The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the July 15, 2009 issue. Reprinted with permission.

An island lost under the Gatineau's waters

by Louise Schwartz

Imagine owning your own private island on the Gatineau River. Almost 100 years ago, in June 1913, William ("Bill") Henry Edward Pearson acquired just such a property - complete with a cottage - for $2,000. The island, just north of Kirks Ferry opposite the Selwyn cottage, became known as Pearson's Island, although its legal name remained Island "A" in the record books.

The Way We Were
Pearson Island and its turreted, castle-like cottage, undated. The island and the castle's foundation now sit under 20 feel of Gatineau River water near Kirk's Ferry. Photo courtesy of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society Archives.

The photos with this article show the island had a charming cottage on it, with a large central turret, miniature battlements and embrasures, giving it a castle-like appearance.

In 1914, a year after he took ownership, someone took a photo of Bill Pearson and his young son Allan, both sitting on a bench placed at the north side of the cottage. As was common for the period, Pearson has a full beard and is wearing a brimmed hat and jacket (probably wool). His fair-haired son, wearing a tie, sits to one side and a small dog poses on his other side. A hammock swings in the river breeze on the verandah.

We don't know the whereabouts of Mrs. Pearson, but perhaps she was in the kitchen cooking their lunch-time meal on the cook stove. We can assume the cottage had no electricity, no running water, and that a one- or two-seater outhouse (an outdoor toilet) could be found behind the cottage. A row boat would have ferried the family and their supplies back and forth from the shore.

The Way We Were
Bill Pearson and his son Allan sitting at the north end of their summer property in Kirk's Ferry, circa 1914. Photo courtesy of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society Archives.

Pearson maintained ownership until 1926, when his property was expropriated by the newly-established Gatineau Power Company (now part of Hydro Quebec). It had plans to construct hydroelectric plants at three sites on the lower Gatineau (between Paugan Falls and Farmer's Rapids). This required damming the then fast-flowing Gatineau River and raising its water level.

According to information provided by local historian R.J. Hughes, the 1926 Gatineau Power survey map of the pending expropriation shows two islands at Kirk's Ferry -Pearson's on the west side and Smith Island on the east. No record has been located telling the fate of the castle-cottage, but like dozens of others along the banks of the river at that time, it was either moved or razed and the surrounding trees cut down.

Pearson's Island (as well as Smith Island) now forms part of the riverbed, home only to aquatic life. Sailors cruising in the middle of the river at Kirk's Ferry may remark on shallowness of the water in this area, not realizing the history below them.

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