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The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the September 09, 2009 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Brown clan can't stray from Kirk's Ferry cottages

by Louise Schwartz

In 1915, George and Lucy Brown bought a large two-storey cottage on Hellard Rd in the village of Kirk's Ferry. Two years later, they acquired a second, smaller cottage within view of the main cottage. From the verandah of either cottage, both high on a hill, the Browns could glimpse the bustle of activity in the core of the village to the east.

By this time, Kirk's Ferry already had a school, post office and commercial enterprises, including a hotel and tavern. Harry Hellard (Hellard Rd was his namesake) owned the hotel at one point, and was the local butcher. A macadamized road (a unique form of construction) ran along the Gatineau River, intersecting Hellard Rd. A rail line (built in 1889) also passed through, with a CPR flag station close by. At the foot of Hellard Rd, Paddy Fleming operated a ferry across the river to Cantley.

The Way We Were
Panorama of Kirk's Ferry before the flooding of the Gatineau River, circa 1925. The George Brown cottage is the prominent cottage on the left. George and Lucy Brown, her sister Alecta Wilcox, and their two daughters Lucy and Irene are sitting on the handrail and at the back of the steps. Photo courtesy of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society.

It was here that George Brown and his family escaped the Ottawa summers. Their main cottage had a wide verandah, green siding with lighter green trim, and red shingled roof. Ornate lightning rods adorned the roof, a precaution given the cottage's prominence on the bare hill. Inside, tongue and groove darkstained pine panelling lined the walls. The furniture, including a cherry wood dining room table, was painted "cottage green", the preferred colour. The second cottage was of similar design.

The current owner is 80-year old Bill Brown, a grandson of George and Lucy. When local photographer Mike Beedell and I dropped by in August, we discovered that three other Brown grandchildren, also in their 70s and 80s, live within a stone's throw of each other. This quartet comprises Bill Brown, his sister Betty Alien, and their first cousins Irene "Rene" Nielsen and her brother Peter Journeaux.

The Way We Were
Bill Brown poses in front of his family cottage holding the panorama photo of early Kirk's Ferry. Photo by Mike Beedell.

Bill Brown and Peter Journeaux summer with their wives in the two cottages. Rene Nielsen and Betty Allen live year-round with their husbands in homes on nearby Journeaux Rd. We learned that Bill and Helen Brown occupy the same sleeping cabin beside the main cottage that was once enjoyed by honeymooners, Rene Nielsen and new husband Bent in 1956. The family ties to this location were strengthened when George Brown's daughter Lucy (named after her mother) married Phil Journeaux, a son of his long-time neighbour Frederick Journeaux. (Rene Nielsen and Peter Journeaux were their children). The Journeaux cottage still stands, accessible from Wilson Rd off Hwy 105, although its ownership is no longer in the family. Even though Bill Brown and his wife Helen now live in Florida, they make the trek each year to Kirk's Ferry, as Bill did as a young boy with his own parents. This strong connection to family and the Gatineau Hills has spread to the younger generations. Their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren regularly visit this family compound, some coming from long distances. The extended family of Browns have celebrated many milestones on their historic property, including the 50th anniversary of Bill and his wife Helen.

Our visit ended with a saunter down the hill to a rocky point at the river, owned by Cousin Peter Journeaux, with right of way for other Brown descendants. There we encountered some of the Brown clan, chatting with each other as they swam and lay sunbathing on the rocks.

The Brown cottages remain the same as George Brown would remember, except for the addition of amenities such as indoor plumbing and electricity. However, the 1926 flooding of the Gatineau River and the passage of time has dramatically changed the vista from the verandahs. The river now hides the foundations of razed homes and businesses, in the former village core. The macadamized road is gone, and the rail line is relocated on higher ground. The former farmland is overgrown with trees and brush. Fortunately, a remarkable panoramic photo survives - providing current generatibns with a visual record of times past.

Some information for this story was taken from Volume 1 (Patrick Evans) and Volume 24 (Bruce Ballantyne) (Anne Fleming) of Up the Gatineau!, published by the Gatineau Valley Historical Society (GVHS). A restored copy of the panoramic photo of Hellard Rd can be viewed at the Chelsea municipal offices on Old Chelsea Road.


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