The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the July 13, 2005 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Swimming the underwater Burnett Farm

by Catherine Joyce

Everyone knows Judy Grant from her dedicated years in Chelsea politics - six as Councillor, fourteen as Mayor - but for Judy growing up summers in Burnett, the Gatineau Hills were always "my dream place, my freedom place, with hardly anyone else around."

Judy's parents bought their cottage in 1934. There were no permanent residences in Burnett except the Maxwell's farm. By the time Judy came along in 1938, the family was moving up in April and staying until October. Her dad took the 7:00 a.m. train into work at the National Research Council on Sussex Drive.

"I remember as a kid riding up in the rumble seat of my parents' car with my fish tank, our dog "Socks", ahd my grandmother squished in beside me. It was a real expedition, coming up through Hull and Ironsides. But that was it for the summer. We were home."

With David Ditchfield and the Donaldson boys, George and Grant, she would wait for the train to return at 6:00 p.m. with her father. "We'd fight to catch the evening paper as they threw the bundle off the train - it was the Ottawa Journal in those days."

The Way We Were
Chelsea's Judy Grant and dogs.

Every morning she'd go down to the Maxwell's farm to get the morning milk. She'd play in the barns with the boys while Mrs. Maxwell separated the cream. "My mom used to say 'When you have enough cow dirt on you, come on home.' I'd walk back licking the cream off the top of the milk. There'd be none left by the time I got home."

Kids were free to roam in those days - out from dawn to dusk in boats or walking the tracks, running the booms or swimming. Judy remembers the Donaldson boys who were both handicapped. "George had a wooden leg and Grant's - arms were truncated but they were so strong. They could easily throw me off the dock. They'd be swimming to Burnett beach and I'd hear - 'Hey Jude, bring over my leg!' - and I'd haul it down the tracks. I swear it weighed at least 20 lbs."

Swimming out in the bay they soon discovered the old Burnett farm, sunk beneath the water in 1926 by the dam. "We used to dive through the windows. But nobody believed us until years later. There was a huge flood and they had to lower the water. The farm came up out of the mud - you could see the old foundations. It was amazing!"

As Judy grew older, she spent much of her time in the Meech Creek Valley with the Cross girls. They all went to the Friday night movies at the Cascades Club and to the Saturday night dances at the Top of the Hill in Wakefield. "Once Mervin Cross was swinging someone around the dance floor. I turned. His head hit my nose and broke it. I snuck home to bed, we were out so late! In the morning my Mom saw the blood and sent me rowing over to Dr. Dickey's place on the point to have him straighten my nose out."

In 1970, married to Norm and with a young family, Judy moved up permanently. "In the early years our road was too narrow to plough in the winter, so we came in by toboggan with our groceries. Until the mid-'70s the freight trains kept the tracks cleared. The kids loved it - they had their own little world up here."

There is a sadness in Judy as she speaks of the changes she sees today. "We fought to keep the rural character of Chelsea but with all this crazy development we're becoming just another suburb of Gatineau - soon we'll be amalgamated. Everyone is transient now. No one wants to volunteer anymore. They say 'I'd rather pay' than work to preserve a sharing, caring country community. The old days are gone."

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