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The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the November 10, 2010 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Cascades Club rides wave of success to mark 90 years

by Louise Schwartz

With the Cascades Club on the verge of celebrating its 90th birthday, club members have the right to boast about its longevity.

This not-for-profit club was established around 1920 in the village of Cascades. Primarily a social gathering, it catered mostly to Ottawans who sought to escape the sweltering summer heat at cottages in the Gatineau Hills.

The Gatineau River boiled over with rapids and swirling eddies, making it too dangerous for water sports like canoeing. The first club functions revolved around summer activities such as square dances, hay rides and corn roasts, and some sporting events.

The Way We Were
The 1939 Cascades softball team, which Included players named Cowden and Gordon, from well-known Gatineau Valley families. Photo courtesy of Gatineau Valley Historical Society.

Today, the Cascades Club is open year-round, reflecting the fact that most residents in Chelsea and nearby La Peche live here permanently.

The club now offers indoor recreational activities as well as a variety of water sports, many of which would be unrecognizable to those early members. Spinning classes and squash, or dragon boats and sprint kayaks were just not part of the Canadian sports lexicon back in the 1920s.

The original clubhouse was ideally situated next to the Cascades CPR station, near the river bank. A sandy beach lured swimmers to the north. Up the road was a baseball diamond, with tennis courts nearby. The Cascades Baseball Club was the 1922-23 hardball champion of the Lower Gatineau Valley, and the team photograph still graces the walls of the clubhouse.

Closed down in winter, the club had little more than a piano for sing-alongs, and a wood stove for chilly evenings.

The land originally belonged to the Gordons, who ran a nearby store, and was later sold to Jason Cross. In 1925, the Gatineau Power Company expropriated the clubhouse to make way for its hydroelectric project on the river.

That winter, the clubhouse was moved on skids pulled by teams of horses close to where Air Cascades is situated now. It was converted into use as the Gatineau Boom's cookhouse, and stood another 50 years. The club received $600 and just over three acres of land (none of it waterfront) as compensation.

It would take almost ten years before members built a new clubhouse. The club hired Harvey Ditchfield (later a club president) and others to build a modest structure on granite bedrock, supported by 40-foot-long B.C. fir boom timbers. In August 1935, the newly-incorporated Cascades Club held a corn roast to celebrate.

By the 1930s, softball had replaced hardball, and local teams flourished until the 1970s.

In the 1940s and 1950s, adults sashayed around the 1000-square-foot dance hall floor in the clubhouse. Unbeknownst to them, curious children crawled underneath the floor to peek through the knotholes.

In the 1960s, teen dances were the rage. R.J. Hughes of Larrimac (another former club president) remembers the clubhouse "jammed to the rafters" with up to 120 teenagers. Melanie (Grant) Hopkins of Burnett recalls "there were no toilets - not even an outhouse - we just used the fifth tree on the right, or whatever was handy."

In the late 1970's, Hopkins and her husband, Alan, got tired of travelling to Ottawa to play squash. Alan Hopkins, an architect, has since been called the guiding spirit who led the design and construction of two regulation-size squash courts, the first in the Outaouais. This project, which cost only $35,000, included winterizing the club-house, allowing it to remain open year-round.

The club's history run-up was not all rosy. Several times it survived financial crises, once almost being sold for back taxes. In addition to the squash courts, a key success factor for the club was gaining waterfront access.

Ed Hanrahan is credited with this notion, and Hopkins negotiated a lease arrangement with Hydro Quebec in 1999. This led to the creation of a children's summer-camp program which is still going strong. Two dragon boats, sprint canoes and kayaks, and a couple of motor boats for safety comprise the small club fleet.

The Cascades Club invites families to its 90th birthday party, starting at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 20. The Gatineau Valley Historical Society will present a historic photo slide show, followed by square dancing with Ananda Kelly and the Wandering Minstrels.

Thanks to Lynne Evenson, R.J. Hughes, Melanie Hopkins and Volume 27 of "Up the Gatineau!" for valuable information to help fill out the club's 90 years.


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