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The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the August 31, 2011 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Rerouting CPR line put 'horse before the car'

Foreword by Louise Schwartz

The 1926 Gatineau River hydroelectric project required the rerouting of portions of the rail line and highway. This was not welcomed by all. The following letters to the editor of Ottawa newspapers exemplify some of these views. Harley Selwyn, a lifelong cottager at Kirk's Ferry, and Walter Cross, born and raised in Cascades, expressed similar feelings. Both letters have been edited for length.

Editor, Ottawa Journal

It is hoped that your able editorial of April 30, regarding the proposed backing up of the Gatineau river, will come to the attention of our representative in the Quebec Legislature, and that he ask an investigation into the matter while there is yet time. Anyone with ordinary horse sense can see that this beautiful region, for years past the happy hunting ground of hot and tired city dwellers, will be no longer accessible.

The Way We Were
The planned rise in water levels for the hydroelectric project on the Gatineau River meant the relocation of about fi ve miles of the CPR rail line, together with the highway. This photo shows construction of the new track at Kirk’s Ferry, with one horse and some men to haul away a massive rock. (1927) Photo courtesy GVHS.

With the land between the railway and the shore line in the control of this big company there will be small chance of any ordinary mortal being allowed to trespass, and the best that may be hoped for will be a glimpse of the lake, to be had possibly from some distant point on the highway which is to wind a tortuous course back where the ski trails now run, and where little else than rock and scrub abound.

Immediate steps should be taken, as the International Paper Co. is ordering residents whose houses are in the line of the railways to vacate them the first week in May

It is passing strange that the C.P.R. should apparently be party to this "horse before the car" arrangement, whereby they will literally, to all probability, render the district as undesirable and unapproachable as that portion of the Ottawa River shoreline at Britannia, where their tracks skirt the beach and development has stagnated, as a glance at any map will show.

Much publicity is being given to the wonderful engineering feat and the harnessed energy for the benefit of generations to come, but why not co-ordinate with this effort, the possibilities of the natural playground so near to our Capital, and a heritage, with very few exceptions, not to be had by another city of its size in Canada.

H. Harley Selwyn, B.S.A.,
Kirk's Ferry, Que.,
May 1, 1926

Editor, Ottawa Citizen

As a resident in the area to be flooded by the erection of a dam now under construction at Chelsea, I heartily endorse the suggestions offered by Mr. H. Harley Selwyn in his letter of April 24, wherein he protests the contemplated routing of this part of the Gatineau Railway and provincial highway.

It is quite obvious that, by reversing the order, placing the highway next to the water would still leave this country a tourists' paradise; and to plan a drive over a highway so situated, surrounded by such magnificent natural scenery, would be much to look forward to.

On the other hand should the railway be laid east of the highway it will cut off access to our river shore, which, in my opinion, ought to be regarded as a public utility. It should not be controlled by private interests or obstructed by railway fences and the hazard of being struck by locomotives. If such an obstruction takes place it will become necessary to be the possessor of an airplane in order to get to the beach to bathe or to the bank to fish.

Criticism is not fair without offering an amendment, therefore might I suggest that our Quebec government have the highway placed east of the railway; that they retain land along the new shore line and that they expropriate similar amounts ufficiently large to create a National Park along the river shore.

I am not opposed to the International Paper Company's gigantic development scheme. But I am of the conviction that the land along the shore of such a beautiful stream as the Gatineau, within a distance of 25 miles of Capital City of the Dominion of Canada, should not all be monopolized by private interests. This development scheme should be gone into with utmost care so that it will not be detrimental to our tourist trade or leave us with "Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink".

Walter C. Cross,
Cascades, Que.,
April 26, 1926


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