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Up the Gatineau! Selected Articles

Brooks Hill

Volume 5, page 23

Reginald B. Hale

Caleb Brooks was the first man to settle the area where the Gatineau River pours through the chasm of the Paugan Falls. He was 18 years old when he left Boston, where he was born in 1800, to work for Squire Philemon Wright in his settlement at Hull on the Ottawa River. In 1837, with his wife Ann Maria Dexter and family, he moved 30 miles north up the Gatineau where the lumbermen of Hamilton and Low had logged off the land. They moved into a shanty so soon after the axemen had left that the coals were still alive in the fire.

Brooks Hill
Brooks Hill — restored 1859 farmhouse and barn at Low, Que. From water-colour painting by Reginald Hale.

Caleb had a heritage of pioneering. The first Caleb Brooks was born in 1632 of Puritan parents from Suffolk, England, who had landed in Massachusetts two years earlier. The third Caleb was one of the first Minutemen roused by Paul Revere on his famed midnight ride in 1775. He was the brother of the patriot, General John Brooks, Governor of Massachusetts in 1816.

Brooks prospered. He opened an inn at Low, then the only temperance inn on the Gatineau. He kept a livery stable, smithy, store and sawmill, and ran the stagecoach line from Wakefield. He and his 7 sons farmed 1000 acres. His eldest son Marshall drove the stage and carried the mail to Maniwaki on horseback before roads were built. ln 1859 Marshall married Hannah Chamberlin of Wakefield. As a wedding gift Caleb built them a house and a barn, as he did for all his sons when they married. This white farmhouse on its hill overlooking Low has remained in the Brooks family ever since. It is called “Brooks Hill".

But sad days came and, by 1966, the house was showing its age. One of Caleb's great grandsons, G. Cecil Morrison, and his daughter and son-in-law, Grete and Reg. Hale, determined to buy it from a cousin and renovate it as a family Centennial Project. Their aim was not only to restore an old house but to revitalize an historic home. For homes are the seed-bed of our culture, the truest folk art of all. The hunter and the lumberman passed and left the forest still a wilderness. But behind the settlers’ cabins came the churches, schools, stores, traffic and trade. Canada is truly a home-made civilization.

Many of the furnishings of the house were found in the barn — not collectors‘ items, but the actual things used on this farm. The lanterns outside the front door were scraped of rust, painted, electrified and put back in use. But the story of the sea captain's chest in the hall is unknown though it may date from the 1600’s. The beams in the sitting room are pit-sawn from a mill at Pointe Comfort, the home of Rudolphe Alie who did the construction. A yoke that carried many a pail now holds up two water-colours. The spinning wheel, found smashed in pieces, is together again beside the hutch table. A cradle holds kindling for the fire and a harness jig serves as an end-table, while the TV hides itself in the old dog churn.

In the dining-room much of the furniture is inherited and came out from England. The oak, gate-legged table is 300 years old and the set of 6 rush- backed chairs date from 1790. The room recalls the long continuity of the generations. The picture of Reg's great-great-grandfather James Tymbs, periwigged and gaitered, hangs over some of his wedding tea set — Royal Worchester of 1809. His Breeches Bible, which has remained in the family since 1603, was used at the re-dedication of Brooks Hill by the Very Reverend Dr. Guindon, Rector of Ottawa University, and Reverend Dr. Furcha, Minister of Low.

The kitchen is the heart of any home. The table top is a piece of white pine 25 inches wide. The dado round the wall is made of planks almost as wide. The shamrock grows from a root brought from Ireland by the Stanley family to Chelsea over one hundred years ago. It is one of many generous gifts to the house. The very first was a signed portrait of Sir Wilfred Laurier given by his cousin, the Hon. Paul Martineau, Q.C.

On the pillared porch one can sit on deacons‘ benches to look at the spectacular view of the Gatineau Hills and listen to the trout stream gabbling away to itself in the gully. The benches come from the little church built in 1869 on land gifted by Caleb Brooks.

The stairs are worn by a century of the family's feet. The peavey, axe and pikepole, which serve as hand-rails, and the cross-cut, pickaroon and “Methodist”? axe hanging above them speak of the great logging era. The tin lantern was all the farmer had 100 years ago to light his path to the cow barn.

The braided rug on the landing, as well as the one in the sitting—room, were made by Grete Hale. She also made the hooked rugs and some of the quilts. The trunk held the trousseau of Lydia Wyman Brooks when she married John Morrison In the room to the right, her son Cecil Morrison was born in 1890. He is back again sleeping in his old room once more! The spool bed belonged to the Hazen family, Loyalists of New Brunswick. In the furthest bedroom is a wash stand that belonged to Colonel John By, builder of the Rideau canal.

A family never dies and a home is never finished. It is only a beginning and there is much to do at Brooks Hill.

On July 9, 1967, the Secretary of the Brooks Family Association. USA. and ten of her family from New England, visited Brooks Hill. They were met by 50 Canadian Brooks cousins. It was the first contact between the American and Canadian branches of the family after a gap of 150 years. Together, the relatives crossed the road to the little cemetery where Caleb lies with his children around him. Flowers were laid upon his grave with a prayer of gratitude for this pioneering Yankee who contributed not a little to Canada's history.

Footnotes

  1. "The Breeches Bible" more properly called" the Geneva Bible of 1550 AD". It was the lirst English Bible printed in Roman letters so that we still can read it easily. Every translation before had been printed in Germany in Gothic script. It was the first Bible divided up into Chapters and Verses and it was the first portable edition. So it is this Bible which went into English homes and it made the English a literate people. It's nickname of "Breaches" comes from the fourth Chapter of Genesis where it tells how Adam and Eve "sewed fig-tree leaves together and made themselves breeches."
  2. This type of axe earned its nickname from the early Methodists who customarily donated 25¢ per Sunday towards the cost of building their churches. 25¢ was "two bits" and this axe was double-bitted (having a cutting edge on each side of the handle).

Cecil Morrison died on February 26th. 1979 in his 89th year.


List of articles - Volume 5