The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the September 21, 2005 issue. Reprinted with permission.

The treasure of Old Chelsea

by Catherine Joyce

Marcel Boulet spent eight glorious summers in a little cottage in Old Chelsea in the 1920s. The building is long since gone but Marcel's memories are still fresh at 87 - so real, there is an urgency in the telling.

"I am living on borrowed time. I long to have people know what a precious treasure we have in Old Chelsea. I have never forgotten that little cottage across from the old Dunn Hotel, where the stream runs under the road and the little kids play soccer in the fields today."

The cottage originally belonged to John Chamberlain, and for a while was used by the St. John Ambulance for their emergency services. As Head Clerk, Marcel's father was in charge of the sessional papers in Parliament and in close contact with Mackenzie King who offered him the use of the cottage on the strength of his wife's butternut pie.

The Way We Were
Marcel Boulet puts his colourful memories of Chelsea on canvas. CJ photo.

"My dad made very little money. He asked King if he could pick butternuts on his Kingsmere estate in return for a slice of the pies my mother would make. The exchange was so successful that King set us up in Chamberlain's cottage for the summer and arranged to drive Dad to work in the morning and home in the evening.

"Sometimes if King couldn't make it, A.J. Freiman - you reo member, he was Ottawa's big department store owner with that castle on the hill above Meech Lake - would pick Dad up. Or his son Lawrence would come by in his big blue Buick convertible and give us rides. Old A.J. was generous. He would give us gifts - a dress for my sister, socks for me, nice things for my mother. We'd wave from the side of the road and he'd stop with candies."

In those days the running brook was held back by a small dam that formed a pool where the kids could fish and swim. Every morning Marcel and his little sister would walk across the slippery logs to fetch milk in red pails from the milk house.

"I remember our last day there, when I was eight. My sister was wearing a new blue dress with blue suede shoes. She ran ahead and challenged me - 'Come on, slow poke!' - knowing that the last one to the milk house had to carry the two pails home. My hands were blue with the weight but I always tried to be good to my sister.

"My dad used to catch trout for his breakfast in that pool. He built an oak box and sank it in a special spot where the artesian flow of the icy water would keep things cool - that was our refrigerator. He kept his whiskey there. He also used to make wine with old Narcisse Trudeau - Pa, we all called him - oh, there's stories the Trudeau boys could tell!"

Marcel Boulet grew up to be a photographer after the war, and a painter. To this day he paints his brightly coloured memories of Old Chelsea - that treasure of the past he wants to protect for generations to come.

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