The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the November 09, 2005 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Kirk's Ferry before the great flood

by Catherine Joyce

Gordon Grant grew up throughout the '20s in a summer cottage his father built on the flatlands of Kirk's Ferry in 1923, on the north side of what is now called Hellard Road. Their original cottage (1906) had been so thickly wooded, his mother told him, that you couldn't see the sky unless you looked straight up through the trees. Soon they would have to build a third, on higher ground, to escape the flood.


"Before the flooding of 1926-27, Kirk's Ferry village was a thriving community. You could walk down the road and find a butcher's shop with sawdust on the floor, a two-storey hotel and even a dance hall. Cottages and other stores clustered by the water where the old highway hugged the shore" Grant says.

"The ferry to Cantley was an old scow with room for two cars and two sets of wooden oars for rowing across. But you had to understand the currents, which were tricky. The midstream ran south but on either side it flowed back north, so you had to know how to let the barge roll out into the river, drift north, then catch the current running south. Then you had to row like mad 'til you caught the eddy heading north again, to pull you safely to shore. It could be one wild ride.

The Way We Were
KIRK'S FERRY BEFORE THE FLOOD Right, foreground, in the trees, are the vacant cottages that the Italian labourers used as bunkhouses; in the distance, on the flatlands, is Kirk's Ferry village right on the shore of the narrow river, with the railway and old highway running beside it. The image is fuzzy, but there is a hotel, a dance hall, a butcher shop and various other shops and cottages. The ferry went across to Hellard's farm on the Cantley side. Photo courtesy G. Grant.

"In the summer the train would come up at 10 a.m. from Ottawa, and then again at 11 a.m. It was often a double-header, with two steam engines up front, to haul the 12 to 14 cars up to Maniwaki.


"One hot Sunday we were having lunch when we heard the whistle blow. My brother, who was a keen photographer, jumped up from the table and said, 'If we race to the Wishing Rock on top of Old Indian Lookout, we can take a picture.' That's where Carson Cross lives now. You can see out across the whole river. I still have the photo.

"The flood wiped out Kirk's Ferry community. Gradually its centre would migrate up to Reid's store on the new highway but in the first year or so after 1926-27, things looked pretty desolate. The flooding took six months. Pieces of fencing were still floating in the river the next summer.

Even now, if you look closely at the culverts under the railway, you'll see in large letters - 1926 - cut into the cement. Everything had to be rebuilt with the coming of the dam."

As a young boy of six Gordon watched the relocation of the railway.

"Contracts were let out by sections. Our stretch - half a mile - from Kirk's Ferry station north around the bend, was built by an Italian company. They used vacant cottages as bunkhouses for the men. Dozens of Italian labourers arrived to do the excavations by hand. To cut through the rock they used ten-foot lengths of drill steel, an inch and a half in diameter, with two men on sledgehammers and one to hold the steel. Then they'd stuff the hole with dynamite, cap it, light the fuse and run.

"Once when I was walking toward the railway, I noticed the men hiding behind the trees. I hadn't heard the whistle but I realized I better hide too. Ka-boom! The rock blew into a mushroom cloud of dust and small stones. Luckily no one was hurt. But often you'd come home to find your roof pock-marked with shards sharp as shrapnel. The next time it rained, you'd be racing around with buckets to catch the leaks.


"Just below our place the cut was made of clay. If ever they found a groundhog hole, the men would start to yell. Everyone would come running and dig like crazy until they found the varmint. Then they'd carry him triumphantly to the cook!

"At the end of the day they would walk down our road and you would hear them playing their mandolins in the twilight."

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