The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the July 28, 2010 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Gilmour, Wright... a road by any other name

by Louise Schwartz

Toponomy brings area history to the surface

Looking for an easy way to become familiar with Chelsea's past? Simply stop at the municipal offices on Old Chelsea Road and pick up a free road map. Studying the names of local roads opens up an interesting, if somewhat selective, window into its history.

In fact, the study of place names has a name - toponymy. In Quebec, the first public body to manage place names was set up in 1912. Today, it is known as the Commission de toponomie du Quebec and has jurisdiction over all types of place names in Quebec. This includes natural geographical features, constructed sites such as bridges, as well as inhabited areas and roadways. All roads, even private ones, must have names.

The Way We Were
The cookhouse at Gilmour's Mills on the island at Chelsea Falls. Chelsea's newest road is named after the same Gilmour family (circa 1883). Photo courtesy of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society.

In Chelsea, the responsibility for vetting new names falls under the Roads and Infrastructure Committee. They consult with the fire department to ensure a road to be named doesn't resemble an exting one in Chelsea or nearby municipality. This minimizes any confusion locating a house address in an emergency. Once approved, the request is forwarded to the commission in Quebec City.

The newest road name in Chelsea is Gilmour. Located off Church Road in south Chelsea, it now awaits its signage. Its name belatedly recognizes the contribution of an early enterprising family, the Gilmours.

Liz Kellam and her husband Bob Cvetkovic, property owners, appeared at the November 2009 meeting of the Roads Committee to explain the choice. Four months later, the commission gave its approval and added Chemin Gilmour to its huge bank of place names.

Who were the Gilmours? This family arrived in Quebec from Scotland, where they were already known as one of the largest shipbuilders in the world. Once here, they played a key role in the ecomomic development of Quebec during the 1800s.

In 1841, after acquiring significant timber rights, the Gilmours began to centre their operations in the Outaouais region. To take advantage of the log drive down the Gatineau, they established a stone-filled dam, a mill, and a two-mile lumber slide on an island once located in the middle of Chelsea Falls.

John Gilmour and his wife, Jesse, built themselves a residence in Chelsea, overlooking the Gatineau River, where they raised eight children. Three sons eventually formed the nucleus of the famous "Silver Seven" hockey team which brought the Stanley Cup to Ottawa for the first time. Their home still stands on Nathaniel, itself named for Nathaniel Chamberlin, a soldier who first settled that land.

Many of Chelsea's other road names reflect its first residents. In addition to early settlers such as Alonzo-Wright, Hudson, Reid and Chamberlin, dozens of later arrivals are recognized in road names including Brown and Hellard, Church and Cowden, and Craiglands and Meredith.

Sometimes road names reflect the first cottagers to make the seasonal trek to the Gatineau Hills. In Kirk's Ferry, the list includes Journeaux and Wilson, Selwyn and Sherrin. Further north, golfers at the Larrimac Golf Club may puzzle over the name of the road that slices through the second and third fairways. Named after a history teacher, Professor Burt descends to the site of his family's former cottage on the shore of the Gatineau River, now replaced by a year-round residence.

Road names sometimes reflect a family's desire to commemorate a family member who has died. Lonergan, Gary, and Davy John roads are fairly recent memorials to beloved individuals. As the demographics of Chelsea have shifted, newer road names also reflect its francophone heritage, with names such as Cercle des erable, Heritage and Clos-du-taillis. In 2008, the road extension to Winnisic became Chemin des Muguets.

Although the history, of many Chelsea road names can be traced back, the origin of others maybe gone forever. Unless some keen historian takes up the cause, we may never know to whom the name Peter's Point refers.

Information for this story was obtained partly from Volume 19 of Up the Gatineau! and the website of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society.

Return to list.