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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 09, 2011 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Chelsea group at cutting edge of trails network

by Roberta Walker and Louise Schwartz

Chelsea is endowed with a rich network of informal trails that have been here since at least the the mid-1800s. Originally these were wagon trails or footpaths, providing Chelsea's rural residents with access to the Gatineau River and to the railway line that moved passengers and freight north and south.

For example, the trail from Larrimac Golf Club to Meech Lake was originally called Cooper's Trail, most likely named after local farmer John Cooper. Known today as the Wood Trail, this route splits into three parts at O'Rourke's Clearing, where one can still see the foundation of the original O'Rourke farmhouse.

One branch ends at Cowden Road, in the Meech Creek Valley, another crosses Meech Creek at the ruins of Thomas "Carbide" Willson's fertilizer mill, and a third emerges at what was the Dunlop Farm at Meech Lake road. All these trails were essential to allow homesteaders to move about in the community

In the early part of the 20th century - with the advent of motorized vehicles and improved road access - these old settlers' trails were rediscovered by hikers and skiers. In the years following the First World War, cross-country ski touring in the Gatineau hills became extremely popular, thanks in large measure to the efforts of the Ottawa Ski Club.

The Way We Were
Skiers enjoy cross-country 'ski-ing' (as it was spelled then) along the former McAllister Trail (circa 1925). Note the ladies wearing 'breeks' (the Scottish term for breeches) and the gents in ties. Photo courtesy of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society.

Skiers would travel by train (or by bus after the mid-1940s to destinations such as Kingsmere, Tenaga, or Kirk's Ferry, where they could access an extensive network of trails connecting to other villages or to one of several ski lodges that began springing up in the 1920s.

With the resurgence of crosscountry skiing in the 1960s, many Chelsea residents began volunteering their time and energy to preserve and maintain the existing trail network, especially those trails that did not fall within the purview of the Gatineau Park.

Outdoor enthusiasts such as Chelsea resident Al Richens, whose knowledge of the trail system and its history remains an invaluable resource today, spent many weekends along with his neighbours "armed with axes, scythes, garden shears and anything else that would hack out a map full of trails."

Over the years, development inevitably encroached on Chelsea's trail network. In some cases, roads were built over old trails. For example, a trail that once went from the former Gleneagle Station to the current location of the culvert under Hwy 5 followed a route that became Musie Road, part of The Ridge Group. The group occupies an area that was once Brown's Farm, one of Chelsea's last working farms. By the 1950s, farming was no longer economically feasible and farmers began selling off their land. They included Arthur Brown, who with his son Jim started dividing and selling lots on property Jim renamed The Ridge Group. The severing of large tracts of land into building lots also meant that some trails now crossed private property, and not all homeowners were willing or able to accommodate continued access to those trails. This was the case, for example, with a trail which was then known as the McAllister Trail that once went from the former Tenaga Station, along Scott Road and through what is now the Juniper Valley subdivision, ending where the Sparks family farm used to be near Skyline.

The extension of Hwy 5 in the late 1980s split Chelsea's trail network in two, but thanks to the addition of two large culverts by Quebec's Ministry of Transport, virtually every Chelsea resident living on or near Hwy 105 between Scott Road and Tulip Valley can still safely cross Hwy 5 to access the trails on the other side. The two culverts, one north of the village of Chelsea and the other just south of Tulip Valley, were strategically located at points where several old trails such as the Northwest Passage and the Wood Trail up from Larrimac converged and headed toward Meech Lake and Pine Road. Trail users can thank former resident Ann Chudleigh for spearheading this initiative.

It is this rich cultural and recreational history - and the desire to preserve and build on it - that has motivated a new generation of Chelsea citizens to come together to form Chelsea Trails, a community-based group dedicated to the preservation and creation of a green trail network. Learn more about Chelsea Trails at sentierschelseatrails.wordpress.com.


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