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The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the January 11, 2006 issue. Reprinted with permission.

The Lost Village of Cascades

by Catherine Joyce

(I sat down with Bob Hughes and Preston Wilson in the archives of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society beneath the municipal library in Chelsea, and talked of Cascades before the flood.)

The history of the Gatineau is written in the silt of the floodplain. Up and down the river small original settlements were lost when the Chelsea dam was completed in 1926, flooding the lowlands by 1927.

No community was more thriving than the village of Cascades, named for five sets of rapids that issued from a vertical drop of seven and a half feet into the large bay north of Ramsay Point. From the days of the fur trade with the Algonquins through the time of the original settlers down to the hey-day of the logging industry, Cascades would remain a focal point. Everything coming up or down river had to be portaged around its treacherous rapids.

The Way We Were
Small original settlements - like the one of Cascades shown here before the flooding of the lowlands in 1927, were lost when the Chelsea dam was completed the year before. Photo courtesy Historical Society of the Gatineau.

Tracing its history back to the early 1800s, the village of Cascades boasted a macadamized road circa 1830, a Union church (Anglican/Presbyterian) and school by 1858, and a three-spur railway by 1896. As settlers trekked north in search of land grants (free 100-acre parcels to farm) - arriving by horseback in summer or by sleigh over the frozen river - the village began to flourish.

HUNDREDS OF ACRES

According to the 1842 census one of the earliest pioneering families, the Gordons, arrived in Ouebec in 1830 to claim Lot 20, range 14 in the Township of Hull. With their five children they would go on to own hundreds of acres around the growing settlement. Later, the Bates, Cross and Wilson families would buy land from them.

By the turn of the century, Cascades drew visitors up from the city to The Peerless, a 30 room resort hotel, established in 1890 by Preston Wilson's grandparents and operated by the family until 1926. There vacationers could relax and watch the never-ending drama of the rapids from the ]awns, verandahs and balconies of the elegant hotel - now the site of a huge log house on the River Road.

With a toll gate to the south and The Peerless anchoring the north end of the village, Cascades soon became the drop-off point, the resting place for those heading up into the bush to log or back into the Meech Creek Valley to farm. Often, to avoid the five cent toll, locals would veer off at Ramsay Crossing and go up the old farm road, now Adamson, to reach their destination inland.

As the logging industry grew, Gilmour, the timber baron, established his mill and wooden chute at Chelsea around 1845 to accommodate the huge white pine hurtling down the river.

LOG JAMS

Logs jammed up relentlessly on the Cascades rapids, so the original Boom Company set up their operations at Ramsay Point where a steam donkey out in the narrows helped the river men winch out the massive logs with steel cables.

Preston tells the story of how in the spring sweeps of 1910, when the men cleared logs from the shores, his father was invited to share their hot beans baked in sand. A young boy of 10, William Wilson would never forget the power and majesty of the river at Cascades before the dam changed the landscape for all time.


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