The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the February 23, 2011 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Mechanic's wife gave Chelsea its name

by Louise Schwartz

Old Time Stuff was a regular feature of the Ottawa Citizen for many years. This edited record of the memories of Charles Chamberlin from June 14, 1924 covers early days in Chelsea.

Today is presented another "eye witness" story of the very early days, by Charles Waters Chamberlin, aged 95, of Old Chelsea.

"I have read all of the Old Time Stuff," Mr. Chamberlin stated, "It is most interesting. Perhaps I can give you some new stories of the old times.

"First of all," he continued, "for the benefit of those people who whirl up to Kirk's Ferry nowadays in a train or automobile in three-quarters of an hour, I might say that it took a whole day to make the trip to Hull, 80 or 90 years ago.

"I have, of recent years, seen automobiles tearing up the long hills of Chelsea at 20 to 30 miles an hour. But when I was a boy, it was a matter of hours to climb Christie Wright's hill, as it was called. The roads were so bad then that it was almost impossible to get a load up the hill with a team.

The Way We Were
Dunn Hotel was once a popular spot in Old Chelsea. Built in 1875, its first occupant is believed to have been Josiah Chamberlin (brother of Charles) before it became an inn. This structure burned down in 1900, and was replaced by the present one. (1890). Photo courtesy Gatineau Valley Historical Society.

"The general practice was, in the case of barrels and puncheons, to unload them, tie chains around them and draw them up that way. They slipped over the ground much better. The long hill was much steeper than now. The whole road was at best only a sort of trail through the thick bush. One had to wind around stumps and pick the best spots. Nobody ever dreamed of getting home the same day they started when they went to Hull or Bytown. That is why there were so many hotels then, in proportion to the population.

"That reminds me" said Mr. Chamberlin, "that a great many years ago an Englishman named Trowbridge came to live at Old Chelsea. The place had no name then. He was a very fine mechanic and was a big raw-boned man. He had a splendid wife. They came from Chelsea, England. Mrs. Trowbridge named the little settlement, and it was little then, and that is how Chelsea got its name.

"You see" he added, "they call this place now Old Chelsea and the other Chelsea, just Chelsea. Mr. Chamberlin told how Old Chelsea was founded by Lennox Brigham, one of the original Brigham family. Mr. Brigham had a grist mill on the little creek that runs through the village and settlers used to come from miles around to get their wheat ground. At one time, he remarked, Old Chelsea was a busy place. When the place was at its best there were four hotels and several stores.

"New Chelsea" he said "dates from about 1849. In that year Julius Blaisdell, an American, started a small mill at the fall of the Chelsea rapids. He ran it until about 1853 when Colonel Allan Gilmour got hold of it and greatly enlarged it. When the mills were at their best, the Gilmours, between their mills, the booms at Cascades, and the piling grounds at Ironside, employed over three hundred men.

"Chelsea was then quite a lively place. Farmers going to or from town used to stop for one thing or another and at night most of the mill hands used to come up to the village to swap gossip and have a social glass. Sometimes there was too much sociability, and then there was trouble."

As a final word in this story, it may be told that Mr. Chamberlin, unlike most old people, does not live in the past. He is not opposed to "new-fangled things." In fact, he approves of them and is very proud of his new gasoline engine. He thinks, however, that automobiles damage the country roads more than anything else and should contribute more directly and more heavily to their upkeep.

Postscript: Readers are reminded that memories are not always perfect. There may be historical inaccuracies in Chamberlin's reminscences.

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