic and to begin our family. We were just one year married and we lived in a rented red bungalow atop that hill. The clinic was in the basement. There were farms all around and at night you could hear the cows bawling, especially in spring when their calves would be taken away. Before we came, farmers would have to call a vet from Maniwaki or Gatineau. Right from the start we were welcomed and treated with such generosity. Marc did farm calls like James Herriot. We even had a party-line. It was magical."
The Meech Creek Valley lies west of the Gatineau Park and west of the planned extension of Hwy 5 north of Tulip Valley. The Quebec government expropriated the land (1400 acres) in the mid-seventies for the proposed development of a zoo, which never materialized. Then, in 1994, the NCC acquired the land as part of its future protection of the Park, and as an area of historical and cultural importance.
"I watched the slow dismantling of this place after the expropriation. There were over ten working farms, many of them belonging to families that went back to the original settlers in the 1800's. It was a condensed farming community - an intense sharing of paradise. People did not want to lose their treasured history. This valley was their soul landscape, their big sky country. You can't imagine the pain of that exile.
"I remember at night there was no pink urban glow, only this quiet, secret world that you entered when you left the highway. In seconds the world 'out there' vanished behind the trees, behind the rear view mirror. There was only this winding hilly road ahead. Every time I "entered" - and it was entering into a whole universe - I felt safe, sound. My life became calm and my heart settled. No matter the weather or the season (and the seasons were spectacular!) this place filled me up, every day - the deer, the cows, the fences, the people who became good friends as they drove up our long lane to have Mark care for their sick animals. I was only here for six years but I have never forgotten. There is still an ache in my heart for this place.
"And yet, looking back, you might see the expropriation as a kind of divine intervention. Even back then the valley was becoming too small for the farmers. Some wanted to subdivide their land. It was a fence culture, a territorial imperative.
"Perhaps no one really can own this land. It had to be taken out of individual human ownership because it is eternal, Buddhist. Everyone's Shangri-la."
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