The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the August 26, 2009 issue. Reprinted with permission.

A water tower turned diving platform in Chelsea

by Louise Schwartz

Just after the turn of the last century Percy Henry Selwyn built a 50 foot high water tower at Kirk's Ferry in Chelsea. The tower served its purpose for 24 years until the flooding of the Gatineau River in 1926 (for a new hydroelectric dam) eliminated its usefulness. Belonging to a generation that hated to throw anything out, Percy managed to find a new use for his water tower. Let me explain.

The Way We Were
The windmill and Selwyn family cottage in Kirk's Ferry. Photo courtesy or Louise Schwartz.

In 1902, Percy and his wife Gertrude acquired a plot of land with a cottage at Kirk's Ferry in Chelsea. Percy and his family, like other Ottawans, then and now, found the cottage provided a pleasant summer refuge. The small acreage was added to over the years, giving Percy the space he needed to indulge his love of horticulture (and apiculture).

This property was some distance from the Gatineau River, the only source of water for cooking and bathing, as well as for watering his gardens. The Selwyns had always been practical, so shortly after buying the Kirk's Ferry property Percy constructed a water tower. A water tower is a large elevated water storage container. The height of the tower provides the pressure for the water supply system and the volume of the reservoir and diameter of the piping provide and sustain the flow rate.

The Way We Were
The top of the Selwyn water tower in 1902. Photo courtesy of Louise Schwartz.

Percy's tower was positioned on a rocky outcrop of the Canadian Shield (now known as Selwyn Point). It was topped by a small windmill, an ingenious way to pump the water from the ground. The tower was 50 foot high and its reservoir held 1,000 gallons of water, providing sufficient pressure to have running water in the cottage and giving Percy the means to water his extensive and ever expanding gardens. A steel tower 50 feet high was not an attractive addition to the Gatineau horizon. In what must have been an attempt to soften its features, Percy trained vines (probably Virginia creeper) to ascend the tower. By the early 1920s the entire tower up to the windmill was encircled with vines.

In 1926, when the Gatineau Power Company raised the water levels of the Gatineau River as part of its hydroelectric plans, most of Percy's gardens were submerged. However. the cottage and a portion of the property (including the water tower) remained - only yards from the river. There was no longer a need for the tower, with its huge reservoir.

How long the tower remained standing on Selwyn Point is not known. At some point it was dismantled and the base given, or perhaps sold, to Anson and Monica Green. Gordon Wilson (the first greens keeper for the Larrimac Golf Club) transported it to Larrimac and cemented it in the river all for $10. It was transformed into a diving platform complete with diving board and slide. We can only imagine what a magnet it must have been for youth in the area on those hot and hazy summer days in the Gatineau. Finally - probably in the late 1930s - the diving platform disappeared. It may even lie beneath the calm waters of the Gatineau River, a hidden reminder of earlier times on the river.

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