The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the July 14, 2010 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Ridge Group crests on former bush lot

by Louise Schwartz

What was once a bush lot at Kirk's Ferry is now home to hundreds of Chelsea residents. Known as the Ridge Group, it is believed to be the first residential development in the municipality.

Back in the 1960s, the bush lot was the property of Maud Brown, the widow of farmer Ferguson Brown. Her nephew Arthur Brown was set to inherit the farm, an arrangement worked out years earlier. Maud, Arthur and his wife Musie lived at the Brown homestead across from the bush lot.

Except for the firewood that could be extracted from them and sold, bush lots were considered worthless assets fifty years ago.

The Way We Were
Long-time residents of the Ridge Group, Kent Omholt-Jensen (with dog Monty) and Claude Arsenault on the balcony of Arsenoult's home on Ojai Rood (2010). Photo courtesy of Mike Beedell.

Even farming was no longer profitable. Local farmers, including Arthur Brown began selling their land to people looking to build homes. Arthur's son Jim, then in his twenties, formed Bestiga Construction Ltd. with local architect Rod Daugherty, giving prospective purchasers the option of buying a lot or having a home designed and built on their acquisition.

The first road in the Ridge Group was hacked out from an existing bush trail, originally used to reach nearby swamps for duck hunting. There was no preestablished plan to cut the other roads; the work crew simply followed the one among them running the chainsaw.

Jock and Teddy, a team of draft horses, hauled the heavy logs back to the farm to be cut up and sold. Ernie Mullen and his sons built the base for the roads.

Edward and Sirkka Omholt-Jensen bought the first lot. "OJ" was the Omholt-Jensen's nickname, and thus was born the road's name, Ojai. Most of the other roads were named for Brown family members, including Maud, Ferguson, Arthur and Musie.

Edvard was a lawyer with the CBC who enticed several colleagues into joining him in country living. A single woman and avid golfer, Grace Brown, built the second home on the Ridge. She was followed by fellow CBCer Claude Arsenault and teacher Ray Hunt, who moved in Jan 1, 1967. Claude still lives happily in his home of 43 years with a sister, who moved in with him after Ray died in 2002.

The Way We Were
Award-winning home built by Bestiga Construction Ltd. in the Ridge Group (1969). Photo by Malak.

The Omholt-Jensens have passed on, but one of their sons, Kent, still lives in the Ridge Group with his wife, Gayle Ekstrand, on Musie Road.

By 1969, Bestiga Construction had built its first home, on Arthur Road. It was an avant-garde Scandinavian-style house which won a first place in its category in a national home design contest. Ottawa radio personality of the day, Nelson Davis, was the first occupant.

A homeowners' association was created, where all house plans were submitted for approval. The association stipulated strict building requirements, including exterior cladding, as residents wanted to protect the "integrity" of the landscape. The takeover of the roads by the municipality in the 1980s spelled the end of the association, whose main mandate at that point was road maintenance.

All Ridge Group people knew their neighbours then, and many became lifelong friends. On upper Musie Road, residents feasted at an annual rotating potluck for ten years. Another group of parents started a community hockey rink on a frozen beaver pond.

The first homeowners of the 1960s were followed by many more in the 1970s and 1980s. Remarkably, many of these early residents still live in the Ridge Group. Some moved there as young singles or as couples who had not yet started families. Now they are retired, or they are empty-nesters whose children have grown up and left home.

Long-time resident Blazenka Power easily rhymes off names of families who moved there and never left. All told, she named at least 18 families who have called the Ridge Group home for the past 20 to 40-plus years.

There are Chelsea residents who can proudly trace their ancestors' roots here back to the early 1900s, or even to the 1800s. However, it is unlikely their passion for the Gatineau hills is any stronger than those first early "settlers" of the Ridge Group.

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