The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the December 07, 2005 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Seeing it all at the Hendrick farm

by Catherine Joyce

At the entrance to Chelsea where Old Chelsea Road arcs" over the A5 lies an idyllic farm that has been in the Hendrick family for a century. Up until last May the sight of peaceful cows and playful calves on sunlit pastures marked the drive home.

This winter will see the first in 100 years without cattle. Only three well-loved horses remain on Vince Hendrick's land, the last of five farms that once lined Chelsea Road - Hudson's, Meredith's, Reid's, and until a few years ago, Leo Hendrick's, to the east of the highway.

Vince Hendrick was born in 1926, the youngest of nine children. His father, John (Jack), bought the farm from the original owner, George Link, in 1905: $8,000 for 115 acres. In early surveys of the area, land was divided into 100 acre parcels, with deeds stating "more or less". Some farms fell short of 100 acres, others like the Hendrick's were a little over.

The Way We Were
The Hendrick farm, 1992. This winter will see the first in 100 years without cattle. Adrienne Herron photo.

In 1932 Jack invested another $11,000 buying the Welsh farm to the east. For years, before the A5 came through in 1972, a simple gate connected the two parcels of land, allowing cattle to roam freely from one to the other. Leo, the eldest brother, would inherit this second acreage when Jack died in 1942.

Vince remembers. "Dad got up at 4 a.m., calling to us as he tramped downstairs, 'Come on, lads!' The day wasn't long enough. The horses had to be fed before anyone else ate - they did the work. My brothers and I would feed the cattle and pigs and the young horses in the box stalls before school. At noon we'd race home for dinner from St. Stephen's School, do more chores and hurry back. I was 15 when my Dad died. Grade nine was my last year - after that I worked full time on the farm, learning about business and developing a love of the land."

The challenge of making a go of it on the land has never been easy. Jack started in the Meech Creek Valley, where drawing wood out of the bush provided his living.

After the move south in 1905 to be closer to city markets, he delivered wood and feed and traded horses. By 1926 when the Gatineau Power Company finished the dam and electrical power lines were strung along Mile Hill, Vince's father hired himself out to help put up the towers.

Materials were brought up by train, unloaded at Chelsea and horses were used to distribute supplies down the line. Later, during the war when gas was rationed, it was Vince at the reins, bringing skiers from the train to Camp Fortune; at 25 cents a person, this Sunday supplement would often match their weekly farm income. Cutting ice from the river and local lakes arid hauling it out for summer refrigeration also helped to pay the bills - tragically one year, a local farmer lost his team through the ice.

By the time Vince and Gert married, fifty-one years ago, the bush had been lumbered out and livestock became their main source of income. From the '40s to the '60s, they milked 15 to 20 cows, shipping cream to butter factories along the Gatineau and feeding the remaining skim milk to the young stock coming up.

Although their weekly cream cheque was steady income for 8 months of the year, by the late '60s it was not sufficient. A new business brought horses to the forefront again. The demand for Premarin, a hormone replacement for menopausal women, made from pregnant mare's urine, became a winter income for farmers in Western Quebec supplying a Montreal pharmaceutical company.

Clearing trails for the nascent Federal District (later the NCC) spring and summer and working at Camp Fortune in winter also provided extra support to raise a herd that grew to over 100 in the '70s.

In his 79 years Vince Hendrick has done it all, including 16 years as municipal councillor and one year as mayor. Despite a stroke in 1992 that weakened his right side, he continues to work his farm, preserving the beauty and heritage of this community landmark. The cows may be gone but the idyllic peace of Hendrick's farm still welcomes us home.

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