The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the July 21, 2010 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Wishing Rock still on lookout for its origins

by Louise Schwartz

A prominent rock outcrop at Kirk's Ferry was once a popular destination for year-round residents and cottagers. This promontory - called The Wishing Rock - provides a panoramic view of the Gatineau River and the hills to the southeast.

It's representative of the Precambrian shield that underlies the Gatineau Hills, a remnant of the ice age when these rocks were scraped clean.

The Way We Were
Cottager Gordon Grant and property owner Linda Wright on the Wishing Rock at Kirk's Ferry. (2010) Photo courtesy of Mike Beedell.

Not so long ago, a summer outing might have included a hike up to the Wishing Rock to enjoy a family picnic, or to watch the steam train wheezing and snorting into the Kirk's Ferry station. Earlier visitors might have been members of the Algonquin or Iroquois First Nations, carrying out reconnaissance from its superb river lookout.

Hidden away in the Larrimac Links development on the west side of Hwy 105, the Rock sits on property now home to artist Linda Wright and her husband, James Ferguson. A scale-model, red-and-white lighthouse from Nova Scotia guards the Wishing Rock, a birthday gift to Linda from her husband.

Although the view is still spectacular, it is much changed from earlier days when cultivated farmland dotted with a few cottages covered the hills down to the village of Kirk's Ferry, at the shore of the Gatineau River.

The Way We Were
Ninety-one year old Gordon Grant contemplating a view not seen since his boyhood (2010). Photo courtesy of Mike Beedell.

The village bustled with tourist activity during the summer, visitors delivered either by train or stagecoach along a macadamized toll road. Two hotels accommodated those staying overnight.

A scow first operated by Thomas Kirk ferried Cantley residents across the Gatineau to shop at the butcher store, imbibe at the tavern, or attend the Union Mission church. The river was narrow and fast flowing with swirling eddies and rapids. Nearby Eaton Chute, a series of thundering waterfalls, drew tourists for picture-taking and their own picnics.

The massive hydroelectric project of 1926 raised river levels and flooded much of the farmland. It also inundated the core of Kirk's Ferry village. Many homes and business establishments were razed or relocated to higher ground.

Ninety-one-year-old Gordon Grant, a life-long cottager on Hellard Road, is one of only a handful who recalls the Wishing Rock. He was excited to revisit the rock one steamy day last May and was amused to learn that current owner Wright originally believed its name was "The Kissing Rock." He even debated its exact location, given the growth in the trees and bushes since his last visit years ago.

The Way We Were
Gordon Grant reminiscing with Linda Wright, with the renovated former Lanctot home in the background. (2010) Photo courtesy of Mike Beedell.

Gordon's own memories of outings there are confirmed in the journals of Dorothy Reid, a neighbour during her youth. Over the course of her teen years and early twenties, she mentions the Wishing Rock many times.

In May 1929 she wrote of a visit to the Wishing Rock with 10-year-old Gordon and his older sister Alice Grant (still living at age 100). They picked violets with "lovely stems" at the back of the rock. Another entry two years later details a visit with her beau (and later husband), James Craig. Under a gorgeous moon, they lit a fire and roasted marshmallows.

In those days, the Gatineau Power Company owned the Wishing Rock and surrounding property. In 1934, Dorothy Reid's father Charlie, a farmer and businessman, purchased the holding. Five years later, Reid sold it to Gustave Lanctot, a lawyer and archivist.

Once the Lanctots built their home next to the Wishing Rock in the early 1940s, it became off-limits to wanderers. The property last changed hands in 2005, when former long-time Chelsea residents, Pauline and Michael Smith, sold it to its current owners.

The lingering mystery about Wishing Rock is, of course, the origin of its name. Local lore provides at least one explanation. Each visitor was expected to collect a small stone or boulder during the trek to the site. After placing their stones, on the rock, they would make a wish. The accumulated stones eventually formed a wall, which no longer stands. Whether this is true or not, the legend persists.

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