The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the March 16, 2011 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Group shot earns tag as standout photo

by Louise Schwartz

We'll probably never know what the occasion was. Perhaps it was a gathering after church on a Sunday afternoon. For whatever reason, a well-dressed crowd of 17 posed for this remarkable photo, taken in Old Chelsea some 120 years ago.

One of over 7,000 historic photos stored in the Gatineau Valley Historical Society Image Bank, this particular photo stands out. Often family photos remain untagged, until no one alive recalls who the subjects were. Incredibly, everyone in this photo (even one of the dogs, named Old Jack) is identified.

Another notable aspect is the house. Built as a cottage prior to 1875, it became known as the "Chamberlin Big House," named after its first owners and to distinguish it from the "Chamberlin Little House," their other cottage next door (to the north)." The two buildings were twins, except in size. Their resemblance diminished, following the removal of the latter's veranda and the covering of its clapboard with stucco.

The Way We Were
The 'Chamberlin Big House' with members of the Chamberlin, Dunn and Allen families, and a cross-section of Old Chelsea notables. A few identifying captions have been added (circa early-1890s). Photo courtesy Gatineau Valley Historical Society.

In recent years, the Big House was home to Gerry & Isobel's, a cafe/gift boutique owned by Susan Trudeau and Peter Campbell. Now painted pistachio green, it has been transformed into La Cigale, an ice cream parlour. The building has been extensively renovated and enlarged, although the front portion still sits on the original foundation. The Little House remains a private residence, newly acquired by Chelsea resident Jean Brisson. Both homes were owned for more than 30 years by Delmour Trudeau and Henry Trudeau. The original owners of the homes, John and Angela (nee Allen) Chamberlin, were in their fifties at the time of this photo. John was a carpenter/contractor and brother to well-known locals Charles and Josiah. When John died a few years later, his widow continued living there with their youngest daughter, Harriet. Hattie, as she was known, was quite the belle and eventually married in this family home. Mrs. Chamberlin was called Aunt Jelly by the local children. Her family, the Allens, lived in a house at the corner of Scott and Old Chelsea Roads, beside Whittaker's Hotel. Both buildings are long gone, replaced in 1926 by the tollgate house, which later became a wing of L'Agaric, a restaurant. When a new building replaced most of the former restaurant, the old tollgate house was preserved and is still part of the building, now occupied by Shaver Sports.

In the photo, Mrs. Chamberlin's mother, Maria (known as Grandma Allen) is seen sitting at the front door. John Dunn, at far left in the picture, was innkeeper at the nearby Dunn Hotel. He was a log driver on the Gatineau River and manned the hotel's bar at night.

After he died suddenly in 1896 at the age of 49, his wife Anna took over the inn-keeping business, until the bar was closed in 1907. She and eldest son Michael ran a store and post office in the building until 1920.

Three of their four children are in the photo. Youngest son Stephen (seen sitting on the steps) grew up in the hotel. In 1915, during the First World War, he enlisted in the Canadian infantry. Two years later at the age of 28, after seeing action in Belgium, he died of wounds suffered in battle. Buried in a military cemetery in France, his name appears on the Chelsea Pioneer Cemetery cenotaph, honouring Chelsea men who lost their lives in the two world wars. Not only are the Chamberlin, Allen and Dunn families well represented, but other Old Chelsea notables turned up for the picture-taking. A little digging allows us to learn more about them. Father Fontaine is the cassock-dressed priest, whom church historian Larry Dufour confirmed was the parish priest for St. Stephen's Church from 1891 to 1894. A school teacher, Mary Ellen Hogan, also joined the group. Even the mayor showed his face that day. Martin Welch was a justice of the peace and Chelsea's mayor from 1888 to 1891, according to municipal archivist Chantal Biron.

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